By Lahiru Pothmulla
A strong and unified leadership remains paramount for Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings to address the security concerns of investors and to revive the island nation’s economy, according to former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake.
He said in the aftermath of the attacks, Sri Lanka also needs active measures to establish business-to-business partnerships, an even-handed security approach and new commitment to reconciliation that would prevent Sri Lanka from being exploited by IS and other extremist groups.
He also said Sri Lanka needs a strong leadership to benefit from the competition among the US, China, India and Japan for influence due to the country’s strategic geographical location.
Blake, who is now Senior Director (India and South Asia) of McLarty Associates, expressed these views while delivering a presentation under the theme ‘US foreign policy towards China and South Asia and what it means for Sri Lanka’, at the BMICH in Colombo, on Tuesday.
The event was organised by the Pathfinder Foundation in partnership with the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka.
“Handicapped by investors’ concern about security, maybe for the next six months or so, the Sri Lankan government should now take a real comprehensive effort with the assistance of the World Bank to look at the elements of ease of doing business and where the country can really make systematic progress,” he said.
Even as Sri Lanka grapples with short-term problems such as the Easter Sunday terror attacks, Blake said the country has to take active measures to seize the opportunities to boost its economy with long-term investments and measures.
“Measures should be taken to establish universities and business-to-business partnerships that can position the country to ride, rather than to be overtaken by the opportunities that will be presented by Artificial Intelligence and other new technology,” he said.
He noted that Sri Lanka has to ensure that it has world-class openness and ease of doing business so that the investors could invest in the country.
“Sri Lanka ranked at 100 on the Ease of Doing Business Index, at the bottom half of the world. Sri Lanka’s business community should demand more from the government. Even Uzbekistan, Albania and Mongolia are well ahead of Sri Lanka on this index,” Blake said.
He said more fundamental reforms are needed to address corruption as the Transparency International ranked Sri Lanka at the 89th place on the Corruption Perception Index, way below of China, Belarus and even Cuba.
He said countries like Sri Lanka has to prepare for cut-throat competition and commended the innovative technology adopted by the apparel companies in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, commenting on the economic relations between the US and Sri Lanka, Blake said the two-way trade has increased by 40 percent to US $ 3.2 billion over the past 10 years.
“The US remains Sri Lanka’s largest export market. Our companies have invested approximately US $ 300 million here, generating many high-quality jobs for Sri Lankan people.
Recently, MCC voted to approve a new compact agreement for Sri Lanka that will help in expanding economic opportunities for Sri Lankans and reduce poverty. This is an important symbol of confidence by the US and its Congress that we have faith in Sri Lanka’s future and in the improving governing situation in this country,” he said.