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Sri Lanka's private sector has the ability to change the dialogue – vis-à-vis the political situation – and bring forward an intellectual discourse in civil society ideas, a top international scholar says.
Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque, IMF representative in Colombo who has two books on economic and development issues to his credit, told the business community that the country was facing a war and a political situation that was complex.
"Even if the political process remains unresponsive to change, it is the chambers that should challenge all the notions that retard growth," he said at the annual general meeting of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) held in Colombo last week.
Haque, in a shift from the usual discussion on economics and trade, spoke on the power of ideas, which he noted boosted growth.
He said while the global economy was in recession, the Sri Lankan economy too was facing the same crisis. "For the first time the two factors have converged," the IMF representative added, saying even if there was a slowdown in previous years it was not accompanied by zero growth.
While expressing the view that there were no short-term fixes to the country's ills, Haque said he often asked people about ideas, the power of ideas and how this country could grow.
"I get the standard response – need for infrastructure, IT, etc, etc," he said, citing examples in the US of how billion-dollar companies began as small backroom operations plus a reservoir of ideas.
"There are many innovative ways businesses have developed in the US through creative ideas and risk-taking. Ideas have generated growth."
He said for long-term growth, Sri Lankans must be prepared to take risks and be motivated. "Unfortunately in poor countries there is no place for ideas. We don't value our idea generators. That's why all of them have migrated and are generating growth in those countries through the power of ideas."
Prof. G.L. Peiris, a former industries minister invited as a guest of honour, said one of the main inhibitors of growth in the local industry was the lack of a tariff policy.
"In a situation where the local industry is in the midst of a crisis, there is a danger of more and more people turning to trading than manufacture."
Peiris, who spoke at length about the political crisis – in turn urging the business community to back the UNP at the December 5 poll -, said UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe planned to send a high-powered ministerial team to the US and Europe to comprehensively discuss textile quotas ahead of the 2005 deadline, after the poll.
"We are certain of winning the poll," he said, adding that the "new" government would also set up five industrial zones in the country, taking away the centralised bureaucratic system.
As with the previous speakers, chamber president Chandra Embuldeniya also raised the "ugly" spectacle of political violence and the uncertain law and order situation that is prevailing in Sri Lanka.
He said in the run-up to the poll, violence is on the rise with growing doubts about (the elections commissioner) being able to hold a free and fair election.
"This has an utmost negative impact on the business environment. Having met the Elections Commissioner and the IGP along with other chamber leaders to discuss the issue, I can only confirm that no amount of legislation or policing can prevent violence if there is no will at the highest levels in politics on either side. Get power at any cost or should we have a political culture that would reward gentlemen in politics?" Embuldeniya asked.
Referring to an NCCSL-led business community initiative to meet all key political parties, he said the proposal to form a government of national reconciliation with the participation of all parties still remains elusive.
The chamber chief said Sri Lanka's economy needed short-term and long-term solutions to come to grips with the country's problems. The private sector was providing 73 percent of jobs in Sri Lanka including the self-employed and contributes 95 percent of industrial production and 55 percent of services.
"Some of these jobs are now threatened. We want solutions to conform to sustainable development. We need to clearly remember that social equity and environmental impacts are integral components of sustainable economic development," he added.
SriLankaFirst, a non-political peace initiative by the key business sectors in Sri Lanka, has launched the second phase of the campaign.
"The overwhelming support from a wide cross-section of the public across the island on September 19 strengthened our resolve to take the campaign into the next phase and keep the focus on our objectives. With the general election on December 5, SriLankaFirst can play an extremely critical and significant role," said Jagath Fernando, a spokesperson for SriLankaFirst.
The second phase of the campaign is targeted at the political parties, the LTTE and the voting public. It urges all of them to put "Sri Lanka First". Each of them is empowered to make the right decision. This is the message, which SriLankaFirst wants to communicate.
It is an appeal to the political parties to act responsibly in the run up to elections and to desist from using the peace process for personal gains. The peace process is too important an issue to be used as and when the political parties deem fit, a SriLankaFirst press release said.
"The LTTE must take the responsibility of putting the country first as well and we feel that it is important to address them separately. Advertisements carrying a relevant message for the LTTE are currently being developed and will be released as part of the pre-election campaign," said Anselm Perera, another spokesman for SriLankaFirst.
Sri Lanka's business community, individually and as organised groups, is putting much more pressure on political parties than in the past to ease off on violence and focus on the peace effort.
"The business community collectively and as individuals have come out much more than in the past as they are facing a serious economic crisis," said Patrick Amarasinghe, chairman of the National Chamber of Exporters.
Chambers representing different groups have been issuing statements and even offering – to the elections commissioner – their services as election monitors in a bid to stem violence and possible vote rigging on December 5. The Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) has said it was either backing election monitoring groups or planning to have its own set of observers.
