25th March 2001
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Ceylon Tourist board last week launched a new campaign titled "Sri Lanka: a land like no other at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. The new promotion is aimed at marketing eco-tourism and other facets of Sri Lankan local life. The picture by Athula Devapriya shows the new campaign logo in the background og a bevy of pretty dancers.

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Foreign reserves growing up

By Feizal Samath
Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserves and other sectors of the economy are seen improving this year compared to 2000 with reserves' positions stronger, interest rates falling and government borrowings set to ease, Central Bank officials said.

"We are expecting a much better year in 2001 in fiscal-performance terms," said Dr. A.G. Karunasena, the bank's economic research director. Economic growth however is seen falling from the six percent figure in 2000, Deputy Finance Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has said in his budget speech. 

The Central Bank research chief, in an interview with The Sunday Times Business, noted that official reserves reached US $ 1 billion by the end of February from US $ 950 million in January 2001. The reserves went up this month after the Central Bank purchased US $ 19.1 million from the inter-bank market from March 8 onwards in small lots to stabilize market volatility.

In January this year the bank allowed a free float of the US dollar to halt dwindling foreign reserves and set new rules for export proceeds and forward purchases. After the foreign exchange market stumbled three days following the free float, trading has stabilized enabling the Central Bank to relax curbs and also interest rates.

On March 19, the bank reduced the compulsory margin on forward purchases to 25 percent from 50 percent. The bank in January, along with the free float, said forward sales and purchases of foreign exchange should be backed by a rupee deposit of 50 percent to discourage speculative forward contracts.

The move caused a lot of concern amongst importers.

Karunasena said the adjusted defence budget of 75 billion rupees this year, which includes a carry forward figure from last year, would not alter the projected budget deficit figure of 8.5 percent of GDP. "This is a normal practice and next year's defence expenditure would probably contain a carry-forward figure from this year."

He said the US dollar has stabilized in the past few weeks and is now around 85 rupees per dollar. Asked whether the dollar would remain at these levels or move within a narrow band, the Central Bank research chief said that while the dollar would face less pressure from the budget and the balance of payments side, there could be pressure through inflation.

On the fiscal side, the government is hoping to bring down borrowings state and public corporations which would ease pressure on interest rates. "Interest rates will fall gradually from a slow pace in the second quarter to an accelerated pace in second half 2001 as government borrowings reduce and public corporations resort to non-bank, non-inflationary sources for lower borrowing requirements," Karunasena said.

"Corporations like the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have less borrowings needs as oil prices have stabilized and that would ease domestic market pressure. Privatisation proceeds should come in the second half of the year boosting government's finances," he added. The country's import bills are also expected to be lower this year helping the trade deficit to even out.

But private economists contest the government's positive look at the financial health of the economy, saying privatization proceeds is unlikely to be up to government expectations while high inflation and lower economic growth will heat up the economy. 

Tourism aims for the skies

Sri Lanka's state tourism agency is aiming for a record 450,000 arrivals this year but industry officials are casting doubts on any improved performance saying roadblocks in addition to the ethnic conflict - could deter growth.

The lack of an open skies policy and high landing fees charged by airport authorities to foreign airliners, in addition to the conflict are a deterrent to a better-performing tourism industry, officials say.

"Airlines are pulling out because it is uneconomical to fly to Colombo," notes Udaya Nanayakkara, president of the Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL).

Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB) chairman Renton de Alwis, who recently moved from a top-class industry job in Singapore to take the CTB post, concedes Sri Lanka needs to rationalize its aviation policy but firmly believes that these issues will be sorted out if tourism takes off on the back of successful peace talks.

"I believe all these issues would be resolved if peace returns to this country," De Alwis said referring to proposed peace talks between the government and the LTTE which are likely to start in or around May this year.

De Alwis and Nanayakkara were expressing their views to the media just before the CTB launched a new tourism campaign titled "Sri Lanka - a land like no other" at a grand ceremony at the Mount Lavinia hotel last week.

