By WILLIAM BARILE
Former CEO, SIPA
THERE is a time and place for all things worthy of publicity.
The incumbent Chief Executive Officer of Solomon Islands Ports Authority Eranda Kotalewala could not have erred more on both scores.
The sweeping statement made Wednesday 18th December on page 3, Issue 2434 of The Island Sun Newsaper; to the effect that all CEO’s before him had not been doing their jobs and had they done so, SIPA would have been much better off; is the particular case in point.
He further claimed that SIPA was at the brink of collapse before he took over as CEO.
The context of this statement implied that his frequent overseas trips were necessary to catch up on much needed progress and advancement for SIPA.
I contend that this is unprovoked insult; and with confidence I will assert it is a lie.
Mr Kotalewala was dribbling, a novice at best, and was fooling innocently ignorant readers of the newspaper.
Ironically his proximity to the ocean, makes reality check for Mathew 18:6 of the Bible an issue.
Apart from Colin Yow (who was acting completely outside the box), all CEO predecessors to Mr Kotalewale had been indigenous Solomon Islanders.
We had served our country through thick and thin.
We did not rake home mega bucks for minuscule effort on the job as ostensibly does he.
We did not engage in highly pretentious nonsense, let alone high flying globetrotting ‘week in week out’ self-interest escapades, and trumpeting through ‘The Island Sun Newspaper’ that we have reinvented the wheel, as he is doing.
Mr Kotalewale cannot come into our country and insult us.
Why he should do so and garner support from fellow Solomon Islanders is a million dollar question.
It has been revealed that he had contracted ‘The Islands Sun’ for a certain amount of money to publish positive news of SIPA and to effectively block anything adverse.
This is why balance reporting has not been given the light of day after a Memorandum of Understanding to the effect was signed two years ago.
The action is unethical. Those who engage in this nature of selective publicity are disgracing the noble profession of journalism.
While the newspaper is for sale; particularly the advertisement column; journalism is never for sale.
The Island Sun newspaper could avoid these speculations by embedding SIPA news in their Advertisement Column.
Changes and upgrades in port operations come as matters of time based progressions.
New and cutting edge technologies are always being introduced into the industry in all aspects from infrastructural systems, to port operation to information systems (IT).
These times based progression are in keeping with new discoveries and developments.
Port Managements must employ selective acceptance of these new developments to suit their particular situations and ports.
It is the inherently ordinary duty of a CEO to keep up with these times and standards without there being occasions for ‘a song and a dance’ each and every time.
SIPA has its mandate from the Ports Act. SIPA has its Vision and Mission Statements which is translated into a set of Objectives.
These objectives embody coverall work scope of the international port industry in Solomon Islands; and those engage in running SIPA including Board, CEO, EMT and rank and file; all of them; have the gravest duty of care to know what is required of them for delivery of effective service to the nation.
Those of us who have found ourselves at the helm of SIPA from 1978 to the time of my sacking in 2012, have won our positions through merit and proven ability.
My compatriot predecessors gained their positions through performance-based promotions, which I think was appropriate for continuity and stability of corporate culture in the pervading milieu of challenges and changes.
I philosophise that where paternalism merges fraternity, home-grown has no match.
The ploy to employ offshore has been ill-conceived and delusional. On both occasions thus far (Yow and Kotalewala) they have been miscues.
This is so; firstly, for the lack of appropriate grounding of the interviewers on core qualities required for the position of CEO.
Secondly, the learning curve of an external candidate of choice can impair or hinder continuity, and his or her imbued stereotypical inclinations or legacy fanaticising; and inappropriate self-image may be disruptive to the proper conduct of the job.
This was amply evident in the case of Yow and now becoming apparent with Kotalewala.
The mass media was flooded with the misdeeds of Yow back in the day and now Kotalewala is similarly being exposed.
Former CEOs of SIPA should not be unduly criticised by the current CEO.
We have done our part and the port Mr Kotalewale is so unashamedly fleecing disproportionate benefits from had been the results of our toils.
James Vaukei who brought Solomon Islands Ports Authority through the tender years of nation-building and independence in 1978 was a protégé of the British Colonial civil service.
He made a career in port operation, honed through long years of dedicated service, to provide seamless transition from colonial to localised managements.
SIPA was never at the brink during his management term of more than 10 years.
Ngenomea Kabui brought renewal and phased modernism to administrative and management standards to SIPAs operations.
With post graduate-level education in Accountancy and Business Studies, he oversaw the introduction of computerised accounting systems, Industrial Relations, and modernised Human Resource Management.
