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CASA and maritime hub aspirations

2018-02-12 10:37:06
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By retired citizen and reader

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 pro-liberal 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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