CTB officials said the new strategy was aimed at repositioning Sri Lankan tourism and plans to bring together all stakeholders hotel operators, travel and tour agents, guides, SriLankan Airlines, overseas missions, government and corporate leaders, the media and the general public.

A statement said the theme of the new concept is to look "beyond beaches: nature, culture and adventure." "The bio-diversity and the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka with seven UNESCO world heritage sites offers exciting opportunities to tour operators to look beyond the beach-based packaged tour," it said.

Nanayakkara, in his remarks, said that Aeroflot, the famous Russian airline, was pulling out of Colombo at the end of the month followed by Martinair of Holland due to low yields and uneconomical reasons.

Two other airlines, Saudi and Kuwait, had reduced their flights frequency which together with the two airlines pulling out, would reduce the seat availability by more than 1,000 seats per week, he added.

He urged the government to liberalise the industry and allow more airlines to operate with greater freedom instead of restricting their flights and the number of passengers to protect local carrier, SriLankan Airlines.

"If we don't liberalise, it would be detrimental to the industry," Nanayakkara said noting that the national carrier should allow more flexibility to other airlines as its expansion capacity is limited.

De Alwis, on the other hand, highlighted another reason for airlines pulling out - the high costs of landing fees. "The whole package of landing fees, fuel costs and maintenance at the Colombo airport is relatively higher than other regional airports," he said.

The CTB chief said they were discussing the matter with civil aviation authorities and planned to undertake a study shortly to find out the actual costs in Colombo compared to other regional airports.

Mind Your Business 

Private, not people's
The plans have already been formulated and the stage is now set for the phased privatization of the big state banks.

The so-called bankers to the nation, we understand will lead the way followed by the bank of the people and those who save will be saved until the last possible hour. 

What of the unions and the political fallout? They are only to be expected but this time around, the lady is determined to see the changes through.

Power hungry
The news that the country is in the throes of a power crisis has reached overseas investors too who seem to want a slice of the cake.

Discreet inquiries are being made as to whether private sector participation in power supply will be encouraged, at least on a regional basis.

So far however, the response has been negative. The time is not right, inquirers have been told, simply because the state apparatus is in turmoil.

The pill bill
Laws are being contemplated to compel physicians to prescribe drugs in their generic names, explicitly banning trade name prescribing with severe penalties for offenders.

But pharmaceutical companies are far from being alarmed.

Such tactics, they say have been tried in other countries and have invariably failed. Nevertheless, they are said to be probing the possibilities of legal action, saying it violates the rights of the prescriber.

Insurance regulator looks at opening markets, reviews tariffs

Sri Lanka's new Insurance Board (IBSL), the country's main insurance regulator, is reviewing the tariffs structure for general and life policies and also aiming to expand the market with new players.

"There is a need to change tariffs and expand the life insurance market particularly as a savings mechanism and pensions scheme at a time when the country's population is ageing," says Dr Dayanath Jayasuriya, acting Director General of the IBSL.

Jayasuriya told The Sunday Times Business that the new regulator had a wide mandate and "many things to do". Among the critical areas that the IBSL is looking into is the need for reforms of exchange laws since money is being remitted out for technical and other services and to facilitate this process.

Earlier this month, Ken Balendra, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) was appointed chairman of the IBSL while Jayasuriya, also director general of the SEC was named its acting DG.

"Although we work with the same staff - ie SEC personnel - the two institutions are different entities," the IBSL acting DG noted. The move to appoint SEC heads to run IBSL is keeping in line with government policy to reduce the number of regulators in the market.

The insurance market has nine insurers and 38 brokers while IBSL has received one inquiry from abroad from an insurer interested in investing here. "Foreign insurance companies would be more favourable to investing in Sri Lanka now that the market is regulated. Any market needs regulation and this is something foreign companies regard as a priority," Mr. Jayasuriya said.

