Transit industry is one of the most important parts of Latvia’s national economy. It is because of this reason Latvian ports have always been topics of heated discussions. There is virtually not a single indifferent soul in this issue, says Environment and Regional Development Minister Counsellor for Legal Affairs, Riga Free port Board member and Riga department leader of Reform Party (RP) Inda Antane.
She specifically notes that despite the significant role of waterways, as soon as proposals arise concerning industry competitiveness increase or criticism about any flaws, she immediately hears a choir of statements from different port officials about how there is a large cargo turnover increase in such ports like Riga or Ventspils, that those are notable signs of port efficiency improvements.
«Even though turnover increase is usually linked to positive changes and progress, this kind of statements can prove to be confusing. Why? Because cargo turnover is not reliable evidence of improves. In most cases, economic growth is more related to the rise of commercial activity of port businessmen during economy recovery. And finally, doesn’t cargo turnover automatically rule out the necessity of performing reforms or any improvements?»
«Judging by the public statements of port officials, turnover increase at ports is evident of effective port management model. Fine, but what happens when turnover falls? Well, of course, turnover reduction is the fault of port businessmen, over whom port officials have no authority. It can also be chalked up to global problems, like the crisis. It can also be concluded that manipulations of responsible officials with transit statistical data is a dramatic lack of competence in this industry, or just lies to voters that have the right to receive clear and truthful information,»- Antane says.
She notes that port efficiency is determined by the administration’s ability to manage objectives. Bringing profits to the State and local government, not themselves!
When speaking of statistical data, Antane mentioned that Latvian port infrastructure is on the 51st place in the latest Global Economy forum’s published global competitiveness index. Estonia’s port infrastructure, on the other hand, is on the 18th place; Lithuania’s – 44th. Riga Free port is working in cooperation with around 32 stevedoring companies, Tallinn – with 70. And this is not the only fact that is being silenced or otherwise «dusted under the carpet».
The State Audit office has concluded, when assessing Ventspils port activity efficiency, that 25% of nearby port territory is not in any way related to contributing to the port’s activities and is not used for industrial development, which worsens the port’s land use effectiveness index. The volume of shipped cargo and port activity income per one ha of port territory in Ventspils is equal to only 41% of that in Klaipeda and 33% of Tallinn port land use effectiveness indexes.
The State Audit office also revealed that port administration did not set an obligation for port land users to pay rent for a total of 19 ha of port territory that was given to them for use. The office noted a possible unequal attitude towards different businessmen, which is against the principles of good management. «All these facts a evident about irresponsible behaviour with our national riches and raise the following questions: Are port authorities actually as good at their work as some officials report? Are the State Audit office and the Global Economy forum really involved in a conspiracy that degrades the effectiveness of Latvian port authorities?»
As a result of the initiative of RP, the first step is made towards improving port efficiency – new Riga and Ventspils port administration regulations have been adopted. These regulations were developed to reach significant changes in port management models.
Also, port authorities are now obligated to confirm port marketing strategy for three years, which will give an opportunity the clearly state the port management’s marketing plan, order and related objectives. Finally, a completely useless requirement for port Board members to make confidential deals has been abolished.
The issue of respecting the rights of people living in close proximity to the port has also been a hot topic for decades, Antane says.