ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government will implement delayed plans to liberalise the shipping sector, allowing full foreign ownership of shipping agency and freight forwarding businesses, before presidential polls due later this year, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.
"Yes, this government remains committed to reforms," he told a post-budget forum held by Ernst & Young the day after he presented the government’s 2019 budget in parliament.
The budget represents “a shift from a culture of handouts to a culture of empowerment and independence,” Samaraweera said.
"This is a budget which helps people to help themselves."
Some reforms promised in his last budget were still to be done like shipping sector liberalisation, Samaraweera said, in response to a question on the delayed reforms, which had been opposed by shipping agencies and freight forwarders.
Foreign ownership in these sectors is now capped at 40 percent.
Samaraweera said the 2019 budget was the first presented by the United National Front government, led by the United National Party, as opposed to previous budgets presented in coalition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party as a unity government.
“We want to move the liberalisation process with greater vigour and greater success this year,” he said.
“I regret that one of the key reforms promised by me in the last budget on liberalising shipping has not yet been realised.”
He said the government believes in achieving consensus and wants to ensure all parties concerned will come to its way of thinking.
“Liberalisation, especially of the shipping sector, was held back because of the selfish attitude of a small group, which I call the shipping mafia."
“But we want to go ahead – if we want to be anything beyond a transhipment hub for India, if we really want to become the hub of the Indian Ocean, we must take these steps as quickly as possible and I believe this will be done.
“Before we go for the presidential election, we want to liberalise the shipping sector.”
(COLOMBO, March 06, 2019-SB)