IBSL, created under the new insurance act that became law in August last year, has wide powers of registering and or refusing licences, investigate malpractices, examine the books of insurance companies, settle disputes and advise the government on market development.

Earlier insurance came under a controller of insurance who had little teeth and merely registered companies in addition to collecting annual and quarterly reports of companies. "One of our principle objectives is to work out ways of assuring the public that insurance companies are economically viable and have reserves to meet liabilities," said Jayasuriya.

"That is our top priority."

He said IBSL will soon start examining the books of insurance companies to assess their financial health, once the board's rules and regulations are ready.

But he noted that the insurance regulator couldn't provide absolute guarantees on the status of insurance companies. "We will provide the public with as much information as possible but the public must also make its own judgement on investing in an insurance company or taking out a policy."

Some of the other issues IBSL is looking at is to create a condusive climate for the formation of an association to represent policyholders, which is prevalent in other countries, to improve bargaining with insurers and have a regular dialogue with all stakeholders including insurance companies and policyholders.

Another issue of concern IBSL is setting its sights on are misleading insurance advertisements. "Some insurance advertisements are misleading and we have received complaints about a few. We may need to set up guidelines on advertising."

IBSL invited insurance companies two weeks ago to discuss the state of play in the industry, take in proposals for improvement and look at the problems. At least 28 problem areas were identified which are receiving the attention of the board.

Tariff rates are a crucial issue raised by the industry which says that rates have been low for too long. Another area is to broadbase the industry to allow banks into the business, a proposal objected to by traditional agents who see themselves being wiped out if banks are brought into the fold.

"Expansion of the life insurance market is one of the important areas as our current cover is just 0.7 percent of the population compared to 2.7 percent in Kenya or 9 percent in Japan," said the acting DG.

ABN takeover

NDB to float new firm

The National Development Bank is planning to float a new company to buy the ABN-AMRO bank, officials said. 

The ownership of the new company is to be offered to the existing shareholders of the NDB. This is in line with the provisions of the existing Banking Act in Sri Lanka, which does not formally permit a development bank to fully own a commercial bank.

NDB Director/General Manager, Ranjith Fernando said that the company would raise the money needed to buy ABN AMRO, through public subscriptions and debt. The price of the ABN-AMRO acquisition is believed to be around Rs 1 billion. Market analysts, however, believe that NDB will also sell a substantial part of its equity portfolio, including shares in a leading commercial bank, to finance the acquisition. NDB owns a 2-billion rupee equity portfolio, one of the largest in Sri Lanka.

In recent times, NDB has been reducing the size of its equity portfolio, which is not performing well due to depressed market conditions. Last month it sold off eight million shares of Eden Hotels at a price of Rs 6.50. Fernando said the bank would be further reducing the size of the portfolio this year by disposing of shares in the open market. With the Colombo market being low in value, the NDB conceded that the sale of part of its share portfolio could result in capital losses. "We have provided for the capital losses in our accounts already. Since we mark the value of our portfolio at the market price, the loss is automatically recognised and provided," he added. 

The battle for the food of gods

By Chanakya Dissanayake
The sweetest of all delights, chocolates are making their presence felt in the Sri Lankan market. Kit Kat, a chocolate coated wafer marketed by the international food giant Nestle, is making inroads into the mass market with an aggressive pricing strategy. 

Since entering the market in 1996, Nestle's marketers have developed a niche for "light snacks". 

The chocolate market in Sri Lanka amounts to nearly Rs 2 billion annually and has been growing 8 percent annually for the past few years. For many years chocolates were confined to upmarket segment, concentrated in Colombo and the outskirts. 

According to marketing guru Dr Uditha Liyanage, Sri Lankan chocolate brand managers failed to develop new markets. They always stuck to the same slab based product, failing to introduce new forms of chocolates to the various segments in the market. " Nestle broadbased the chocolate market in Sri Lanka. Kit Kat is creating a new image for chocolates as a snack", he added.

