Sri Lanka is resourced with a strong skill base and must use this in taking the country to the next level of development. If this is not done it will be just like the rich mineral reserves of Africa that have been unutilized for decades and led to stunted economic growth in the African region, according to Rohantha Athukorala, National Portfolio Development Manager for United Nations Operations(UNOPS) for Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Speaking at a recent International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) conference on “Opportunity today in the North-East’, he said, “We must avoid this happening to Sri Lanka after the liberalization of the country from terrorism.”
Mr Athukorala who has served under two presidents, Chandrika Bandaranaike and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the key policy making body the National Council For Economic Development(NCED) as its Executive Director, commended the efforts of the government in the reconstruction and development efforts of the North in the last three months where the focus has been on key infrastructure development such as roads, electricity and water systems.
But he urged the private sector to move towards the next generation technology like the BPO sector in areas like Jaffna so that Sri Lanka can leap frog the economy like what South Korea did, to cross the 10,000 dollar per capital mark in the near future. Another area to focus that was pointed out was the software industry which can easily be a 6 billion dollar industry for Sri Lanka.
He said the next challenge is to involve the community in the development process in the areas of Mullativu, Killinochchi and Mannar providing livelihood development as well as peace building in the country.
The best case in point in point in Sri Lanka is the 50 million Euro, community based livelihood development project which is been done by a United Nations Agency - UNOPS where the people in the area get involved in building rural access roads as well as waste management projects which is on a self financing mode. Aparently on a daily basis in the Ampara district, there are almost 2000 people who are employed in this project which has helped revive the Ampara economy and generate consumer pull towards private sector brands.
Another point highlighted by the speaker was the Private-Public-People (PPP model) that needs to be driven in making a economic change to the market dynamics seen in western markets. The case in point explained by Mr Athukorala was the apparel industry of Sri Lanka.
He said even while the key markets of the EU and US declined the Sri Lankan private sector went through internal reforms by way of restructuring the business and looking out at new partnerships that has helped the overall industry deliver a sales revenue of 2 billion dollars as at end August 2009 which just about similar to last year’s performance. This performance is commendable and the public sector must follow suit as a best practice, he added.