- Social friendly governance must ensure national policies are in place
- Competition and regulatory rules to be laid out for transparency
Since 1997, I have had the privilege of working with multiple regimes and institutions as an individual as well as a representative of numerous trade associations.
Our experience is that, in most cases, political will was not focused towards putting in national policies before carrying out ad hoc reforms for no more than mere political and personal interest. The governance structure was such that if one party in power puts a reform agenda the other used it as a short-term political weapon. These negative party politics of Sri Lanka cost the country and its people dearly in my opinion.
The best example is the National Shipping Policy of Sri Lanka which started way back in the 1990s and yet has failed to become the national policy although many heads and committees have done work again and again.
Now that we have been promised a new political culture under the leadership of the President and the Prime Minister along with the support of the other political establishments, we hope the Ministry of Policy and Planning will work towards a national policy framework for priority economic areas of the country during the 100 days, and agree that whoever comes to power after the next general election will have no disturbances to implement the national policy and that professionals will be running the projects.
Our observance is that no sooner new regimes are established, they tend to dismiss all that has been done during another regime. This can be a disaster if done without proper understanding, and it can cost the country badly in the long run. Whilst corruption and malpractices investigation is a must, priority work that has to be carried out has to be done without hindrance.
In other words, Government must ensure proper policy and operational aspects have smooth transition when regimes change. This is the importance of having national policies in place through Parliamentary legislation in a democracy.
Two examples: The key sectors of ports, shipping and aviation – after late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali left the sector, the biggest blunder was made in 1994, with the focus moving out of Colombo Port to Oluvil Port and employing thousands on the payroll of the SLPA for no reason, and by doing so delaying the South Harbour Project, which cost our port sector and the Government millions of dollars.
No doubt this gave the opportunity for major malpractices as pointed out as there was no option but the project had to be expedited to keep pace with the rest of the world, so it is learnt that no tenders or procedures were adopted in many instances, leading to the current allegations and malpractices.
Similarly in the aviation industry, there was a clear plan to expand BIA in 2002/2004 regime; this was put on the backburner, instead the south airport in Mattala was built by the last regime and the consequences need not be explained as it is known to all of us today.
Sri Lanka never needed a second international airport, in my opinion; we only needed a second international runway, so that in an emergency aircrafts need not go to Male or Chennai en route BIA Sri Lanka. We had options for this but they were ignored.
We can list many such instances where we as industry professionals have been frustrated as policies were laid out and carried out in the interest of political parties or individuals with power.
Given the golden opportunity of formation of a national government, the Shippers’ Academy Colombo would urge the new regime to lay down national policies through Parliament and allow entrepreneurs to take leadership with less Government involvement.
Establish good governance practices by setting up professional watchdogs with regulatory powers to ensure fair and free market policies and trade are in place with the right spirit and competition rules. This is also a must, otherwise the system will be corrupt again.
The Shippers’ Academy Colombo strongly believes that no industry should be given undue protection unless national interest is threatened, otherwise the mega hub aspiration investor confidence, etc., will not be a reality.
(The writer is the CEO of Shippers’ Academy Colombo, an economics graduate from the Connecticut State University USA, and immediate past secretary general of the Asian Shippers’ Council.)