Nestle's drive to popularise Kit Kat among Sri Lankans follows its success in India. The massive outdoor campaigns that featured bus halts painted half, to dramatically illustrate Kit Kat's "take a break" punchline, helped it to gain a firm foothold in India.

However, the Kit Kat marketed in Sri Lanka is not the original UK product. It is manufactured in Malaysia and "climatised" to suit the hot weather in the sub continent.

"The original UK Kit Kat cannot be introduced to the Sri Lankan mass market because it melts in the stores due to hot whether. It can be only sold in stores that have cooler facilities. We have removed the cocoa butter content to enable storage without coolers", said Cubby Wijetunga Director Corporate Affairs, Nestle.

Nestle is also looking for a strategic partner to expand the chocolate operation in Sri Lanka. It attempted to buy the factory of local chocolate manufacturer Edna but the deal fell through because of price considerations. 

Edna executives declined to comment on this or their progress in the chocolate industry.

Sri Lanka's leading chocolate producer, Kandos shrugged off the danger created by the rapid expansion of Kit Kat. "A chocolate without cocoa butter is not a real chocolate. We exist to provide real, top quality chocolates to our consumer", said Kandos Brand Manager, Bimal Ratnatunga.

Ratnatunga stressed that Kandos will not enter the wafer based chocolate market, because they cannot use cocoa butter as an ingredient. " The quality of chocolates depends on the cocoa butter percentage. We will defend our quality standards even at the expense of losing market share to inferior products."

Kandos has also launched an advertising campaign saying, "a chocolate without cocoa butter is not real chocolate".

However, Kandos admits that the weather conditions in Sri Lanka is a major constraint towards maintaining high cocoa butter percentages. "We are selective about our outlets. Kandos is available only in outlets which could maintain them in good conditions".

Kandos defines the chocolate market in Sri Lanka, as essentially a gift giving market. " Even though Sri Lanka is a developing country, the consumers are very conscious about quality", Ratnatunga added.

Last year Kandos launched it's top end range titled "21 collection", which surpasses even European standards in cocoa butter percentage. It is only available in limited number of outlets, since it cannot be stored without proper facilities.

"According to the Greek legend, chocolates are the food of the gods. It even prevented the king of gods from straying from his wife. Our commitment to quality derives from that", Ratnatunga added in lighter vein.

School leavers could service booming software industry 

Sri Lanka's booming software industry could be a major draw for the large number of school leavers who are unable to find places in local state universities, says a top banker.

"Out of the 200,000 students who sit the Advanced Level examinations annually, only 12,000 get into universities. The rest seek jobs in clerical and other fields. The software and information technology industry can and should absorb this mass of youngsters," noted Ranjith Fernando, CEO of the National Development Bank (NDB).

He was expressing some general views on education, the job market and the flourishing IT industry, at a press conference held last week to mark the signing of a memorandum of understanding between local software producer AsiaSoft (Pvt) Ltd and Ashok Leyland Information Technology Ltd (ALIT) of India.

Under the MOU, ALIT will provide what is known as BaaN consulting services or enterprise resource planning packages where an organisation can streamline all operations whether it be finance, distribution, manufacturing or human resources. This expertise would be for AsiaSoft's local and Middle East client base.

AsiaSoft, in which NDB's Fernando is the chairman, is an advanced technology company specialising in software development with subsidiaries in the United States and Dubai, where it recently provided a successful solutions package to a client at the Dubai Internet City.

ALIT, based in Bangalore and part of the giant Hinduja group headquartered in Britain, is one of India's fastest growing software service companies. The Sri Lankan and Indian combine came together to provide a solutions package to a local company and then, following the success of this job, decided to form a strategic alliance.

AsiaSoft officials said that there are 25 to 30 top Sri Lankan software companies in an industry that is growing here annually by 25 percent to 30 percent.

AsiaSoft CEO Sujatha Nadesan believes the company is moving into the top 30-company bracket with its growing international connections and the latest tie-up with ALIT.

