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18th August 2018

Speech by the Chief Guest Mr. Mangala P. B. Yapa

Mr. Mangala P. B. Yapa

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, Let me run through all of you a brief background of the Shippers' Council where I extracted these information from the Council's website

1st Slide - Sri Lanka Shippers' Council

  • 50th Year in Operation & 49th AGM
  • Affiliated to the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
  • 1st Shippers' Council in Asia & a member of the Global Shippers Forum (GFS)
  • Member of Association of Shippers' Councils of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (ASCOBIPS), founded in 1981 & the Asian Shippers' Council founded in 2004.
  • Consists of Chambers of Commerce, Trade Associations (14) & Individual Organisations (58). Managing Committee consists of 14 Product Associations.
  • The apex body that represents the import/export trade in the country with a broad based representation

Now look at the 3rd Slide where I have circled….The Asia Pacific Context

There are more people living inside this circle than outside of it.

Where is Europe? Where is England? Where is USA? Where is Australia? The people are in this circle… the bigger population is there! Not only that, it is also the fastest growing region in the world.

So on one side we have the largest population which is growing fastest, which is also enables a very large middle-income population, and Sri Lanka is just close to that.

So then the question is - Why are we stuck here? We have such a big, huge opportunity, why are we here?

04th Slide This is a snapshot, not today, months old, contract all ship movements, and around Sri Lanka is a heavy concentration of ship movements, and that's what you people are involved in , that's a business you are involved in…

Let me look at it from another perspective. The location of Sri Lanka, [from the side it is not very clear – sorry about it.] you could reach almost to the large segment which is covered by that 1 billion population, within a maximum 3 hours by flight. You take Singapore or Dubai, you won't have that far. It is not only that you are located in this very advantageous location, you have sea connectivity, you have air connectivity, you have a huge opportunity before you.

Let me give you one other unique advantage Sri Lanka has. As of now we have three major ports. Singapore has only one. In spite of being a small island, there are three major ports, you have Colombo, you have Trincomalee, you have Hambantota. These three ports can serve three different markets for three different purposes. So Sri Lanka can be that valuable hub. It has its geographical advantage, it is located in the right place; it has all the other natural advantages that is required.

So the growth strategy, if you look at transforming Sri Lanka in my view, which I must say, the government has very well recognized, has not orchestrated very clearly, is integrated with global value chain, and that to be done through three sea ports and also maybe with three airports, Colombo Katunayake, Hambantota Mattala, and may be one in the eastern side, enhanced internal mobility and inclusive growth through a network of expressways, connecting all regions, enabling people and products to move easily. They are logistics experts with a developed transport system and expressways, any place in Sri Lanka is connected, maximum within two to three hours. And you have these three ports, and the airports which will also give connectivity of products and services in a very short time.

And then we come to the last one. I think it was spoken of by the previous speaker - How can we be competitive – and that's through liberalization of trade. I know that's a ‘hot' topic to speak about! But without liberalization of trade, you'll be stuck where you are. With that Sri Lanka can be very competitive, not just value up, but competitive value up. And that's exactly what the government envisages today, through selected bilateral trade agreements. Creating a larger market, a market that is rapidly growing with about a four billion population.

So you change the whole paradigm from a twenty-one million population, or a twenty-two million population to a four billion population. And you become, part of the global value chain. Very simple, isn't it. The infrastructure is there, not necessarily where it is needed but better than many other places. We have the expertise. We have organizations like the Shippers Council, which is Asia's first. We have chambers like Ceylon Chamber, One hundred and eighty-one years. Again, one of the very first in Asia.

As many speakers prior to me have spoken about. The problem seems to be the public policy. Not necessarily the policy, per say. But is there really a connection between these policies and this strategic national vision? We can have policies and policies, but are they interconnected with where we want to be or where we want to go. This is spoken of as policy consistency. Is it current, are they valid today? Are they any longer valid in today's context?

We always talk about policy reforms, but now being on the other side of the fence, for about four-and-a half years, I know how challenging it is. When some want reform, others come and say ‘we don't want it'. Some agree in the public open discussion, but come privately and say ‘although I said this, don't take it too serious!' actually, as far as my business is concerned, I could agree, but I can't say this in public, therefore I am only saying what others would like to hear – but protect me!

We talk about the policy development process, We can have an arbitrary restrictive policies, you can have a consultative process. For being a democratic country with educated people, you can say, ‘okay, let's choose the consultative process. I don't want to challenge it. Because one thing Sri Lanka is good at it, they are very good at getting opinions, but not productive contributions!

Last but not least is the policy implementation. What is the point of having policies if they are not implemented? In my career I have at least contributed, four or more shipping policies in Sri Lanka. Every minister, every government develops on it. But what is the purpose, they all get dusted in some cupboard somewhere!

Now I am at the last end of my presentation. I have come to do a key note. I know this is a spaghetti bowl - lots of issues, lots of problems, I only need to give a key note. Where others can compose music. So I found two each types. One is pertaining to the individual / entity , the other is related to the process. The individual or entity, is it an individual measure or a share? Sorry to say, often this stands for our own individual indices. And that's a problem. We blame politicians, we blame bureaucrats, we blame everybody, but are we blaming ourselves? Are we looking at an immediate narrow opportunity, or are we looking at a growth long-term strategy for the country? In this game some lose, some gain. The transformation has to take place, is it vested interests or shared interest.

How do we manage public intrests. It is a small island. Before this

Chairman of shippers Council becomes Chairman or Exporters Association. In a small country this is quite normal. You go to Singapore, they have been almost everywhere. But you must still be able to work without conflict of interest. I will let you agree to decide. You have collective wisdom. Are you willing to listen to others? How about our values and ethics? Are we reacting situation based or are we principle based? Do we have the right leadership? Not to look at government, but in entities, institutions, companies etc. Again this will tell us what kind of leadership we need. My personal opinion is we lack severely in leadership, not only at the top, but across the entire structure.

The other key challenge is the process. The decision making process. Now that I am sitting on the public side, everyday there is a lot of frustration. Whenever you bring up an issue and try to solve it, there is a process to do it. You know the solution, you know it can be done, but it cannot be done because there is a way of doing it. So what happens – nothing! Telephone calls are given, meeting are held, decisions are made and that's it. but we are not moving! We have loads of fun doing it, but not getting anywhere. So this has to change, from process oriented to outcome, or goal oriented. You must have a target, a goal. Make sure it is done. Some people may criticize, can't help – we need to move.

I am at my last slide. There are three photographs. On the far left is ancient Sri Lanka with many ports round. That is how we became the center of the Silk Route trade at that time. Then I go to the Port Development in Colombo, from 1870, 1906, and so on and so forth to current modern day. Then the last slide is development transforming Colombo hub to close upon 12M,00 TEUs with the ECT and WTC. What touched my heart is this picture taken in 1870 when the breakwater was built. See a small tug boat there – the name of the boat we cannot read, (Anyone going into Ports Authority Chairman's office, climb the ladder, the enlarged photograph is there) and that's the tug boat that was used to construct the breakwater. What it says there is “Ready Colombo 1870” - The question I have to ask today is, and the key note that I have set for your music is “Are we ready?”

Ladies & Gentlemen, Thank you very much.

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