Successive governments have dumped employees in the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and have looked at SLPA as a place where they could get employment for the unemployed in the absence of real economic growth, said Managing Director SLPA, Sarathkumara Premachandra.
Speaking at the Sri Lanka Association of NVOCC agent Annual General Meeting, he said that although the government and the professionals of SLPA would like to run it with half the number employees today, this is not realistic in the current economic environment.
“Are we wrong in employing unemployed in the short term till our country can provide employment through development? Hence SLPA has been leading the biggest CSR project by creating breadwinners for well over 5,000 additional families!”
In addition to overstaffing, SLPA has to maintain a railroad with over 30 km of tracks including two locomotives and a shunting yard simply to allow the Government Railways to import occasional carriages. Premachandra said that additionally, all government agencies such as Customs are provided with facilities free of charge and even utility bills are absorbed by SLPA.
He also said that SLPA has over 600 houses for employees maintained by the Authority. “Roads inside the port from Ingurukade to Kingsbury Hotel, from Modara to the Southern Breakwater, all our ports, quays, breakwaters, harbour lighthouses around the island and other common facilities too are maintained by this workforce.”
“We generate our own electricity and this has stabilized the port during uncertain power situations. We have an understanding with CEB to help them manage crisis situations.”
Premachandra said they have a fleet of dredgers that maintain the depths of the harbours. They have engineering workshops that can turn out anything required that cannot be purchased locally. “That’s why our 33-year-old JCT cranes are working like brand new.”
He said that the ongoing project of expanding the internal port road to six lanes up to 10 km is costing them Rs. 4 billion and maintenance cost is borne by SLPA. “However 70% of the container traffic that uses the road are for SAGT and CICT.”
Loan repayment for South Port last year was Rs 1.528 billion while there are other expenses in maintaining six other harbours.
“All these require men and women. True, we have 9,500 men and women. They do not idle as some would like to accuse. They manage and operate the ports of our motherland winning accolades from the international maritime community.”
He said that despite all odds, SLPA last year made a net profit of Rs 10 billion after tax and that this was an 83% increase over the previous year in spite of Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) losing 100,000 TEU to competition.