"The demand for software personnel is growing and this is an industry that can ease unemployment in the country and also raise the living standards of the people. There is also scope abroad for our software experts due to a shortage of IT personnel in Europe, Japan and Korea," she said.

Ruwanthi Fernando, AsiaSoft's Business Consulting Manager, said the company provided various solutions to its clients including firewall systems to prevent security break-ins and hacking.

"Hackers in Sri Lanka? Yes it is possible. You don't need to be in Sri Lanka to invade a local system. You could do it from abroad and the same would apply to a Sri Lankan. He or she could hack a system overseas, wipe out the data," she said in a response to a query as to whether western-oriented hacking had come to Sri Lanka.

Last month, two local Internet service providers complained of security break-ins despite firewall systems that normally prevent this kind of access. Email clients of these two companies were loaded with unnecessary mail plus a lot of confidential mail going to others.

Ruwanthi Fernando said firewalls had to be constantly upgraded and additional features like systems scanners and alerts should be added on to ensure maximum security.

Smoking becoming a burning issue

Cigarette consumption up despite anti-smoking lobby
By Feizal Samath
Cigarette consumption in Sri Lanka is growing despite hectic lobbying by anti-smoking groups and government plans to introduce an alcohol and tobacco policy banning advertising of these products, industry officials said.

"The figures are proof that negative publicity against cigarettes has not cut consumption trends though we have not benefited by these growth patterns," said Vijaya Malalasekera, Corporate & Legal Affairs director at Ceylon Tobacco Co (CTC), Sri Lanka's monopoly cigarette producer.

He was responding to a question, at a news conference last week, on whether anti-smoking campaigns by non-governmental agencies like the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) have curbed cigarette consumption. Consumption of CTC's cigarettes has declined mainly due to the expansion in the illegal cigarette market.

ADIC, an active campaigner of laws banning cigarette advertising and sales to minors is believed to be behind a protest demonstration by an anti-smoking group, 10 days ago, outside the CTC office when the company's annual general meeting was being held.

The anti-smoking lobby accuses the company of using devious and subtle methods to entice youngsters to smoke, a charge hotly denied by CTC which says its voluntary code of conduct - where cigarette sales to minors are not permitted - is proof that it only targets the adult market. 

CTC met the media to mainly complain about the rising incidence of illicit "white" cigarettes, which the company said could result in the Sri Lankan government losing revenue totalling 1.3 billion rupees this year, against 1.02 billion rupees in 2000 as these sticks escape the tax net. CTC says there are at least 250 illegal cigarette brands in the market.

"These unregistered manufacturers pose a great threat, to future government revenues, to the legally manufactured products of CTC as well as the Beedi manufacturers in Sri Lanka," a CTC statement noted. 

According to Customs data on the tobacco industry between 1993 and 2000, CTC sales fell to 4.7 billion sticks in 2000 against 5.7 billion sticks of Beedi and 1.3 billion untaxed "white" cigarettes, making a grand total of 11.7 billion sticks. This is in comparison to a total of 10.7 billion sticks last year made up of 5 billion CTC cigarettes, 4.8 billion Beedis and 0.3 billion "white cigarettes.

In 1993, there was a total of 11 billion cigarettes comprising 5.2 billion CTC sticks and 5.8 billion Beedis and no illegal cigarettes. "According to these figures, the untaxed cigarette market has grown from zero in 1993 to more than a billion sticks now for which the government is not getting any revenue at all," said Malalasekera.

CTC Managing Director Fred Combe said the "white" cigarette market was a fast growing menace to the Sri Lanka economy and urged the government to take steps to penalize those responsible.

Malalasekera accused government authorities of letting illicit white cigarette manufacturers off the hook even though laws relating to illicit cigarettes are available with penalties or fines running up to a million rupees. 

He said the illegal industry had grown in recent years due to high excise duties on cigarettes produced by CTC with unlicensed producers flooding the market with cheap, untaxed cigarettes. "Not only are they eating into the legal market, they are also depriving the government of a large chunk of revenue."

