SOUTH Africa could expect to have a comprehensive maritime industrial policy from government by the end of the year, Transport Minister Dikobe Ben Martins told delegates at a three- day national conference on maritime industry that began in Cape Town yesterday.
The formulation of the long outstanding policy, which was raised by delegates including those from the Eastern Cape in the run-up to the conference, is seen by industry leaders as critical to laying the foundation for formal coordinated and sustained development and investment into the sector.
Martins, who took over the transport ministry, assured delegates that the process of formulating policy had already begun involving consultation among relevant government departments as well as various key stakeholders both in the maritime and other sectors of society.
He acknowledged that the maritime industry had been neglected for too long and this had cost South Africa an opportunity to expand its economic base.
The lost opportunity included the cost of providing security to foreign vessels, estimated to be R37-billion per year, while none of the ships provided employment or generated any meaningful revenue.
However, Martins said this was now "water under the bridge” and that the staging of the conference provided an excellent opportunity for all critical stakeholders in government, business and society at large to craft possible solutions to knit the maritime sector into the rest of the economy.
"The conference today is a defining moment for both the department as well as the maritime sector where we have come together to discuss matters that are crucial to the turnaround of the maritime industry in order to take it to greater heights.
"A comprehensive study of maritime industry sectors had been completed and, based on its findings and analysis, a green paper has been established, and moving forward we will continue extensive engagement with stakeholders already operating in those areas in seeking possible positive outcomes.
"Also, we have been in the process of meeting the directors- general of various departments ... and in the next two weeks we will be engaging with leaders of business to establish where they can gain greater support as well as how best we can improve process,” Martins said.
He said that another study was under way at the ports to establish how costs could be reduced and efficiencies improved. Running parallel to the process was continued engagement with the international community.
The chairman of parliament’s portfolio committee on transport, Ruth Bengu, described the maritime industry policy formulation as long overdue.
She promised that once the draft had reached parliament it would be given top priority to ensure quick passage.