Mr. Roshan Silva Chairman, SLFFA

(Speech from the 39th SLFFA AGM held on 25th September 2020)

Chief Guest, Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority, General Daya Rathnayake, Guest of Honour, Executive Chairman of Ceyline Group and President of CINEC Campus Captain Ajith Peiris, Director General of Merchant Shipping Mr. A W Senevirathne, Members of the Head Table, Distinguished Invitees, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am humbled to stand before you today after being re-elected as the Chairman of SLFFA for the years 2020/2021 and I thank all of you for the confidence placed in me to continue on this prestigious role for another year.

This is a monumental year for SLFFA as it steps towards its ruby anniversary. As an association, SLFFA has grown and matured in many ways – today it is held in high esteem by the regulators, industry specialists and the general public. As envisioned by the pioneers, SLFFA is the home of some of the most elite freight forwarders, including large conglomerates, global giants and a league of persevering local freight forwarders. Together, we, the 121 SLFFA members represent over 90% of the freight forwarding volumes of the country – by and large, this makes us a formidable force of the Sri Lankan economy.

The association has been active in supporting the growth of the industry and today as we step into the fortieth year, all of us can take pride in being a part of this well respected and recognised establishment.

As many of you may be aware, SLFFA commands the distinguished position of being the leading representative body of the industry and maintains the highest standards of professionalism and ethics. As the Board of Directors of SLFFA, we are determined to drive all the players in the industry towards these ideals and over the years our predecessors have worked closely with the regulators to ensure that these best practices are always followed.

At the threshold of the fortieth year, I wish to reiterate the importance of these standards and declare that we, as the current board will not hesitate to take action or even dismiss any member who is found to be in violation of these principles that form the basis of our beloved association.

General Daya Rathnayake, sir, it is an honour to have you in our presence today and on behalf of all the SLFFA members I take this opportunity to welcome you to the event. I would like to start off SLFFA’s highlights for the year by speaking about the progressive discussions had with the officials of SLPA under your guidance. I am sure all those in our profession will agree with me when I say, that some of the most pressing issues that we have faced are now being addressed under your leadership. Let me elaborate with an example or two - For many years, we as freight forwarders are compelled to pay MCC excess charges for local cargo stuffed outside the port. Charging a stuffing fee  for MCC cargo within the SLPA premises is accepted but charging for the stuffing done by an out side CFS for which charges already been paid is something we believe to be re evaluated. Similarly, we face undue demurrage charges  for abandoned or detained cargo , which have also caused issues to us. With your intervention to solve these matters is greately appreciated. 

Thank you General for the support and methodical following up that has made the entire process of liaising with SLPA much more effective and efficient. Your accommodative detailed and comprehensive approach to an issue has really helped us not only during the COVID 19 lock down but also solving long standing issues of above nature.

Our Guest of Honour, Captain Ajith Peiris,  a versatile logistics specialist who has served in various capacities and played numerous roles in the industry. Sir...It is a pleasure to have you with us today and on behalf of the industry, I wish to thank you for the active measures taken to develop the fraternity through focused educational programmes. Also I appreciate your presence as a former Chairman of CASA which would certainly support in strengthening the relationship with two associations.

Mr. Senevirathne, Director General of Merchant Shipping, it is my privilege to welcome you to the SLFFA AGM and I am confident that you would be pleased with the recent progress made by SLFFA and would acknowledge the service rendered by the association over the past four decades to the industry, even prior to the establishment of a formal regulator.

Roughly fifteen months ago, when I stood up to address the previous SLFFA AGM, little did I know that the year 2020 would prove to be the most challenging year of my freight forwarding career. Even amidst the crisis, the SLFFA committee’s tireless efforts ensured that some important strides were taken in the direction of sustainable growth for the association and the industry.

The SLFFA Board of Directors  had an eventful year in spite of the months of lockdown. The main committee and the sub committees held regular meetings throughout the year, mapped out plans and systematically implemented them with the view of uplifting the industry. I invite all of you to peruse the SLFFA Annual Report to gain an understanding of some of these initiatives.

Some of the initiatives that we are actively working on centre around the issue of extending credit - a topic that we highlighted in the SLFFA column in the Daily FT a few weeks ago.  Those in the trade are aware that as freight forwarders, we extend large amounts of credit to our customers without any collateral or visibility of their creditworthiness.  This comes at a huge cost to all of us, but we understand that this boosts the economy and as logistics service providers we wish to continue to render this service. But with the increased cash flow issues we had to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extending credit has become more challenging than before.

As an initial step to mitigate this credit risk, we started to revamp the debtor database operated by SLFFA. This way, we hope to identify wilful defaulters who have defaulted payments to fellow SLFFA members.

In order to bring a more comprehensive solution, we approached the CRIB and formally requested to be granted access to view the credit reports of potential credit customers. CRIB indicated that this is the first time in its history that such a request was made but the officials have responded positively and are working to accommodate our request.

Further, we opened discussions with the Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation (SLECIC) to understand new ways of minimising the risks taken by our members when handling exports. This cover would be available to member organisations in the near future.

We are also exploring the option of introducing a co-branded credit card with the assistance of Master Card to reduce the cash flow pressures further. Discussions are currently being held with banks to facilitate the requirement and we are hopeful of receiving  positive feedback.

During the pandemic when the government extended numerous benefits to businesses, SLFFA was quick to write to the Finance Ministry and request that the logistics industry be recognised as an industry which requires financial support. Afterwards, we were pleased to see the revisions made to the circulars to accommodate freight forwarders.

