Djibouti says its container port to remain in state hands

A Djibouti policeman stands guard during the opening ceremony of DP World’s Doraleh container terminal in Djibouti port. The government said the container port will remain in state hands after a contract with Dubai-based DP World was terminated. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Djibouti says its container port to remain in state hands

NAIROBI: Djibouti’s container port will remain in state hands as the government seeks investment, a senior official said on Wednesday, in comments likely to reassure Washington where lawmakers said they fear it could be ceded to China.
The Doraleh Container Terminal is a key asset for Djibouti, a tiny state on the Red Sea. The location is of strategic value to countries such as the US, China, Japan and former colonial power France, all of whom have military bases there.
Djibouti last month terminated the concession of Dubai’s state-owned DP World to run the port, citing a failure to resolve a six-year contractual dispute.
The cancelation accelerated diplomatic competition in Djibouti and renewed concerns in a number of capitals that other nations could use it to strengthen their influence.
The port is to remain “in the hands of our nation” as the government seeks new investors, according to Djibouti’s Inspector General Issa Sultan, who oversees infrastructure for President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
“There is no China option and no secret plans for the Doraleh Container Terminal,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The port is now 100 percent managed by the state.”
The top US general for Africa told US lawmakers last week the military could face “significant” consequences should China take control of the terminal. Lawmakers said they had seen reports that Djibouti had seized control of the port to give it to China as a gift.
In one measure of Djibouti’s strategic value, Rex Tillerson visited the country last week while he was still US Secretary of State. It was one of just five African countries he went to on a tour of the continent.
Tillerson, who was fired on Tuesday by President Donald Trump, urged the government to improve the investment climate.
DP World called Djibouti’s move an illegal seizure. It said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.
The Djibouti government said the ports operator deliberately did not develop the container terminal and instead routed transhipments through its Jebel Ali port in Dubai.
“Our ultimate goal remains to invest strongly in the attractiveness of Doraleh and other port facilities in the country,” Sultan said.
The port opened in 2009 and has a capacity of 1.6 million tons annually that was never met by DP World. In 2016, the company signed a concession to develop a rival port in neighboring Somaliland.
“It became quite clear that DP World didn’t want the port to be developed because it never did more that 50 percent of the capacity,” Sultan said. “They were a constraint on the port activity.”
DP World declined to comment on Wednesday, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
Weeks after canceling DP World’s concession, the state-owned company managing Doraleh signed a deal with Singapore-based Pacific International Lines to raise by a third the amount of cargo handled there.
In a sign of growing regional rivalries over DP World’s investments, Somalia’s parliament voted on Monday to ban the company. It also said DP World’s concession to develop the port in the breakaway Somaliland region was void.


Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

Updated 18 June 2019
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Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

  • The PM said cabinet ministers need to be united and responsible
  • Lebanon’s debt is almost 150% of its GDP

BEIRUT, June 18 : Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing. (Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)