A panel of top business leaders last week expressed optimism over prospects for the private sector and Sri Lanka, but gave a checklist for sustenance and improvement.
John Keells Holdings Deputy Chairman Ajit Gunewardene, Brandix CEO Ashroff Omar, Hemas Holdings Chairman Husein Esufally, Dialog Axiata CEO Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya and Softlogic Holdings Chairman Ashok Pathirage admitted they were mostly overly positive about the future and justified their sentiment as well.
Omar stated outright he was an extreme optimist due to the post-war progress the nation has achieved. “Look around you. Look at the progress that has been achieved in the last four years. In every industry there has been some growth. Be it exports, car imports, tourist arrivals, everything is on a high. Some say tourism is not growing and to them I say look at last year’s accounts of hotels, they have had the best closing. My view is that all of us have to be optimistic,” expressed the confident Chief of Brandix during the CEO Forum and final session of the Sri Lankan Economic Summit 2014.
The session, moderated by LIRNEasia Founder Chairman Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, aimed at exploring if the local business environment is conducive for innovation and growth.
Esufally, noting he is a cautious optimist, said: “The evidence for that is that we are seeing less of our high potential talent leaving our shores and have been able to attract high profile talent back into the country. Not only that, we also have been able to attract people from other nationalities to work in Sri Lanka.”
Pathirage shared similar sentiments and stated that with the current environment being much easier for companies to do business, he is very optimistic on the view of Sri Lanka overall. “There can be challenges, but having gone through war for 30 years, today’s context is much easier for us and we companies have brought ourselves to a platform where we can make use of the opportunity,” observed Pathirage.
Pointing out that Dialog Axiata has always been optimistic on the country, even during the toughest times, Dr. Wijayasuriya said brought to the surface now is the nation’s key strength on being small since the opportunities received on the global scale are higher.
Stating all that Sri Lanka needs to do is compete as hard as possible to bring in investments into the country, Wijayasuriya said: “We are optimistic since all the indices are moving in our favour. The fact that we are in a knowledge economy allows us to compete with the rest of the world.”
“Just one caution is that the only way we can trip ourselves up is social unrest and political unrest. A little fly in the ointment can explode and take us back several years. We need to be cautious that when the country is accelerating fast and progressing well, we must not forget that social equity, the basics of education, health, and equal access to opportunity should be made available to all Sri Lankans so there will be no risks of political and social unrest in the coming years. We need to be crystal clear on that front for the next 10 years and with that I think there will be nothing stopping us,” said Hans confidently.
Gunewardene stated JKH making a straight forward investment of $ 900 million is a single piece of evidence the company is optimistic on the future of Sri Lanka.
Earlier on he stressed it is essential to have governance, transparency, and rule of law since these are key elements that would drive investors to participate in the nation’s growth.
“Governance, transparency and rule of law is key since along with bringing in investors it will also bring capabilities. This will lead to the country having a reverse flow of the brain drain and will create an environment of certainty and confidence. It is imperative that we inject that over a period of time into the country. We need to get back what we lost,” he opined.
Noting it is rich human resource and not tax incentives that will attract investors, he stressed on the need to focus on education.
“It is when our people come back that we will have new investment taking place. It is not tax incentives that will drive investors. Bring in investments and technology, and knowledge will follow. The focus has to be on education as it is key. For that we have to keep education up to the standard and ensure that it looks into the future goals the country aspires to achieve.
We don’t have the luxury of having an unproductive workforce. We need to create an environment for innovative thinking,” he added.