By Cassandra Mascarenhas
Economic Summit kicks off with wakeup call for Sri Lanka
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce-organised Sri Lanka Economic Summit kicked off yesterday, with an emphatic message to both the Government and the private sector that challenges are mounting and success as a nation will depend on a strong collective effort to be competitive.
Delivering a keynote address peppered with bold remarks, World Bank South Asia Chief Economist Dr. Kalpana Kochhar said global risks and vulnerabilities were high, largely due to inconsistent economic policies and lack of political will in advanced countries. This scenario has created a bumpy road ahead for developing countries including Sri Lanka.
Noting that in recent years Sri Lanka has done relatively well compared to other developing nations with the peace dividend being beneficial, Kochhar however cautioned that a continuation of recent trends cannot be taken for granted.
Drawing parallels between Thailand and Sri Lanka in 1980s, she said that product space of the two countries looked similar then, but three decades after Thailand has surged ahead whereas Sri Lanka’s positioning remains almost the same.
Setbacks for Sri Lanka highlighted by Kochhar included high exposure to Europe, lagging behind in higher education, stagnant FDIs despite a proliferation of incentives and low female labour force participation, amongst others.
“The global economy is in a new phase of vulnerability and though Sri Lanka has experienced strong growth in recent years, the country remains vulnerable,” she opined.
“For Sri Lanka to meet the 8% growth target of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana,’ it will have to meet the increasing challenges of a competitive global market place,” Kochhar added.
According to her, Sri Lanka’s best near-term defence is a strong offence by implementing policies to boost investor sentiment, regain competitiveness, attract FDI, diversify exports and build a strong foundation for sustainable growth.
Guest speaker author, columnist and management consultant Gurcharan Das, giving his perspective, said: “Sri Lanka needs to be able to move rapidly. The second thing you need is the rule of law and the third thing is accountability – three requirements of a successful nation. The rules of business and economics are universal – there is no such thing as a Sri Lankan way of doing business.”
He added that the reason we are stuck right now is because we have not reformed and corruption occurs when you don’t carry out reforms. The lesson here is to get governance right, after which the private sector in Sri Lanka will just take off.
Ceylon Chamber Chairman Susantha Ratnayake too echoed similar sentiments. “It is not going to be easy, as seen from the recent setbacks, as we adapt to a normal environment. New thinking and a new mindset are needed as we cannot keep blaming everything on the conflict anymore. The bold decisions taken to arrest the trend needs to be applauded.
However, we need to maintain the momentum, especially in the context of a volatile global environment,” said the Chairman of the chamber, inaugurating the Sri Lanka Economic Summit, which over the next two days will deal with a host of issues under the theme ‘Positioning Sri Lanka in the Global Economy’.
Chief Guest Senior Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama in his address said: “Up to now the amount of FDI to this country and the involvement of the private sector have been far lower than what it should have been and we should optimise this.”
He also added that the Government would give the dedicated, capable and entrepreneurial business class in Sri Lanka a lot of opportunities COURTESY:FINANCIAL TIMES