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Private sector insights to connecting dots in Sri Lanka’s development journey

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Day one of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s 19th Sri Lanka Economic Summit yesterday brought together key business leaders at the third session, titled ‘Connecting the Dots in Sri Lanka’s Economic Development Journey’, to highlight how Sri Lanka can connect the dots towards making a successful development journey.

The panel consisted of Softlogic Holdings PLC Chairman Ashok Pathirage, Ernst & Young Senior Partner Arjuna Herath, independent energy expert Saliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) COO Heminda Jayaweera, and CHEC Port City Colombo Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Liang Thow Ming,

Softlogic Holdings PLC Chairman Ashok Pathirage said lack of policy direction and absence of consistent policies has been a major constraint in continuing business as usual, and as local entrepreneurs, they are now concerned whether they have stretched too much investment in Sri Lanka without any target-oriented economic direction by the Government.

“We want policy consistency. We want a master plan and develop policies based on that. We have heard, we believed but there is only a lot of disappointment. We cannot believe anybody, but now hope for the best,” he added.

Pathirage said the tourism industry was the best bet for Sri Lanka to drive growth, as most of the infrastructure is in place. However, he pointed out that it needs clear-cut policies to propel the potential growth, while benefiting a major proportion of the economy.

Ernst & Young Senior Partner Arjuna Herath pointed out that the SME sector, which represents 52% of the economy, is not benefiting from the concessions, as the ecosystem has not been favourable for them for decades.

He said the policy environment in the business world is influenced by the 1,500 large players, disregarding the one million enterprises that contributes 45% of the employment and 25% of the production in the national economy.

Herath suggested establishing a Credit Guarantee Cooperation, and a one-stop-shop at the local government level, to strengthen the sector. Independent energy expert Saliya Wickramasuriya said that come 2020, the Hambantota Port will be more attractive to many shipping lines, as the cost of fuel will be increased, and being located in a strategic location will be of great benefit if the right product and policies are in place. He also said climate change has also have made it a more attractive port.

“There are three to four key opportunities that can be worked out, especially for bunkering facilities. Through unity within the industry, partnerships and incentive management to complement each other would assist to reap the low-hanging fruits at the moment. What we need to do now is to fast-track the implementation,” he added.

Wickramasuriya also urged not to politicise the investment. Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) COO Heminda Jayaweera said it has come to a point where Sri Lanka needs to put a halt to exporting raw materials without any value additions, noting that the economy has lost a great deal by allowing other countries to benefit from it.

He pointed out that previously Sri Lanka exported graphite at $2 per kilogram, and with value addition, it is now earning $10,000. Jayaweera also suggested private sector companies should rethink and consider going back to basics, and apply science to overcome challenges. CHEC Port City Colombo Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Liang Thow Ming said with the first phase (East part) of the Port City project to be complete by the end of next year, they are now focusing on the low-lying fruits which includes the hospitality industry, the marina, and the financial city.

Expressing his confidence that the Government of the day will take decisions for the betterment of the Sri Lankan people, he said that there are 74 land plots for development, where each is valued around $200 million, and that they are looking for 74 companies to develop them. “It is quite a task, but we want 74 companies to come and invest in Sri Lanka,” he added.

Ming also said that tourism is the most appropriate sector that Sri Lanka could benefit from immediately, as the country is abundantly blessed with natural products. Nevertheless, he suggested that sound and consistent policies would help the growth of the sector, in terms of further expanding the infrastructure from airport to road network. (CdeS)

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