Thilak Godamanne was recently elected as the new President of the National Chamber of Commerce (NCCSL) at its 56th Annual General Meeting. Here are the excerpts of the speech made by Godamanna at the event.
Chief Guest Hon. Deshabandu Karu Jayasuriya, Minister of Public Administration, Democratic Governance and Buddha Sasana and Past President of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka.
Guest of Honour, Dr. Eteri Kvintradze, Resident Representative IMF for Sri Lanka and Maldives,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the ceremonial secession after the 56th AGM of The National Chamber and address you as the 31st President of the Chamber.
I am proud to be associated with many eminent past presidents in the uplifting of the chamber to the key position that it holds today. I wish to thank all past presidents for guiding the Chamber based on good governance policies. It is these good governance policies that have brought our Chamber to its present standard.
National Chamber of Commerce President Thilak Godamanne addresses the AGM
On behalf of the Chamber, I would like to congratulate the new President, Prime Minister and newly elected Cabinet members. The National Chamber which represent the corporate bodies of Sri Lanka, specially local entrepreneurs and SMEs scattered throughout the country, will extend the fullest support and co-operation in all its efforts in developing the economy of this country. We also strongly favour the policies of the new Govt. such as:-
- Interim National unity alliance,
- Abolishing the 18th amendment,
- Smaller Cabinet,
- Code of ethics for people’s representatives,
- Establishment of independent commissions,
- Eliminating bribery and corruption and appointing the right people to the right places.
We also appreciate the new Government’s proposals set out to develop the country at even faster pace.
As private sector is the engine of growth of the economy please give more emphasis to this sector and also for private-public partnerships.
Economy of Sri Lanka
It is significant to mention that improving macroeconomic situation in the world, especially in the US and European markets have affected our economy favourably.
As per Central Bank statistics, In 2014 Sri Lankan economy grew at a speed of 7.8% and Sri Lankan industries had favourable situations both domestically and internationally. The average inflation is around 6% and unemployment is 4%, showing a sound growth momentum.
The infrastructure development that took place so far is appreciated by private sector businessmen. This led to the development of provinces and districts which lagged behind compared to the western province.
The banking sector consolidation policy was leading to a much stronger financial sector in the country which we believe is much needed to ensure the growth of the private sector.
As the National Chamber, we strongly believe that MSMEs (Micro Small and Medium enterprises) need greater attention and it is vital to ensure the development in the provinces and districts. It is noteworthy that MSMEs are contributing over 60% to the GDP of Sri Lanka. The National Chamber is taking leadership in reaching the MSMEs in the provinces to offer the much needed assistance.
Chamber proposals to the Government
On many occasions the Chamber surfaced the important business development aspects to the Government, especially, with the proposals that we submitted to the National Budget.
We, as the National Chamber are of the view that in order to achieve the economic targets of the country it is required to build up the required capacity, infrastructure, legal and political system, business environment, fiscal and monetary policies. The National Chamber is requesting the Government to pay special attention to following key areas of the economy as well.
Skilled labour development
According to the survey conducted by the National Chamber last year, it was our observation that one of the primary concerns of the private sector was the scarcity of skilled labour and it was not up to the level of expectation in many industries. We observe such scarcity would be a major obstacle for the expected growth of the business and the economy.
It is essential that Sri Lankan Government should be well focused in creating technically skilled labour force capable of producing technology based products and services. It is noteworthy that information technology and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) can be leveraged to a far greater extent.
As indicated by many economists, the economic growth in both South Korea and Japan was mainly due to focused investments made in education and training. It is important and beneficial for Sri Lanka to take the best examples from the region.
It is vital to iron out the misconception of a person getting employed as a skilled labourer is a lower grade employment. We should give more and more recognition to skilled employees and offer them certification systems recognised both locally and internationally.
We believe that it will ensure continuous availability of skilled resources which in return, will ensure high quality products and services.
Continuous growth in investments is crucial for a sound economy. We have not had a steady growth in FDIs over the years.
It is required to build the investor confidence by assuring safety of the investments through steady policy framework. We should avoid any delays in legal proceedings including contract enforcement, red-tape in licensing, dispute resolutions, consistency in policies etc. would help to improve the investor confidence. These points are highlighted by doing business index as well.
Further, as a country, we need to focus more growth on exports and incentives offered for investments should be encouraging export oriented ventures
It is now common knowledge that the Small and Medium Enterprises are making significant contribution to most of the economies in the world.
In Sri Lanka too, SME sector is considered to be the driving force of the economy.
Roughly, 75% of the enterprises in the country can be classified as SMEs and they account for approximately 45% of the employment in the country.
It is noted that many SMEs have limited access to finance and do not use latest technology which resulted low in quality and productivity.
Further, many SMEs are not directly connected to larger markets not only locally but in export markets as well.
It is a fact that our country is import dependent and we always have a negative trade balance, mainly due to high oil import bill. It is mainly through the private remittances that we manage to ease out the situation to an extent.
In order to develop exports in the country more and more incentives should be provided for export-oriented manufacturing. Further, export-friendly freight charges should be implemented. We should study what competing countries are offering to strengthen their export markets and take proactive action to compete.
Against this backdrop the National Chamber has taken many initiatives in developing the private sector businesses.
Among them are the National Business Excellence Awards conducted every year for the last 11 consecutive years, National Business Excellence Summit to showcase excellence in model stories of award-winning companies to prospective companies, international exhibitions conducted every year (Arogya, Ayurveda, Intrad,) and ‘To meet the Ambassador’ program - bilateral trade sessions, conducted every month with the participation of an Ambassador or High Commissioner, which proved to be a quite prestigious and popular event among the business community,
In addition to the above, the National Chamber has done a lot to develop and assist the MSMEs in the provinces and districts.
We conducted many workshops on quality, productivity and standardisation, HR development, team building, export procedures, import procedures, eMarketing, ecommerce aspects etc. We work with many district and provincial level chambers to develop the MSMEs.
My fellow members and guests, I would carry forward the good work done by my predecessors, such as Bi-lateral Trade seminars, CEO Forums, another ‘Arogya’ healthcare exhibition by mid this year, inward and outward training and trade delegations.
The second National Business Summit and the NBEA Award ceremony will also be continued for the 12th Year. I will also further improve the quality of stationary, the Country of Origin certificates and produce an improved video presentation of the Chamber objectives and activities. Thank you.
- Pix by Upul Abayasekara