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United World talks to Mr. Joseph Toney

Interview - January 19, 2012
Chairman of Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago

What have been the biggest achievements of the country in these 50 years of independence?

50 years of independence is a remarkable achievement. We are the leading English-speaking country in the Caribbean, have elected our own Government and a stable and sustainable economy. And we have achieved it all by ourselves! We can celebrate that we have made a very solid foundation for a great country.

In our interviews with the Ministry of Transport and NIDCO, the need to create a 21st century infrastructure was considered to be the main key to the diversification of the national economy. Could you elaborate on that?

The Government is working hard to develop our infrastructure. The Port Authority has attended that call and is working hard to modernize and make the Ports in T&T the most efficient and competitive in the region in order to collaborate in the social and economic growth of the nation.

What are your plans to make POS the most attractive and efficient port in the region?

There are many matters that we need to give immediate attention to. My approach to them is based on the human aspect. The workers need to wake up in the morning and feel happy about working for the Port Authority, be comfortable and proud of what they are doing in order to be productive. That is something that we are lacking in some areas and we will be addressing it in the upcoming months. 

Another of my priorities will be customer satisfaction; they need to feel comfortable when they come here to do business. If we get the workers comfortable and more containers arriving in the Port, we will be able to move forward.

There are some industrial relations agreements that have to be settled and fixed by other institutions; we are knocking on the doors of those that are responsible in order to have these issues solved as soon as possible.

The Port can do more in attracting more business but we are limited by space. The General Manager is working on many technological innovations that are being implemented in the Port, like the NAVIS system, a cutting-edge container management technology that will allow us to be more efficient, maximize the use of our space and increase our productivity. We are on schedule and the NAVIS system will be available in the first quarter of 2012.

The Port Authority is doing its homework now in order to create a better institution; we are highly regarded in the region but it is obvious that we cannot rely exclusively in our privileged geographical situation: for example, we are investing in cranes to move the cargo as quickly as possible in order to capitalize on what the widening of the Panama Canal represents for us. The 30-metre widening of the Panama Canal in 2014 is an exciting opportunity for the ports in the region, as it will increase the number of ships coming to our ports. The Port could be a transshipment point for the vessels that are going to North or South America.

The Port is the economic heart of the country and it is something that we are going to stress to the Government in order to get the needed investment before 2014.

As you mentioned, 2014 is the biggest opportunity for the ports in the region. Puerto Cabello, in Venezuela, has got a $200-million investment from China. What would be the competitive advantages of Port of Spain?

A thriving economy, a stable Government, a Port that wants to achieve the highest goals, a good safety record and our state-of-the-art security system. To sum it up, this is a good, safe and comfortable place to do business.

When you took charge of the chairmanship, you mentioned that among your priorities were a better relationship with the Unions and the Customs Department. How are you working to improve them?

My first priority is a happy and comfortable worker. We are having an open and ongoing dialogue with the president of the Union; they understand what we want to achieve and they share our need to make the Port a more thriving business place.

The Customs and Excise Division has the final say on what arise at, and leaves, the Port. They are helping us a lot in terms of security and we are developing a better working relationship with them. They have their own agenda, with their own terms and conditions of work, but the Port Authority is working to synchronize our efforts and create a more harmonious working relationship.

Fighting crime is the main priority of the new administration. How is the Port Authority working to prevent gun and drug trafficking?

It is a priority and a mandate that I got from the Prime Minister when I assumed the chairmanship. The Port Authority must stop the entry of drugs and illegal guns into our country. We are in the process of acquiring scanners to increase the security of the Port. With them, we will know exactly what’s coming into the Port and what’s leaving the Port. 

You mentioned that the Port is the heart of economy. For Tobago its importance is even bigger. The Inter Island ferry allows 1 million people to move between Trinidad and Tobago every year. What are your plans to increase the efficiency of the service?

The Inter Island ferry is one of our biggest achievements. We are running it smoothly but working on making it more comfortable for the customer.

What would you like to achieve by the end of your mandate?

My main goal is to make the Port Authority profitable again. When I leave, I would like the Port to be in a position where they can pay their own bills. We are now receiving a huge subsidy from the State but if we put certain things in place, we could make a profit by 2014 and be financially independent.

Precisely that’s one of the main priorities of our report: helping to attract foreign investment into the country. What would you consider to be the main opportunities for investment in the Port?

The Port Authority is open to investment opportunities. There is a great interest from all over the world because it is well known that we are looking for investment partners that are willing to come here and start a long-term relationship.

We are not interested in a hit-and-run investor; we are looking for someone who is willing to share their knowledge and expertise with us; people who have the experience of running efficient ports and who are willing to come here to help us to succeed.