CTC officials called for stricter enforcement of the law saying if this is done it would help the government to optimize excise duty revenues.

Officials said CTC's contribution to the government this year is projected at 24.26 billion rupees from the sale of 4.6 billion cigarettes while Beedi sales are projected at 5.9 billion sticks and 295 million rupees in taxes whereas for the expected 1.6 billion of white cigarettes in the market, the net loss to government in terms of missed revenue is 1.2 billion rupees.

Malalasekera agreed there could be health risks in smoking illegal, locally produced cigarettes which are made without proper quality and standards. "I am not a health expert but, yes I agree there could be health risks here," he noted, adding that health authorities should be looking at this issue seriously. The nicotine content is the same in legal and illegal cigarettes while the tar content is much higher in the latter category.

Ceylinco helps abused women

A top Colombo insurance firm has come to the rescue of woman who are abused, raped or just need help with an insurance policy that would cover legal fees and anything else in times of need.

The Ceylinco Insurance Co, the country's largest insurer in association with Seylan Bank, announced last week it was offering a unique insurance scheme named "Ahinsa (innocent)" targeting at the 600,000 girls working in free trade zones across the island and those outside.

These girls fall into low income categories and are married or unmarried.

The policy, company officials said at the launch of the new scheme to coincide with the recent International Women's day, would also benefit both unemployed females and those who intend to get married in the future.

Abuse and rape of women is a growing problem in Sri Lanka despite stringent punishment against such offenders. Women's rights groups have been campaigning for a better deal particularly for female workers at the free trade zones who are not only exploited in garment sweatshops but face abuse elsewhere often due to their unmarried status.

Ceylinco's Ahinsa policy benefits both the mother and child and offers life cover, cover against birth deformities, cover for critical illness, hospitalisation and surgery, and assistance for educating two children if their mother expires.

It also includes a host of other benefits like legal fees to fight against abuse or rape, cover for theft of jewellery while at home and while wearing it. "The Ahimsa policy is more like a friend in need. For a small premium the policy will protect and offer security to women who face difficulties in trying to survive in society. The policy is specially designed for the low-income women and looks at their specific needs," said Ceylinco chairman Lalith Kotelawala.

Sorry, wrong number

Lanka Bell, one of Sri Lanka's two private loop operators, says that they have over 100,000 connections so far since it came into the market five years ago.

"Lanka Bell has currently over 100,000 connections, considering the concessions allowed to both Lanka Bell and Suntel, for rural telephony connections," the company said in a statement.

It said the number of 28,000 lines as given in a Sunday Times Business story dated March 18 headlined "High Licence Fee Dialling up for destruction" is incorrect.

Sisil to launch R70

After a five-year absence, Sisil is set to introduce the R70 Refrigerator model in March 2001. The popular "Cool Box" still sporting a single door handle and direct cooling facilities, is now a smaller version of the R80 model but bigger than the R60 model, the company said.

"Sisil is a truly Sri Lankan brand and this refrigerator has a lot of history behind it", says a company spokesperson. "We are proud to launch the R70 because not only does it bring back memories of the first Sri Lankan refrigerator but it also is a quality product that guarantees a lifetime investment."

The new R70 model continues to sport the single door handle - a now unseen accessory that is not found in modern refrigerators. The household workhorse is made of quality raw materials such as copper tubing and steel imported from Japan. Further, powder coated painting technology is used on the body of the refrigerator to prevent corrosion - this gives the customer a good opportunity to be able to utilize their "rust free" Sisil for a very long time.

Introduced to Sri Lanka during the 1960s by Associated Electrical Corporation Ltd., Sisil has served Sri Lankan families for over 30 years.

New consumer protection laws ready by next year

By Hiran Senewiratne
The new Consumer Protection Authority Bill will provide for the establishment of consumer protection authorities and consumer protection councils to regulate the prices of goods and services to protect the consumer, a top economist said.

