Managerial implications of the study
“Evidently, port reform and the alteration of a governance model, either at national or at port level, might be a lengthy procedure. A concrete long-term pattern might take more than two decades to be established, thus planning by all (i.e. decision makers, port authorities, port users and other stakeholders) must take a long-term perspective rather than focusing on short-term outcomes or mid-term benefits.
A long-lasting process might produce unforeseen challenges. The lengthy time needed for port reform to complete might create a ‘window’ for non-port factors to affect the whole process and its outcome. In the Greek case the factors that derailed implementation included both the global and national financial crises. To tackle this issue, stakeholders should be ready to adapt their strategies even when the port reform is already in progress.
Usually, a port reform aims at creating a more flexible, efficient and competitive port system. Despite such intentions, it might produce (at least temporarily) a more complex and bureaucratic model. Instead of serving intentions to devolve powers, the legislative normative devolution might not imply in practice decentralised port governance; national administrations might still create monitoring entities that in practice re-centralise the devolved powers in almost every aspect of port management and planning.
Intentions to open the market for services provision might not be enough for increasing the number of service providers. The selected privatisation model of major Greek ports might lead to the presence of few, de facto dominant, players in the local or regional port market, whereas the major player of all is the owner of the Port Authority operating the biggest port of the country and the operator handling approximately 90% of container throughput.
This is not a priori a negative development. Yet, it is a prospect demanding the presence of continuous monitoring and effective mechanisms that secure public interests, standing at the same time beyond the general ones (safe working conditions, non-discrimination, road safety). For ports and their users, nautical safety, minimising negative externalities, securing sufficient competition and market access, creating a level playing field, undertaking port development initiatives, and effective land use, remain all important and positive R&D externalities for the continuity of port operations.
Conflicts might also emerge within the structures of the new port governance framework. This is not only because private PAs prioritise entrepreneurship. It is also because port users have to interact with private entities performing the role of both authorities and operators. Whereas the private PA does not necessarily provide sufficient commitment to secure public interests in port development, the Greek prototype implies the losing of any public sector power to intervene in what is the institution responsible for the oversight of strategy and the development of modern ports. Thus, the recently established institutions, and not least stakeholders themselves, need to develop and facilitate mechanisms that enable the presence of efficient and effective port operations, while effectively securing public interests, as well as the interests of a broader group of stakeholders”.
Download authors’ version of the port study here