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CaptureThe National Human Resources Development Council endorsed in its entirely at its last meeting the report of the Committee it set up to explore new ways of working in the Public Sector. I was pleased that its more distinguished members congratulated me personally on the report, but I had to respond that I had had excellent support from the Committee the NHRDC had appointed. We were also given valuable advice from distinguished public servants of past eras, including Dharmasiri Pieris and Mr Palihakkara.

The generally able chair of the Council, Dinesh Weerakkody, suggested that we should now engage in wider consultation, of both Civil Society and the business community. This seemed a good idea, but the Council also thought we needed to move quickly. So it was decided to pass on the document straight away, as well as to the President and the Prime Minister, to the leaders of other parties in Parliament including the Joint Opposition, to the Chairs of COPE and the Committee on Public Accounts, to the Speaker and the Minister of Public Administration. This is Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who is relatively a man of intelligence and capacity though unfortunately he has not been given a wide enough brief to make a difference – and so, if indeed he has any ideas, he does not enunciate or act on them.

It has, I should note, struck me that few people in authority seem to have many ideas, fewer are capable of enunciating those they do have, and even fewer are able to implement their good ideas. I was again touched when one member of the Council noted that certain initiatives I suggested were good but needed me to push them through. Sadly I suspect this is true, but I had to confess that I felt that now even I would not be able to do much. Apart from being old now, and not having half the energy I had even five years ago, the constraints on action have multiplied. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dopey 3Namal in fact had no inhibitions about discussing with friends the lucrative business deals he was involved in. But it is possible that he did not think there was anything wrong with all these. Over the years a culture of close involvement of politicians with the business sector had developed, and the favours received from them were seen simply as tokens of friendship – as were the concessions and contracts the complaisant businessmen received. So Chandrika Kumaratunga benefited as President from the largesse of a businessman called Ronnie Pieris, who did very well under the regime, while another close friend who had worked for Emirates ended up, when he was appointed head of Air Lanka, as it used to be known, by subordinating it to that airline. Emirates emerged strengthened immeasurably by the partnership while Air Lanka lost much of the reputation and the reach it had earlier enjoyed. But these seemed isolated examples, and the connections to any incentives were never direct.

But by the time the Rajapaksa regime was settled in, the potential for business had expanded immeasurably, and Namal, with initially a lower profile than those holding executive positions, but with obviously the greatest influence of all, was soon rapidly befriended by many local and foreign businessmen. But as with the Packer deal, he could doubtless convince himself that he was promoting more economic activity in Sri Lanka, and that the country would also benefit.

27Another area in which his friends had a field day was the Stock Exchange, which it soon became known was being ruthlessly manipulated. The President’s essential innocence about this sort of thing seemed apparent when he appointed as its Chairman Indrani Sugathadasa, a former senior public servant of great integrity, who was also the wife of his Secretary Lalith Weeratunge. But before long she felt obliged to resign, and the President accepted her resignation. She had asked her husband before she resigned whether it would affect his position, and he had reassured her because he did not think he could contribute to the vitiation of her integrity. But, given that it was rumoured that Namal had played a role, on behalf of his friends, in making her position untenable, the matter obviously affected his own feelings and his potential effectiveness.

Mrs Sugathadasa was replaced by another figure of known integrity, a former Member of Parliament, Tilak Karunaratne. He was also concerned about education, and was a member of an advisory group I had set up called Religion, Education And Pluralism. After he was appointed, he suggested that we meet in the Security Exchanges Commission office, since that would save him the long journey to my Reconciliation Office which was near Parliament. I asked him then how confident he felt about his position, and the clearing up he thought was essential, and he told me that the President had assured him of a free hand to restore confidence. But within a few months he too resigned. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26592475Business opportunities need to be developed throughout the country. Though infrastructural development has been good in many parts of the country, the people need to be empowered to make use of new facilities and opportunities.

As I was told a couple of years back, in the Wanni, by a representative of a Women’s Rural Development Society, they were grateful for the assistance to resume agricultural work, but they needed training in marketing. Little has been done, too, to ensure value addition for basic produce. Though 2013 was declared the year of Value Addition, the Minister told me ruefully that hardly anything had been done.

It would help if expertise were available locally for agriculture as well as the development of industries. While there is obvious need of 59b514757c03f4e14c006ca63de02928_Mbetter training in skills, this should go hand in hand with training for enterprise development. We also need to provide better sources of credit, in particular to women. It is also desirable to provide start up support for new enterprises, in particular those that will also contribute to nutritional support, given the recent rise in the percentage of those suffering from malnutrition.

Encouragement of Small and Medium Enterprises is essential in a modernising economy. As the recent Pathfinder Foundation suggestions had it, ‘The overall business environment should assist SMEs to improve their competitiveness and market access. The major internal challenges related to SMEs include their sub-standard technology, low productivity, inferior product quality, weak access to new markets, lack of financing and financial management and scarcity of skilled labour. Their expansion is also constrained by institutional bottlenecks, lengthy and onerous bureaucratic procedures, fragmented support schemes, and a heavy regulatory burden.

It is sad that government failed in 2010 to build on the goodwill that was widely available after the destruction of the Tigers in Sri Lanka. Efforts were made then to encourage investment, and I still remember the enthusiasm at the Forum in Jaffna in January 2010. But bureaucratic delays held sway, along with rent seeking, which was made easier by bureaucratic requirements and the multiplicity of authorities whose approval was required for enterprise development.

Most important perhaps we should develop a culture of initiative and enterprise. Over half a century ago, D S Senanayake pointed out that Industry in this country has yet to be developed. Today Government service is still regarded as offering the most attractive jobs. We speak of industrialization in Ceylon but we do not seem to realise that we require well-trained personnel to enable us to compete in the industrial sphere with other parts of the world. We also want agriculturists who could help this country to compete on equal terms with the rest of the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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