Drawing from my personal experience, I am aware that most of our member organisations require professional support with respect to maritime law and freight forwarders liability insurance. After our committee assumed duties, we spoke to Allianz Insurance and a few other insurance service providers to find new ways of assisting all members. I am pleased to say that these insurance companies were good enough to volunteer to carry out a risk assessment free of charge for all the SLFFA members and guide them on the policies that they should obtain.

To make use of these services and also a preferential rate that has been promised to us, we request all members to contact the secretariat before renewing their freight forwarders’ liability insurance for the year 2021.

A committee comprising experts in insurance, maritime law and freight forwarding will  be appointed. Through this committee we want to support members when they apply for claims,  obtain the required insurance protection and whenever they need legal advice or a legal opinion.

With a long term view to educate our members on these topics, we also hope to carry out knowledge sharing sessions and focused training programmes.

Speaking of training and education, the AITT Board took a number of steps to reactivate all the programmes related to logistics which has been inactive for some time. As most of you witnessed, almost 60 students completed their studies and received accolades today at a glittering ceremony – another first in this scale for SLFFA and AITT. Special appreciation goes to Kinglsy Abeywickrama in his lead role in making this a reality.

Moving on to the area of SLFFA Cargo Services which is the commercial arm of SLFFA , Just a few days ago we strengthened the relationship between the two entities SLFFA and SLFFA cargo Services by entering into a formal MOU. Also, I am pleased to announce that both boards reviewed the current royalty structure and that the sum paid to SLFFA by SLFFA Cargo Services as royalty was increased by 500%. This is incidentally the first review and revision in 20 years.I believe that both parties would benefit out of this and I take this opportunity to remind all our members to patronise SLFFA Cargo Services for all their movements. Very soon SLFFA Cargo services will create an opportunity for more SLFFA members to invest in its equity and I encourage anyone who is in a position to make an investment to do so. SLFFA Cargo Services has some interesting projects lined up - one such project is the commencement of an  off port facility to handle LCL cargo, transhipment cargo and entrepot trade. This project would improve the operational efficiency, reduce losses and pilferage, which in turn would help many exporters and the total industry. General Rathnayake, you would be particularly interested to know that this project would help to free up space at the port which could then be used for more lucrative ship related activities. Given the experience SLFFA Cargo Services has in carrying out a similar operation at the airport and given that SLFFA Cargo Services is willing to invest up to LKR 500Mn for the project, I am confident that all stakeholders would benefit from it.  

While we continue our numerous efforts to improve the secretariat and the membership, we also wish to encourage all freight forwarders of a good standing to obtain membership irrespective of their scale. I also invite other trade associations to join hands with SLFFA as I strongly believe that we would be able to create synergies together.  

As we move into the 40th year of SLFFA, I look forward to seeing more active participation from the general membership. We will set up more specific committees to work on different areas which need attention.  Plans are underway to publish a coffee table book to capture the illustrious history of SLFFA and steps are being taken to improve the publicity for the industry and SLFFA. We are also working on a National Logistics Awards programme to provide a platform for all logistics service providers to showcase their expertise and service excellence.

Speaking of supporting SLFFA, I  wish to acknowledge the presence of two eminent guests with whom I have worked closely and supported us in many ways. Mr. Tuli Cooray, Secretary General of JAAF and Mr. Noel Piyathilaka, a Former Chairman of JAAF. I am honored  to have you with us and reminisce with gratitude how both of you have stood by us and strengthened our efforts and endeavours over the years.

My job as the Chairman was made much easier due to the vast contributions made by the Advisory Council members. I thank all seven members for sharing their wisdom and experience with me. I would fail in my duty if I do not make a special note of the continuous guidance given by Mr. Diren Hallock in initiating a number of projects which have been beneficial for the entire membership. Sir.. your passionate involvement and direction has been a strength for the entire Board of SLFFA.

The Board of Directors of SLFFA, it has been a privilege to lead and work with all of you.  Your active involvement and visionary thinking have helped to take SLFFA to the next level. You have shouldered responsibility, worked with humility and gone beyond the call of duty, especially during the pandemic to help the industry in numerous ways. My special appreciation to the Deputy Chairman, Dinesh Sri Chandrasekera and Treasurer Prasansa Rodrigo for always standing by me.The sub committees, which were particularly active this year deserve special mention - Shavindra, Channa, Sadeeptha, Peter and Henry,your active involvement made sure that we had a productive year in office.  The contribution made by the rest of the committee is also appreciated.

I cannot forget the continuous support from Rohan and Manjula with the increased level of Demands with the number of on going projects.

Last but not least, my own team at CL Synergy; not only are you the best colleagues one could ask for, but you are also a great extended family to have. Thank you for taking on additional responsibility while I was engaged in industry work and for supporting me in performing my duties as Chairman.

Before I conclude, I wish to leave you with a few thoughts about the future of our industry based on my own observations. Our trade, being an essential service, showed resilience. we will always be stronger as a unit and together we can overcome the setbacks. Digitisation is inevitable and it comes with many advantages - it is up to us to open our minds, embrace new ways of doing business and accept the changes. Fore seeing customer requirements and proactively finding solutions to support their new ways of doing business will make sure that freight forwarding remains not only relevant but also essential in the minds of the customer.

Let’s believe in the difference we can make and the success we can achieve as a group and strive to nourish each other.

I wish all of you the very best and look forward to your support during my next year in office to take SLFFA and the freight forwarding industry to new heights.