Ports or sports Mr. Minister?

Friday, 1 January 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


From left: Former Sri Lanka Cricket Secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Dammika Ranatunga, Ports and Shipping Deputy Minister Nishantha Muthuhettigama, former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena



By a wharf manager and SLPA client

I have been at the wharf for the past 31 years, from the time of the late Lalith Athulathmudali, and have served as a cargo consolidator for the past 14 years at the port of Colombo’s warehouses. I expected a lot from the new administration and the new minister. However, there seems to be only a lot of crying about the fraud of the previous regime. 

Of course it is important to look in to what happened to public money, etc. but now it seems that Mr. Minister who talked so much about nepotism is practising it at the port and as well as with sports. Of course the Ranatunga brothers are well-placed by placing their tentacles into all political parties and securing their own family interests, probably to a greater extent than the Rajapaksa brothers! Incidentally Minister Arjuna Ranatunga is the one who spoke of nepotism from every platform before 8 January 2015.

The greater shock to the industry and the country was when President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and notably Chandrika Kumaratunga together appointed Nishantha Muthuhettigama (An MP famous for burning stages!) as deputy minister of Ports and Shipping. The next shock was when Dhammika Ranatunga was found to be the “best qualified” port chairman to make the country a shipping hub. What a shame for my country. I thought development had stalled only because of the LTTE!

If you visit the SLPA website (www.slpa.lk) you can still see that except for the names of the Chairman and the Board nothing else has changed for one year and the copyright remains 2014 and the vision, mission and target set by Dr. Priyath Wickrama, the former Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman, still remains the same. 

Even the terminals are not updated. Shockingly the CICT, which had reached the 1 million TEU mark, is not on the SLPA Terminal page? What brilliance? Hopefully after seeing this article the website will change. What more for a global hub?

The other day while attending to my work at the port, I saw a helicopter flying around. I later learned through the news that ministers Ravi Karunanayake and Arjuna Ranatunga had taken a chopper ride at public cost with the intention of productively managing the land. Given today’s technology, if the ministers used Google Earth they could have avoided wasting public money while also ensuring that the ensuing media show would not have occurred.

Mr. Minister, we would like you to come and see the port’s warehouses, logistics areas and roads from the ground, you only need your four-wheel drive not a chopper. Then you will see the pathetic condition of the ports service areas. To solve them you don’t need FDI but only dedicated management.

While the minister was attending ceremonies to celebrate 5 million TEU throughput at the port of Colombo thanks to the shipping lines and terminal operators, I took time to visit the yards of the SLPA on a rainy day to experience firsthand the logistics services that provide facilities to importers, exporters, transshipment clients and general service providers. The photographs presented in this article were taken during the second week of December 2015. They depict the pathetic conditions of the logistics area where I work. Flooding, damaged roads, old and broken warehouses, damaged equipment, pilferage; whatever flaw you can think of is present at the port.



In addition, we have to pay large bribes to allow even the current services to get cargo in and out of the port and within the port. These are costing our importers and exporters millions of rupees and a large measure of valuable time.

Due to the fact that we are small operators in the port no one is listening to us. Where are CASA and the other associations? What are they doing about the incompetence of the management? The minister needs to get involved heavily with professional advice to set the industry back on track. Sadly though at this moment, we see through the media that he is on a campaign to get himself and his brother elected to the cricket board to conduct administration work when a critical maritime industry is at a crossroads.

Mr. Minister you as the minister of ports and shipping want to clean up the sport of cricket with your younger brother. We think it would be better if you clean up your Ports and Shipping Ministry’s backyards with your elder brother and deliver the expected results to the shipping industry. 

Many in the industry questioned the new port chairman’s credentials but their objections fell on the deaf ears of the Yahapalanaya government. But we as a trade will continue to write to get the attention of the new Government and its leaders as this is our bread and butter and we do love our industry and the country. 

We know that 80% of ministers come to use the port as their playground. They waste money, use port assets for political purposes, employ people from their electorate and of course make money for themselves. We earnestly request the President and Prime Minister to examine this sad state of affairs and humbly request the Yahapalanaya minister to either look after the port or go and look after cricket. 

This article was not written to sling mud at anybody but to discuss the actual situation so that the public can be kept properly informed. To the readers, I would have loved to give my name but if I did I am guaranteed to have my port permit cancelled from 2016.