CASA and mar­itime hub as­pi­ra­tions

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - SHIPPING/LOGISTICS -

We were taught at that old school this tale of the ‘mon­key in praise of his own tail (MPHOT). Today, a few who run the agency show in Sri Lanka, at the Cey­lon As­so­ci­a­tion of Ship­ping Agents (CASA), can be called mon­keys in prais­ing of their own tails, as seen in pub­lished me­dia. Re­cently, a writer to Daily Mir­ror chal­lenged the num­bers pro­duced by the CASA in a pro­fes­sional man­ner in terms of con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy. This is the way to go.

But then the mon­key at least has a tail to tell a tale but for decades the agency houses, mo­nop­o­lized by a few, did not have any cred­i­ble work done for the coun­try, where they never even opined on the Ham­ban­tota is­sue when the pub­lic needed to know so.

When en­quired why, a friend of mine said, “Any gov­ern­ment, any min­is­ter and any chair­man is used by the CASA for only mak­ing prof­its out of the pub­licly built ports, ship own­ers and trad­ing com­mu­nity. They are only in­ter­ested in money for them­selves through com­mis­sions and in­creas­ing the cost to the cus­tomers, con­sumers and at the same time, stop­ping the global ef­fi­cient com­pa­nies part­ner­ing Sri Lanka to de­velop its fu­ture as­pi­ra­tion like what Sin­ga­pore has done. They are sim­ply not na­tional minded but an in­flu­en­tial car­tel.”

As I un­der­stand from re­cent me­dia re­ports, the closely- knit few con­trol­ling the stake­hold­ers of the CASA have got sud­denly wo­ken up af­ter the gov­ern­ment an­nounce­ment of lib­er­al­iza­tion in the 2018 bud­get and have now started to show an im­age that they are the so-called voice of the ship­ping in­dus­try.

Peo­ple in the ship­ping in­dus­try and the gov­ern­ment seem to know the real sit­u­a­tion and the agent’s role. This act of des­per­a­tion by the CASA is viewed by some as an at­tempt to de­lay or to stop the right pol­icy by di­vert­ing the at­ten­tion and the sub­ject mat­ter pro­posed by the gov­ern­ment to open the mar­itime and lo­gis­tics sec­tor for in­vest­ment to cre­ate the cor­rect en­vi­ron­ment for global brands and clients to come to Sri Lanka to de­velop the lo­ca­tion as an in­ter­na­tional mar­itime and lo­gis­tics hub.

In­ter­est­ingly and prob­a­bly to make an in­di­rect hit back at the prime min­is­ter and fi­nance min­is­ter, a fo­rum has been or­gan­ised on mar­itime as­pi­ra­tions, where it’s un­likely, in my opin­ion, that the speak­ers will be talk­ing of the ma­jor gov­ern­ment pol­icy shift on the lib­er­al­iza­tion of the ship­ping and lo­gis­tics sec­tor, which should be the thrust of such an event or­gan­ised, if they are pro­fes­sional and call them­selves as the voice of ship­ping.

In such a sce­nario, the speak­ers should have been in­vited from the pro­lib­eral sec­tors, in­de­pen­dent lib­eral think tanks and most im­por­tantly, a few shipown­ers or their own prin­ci­pals, such as Maersk and MSC, to give views on how the lib­er­al­iza­tion will help the coun­try but not a few in­di­vid­u­als as cited by Min­is­ter Sa­ma­raweera. It is very clear that the pro­tec­tion­ists don’t want to face such an au­di­ence. So, only the MPHOT will talk and say that it’s wag­ging well and the gov­ern­ment needs to do other things with­out open­ing, so that they can mint money at the cost of the coun­try, if the pol­icy drags on.

A col­league told me that this is an eye­wash fo­rum. How­ever, as an in­ter­ested re­tired cit­i­zen, who doesn’t see the CASA as a so­lu­tion but the prob­lem, I in­tend to take part to make notes as Sri Lanka Port Author­ity (SLPA) Chair­man Dr. Parakrama Dis­sanayake gives some in­sights; Dr. Dis­sanayake has de­scribed him­self as a mar­itime econ­o­mist in many busi­ness col­umns and is to de­liver the key­note ad­dress of the road map and es­sen­tial of mar­itime as­pi­ra­tions.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to the pub­lic to know Dr. Dis­sanayake’s ex­pe­ri­enced views on build­ing the hub, as he has men­tioned in fo­rums that he was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting the Ham­ban­tota deal too. The pub­lic needs to know on eco­nomic is­sues such as how mo­nop­o­lies are cre­ated within the agency net­work, as cited by Par­lia­men­tar­ian Va­sudeva Nanayakkra.

Also, im­por­tantly, as a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, the SLPA chair­man’s view will be lis­tened and watched by many par­ties, who are for and against the pol­icy on lib­er­al­iza­tion pro­pos­als made by the prime min­is­ter and fi­nance min­is­ter of the gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka for the 2018 bud­get pol­icy state­ment. As a gen­tle­man from China port is also par­tic­i­pat­ing as a pan­el­list, it would be im­por­tant to know their view on lib­er­al­iza­tion, as in­vestors.

Busi­ness col­leagues say that Dr. Dis­sanayake has been an ex-strong­man of the CASA and a CASA ad­vi­sory board for a long pe­riod and would prob­a­bly see all sides and give a pro­fes­sional opin­ion on is­sues such as why Sri Lanka should not en­cour­age shipown­ers and prin­ci­pals to set up against agency dom­i­na­tion or why the CASA and ship­ping min­is­ter are talk­ing of in­di­rect bar­ri­ers, such as US $ 100 mil­lion in­vest­ments, when I am told that a shipowner can in­vest on a large ship for that kind of money.

In the na­tional in­ter­est, as a par­tic­i­pant, I would want to know what is best for the coun­try, not for the CASA. I ex­pect the me­dia men to ask many ques­tions at the fo­rum, so that more in­for­ma­tion is sought for the pub­lic on an im­por­tant topic.

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