Chandra Jayaratne, chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, agrees that the level of involvement by the business community in the election process is much higher than before.
"Earlier the business community was completely out of the picture and only played a peripheral role," he said, adding, however, that he was not in favour of the business community acting as election observers. "That should be left to civil society."
Jayaratne's chamber is planning to write to religious leaders offering the support of the chamber in the latter's efforts to ensure a free and fair poll.
"We are also going to present a fresh document – on economic and peace issues - with some contents of the way forward document (prepared earlier this year), to a new government after a prime minister is appointed," Jayaratne said.
The UNP-JVP concurrence on a revised educational system for youth employment in a market-oriented economy to solve our economic problems has omitted other salient, significant points, pertinent to an agro-based, rain-blessed economy like ours!
Jobs in the marketplace is a very vague term, when the market here has hardly any raw material to speak of for viable, lucrative industrial production, considering the need to import personnel. One must remember the chief reason for any mode of wage-earning - to find the wherewithal for sustenance.
Very often this factor is relegated to the background under the popular, political shibboleth, "to raise the standard of living" which usually means to give one enough wealth to own a car, TV, computer, cell-phone, a palace, etc. In the mad rush, almost hypnotic, we tend to forget food and other immediate, vital necessities, which, combined, ultimately, will have a deciding say in health as well.
Today, sadly ever since independence, our once prosperous agricultural land has been neglected so much that we now have to depend more on bread than on home-grown rice, with most of the one-time productive fields being filled up (mostly with garbage and polythene bags!) for building construction.
Sooner or later, the prospects are that we will not eat rice grown here at all, instead we will have to import it, or have bread all the way, made with low-grade, throw-away flour imported under strict, strangling, pre-conditional, economic agreements by the producers.
We will have all hands in foreign invested, multinational industrial ventures, producing goods very cheaply here and sold profitably elsewhere, with little or no benefit for us. Most of them give us nothing in return for cheap labour, covered by tax holidays for long periods of production.
Recently, an American friend of mine, brought me a beautiful shirt from New York as a gift, and he himself was more than surprised when I showed him the label inside the collar, 'Made in Sri Lanka'! And he had paid about four five times more than the price for it here!
Eventually, there will be no manpower to work our rain-soaked, green pastures capable of producing rice, maize, cereals, pulses and other staple food for our consumption.
The JVP and SU ideas of allowing foreign investments only in 'selected sectors' willing to invest in latest technology and in finished goods, under direct state control sounds good and laudable on paper as a pre-election dream, but the question is, whether this is possible in a heavily indebted country, so dependent today on outside forces, almost mortgaged to certain countries, for nearly all our imports, including food, etc. Will these parties permit such restrictive policies when they are in a position to call the tune - having the reins in their hands? This vital aspect has not been considered by these political parties in their enthusiasm to woo the voters.
Despite the uncertain economic environment prevailing throughout the world, HSBC Sri Lanka has invested in new system upgrades to further improve customer services the bank said in a statement.
"To us customer satisfaction has always been a priority," said Keshini Jayawardena, Manager Services. "So we regularly invest in system upgrades that provide our customers with a faster and a more efficient service."
The latest system upgrade being implemented by the bank includes Personal Internet Banking and a Customer Relationship Management System.
"This new upgrade is being implemented primarily to launch Personal Internet Banking in December this year," Jayawardena said. With so many firsts under its belt in the technological field it might appear surprising that HSBC had not implemented Internet Banking before this, the statement said adding that according to Jayawardena, "We have been working hard to produce a safe and secure Internet Banking System which has improved transaction features."
"The new Personal Internet Banking system is need-based and user-friendly. It is designed so that the customer need not wade through page after page, but will instead be able to get to the transaction point in a maximum of three mouse-clicks. Customers can make transfers between accounts or to third parties; pay water, electricity or other utility bills and also make local and overseas payments by cashier's order, draft or telex, or through interfacing with the local clearing system, all through the Internet," she said.
HSBC has also implemented a new module - Customer Relationship Management System. This marketing tool comprises a Graphic User Interface front-end sales support system. In layman's terms this is a database which pops up on screen as soon as the customer's name is entered into the computer. Through this module, by simply entering the customer's name, HSBC staff are able to access all the relevant information pertaining to that particular individual and then advise him or her of the various services for which he or she is eligible.
The bank is also introducing Electronic Exports DC Advising, which supports the transmission of Export DC information to customers via e-mail or fax.
Jayawardene, explaining that these programmes were developed by HSBC staff in Hong Kong and Canada, said "actually HSBC Sri Lanka has produced some of the geniuses behind HUB innovations. A lot of the people who worked on these upgrades are Sri Lankans and so all things considered our people have received a lot of exposure and chances to excel in this field thanks to HSBC's interest in technological innovations."
