President Premadasa was only interested in people who could perform
Sajith should reactivate his father’s policies and ensure that all his Party men follow them
Pro-poor programmes were implemented during the Premadasa regime
The garment factory programme was R. Premadasa’s major contribution to the export sector
Since I had the opportunity to serve the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa as Chairman and Director General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission and as first Chairman of the renamed Board of Investment of Sri Lanka from 91 to 93 and prior to that as the Chairman of Peoples Bank; with Sajith Premadasa being nominated as Presidential Candidate, it is appropriate for me to write about the importance of implementing the Premadasa Policies to revive the economy and spread economic development throughout using the private sector as the growth engine.
The dynamics of President Premadasa’s policies ended abruptly 26 years ago and now with Sajith as the Presidential candidate of the UNP and UNF, an opportunity has arisen to bring back the Premadasa dynamics to create a new vision and drive our Economic Development. Those who joined the 200 garment factories then are global leaders today.
Pro-poor programmes were implemented during the Premadasa regime such as lending to self employed and small scale projects through the banking network spread throughout the country. A new project of President Premadasa was to set up Praja Naya Niyamakas (PNN) to provide small loans for micro projects. Two of the major programmes launched were the Janasaviya for poverty alleviation and the 200 garment factories to accelerate exports and take industrial development to the villages. Premadasa policies were for the common man and reached out to uplift living conditions; incorporating housing development projects, supplying drinking water and electricity, with the Gam Udawa Projects in each area highlighting the culmination of many projects.
200 garment factories programme
The garment factory programme was Premadasa’s major contribution to the export sector and uplifting the rural economy. The US garment quotas were strategically utilised to develop the rural economy and alleviate poverty and proved more effective than projects undertaken spending billions of rupees. Due to his vision, the garment industry became the largest industrial export earner for Sri Lanka. The private sector was incorporated into this through tax incentives and extensive infrastructure facilities. It was in this era that the One Stop Shop concept for approval was implemented for projects by the BOI. Ease of doing business attracted many local and foreign investors.
In 1991 the Apparel and Garment exports were approximately US$ 764M and with the 200 garment factories programme exports increased to US$ 5 Billion. A creditable achievement indeed for son Sajith to follow; using today’s technologies and employing village lads and females, meeting tough environmental and working conditions that meet global standards.
The BoI was used for the massive task of setting up the 200 garment factories - a dream come true for President Premadasa under his dynamic leadership. BoI was the one stop shop for investors which catered to all their requirements. Numerous meetings with investors, ministries, banks etc. some chaired by the late President himself were all action oriented.
President Premadasa was only interested in people who could perform with a ‘Can Do’ attitude irrespective of whether they were red, blue or green! Meritocracy was adopted and implemented geared towards becoming a successful nation. A minimum of 500 were employed in each factory in an electorate. Credit should also be given to the USA government as the late President was able to utilise the garment quotas given to uplift the rural economy and move industrialisation from the city to the village. Investors came from USA, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany investing in rural areas not thought of before. The late President was always present for the official openings of the 200 garment Programme. He gave opening dates to all investors and they had to work round the clock to open on schedule. At the time of his untimely death, President Premadasa had 160 areas allocated to construct garment factories, 117 opened by him, with six ready for opening and 35 under construction.
During his tenure, for the first time, incentives were given for the World Trade Centre, Kandalama Hotel, Exhibition and Convention Center in Fort and many hospitals, housing, TV, radio, mobile phone and hotel projects. Today, thanks to him, the biggest investments are in the infrastructure sector.
"For the first time, the late President was able to activate the government servants and break the bureaucracy and this must be followed by Sajith, to achieve success"
Breaking the bureaucracy
For the first time, the late President was able to activate the government servants and break the bureaucracy and this must be followed by Sajith, to achieve success. Taking government machinery to the people with the Presidential mobile service which included taking ministries and other offices to the provinces and provided immediate solutions to problems brought to them. This was an era where government servants worked around the clock and were most effective. President Premadasa used to wake them up at 4 a.m. to check any adverse reports in newspapers or which had been brought to his attention. This kept government servants on their toes and machinery moving. President Premadasa never took ‘no’ for an answer and expected the government servants and the private sector to have a ‘can do’ attitude always. He firmly practised the idiom ‘Walk the Talk!’
Lessons for the future
With Sajith’s nomination as Presidential Candidate, we are looking at a new Sri Lanka. He should revive the Premadasa Policies and give a new impetus to his party which would provide new hope and aspirations for the youth. This new impetus would be the turning point of our country to attain sustainable economic and social development, poverty alleviation and make the private sector the engine of growth; promoting exports, industry, services, commerce, IT and all technological infrastructures. Accountability and meritocracy at all levels, professionally managed with good governance, both in the public and private sectors.
Today, people in the north and south have great expectations with the peace process, so it is necessary to implement accelerated development programmes to usher in a new era of prosperity. This is true of the agricultural, plantation; fishing and many other sectors which need to cater to both the local and export sectors.
Sajith should reactivate his father’s policies and ensure that all his Party men follow them, go to the villages and be actively involved in the economic and social upliftment of the rural poor. President Premadasa undertook a gigantic task of reawakening our economy and distributing it throughout the country and was one of the very few Presidents with the common man at heart. Sajith needs to follow this to be successful.
It is imperative that the BoI be brought back to its original place where it was during President Jayewardene and President Premadasa’s period and be the foremost government authority for economic development and an institution with, authority and power coming directly under the President.
Many believe that if the era of President Premadasa was continued it would have led Sri Lanka to be a developed, disciplined, industrious and prosperous Nation similar to Singapore. Now the time has come for young Sajith to take the mantle of power and implement his father’s policies to transform Sri Lanka and bring prosperity to our nation.
(The writer is a Former Chairman and Director General Board of Investment of Sri Lanka and a Former Chairman of Peoples Bank)