Rajendra Theagarajah delivering his speech at the AGM
Pic by Nisal Baduge
By Nishel Fernando
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), the apex body representing the country’s private sector emphasised that business confidence had been adversely impacted by political uncertainty last year, but commended the government for its more consistent policies in the recent past.
Addressing the 179th AGM of the CCC recently, CCC Chairman, Rajendra Theagarajah said,“Last year was a challenging year for the private sector as our members were balancing both the external and domestic risks.
“While macro-stability has been achieved to a great extent with a higher level of reserves, FDI and exports reaching all-time highs in 2017, the business confidence has been tepid in the backdrop of political uncertainty.”
While commending the consistency of recent governmental policies, Theagarajah reiterated that the credibility of announced policies would entirely depend on the effectiveness of its implementation while pointing out at the slowdown in certain reform initiatives of the government.
“We have also seen a semblance of policy congruence in recent policy documents brought out by the government, which has been lacking in recent years.
As we have highlighted in numerous forums and submissions, the credibility of government policy will solely rest on the effectiveness of its implementation.”
In the 2017/18 CCC annual report, Theagarajah noted that the research on the implementation of proposals from the National Budget for 2017 highlighted the lack of proposal execution.
He also pointed out that uncertainty over the enforcement date of the new Inland Revenue Act weighed significantly on private sector activity.
Theagarajah also expressed concern over disappointing GDP growth figures which have been below 4 percent for five consecutive quarters.
However, he commended the government for the progress made in terms of trade and investment facilitation.
“The Chamber favours an outward-orientation of the economy which involves deeper engagement with countries through bilateral agreements such as FTAs. The recently signed FTA with Singapore along with the legislation on Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties and Safeguard Measures are examples for this,” he stressed.
Commenting on the criticism of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA), Theagarajah noted that the CCC is currently studying the SLSFTA to provide a responsible view and opinion.
Theagarajah stressed that the public dialog on SLSFTA should be based on sound facts, while pointing out that the current discourse in the public domain is not based on facts.
“The discussion while focusing on national interests should also be based on sound facts in the context of the overall development strategy for the country, taking into account the trade and investment nexus. Irresponsible statements that are not based on the truth should be avoided,” he noted.
Commenting on the recent violence in Kandy targeting ethnic groups, Theagarajah warned that recurrence of these events would adversely hinder the country’s development. Hence, he urged all the stakeholders to be united in preventing violence and propagating harmony amongst communities.
The CCC established in 1839 consists of 573 members, 19 business councils, 20 regional chambers, 22 approved associations and 122 international partners.