Transnet says World Bank report giving SA abysmal ports ranking marred by ‘factual errors’

Gantry cranes sit above a container ship in the terminal at the Port of Durban, operated by Transnet. (Photo: Kevin Sutherland / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

State-run logistics company Transnet has come out swinging after a World Bank report ranked the South African ports it runs the worst-performing in the world.

Not mincing its words, the state-owned enterprise said it “denounces World Bank Port Performance Index factual errors”. 

The report found the ports in Cape Town and Ngqura, in the Eastern Cape, were the world’s worst performing and least competitive in 2023, ranking them 405th and 404th respectively out of 405 assessed globally.

The Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) clearly touched a nerve, and Transnet has come out swinging. 

“On 10 June 2024, Transnet met with World Bank representatives to discuss factual errors in its recent 2023 Container Port Performance Index,” Transnet said on Wednesday, 12 June.

“The Bank incorrectly uses the duration of a vessel’s stay as a measure of container port cargo handling performance, relied on third-party sample data and failed to give a measured terminal access to the data sample for verification prior to publication,” it said.

The World Bank had not yet responded to Daily Maverick’s request for comment at the time of publication. 

“While the World Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of the data in the report, the results purport to be an indicative measure of port performance. In the meeting, the Bank’s Transport Specialists advised that the CPPI is not a comprehensive indicator of container terminal performance and that it only seeks to advise on the stay of a vessel in a port. Transnet is of the opinion that the index is, therefore, not correctly titled,” Transnet said. 

The SOE also pointedly noted that it had not been “afforded any opportunity to comment or verify the accuracy of the data or the facts attributed to it in the report”.

Transnet said the data that informed the report was derived from the automatic identification system and liner shipping data, which Transnet Port Terminals had been requesting access to for years without success. 

It said that at the meeting with the World Bank it was agreed that Transnet could now access the data so it could do its own number crunching.

“We are of the opinion that we should be given a right of reply before any report relating to our performance is finalised or published. Transnet only became aware of this report through the media,” Transnet said.

Its statement also said the industry was aware of the big backlogs that emerged in Cape Town and Durban in the last quarter of 2023, which stemmed from bad weather and “equipment challenges”. 

But, under its recovery plan launched in October 2023 “it is clear that there has been a stabilisation in the business as well as real improvement in rail and port operations”.

The logistics crisis has emerged alongside rampant crime and chronic power shortages as a key constraint to South Africa’s economy. 

But the power situation has seen a dramatic improvement since March and there have been signs of a turnaround on the logistics front, with the help of business leaders. 

There are hopes that Transnet’s new group chief executive, Michelle Phillips, who is held in high regard by the private sector, can right this listing ship of state.

South Africa has many podium performances in all the wrong places, such as the highest unemployment rate and most unequal society in the world, alongside wretched levels of economic growth. Having some of its ports ranked the worst in the world was par for this course. 

But perhaps it will fare better in next year’s CPPI rankings, and not just because of corrected flaws in the methodology.

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