PRIVATE VIEW- Is SIPA a monopoly in the International shipping cargo tariff haul?

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Solomon Islands Ports Authority
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I TAKE it upon myself to contribute viewpoints to ongoing discussions on matters I spend a lifetime carrier labouring to make contributions towards. 

We all have a duty of care to guard and protect the Maker’s creation, but also to leave it in a better state than when we found it. 

This I am trying to do, conscious of the grave responsibility to be fair, selfless and justified; and in exercise only of what I consider to be well-founded and knowledge-based pointers.  

While so engaged, I endeavour to keep within my areas of competence so that I am ever prepared to backup those pointers, which may become contentious. 

Friends of mine have nagged about my communication skills and that my writings can scarcely be understood by the average reader. 

I concede but, at the same time, I have this conviction that the language and style of written communication must bear importance and dignity to the subject matters of discussion and must be tailored to translate concepts in succinct and direct form. 

This way, it is easy to discern countering pointers and so to engage in constructive exchanges for optimal consensuses (or agreeing to disagree or even, disagreeing without being disagreeable). 

This is provided, of course, countering pointers emanate from open-minded and likewise discerning individuals. 

Otherwise battles of rhetoric and incessant tirades is uneconomic use of time.

The current case in point is whether international cargo handling the sole and restricted domain of Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA). 

Is SIPA a monopoly?  Are other international cargo handlers stealing, competing or complimenting SIPA when it boils down to revenue levying and collection. 

Definitively, there is no stealing. 

There is only competition and complimenting.  This is a challenge to SIPA but good for the country’s economy and best for the consumer.

The current CEO of SIPA prides himself as proponent of re-engineering but recently he has been in the radio and newspapers complaining that Leroy Wharf Port has been taking away business from the port of his tenure. 

Maybe his best move right now is to reverse engineer the thought process and go back to basics. 

Stop crying foul and engage the grey matter for industry market retention, fulfilment and satisfaction. 

Stem the market haemorrhage by reinvention not by vocals and media jockeying.  Deeds make a bigger bang!  Stop the top dressing and concentrate on core business. 

Stop intimidating, suspending and sacking the workforce without following the proper procedures. 

Build bonds and a cohesive team encompassing management and rank and file workforce.

Stop running to town with vain issues and learn that compliance to mandatory maritime rules and procedures will land SIPA a ‘favoured-port’ positioning for market gain and retention of international cargo traffic; and, but also for international favours in terms of bilateral and multilateral partnering in development projects procurement ambitions.

The international community is conscious of our ‘Least Developed Country’ status and are very open to assist. 

But for this, you have to learn to appraise, propose, solicit, and even coerce target Development Partners in the manner compliant to the checklist of their grant-in-aid protocols. 

As an SOE, SIPA has the moral duty to go with the flow with the rest of the country in financing its operations and infrastructure development.

As it is, SIPA has been basking in the innuendo of previous CEO Colin Yaw’s unreasonable jacking up of tariffs.  

In the short period of two years (2015/2016, 2016/2017 Financial Years) SIPA’s Bank Account had swollen in excess of SBD300M, dubbed by Finance Experts as; ‘TOXIC MONEY’.

The temptation for wayward expenditure had been so irresistible that unplanned equipment purchases and unplanned recruitment are now evident in surplus equipment and overmanning. 

The CEO himself may have chalked up more than SBD5M, if not more, in overseas travel.  Anyone can be forgive for calling this a reap-off.

Spending power of people’s money was constricted because port users and business houses are passing the effects of the high tariffs to the end user. 

The ultimate beneficiary is SIPA because by legal due process, mass polarisation of money is stashing away in their Bank Account. 

The two alternative balancing act in this scenario are to rationalise and right-size the tariff or introduce competition. 

The latter has happened and will continue to happen.  SIPA’s Point Cruz Port is bottlenecked and choked by Honiara city growth.

Revisit the Corporate Plan and Business Plan and if there is a need to re-engineer then; so be it, only be sure to make them better than when you first found them. 

And Oh; while so engaged, remember to keep within ethics, laid down procedures and guidelines.

SIPA is owned by Solomon Islands Government and as such is subject to political directives. 

It is not completely free to operate 100% entrepreneurship. 

Although SIPA is popularly perceived to be a monopoly, general reading of the Ports Act reveals all its duties and mandates, but that legal framework falls short of encasing those mandates within an exclusive domain. 

The Ports Act is also silent on the issue of private commercial ports; neither debarring them nor stating a protection clause on the operations of SIPA. 

Under the nuance of a free enterprise country, any individual or corporation desirous of conducting business as receiver and forwarder of international cargo can thus do so by virtue only of an appropriate compliant Business Licence.

This country is a democracy and as such the society herein is capitalistic – driven by supply and demand. 

There is freedom of association which also means anyone can conduct business with anyone else they choose, and not because they are forced to. 

The choice by purchasers to move to cheaper sellers is completely their own prerogative. 

And so it is with international cargo vessels.  As so it is with the earning of tariff money from international cargo handling.  The bottom line is Leroy Wharf Port is not unduly taking business away from SIPA.

Having arrived at this juncture in this storyline, I am beside myself; I cannot help but reminisce on an analogy I read in a lessons story book years ago. 

There was this cunning and woolly canine creature in the Arizona desert on a clear but cold night.

It was perched atop a rounded mountain spur; hind legs horizontally extended frontwards on the ground and forelegs stiffly vertical; head, jaw and open mouth upturn to the starry sky above, howling its heart out at the fully blown silver moon sailing proudly from one end of the firmament dome to the other. 

The canine creature (wolf) howled and howled and howled, – awhoo – yahoo – awhoo – but the moon kept on shinning and sailing ostentatiously across the firmament. 

As with all ‘Lessons Books’ stories, there is a moral to this story.

WILLIAM BARILE

Former CEO, SIPA


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