- Say politics paralysed private sector with corruption
- Urge for non-political national economic policy
- Call for export-driven economy while protecting local biz
- Point out urgent need to create entrepreneurial culture
By Nishel Fernando
Ahead of the upcoming election cycle, Sri Lanka’s corporate sector leaders stressed on decisive leadership, security, national economic policy, rule of law, increased R&D spending and educational reforms to transform the country to an export-oriented economy, in order to become a developed nation.
“We need to have decisive leadership, a leadership that can see the potential of Sri Lanka and what it requires to make this country. In my opinion, the leadership must not be based on politics; it must be based on the nation’s interest.
We need to make some decisive decisions to alter the current miseries in terms of legislation, in terms of bureaucratic ways that we run our country,” 99X Technology CEO and Co-Founder Mano Sekaram asserted.
He made these remarks addressing the Export Vision 2030 Forum organised by the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), in Colombo, on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Stassen Group Chairman and business tycoon Harry Jayawardena blamed the current political system for rampant corruption in the country, which adversely impacts the business environment, in particular for local businesses.
“The problem in this country is politics. The politics has corrupted all of us, including myself. There is no policy, no discipline and no rule of law,” he said.
However, Sekaram reminded that the private sector also has a role to play in eliminating corruption.
“We have to expose and say no to corruption. It’s our responsibility to do that and the rest will fall through. We have a great responsibility in terms of managing waste and corruption,” he said.
Jayawardena went on to say that as a businessman, he had become a victim of policy changes and lack of rule of law in this country.
“Democracy is very good but every five years we have different policies and the position of the goal post changes. Today, the government owes me over Rs.20 billion. If it was another man, he would have gone bankrupt by now,” Jayawardena elaborated.
He pointed out that settling legal disputes via the current judiciary system has become a nightmare for businesses in the country.
While acknowledging that Sri Lanka’s is a consumption-based economy, Laugfs Holdings Limited Chairman W.K.H. Wegapitiya opined that Sri Lanka must adopt a non-political national economic policy that supports local entrepreneurship, aligning all the other sub policies.
He pointed out that only 61 percent (8.4 million) of the population were in fact economically active as of 3Q of last year while 1.1 million of them were employed in largely unproductive state sector (excluding police and security forces) and mere 3.3 million were employed in the private sector.
Further, he noted that less than one percent of Sri Lanka’s working population are entrepreneurs while the figure remains high as much as 20 percent in countries such as Vietnam.
“You cannot create exports, unless you create an entrepreneurial culture,” he said.
However, Wegapitiya advocated that Sri Lanka must also encourage import substitution prior to exports for industries to develop and drive Sri Lanka towards a manufacturing-based economy.
Further, he averred that the government should play a key role in R&D rather than solely relying on the private sector. He noted that even countries such as the United States have invested heavily in R&D, which helped major tech firms to develop key products.
Further, Wegapitiya pointed out that Sri Lanka’s outdated education system is in dire need of reforms to drive Sri Lanka towards an export-driven economy.
Meanwhile, Sekaram pointed out that Sri Lanka’s businesses across different sectors haven’t fully embraced the idea of an export-driven economy.
“Every sector in this country’s economy needs to be export-driven. When you look at the blue-chip firms, they go sideways in diversification. They don’t go deep and that’s the fundamental issue.
Every sector has to have the outlook for exports in terms knowledge, products or services. That will drive the entire outlook for our country.
We have to see the world as one market place. When you do that everything changes because then you become competitive, you go up in the value chain and you find your sweet spot in terms of focus,” he elaborated.
Concluding his remarks, Sekaram urged all stakeholders to play their role in transforming the Sri Lankan economy to an export-driven one.
“It’s also our collective responsibility to make sure that the country steers forward on a very strong base of discipline, security and decisive leadership, eliminating corruption and waste and building an export-driven economy,” he said.