Dr. Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), said with the entry of the proposed legislation, the Fair Trading Commission Act and the Consumer Protection Act would be amalgamated into an authority that would function under the new law.

The new bill is expected to be operative by 2002.

With the liberalization of the economy in 1977, free trade barriers were removed and competitive trade came in. The Consumer Protection Act was introduced in 1979 as a remedy for unfair trade practices that too place, Dr. Kelegama said.

The Fair Trading Commission was also introduced some years ago to control monopolies, mergers and unfair trade practices, the IPS chief said at a seminar titled "Competition Policy and Utility Regulations'' which was organised by the Law and Society Trust recently.

Dr Kelegama said that the functions of the proposed Authority shall be to control or eliminate restrictive agreements or arrangements among enterprises with regard to prices and acquisitions.

It is also empowered to investigate or inquire in to monopolies, mergers and anti competitive practices and abuse of dominant positions and promote effective competition, he added.

The draft legislation will also provide adequate safeguards against false and misleading advertising which is a key problem in the open economic scenario.

The Sri Lankan government has begun the process of reforming the water supply and sewerage sector and has plans to create a regulatory framework and establish a regulatory body, Additional General Manager, National Water Supply And Drainage Board, K.M.N.S Fernando said

He said this novel regulatory framework will be part of the global strategy of safe drinking water for all people. Preparatory work over the creation of this regulatory body as well as the draft act is complete and will be presented for cabinet approval.

SLT joins Gric Alliance network 

Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the premier telecommunications provider in Sri Lanka and reputed as the National Telecom Service provider in the country, said that it has joined the Alliance Network of GRIC Communications, Inc. (Nasdaq: GRIC), a leading provider of IP-based communications services.

By joining the GRIC Alliance NetworkTM, a worldwide network of more than 300 major service providers and telecommunications companies, SLT can now offer individual subscriber and corporate customers the use of GRIC's extensive global network for high-quality, low-cost remote Internet connections.

SLT has enhanced the global remote Internet access services provided to its local subscribers, including the ability to connect to the Internet via approximately 6,000 points of presence (POPs) in more than 157 countries using the GRICtravelerTM global Internet roaming solution. GIRCtraveler users who journey to Sri Lanka will also be able to connect to the Internet at the cost of a local phone call.

With the agreement, GRIC expands its services to Sri Lanka, further solidifying its position in Asia-Pacific, a region with growing demand for IP-based services. GRIC's Asia-Pacific customer base of more than 130 leading telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers includes Singapore Telecom, China Telecom, Telekom Malaysia, Telstra's On-line Australian Subsidiary, Chunghwa Telecom, Korea Telecom, NTT, KDD, Fujitsu Nifty and StarHub Telecom.

ITI launches first interactive library system in the Country

The Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) will launch the first integrated interactive library system in the country on April 3, 2001 at the premises of the Institute's Information Service Centre at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. 

The new ITI library system where operations commencing from the ordering stage to the final retrieval stage, are automated with no duplication of data was designed by Messrs. Informatics (Pvt) Ltd. The system runs on a Windows NT platform where the front end is Oracle based Developer 2000 and the back end a Microsoft SQL database server. 

The facilities this new system affords are that, ITI members can access the system through the local network using the Intranet option, and any outside user can browse through the resources of the Centre using the Internet facility, through the ITI website ( 

While this feature is seen in two or three other libraries in the country, the ITI system additionally, permits its members to query and reserve any book, which is in the Centre, through his personal log in name and password. Articles selected from the query function can also be requested, within the limitations of copyright. An automated personalized information alerting service, which is the Selective Dissemination of Information in library parlance, is also available whereby users are regularly informed of books or articles which are received to the library, in their individual fields of interest. This is done through automatic matching of user profiles in the form of keywords, with the keywords of the publications. Presently the alerting notices are sent manually, but it is intended to send them through e-mail, to those with e-mail addresses. 

