Monday, May 25, 2009
A Mega Harbor for Thilafushi?
As announced on 20th May, the Government has decided to nationalize private harbors in Thilafushi. The move, which is intended to stop drug smuggling, will require implementing a mega project to develop a commercial harbor rivaling that in Male.
There are seven ports in Thilafushi developed by private investors, including MTCC, Apollo Group, Nalahiyaa Group, Villa Shipping, Cement Fihaara and Coastline. These ports constitute investments worth millions of rufiyaa and handle the major share of building material and hardware imported to the Maldives. The government now proposes to bring them under Maldives Ports Limited.
However, since these harbors are not on contiguous plots of land, the possibility of joining them together into one large port is minimal. A separate major port will need to be developed to provide the services currently handled by the individual ports.
Thilafushi is not the only place in the Maldives where private port facilities exist. Many islands leased on long term basis for industrial work have their own facilities for unloading goods directly from foreign going vessels. On temporary basis, resort islands under development also get permission to unload imported goods directly. With so many different port facilities, smuggling of drugs and dutiable goods could very well be widespread.
However, it is not as if private individuals are allowed to unload goods as they wished without any control. Under the existing arrangement unloading of goods can only take place under the supervision of MNDF and Customs officers onboard the ship. There could of course be loopholes in the system (as will be in any new system developed to replace it).
Nationalizing the ports in Thilafushi will not only help to control smuggling, but also will help to make the port facilities more efficient and widely available to all importers. However, it will involve major investments, not to talk of the millions of rufiyaa needed for compensating the current owners. After that, millions of dollars will need to be invested to develop a modern port similar in size or larger than Male Commercial Harbor. Of course there are many investors for this type of mega projects.