FOR a good first two months of this year, it dominated the headlines until three events – one after the other – pushed it not exactly into oblivion but to the back burner.
Politicians from both sides of the divide pulled no punches in their one upmanship over the failure of the government to arrest the escalating price of consumer goods.
Then on March 7, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was convicted for sodomy and the next morning MH370 went off the radar.
If these two factors were to make the headlines, a third factor came into play – the conviction of veteran DAP leader Karpal Singh.
While the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism was going after petty traders and manufacturers, little or no attention was paid to the transport of raw materials from what has been termed the gateway to Malaysian trade – Port Klang.
It is now said it is cheaper to ship a 20-foot container from Port Klang to Tanjung Priuk in Indonesia or Hong Kong than move it from Port Klang to Shah Alam.
Importers and manufacturers have long endured increasing costs in removing the containers with shipping lines imposing what has been described as "dubious and erroneous charges".
The Port Klang Authority (PKA), despite being the regulatory authority over port terminal operators, has washed its hands, claiming it has no mandate to control charges which could be an anomaly.
This is because all landside activities come under its purview and if it says it has none, can someone charge RM2,000 just for permission to take the box out of the area and call it "gate charges"?
Importers, in a memorandum to the authorities, allege that various charges, including the following have been imposed or increased without consultation with the stakeholders.
> Container deposit from RM300 to RM2,000, depending on the shipping line and forwarding agents;> Demurrage or detention charge has been raised from RM50 to RM300 per unit per day;
> Washing charges, notwithstanding the rates are already included in terminal handling charges (THC). All the lines still demand for additional washing charges and refusal to comply means no delivery order (DO) issued and the box will remain in port and incur further demurrage charges.
> Delivery order fee has been raised from RM80 per set to RM160 today. This document used to be just a stamping on the bill of lading and was free of charge.
> Agency recovery fee – the irony of it! Consignee has to travel to the office of shipping lines, mostly located away from Port Klang. If you argue or refuse to pay, the DO is withheld.
The concept of containerisation is basically a door-to-door service with faster turnaround for goods to reach the importer from the source without breaking the chain. In the days when the terminals were operated by the port authority, shipping lines charged only THC and handed over the box to the importer. No other charges were allowed. Today the cost to the importer has escalated multi-fold.
Previously, the container arrived in Port Klang and the importer paid the THC to the shipping lines, and got a haulier to move in and transport the box to the warehouse or factory of importer.
The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and the Freight Forwarders Association of Malaysia brought this to the attention of PKA but they were dumbstruck with the reply of its general manager, Captain David Padman.
The memorandum, which theSun was able to get a copy, chided him for "comparing apples to oranges".
"You attempted to justify the proposed increase based on a comparison of costs at Port Klang and Singapore by converting their dollar to our ringgit. This is certainly inequitable. Surely what one earns or spends in either country reflects the sum total of that country; it cannot be used for such justification.
"A more equitable comparison should be based on the World Bank's Doing Business Report which compares the total cost to export/import a container, where we are deemed to be more expensive than Singapore. By using published rates for comparison, this is like hiding behind the bamboo curtain as we all know that terminal operators have different agreements with various lines based on volume," the memorandum said.
In a bid to compete with Singapore, all kinds of incentives were offered by the terminal operators to the shipping lines and they could do no wrong. This also gave a carte blanche to impose all kinds of charges.
This is at the expense of Malaysian importers and manufacturers who have to inevitably pass on the increase to the consumers. So, while shipping lines continue to rake in millions in extra profits, we poor consumers have to dig deeper into our pockets to put food on the table.
Problems continue to plague Port Klang and R. Nadeswaran is in the thick of it. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org