The system design team consisted of Ms. Dilanthi Fernando, Vinodh Jayawardene, Suren Nanayakkara, Sameer Hamza, Ms. Sepalika Perera and Ms. Harshi Seneviratne of Informatics Pvt. Ltd) and Ms. Dilmani Warnasuriya and Vindaya Senadheera of the ITI.

Ericsson IVR for Mobitel

Mobitel, a pioneer Mobile Telephone Operator and supplier of Cellular Phones in Sri Lanka, in order to provide better services to their distinguished clientele has chosen Metropolitan Comunications, suppliers of their in-house Ericsson MD 110 state-of-the-art Digital PABX System to supply and install the Ericsson IVR System.

With the successful completion of the IVR System installation, all Mobile Phone users of Mobitel now have direct access to their Database by dialling a pre-assigned access code which will enable verification on the status of their account which includes amount payable, outstanding, number of calls taken and all other relevant information pertaining to their individual accounts.

Tapping cheaper solar power

The Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), formerly the CISIR, is undertaking a joint study with the University of South Florida in the United States to develop technology for low coast thin film solar cell devices that could be used for harnessing solar energy in Sri Lanka.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation of the US, ITI said.

Dr. Sarath Wittanachchi, Associate Professor of Physics, of the Laboratory for Advanced Materials Science and Technology, University of South Florida, USA, is presently working at the ITI on this research project with the Materials Technology Division. 

The main researcher from ITI is Dr. M.G.M.U. Ismail, the Head of the Materials Technology Division, who has had over 30 years experience in the field of Materials Science both in Sri Lanka and in Japan.

Thin film fabrication is a multi-billion dollar industry that spans from semi-conductor films for intergrated circuits in microelectronics to wear resistant coatings for computer hard discs and mechanical tools. The quality of the grown films, which depends on various parameters including the method of growth, largely determines the ultimate functionality of the fabricated devices.

Sri Lanka, like many of the countries in the South Asian region, is faced with an imminent energy crisis, with the rapid industrialization taking place. As such there is a significant market for renewable energy sources such as solar energy. 

The collaborative project that is now beign carried out between ITI and the University of South Florida, will help in developing and understanding the process limitations and potential markets that exist in developing countries for thin films solar devices based on economic, social and political conditions. The project will also target at identifying and refining thin films solar cell processing techniques that are applicable to developing countries and those that have potenial for manufacture on a large scale. Simultaneously, a database will also be developed for reflecting the energy cost per KWH based on the production costs in Sri Lanka for solar cell devices that will be fabricated by different techniques.

The project offers several potential benefits. The knowledge base developed on the solar cell processing capabilities in Sri Lanka will help the researchers to further research in low cost fabrication processes that may lead to the establishment of manufacturing facilities in developing countries.

The luxury of Cinnamon Garden residencies soon

Popularly known to the potential market as "The Best Address in Paradise", Cinnamon Garden Residencies is situated in one of the most up-market and prestigious neighbourhoods in the city. 

The 12-storied apartment complex founded on bored piles is designed by Design Consortium and constructed by Sanken Lanka in association with Mitsui Corporation of Japan and expected to be ready for occupancy shortly.

The apartments are offered to buyers on a freehold basis and up to date construction has been completed short of the interior and finishing touches. 

Rajeswaran Ayaru, Chairman, Managing Director of Lincoln Property Holdings Private Limited, said that the location at 67, Ward Place, Colombo 7 is an area where land has become very scarce due to increasing demand. He stated, "A building on 100 perches of land is very difficult to find in this exclusive neighbourhood. Furthermore the UDA has demarcated the portion of Ward Place where our residencies are located as a mixed commercial area. Therefore Cinnamon Garden Residencies is not only one of the most prestigious addresses in town but is also unlikely to be duplicated on account of current legislature". The construction cost has escalated due to exchange fluctuation and to construct the same 12 storied apartment complex today it will cost in excess of Rs. 800 Million, he said. 

About 50% of the apartments have already been purchased by both local and foreign buyers from the UK, USA, Canada, Africa and Australia.


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