The first batch of students who completed their degrees at Colombo's Imperial Institute of Higher Education (IIHE) have been awarded honours degrees by the University of Wales, the Institute said this week.
Announcing details of this rare feat, IIHE Academic Affairs Director, Daya Jayasinghe, said all 12 graduating students, representing the Institute's first batch, received B.Sc. (Hons) in Business Management.
Ceylinco Life has launched a scholarship scheme to reward academic performance and achievements in other fields by children of the company's policyholders.
The company has allocated Rs. 16 million for this unique Ceylinco Pranama Scholarship Scheme.
Ceylinco Chairman, Lalith Kotelawala, launching the project, said the four-tiered scholarship scheme is due to begin almost immediately with policyholders islandwide being invited to apply for the first round by November 30.
''The Pranama scheme is our way of giving something back to the society while rewarding the loyalty of our policyholders,'' Kotelawala said.
He said the company had opted for a scholarship scheme in view of the growing costs of education, and aimed at grooming future leaders of the country by encouraging and rewarding achievement.
Three of the four categories of scholarships will be awarded annually at district level to top achievers at the year five scholarship examination.
The cash value of a year five scholarship will be Rs. 60,000 given in monthly installments of Rs. 1,000 each for five years while the OL scholarship will be Rs. 36,000 of which the students will get Rs. 1,500 monthly. The AL scheme will be Rs. 72,000 which will be given for three years at Rs. 2,000 monthly.
The fourth category of Pranama will be awarded at the national level with lump sum payments of Rs. 25,000 to policyholders' children who qualify to represent the country or establish national records in any event categorised as an Olympic sport. Similar acknowledgments will also be made for policyholders' children who are recognised at the national level for art, drama or cultural activities.
Noritake Lanka Porcelain (Pvt) Ltd, which exports porcelain ware to 58 countries, has succeeded in securing a lucrative order from Emirates Airlines.
A Noritake statement said the order worth several million dollars and spread over a continuous period of five years was significant in the context of an airline industry hit by recession, after the September 11 crisis in the US.
"Noritake Lanka's success will be immensely beneficial to Sri Lanka as a whole," it said.
Noritake was established in 1972 as a joint venture between Ceylon Ceramics Corporation and Noritake Co of Japan, which now holds a 100 percent stake.
It is one of the biggest manufacturing arms of the Japanese-based group, which is among the top three tableware manufacturers in the world.
Apart from the new order from Emirates, the Noritake group supplies – either from Japan or Sri Lanka – to major airlines like Saudi Airlines, Gulf Airlines, Jet Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Quantas, Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, Thai Airways and All Nippon Airlines.
The company last year secured the ISO 9002 certification.
"Kabool Lanka is saving over one million rupees every month with the implementation of several recommendations of the Energy Audit conducted by the Sri Lanka Energy Managers' Association (SLEMA)," said S.R. Narangoda, chief engineer of Thulhiriya Mills.
He was speaking at SLEMA's annual review meeting held in Colombo recently.
In efforts to promote the efficient use of energy, SLEMA conducts several training and awareness projects every year. During a 3-week residential energy audit course for engineers conducted by SLEMA in November 2000 at Kabool Mills at Thulhiriya, over 30 specific energy conservation projects were identified, analysed and recommended. "Once implemented, these recommendations would save at least 13 percent of the energy costs at Kabool. The annual savings would exceed Rs. 50 million," says a SLEMA press release.
It said these recommendations range from switching over to more advantageous electricity tariffs to installation of a co-generation system to generate both electricity and steam for the textile mills.
The energy audit at Kabool was conducted by SLEMA under the Energy Efficiency and Capacity Building project of the Ministry of Power and Energy. The project is supported by UNDP/UNIDO and is financed under a UNDP/GEF grant to SLEMA. This was the second training course conducted by SLEMA under this programme funded by UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility.
The Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI) has sent an "open" questionnaire to all political parties seeking their responses to various issues confronting society including peace talks and the economy.
In a statement, CNCI said political parties could respond to these issues in public at rallies, through the newspapers or any other public forum, ahead of the December 5 election.
The CNCI asked parties whether they would negotiate with the LTTE and in such a case what would be the main conditions. On the economy, the CNCI wanted to know how political parties will handle WTO (World Trade Organisation) policies of openness and yet "provide sufficient protection to the local industry to survive the prevailing global crisis".
It also raised issues on whether multinationals and non-nationals would be allowed to engage in local wholesale and retail business, or whether there would be free imports of agricultural commodities grown here and whether steps would be taken to reduce or revise the present holiday structure.
On public transport, the CNIC sought the views of political parties as to whether the CTB would be re-activated or whether private companies would be permitted to operate under present conditions.
On long-term power needs, the chamber asked whether the coal power plant would be implemented immediately.