By Yakuta Dawood
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has decided to waive off demurrage charges of containers that are still languishing at the Colombo Port due to the shortage of US Dollars in the country, The Sunday Morning Business learns.
A senior official from the SLPA, who wished to remain anonymous, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business revealed that the decision had been finalised to waive off demurrage charges, based on the documentary proof provided by the containers.
“All parties who have requested the SLPA to waive off demurrage costs will have to show proof of procurement issued from local banks and show that the demurrage cost incurred is, in fact, as a result of the present dollar crisis in order to receive the waiver,” the official said.
When asked how much money the SLPA would be able to waive off, the official responded that it had not been finalised yet as the amount would differ for each container depending on the demurrage cost.
The President’s Media Division (PMD) announced in early February that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the relevant officials to take immediate steps to release containers containing essential items held up at Sri Lanka Customs.
The President had issued these instructions with the aim of preventing any shortages in the market at a special discussion held at the Presidential Secretariat with regard to essential goods in the custody of the Customs, the press release stated.
Commenting on this directive, the SLPA official told The Sunday Morning Business that the Licensed Commercial Banks (LCBs) had fast-tracked the issuing of US Dollars for the required essentials, enabling the release of the containers from the Customs.
Repeated attempts to contact Ports Minister Rohitha Abeywardena and other officials from the Ministry of Ports and Shipping for further information proved futile.
“The Central Bank of Sri Lanka, along with the LCBs, is already working towards this and so far it is positive,” the official added.
Earlier last month, Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena sought relief for importers by requesting the Cabinet of Ministers to consider waiving off demurrage charges, as some 1,000 containers carrying food commodities could not be cleared due to the ongoing forex crisis.
Responding to Minister Gunawardena at that time, Abeywardena had objected to his proposal, stating that demurrage costs could not be waived off from the existing containers stuck at the port.
He had added that the port only had limited space, which was being taken up by these containers. He had further noted that the Ports Authority expected the quick clearance of containers and that failure to do so would otherwise result in massive losses to the port.
Meanwhile, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Import Section Chairman Delano Dias welcomed the move but questioned how much relief the Government could offer importers.
“We think it’s a very good move, but this only covers the port demurrage. The containers are stuck and we have to pay liner demurrage as well. We doubt that the Government can do anything about that since it involves foreign exchange going out. We have been requesting this because the delays are due to the exchange crisis and not because of our problems. We have also been requesting concessions from banks,” Dias said last month.