The most pronounced development during his watch was SIPA’s introduction to Computerization and the ‘Cyber High Way’.
Hence forward port information needs for communication and technology transfer, were at the figure tips.
Towards the end of Mr Kabui’s tenure, the dark years of ethnic tension overshadowed the country.
Despite threats to infrastructure, equipment and lives, the port maintained services throughout.
We held the fort despite extreme risks to our lives.
SIPA maintained viability, meeting all liabilities and financial obligations through the period of the so-called ethnic tension.
SIPA was never at the brink during his management term of more than 17 years.
I took over as CEO in July 2008 having been selected through competitive interviews after 24 years on the job.
I had worked through being the inaugural Port Engineer of SIPA to being the Director of Engineering with not a few training, up-skilling and honing programs through the intervening years.
I had done time with the best in the industry as subordinate, equal partner or as superior.
All physical maritime infrastructures (emerge and submerge, substructural and superstructural; vertical or horizontal constructions) at the Port of Honiara and of Noro have my personal involvement and signature.
Besides my engineering training I am also endowed with management qualification. The only aspect of operation I was not able to do for SIPA was to bring vessels to berth; otherwise I had them all wrapped up ‘lock stock and barrel’.
Mr Kotalewala’s idea of running a port is tunnel visioned, self-serving and selective; and lacks the panoramic oversight ability of a CEO demanded of a small Pacific Islands country.
By and large his little experience is based on ‘Land Lord’ port operation.
This is where publicity and salesmanship are key concerns.
SIPA is not such a port.
Under its Mission Statement SIPA is mandated to conduct its operations equally and fully conscious of the six distinct objectives.
These are to address the issues of Finance, Port Operations, Port Infrastructure, Human Resources Development, Community Services/Port Users and Trade.
When I left SIPA the ongoing programs I had listed to holistically address the objectives were:
1. A green port
a. pursuit of green energy sources
b. provision of shore ‘green power’ to vessels at berth
c. international listing for ‘Most Favoured Port’
d. greenhouse gas emissions and carbon trading
e. positive positioning for international development aid grants
2. A Financially sustainable port
a. Development of a 12 storey SIPA HAUS for ‘one-stop shop’ ports and port related office and commercial use, and tenancy
b. Land lord funds for development to relieve sole reliance on tariffs
c. International Tourism and social hub
3. A community Service Port
a. Construction of six inter-islands shipping jetties and two LC Ramps
b. Address traffic bottleneck by conducting engineering studies for development of esplanade free-way from Point Cruz to Randi Industrial Estate.
4. A Hub Port
a. Build modern international port infrastructure
b. Source and install appropriate and cutting edge equipment
c. Equip SIPA (Honiara and Noro) for gearless international mega-carriers
d. Build ‘off-dock’ certified container terminals
e. Adaption of the ‘Single Window Port’ Strategy.
5. A Secure Port
a. Supply Chain Security and compliance to ISO 28,000 and ISO 9001 (the scanning machine, CCTV, drone surveillance, VMS, etc.)
b. ISPS Compliance and associate security procedures and drills.
6. A Trained and Motivated Work Force
a. Pre-service training and sponsorships
b. Phased port operation training
c. Recruit and train pilots (Harbour and Reef Pilots)
d. In-house training re-training and up skilling
e. Undergraduate and postgraduate training
f. Build four local staff housing per year and one management housing every two years.
g. Collaborate and support PMTA in establishment Ports Training Institution in Suva and Apia
This list may be ambitious but it was a guide to fulfilling the Objectives.
They were enough to keep me on my CEO chair; and walking around the yard, the berths, and the jetties; 85% of my official working hours.
I even took time out to travel to China Town and Randi Industrial Estate to keep abreast of the ‘hinterland’ and ‘local market places’ almost on a daily bases.
The desk diaries at the Security Gate House will attest to the fact that there are numerous occasions when the light in my office remains aglow up to the early morning hours.
Like the others before me, I was serving my country and no one can and should have justification to insult me as not having done my job.
Records will show that during my time I had solicited up to half a billion SBD in grant aid for SIPA.
In my sacking, I timidly took the fall to make way for the new 215m deepwater berth with its array of glamour trimmings.
I could have been selfish! I harbour silent tears but I always cherish the thought that I have placed the interest of my country a head of my own.
SIPA was never at the brink of bankruptcy during my watch.
I wish only that Eranda Kotalewala would pursue his self-endearment to the media without wielding the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ wand at us old guys’.
We are wilted and drained and long only for some peace and quiet.