- Singapore-based World Bank expert ugres Sri Lanka to focus to be competitive
- Five hubs plus tourism too much?
- Need for clear goals, public and private sector should tango
- Encourages transparency and accountability, KPI for Govt.
- Calls to jettison failed policies, champion innovation
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Advocating moderation and clarity on Sri Lanka’s five-hub strategy, a top international expert called for clearer goals and stronger collaboration between the Government and private sector, comparing it to a “tango at lockstep”.
Private Sector Development Specialist of the Competitive Industries Practice at the World Bank Group P.S. Tewari in his impressively insightful address posed the question of whether Sri Lanka’s Government had bitten off more than it could chew by selecting five hubs and tourism to spearhead the economy.
“Six could be too much because even one would take immense planning, resources, focus and time.”
Drawing many parallels with Singapore, he pointed out Singapore’s Government took a pragmatic view of its policies and jettisoned ones that did not bring economic benefits. Because Singapore identifies its economic policies proactively, its economy has room to evolve and remain competitive, resulting in a staggering export value of 200% of GDP, a per capita income of US$ 52,000 and economic growth at 10.2% on average for a staggering 50 years.
While making the standard observations that Sri Lanka needs more foreign investment and greater coordination between the public and private sectors, Tewari also called for competitiveness to be evaluated on a range of principles, including smart design, clear rules and transparency and accountability.
“Singapore does not have a single drop of oil, but it is Asia’s biggest oil hub. This is because it has the capacity to design in detail, even to the extent that a separate island is built, to have every single conceivable infrastructure need. If one oil company wants to buy something from another, they just need to open a tap; it’s intricate to that extent. Blueprint design is critical to whether a project will work or not,” he told the gathering.
He called for an apex coordinating body with vision, authority and accountability to be set up where the public and private sector can work together to formulate policies and regulations. “You cannot give the excuse that it cannot be done because it has been done in other countries. An apex body is critical to deliver on industrial roadmaps. Malaysia is a great example of that.”
While macroeconomic fundamentals are important, Tewari also suggested the two sides work to define what each company will have to contribute to the hub concept, thus breaking down the goals of the Government to tangible levels. “Cross pollination” of the two sectors would also fast-track research and development.
“Key Performance Indicators are not just for the private sector, they are also for the Government. They can be honest, weekly indicators. The Government has to honestly decide on its goal. Is Sri Lanka trying to be a shipping hub? Or is the aim to be a great destination for FDI? The goal is not clear.”
Tewari also expressed the idea that existing development projects be evaluated along the criteria of design, regulations, collaborations and accountability to see how they measure up. This would be the true test of competitiveness.
Opportunities and challenges from five hubs – Cabraal
The Government’s five hub strategy would bring opportunities as well as create new challenges for Sri Lanka such as improving productivity, realigning the workforce, job creation and seamless transition to the new sectors, Central Bank chief Ajith Nivard Cabraal said yesterday.