Tuesday, 7th August, 2001

Seaport And Airport Operators Need To Meet Service Standards: Kerk

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's seaport and airport operators only need to complement existing world-class infrastructure already in place with standard operating procedures (SOP) or universal service standards to match against the best in the world.

"We've world-class facilities and infrastructure in place but need to do more on management and organisation (M&O;) and SOP to improve efficiency and bring cost down and benchmark ourselves against the best in the region and the world," said Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Kerk Choo Ting.

Kerk, who is also chairman of the Malaysian National Shippers Council (MNSC), told BERNAMA that the council had visited all ports in Asia, including two of the most efficient in Singapore and Hong Kong.

He said MNSC was of the opinion that without a good and effective Information Technology (IT) team, seaports and ports would not be able to function as efficiently as expected.

"An IT team designs, manages and operates almost everything. It is the nerve centre of the whole operation, including cargo handling," Kerk said.

In Hong Kong, for example, the in-house IT team has a staff strength of 80 to 100 people with the knowledge and expertise.

Singapore is another example where an IT team plays a significant role in bringing about efficiency of seaport and airport terminal operations.

Malaysia's major seaport and airport terminal operators are already moving into that direction, and more.

Port Klang, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) in Johor are already into Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) which is an essential part of operations.

"Many freight forwarders are already members of EDI," Kerk said.

Ports in Penang, Sarawak and Sabah are in the process of embracing EDI.

Kerk said that all relevant government agencies, particularly Royal Customs and Excise Department, would have to come on board the EDI system once it was fully in place to be fully ready for the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) by the year 2003.

He added that the Ministry of Finance had taken the necessary measures to ensures that the Royal Customs and Excise Department become fully integrated into the EDI system when the time comes.

Speaking in his capacity as chairman of the national shippers council, Kerk said although talks had been going on for many years it was still not possible to find a solution just yet to harmonising terminal handling charges across the region, including within the country, to bring about a more competitive freight environment.

While seafreight has generally been stable over the years and is expected to remain as such in the light of present over-shipping capacity, terminal handling charges on the other hand vary part from port to port across the entire region.

But he believed that in time to come it would be possible to find a way such as consolidating terminal handling charges into other costs into a total integrated freight charges for shippers so that there would be an equally competitive freight situation.

On whether the MNSC would eventually be placed in the hands of the private sector to manage and run, Kerk said there had been a lukewarm response to the idea from the industry itself.

Presently, the MNSC is being managed by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry which bears all the costs of the secretariat and other operations.

Representatives for the industry sit on the council with Kerk as it chairman since 1995.

Asked about progress of efforts by various parties, including his own, to resolve various issues associated with aircargo handling at MASKargo at KLIA, he said since the new management took over Malaysia Airlines there had been a significant improvement and also a change for the better in relations between the Airfreight Forwarders of Malaysia (AFAM) and MASKargo.

"I understand the two parties have struck a very close working relationship," he added.

Kerk explained that during the migration of MASKargo's operations from Subang to Sepang, there were the obvious teething problems within the first three weeks after its migration from Kai Tak. "But here it took three years to restore normalcy."

Since a new MASKargo team headed by MAS' newly-appointed senior general manager for cargo J.J Ong has been put in place, industry has reported a more responsive and pro-active new management at the airline's cargo division.