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Time for a chamber of shipping, maritime and logistics

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 11 April 2018 00:00



  • Government must study all aspects prior to commitment to individual interest


Given the developments of the country and the region, it is high time that a national chamber of shipping, maritime and logistics be established to bring in all stakeholders of business under one umbrella to take the future of this country forward through an agenda of national interest. The shipping, maritime and logistics industry covers a wide spectrum of activities where business owners play would play a key role in developing the sector for Sri Lanka.

It is a fact that without the genuine business owners, such as exporters, importers and shipping companies, global logistics operators, terminal investors a country cannot be driven towards its goals, as they are the real stake holders, decision makers, planners, investors and much needed capital owners. This the simplest method that Singapore and Dubai climbed to its present status.

Paper advertisement of national maritime and logistics policy

It was quite surprising that on Monday 2 April, a paper advertisement in a daily newspaper under the name of shipping secretary was published, calling for public views on this broad industry subject to be submitted within five working days. 

Industry sources revealed that at the time of the publication, the shipping secretary was not aware of the contents or the advertisement and subsequently, his office had informed that the time for submission was extended for 30 April after concerns were submitted by the chambers and associations. This shows that some hidden agenda is trying to be pushed under the pretext of a national agenda undermining the Government policy.

In September 2017, newspapers carried articles that a national committee has been appointed by the Shipping Ministry/SLPA and a report was going to be prepared strictly within three months. However, after seven long months a paper advert appears for public comments. The draft document that was prepared by the committee for seven months is not in the public domain for observations. How come this is done in closed doors to the public at large?

If protocol and professionalism was the means of doing a national policy, the secretary shipping should have adopted the correct method that is followed by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, where in both cases, World Bank, ITC and ADB expertise and that of other global experts is sought for development of the national trade facilitation platform and national export strategy along with the local committee of experts.

The process of other ministries includes committees being appointed, draft policies prepared, circulated to chambers and associations, repeated industry consultative workshops, validation workshops, regional consultations, and long and steady process taken to ensure that the public will be given due time to respond to the Government.

What is the agenda?

At a time where parliamentarians have gone to court on the sector monopolisation and Government has announced liberalisation of shipping, amendments to Merchant Shipping Act and SLPA Act as policy it is vital that the National Maritime and Logistics Policy should encompass the larger macro picture of this country rather than the hidden business agendas of a few people being implemented or accommodated as a national document that has been drafted many times over and over again. 

Where the Finance Minister has got a budget policy approved for liberalisation of the sector and looking at re-drafting laws for the same and working a framework for the new Customs Ordinance and Merchant Shipping Act, liberalising services such as de-stuffing expanding free port concept, it is vital that the industry and public at large need to know, if such broad macroeconomic thinking has gone to the so-called draft document prepared by a committee sitting for seven months. Giving five days for the public to respond without producing any document to the public and then extending it by another 20 days during the peak of the holidays gives credible questioning of the process and its agenda.

Industry sources say that lack of international organisations that have global experience such as the Commonwealth Secretariat, World Bank, ADB are not in the picture and also clearly the absence of global ship owners’ representation will certainly have a narrow scope for the important national policy. It is also quite surprising that at a time the Government has called for a Singaporean company to come up with a development plan for Trincomalee, that the national framework, according to sources have no international expertise in the committees to think otherwise of the local knowledge to put the country in the right track.

It is questionable, if this document prepared by the committee is in line with the vision 2025 document of an enriched country on the key concept of being an Indian Ocean hub, and as citizens we feel that such policy development should be thoroughly scrutinised by independent experts that should ideally be coming from the Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Activities.

As the public, we seek at least eight to 10 weeks be given to respond provided the draft work is listed on the web of the ministry. As the holiday season is just beginning, it is certainly not practical to receive proper inputs by 30 April. Therefore, the Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping is called upon to scrutinise the process and follow international standards to bring in such macro level national policies. As mentioned earlier, the World Bank and the International Trade Centre are currently working on two similar projects which will go to the cabinet after more than one years of local and international consultative mechanisms as recommendations.

Since 1997, many shipping policies have been developed in this sector without much public discussion, but a wish list of individuals without pragmatic bankable proposals thankfully never became total policy. Therefore Prime Minister must direct all key ministries to study prior to making a list of wishes as the National Shipping, Maritime and Logistics Policy. This is important as the recent resistance and lobbying by the agency houses is a real example of the threat that the country faces by individual and sectorial lobbyists disrupting the country’s real national interest. 

We have seen in many articles CASA claiming themselves the voice of the shipping and logistics industry, whereas industry players know that they are a non-recognised entity due to a business agenda of a very few, whereas the Sri Lanka Logistics and Freight Forwarding Association has a bigger role for this country as they have to service ship owners requirements and shippers’ requirements while working with the region to sustain the sector in a competitive manner. 

Interestingly they have welcomed the Government’s liberalisation process path, whereas shipping agents who lobbied and got agencies from foreign principals are making the biggest noise and stopping their own principals establishing their own country offices with certain conditions that will befit the country in the long run, just as all our neighbours have done. 

We hope that the public interest is not in the hands of a monopolistic shipping industry in this country, if they are, then we of course we can say goodbye to a maritime and a logistics hub of the Indian Ocean. Probably it is time for a chamber of shipping, maritime and logistics to be opened with independent professionals to advise the Government on a wider platform sans personal interest.

– Public interest group

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