Newly elected Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairperson Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya addresses its 180th Annual General Meeting - Pic by Upul Abayasekara
Urges private sector to be part of solution for economic resurgence and peace
Stresses economy is what business makes of it - positivism versus despondence
Says SL is threatened by extremism and radicalisation that if unabated will fracture economy
SL's positioning relative to Asian peers exposes need for building competitive advantage
Lists four transformational trends which will springboard Sri Lanka's progress
By Nisthar Cassim
Business leader and telecom industry icon Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, who on Friday was elected as the new Chairman of the country's premier private sector lobby group, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, called on the private sector to unite in driving desired change and for the Government to facilitate the fostering of national harmony, law and order with transparent, constructive policy frameworks. Succeeding veteran banker Rajendra Theagarajah, Dr. Wijayasuriya spoke at the 180th Annual General Meeting of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce outlining his and the Chamber's vision which mirrored the larger private sector aspirations. In an address that showed the way forward for the private sector, Government and country at large, Dr. Wijayasuriya, who propelled Dialog Axiata to become a national icon creating considerable socio-economic value, reiterated the resilience of Sri Lanka amidst challenges.
"We are today a $90 billion economy – when placed within a set of 10 comparable regional peers, comprising all SAARC nations plus Indonesia and Malaysia from ASEAN, our economy is ranked the fourth smallest in absolute terms. We can be proud however, of the fact that we hold a third rank in terms of per-capita GDP. In this respect we are also the highest ranked within SAARC," he said.
Of concern however, he said, was that Sri Lanka's growth rate of 3.7% is the lowest – the 10th ranked in this same 10 country set.
"It is hence the going-forward trajectory we need to be concerned with, especially in a frame relative to our regional peers," he said, adding, "Our positioning relative to peers also throws the headlights on national competitiveness and the question of whether we as a private sector have focused sufficiently on building competitive advantage as a pathway to growth."
The new Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chief also lamented that today, Sri Lanka as a nation is most significantly threatened by the emergence of the sinister clouds of extremism and radicalisation, which he said "if unabated will fracture the unity and collective momentum of Sri Lanka’s economy."
It was pointed out that the future of Sri Lankan economy as well as the nation at large will be "what we make of it."
"We are born to a nation blessed with world-class talent. We have in our midst large, medium and small enterprises who in their own right, are global, regional and domestic champions – a private sector which has collectively weathered many waves of economic, political and external turmoil over the past three decades and which has on all occasions bounced back to a trajectory of growth, creating a foundation for peace and harmony in its wake," he said.
Wijayasuriya warned that in contrast with that resilience, the sentiment of despondence instils myopia in vision and stunts creativity – a counter-productive vortex which will take us deeper in to mediocre economic performance.
"The call of the hour is therefore to have no forbearance for despondence. If we are truly the engine of growth of the Sri Lankan economy– we need to be resolute in our belief that as a collective, we have the capacity to remobilise a growth trajectory at least on par with our regional peers," he said.
The path to economic resurgence
Dr. Wijayasuriya insisted that each action the private sector takes individually “may admittedly be a small step of faith as opposed to a giant leap – but collectively we will make strides –it is hence imperative to catalyse a wave of economic resurgence – resurgence which envisions the return to growth rates of 7-8% within the next five years.”
This resurgence, he said, also places Sri Lanka in a leading position in terms of growth, competitiveness and social development indices relative to regional peers.
He said that leading the resurgence as opposed to hoping for brighter externalities is the mindset change the private sector will need to undertake in these times of uncertainty.
Wijayasuriya observed that as Sri Lanka moves forward into the 2020-25 period, there is no doubt it will be entering an era of exponential change – a period during which there will be quantum transformation in the foundations of global competitiveness and a phenomenal opportunity for smaller and agile nations.
"The capturing of this opportunity would need us to exploit with keen awareness, the mega trends, realities and tools of this emerging age. There are four transformational trends which I believe will provide us a springboard to leapfrog," he said.
These were listed as 1) the ethos of Inclusion and the thesis of Inclusive Capitalism, 2) the mega trends around the fourth Industrial Revolution, 3) the power of ecosystems, and 4), the acceleration of pervasive Globalisation.
"We are entering an era where the collective is clearly more powerful than the single. An era where the large cannot flourish without the small and it is always more profitable to include rather than exclude.
It is an era where a collective and non-partisan, nation-minded and context-focused organisation such as our Chamber has a very important role to play. It also represents a calling for us to align and exploit these mega trends in the interest of economic and social advancement based on the fundamental of social equity.”
It was said that the private sector would seek enablement from the Government – a call for constructive policy frameworks which are designed to enable growth.
"We will also continue to seek transparency and consistency. We will assume as a fundamental deliverable of Government, the fostering of national harmony and the maintenance of law and order," he emphasised.
"As we look forward to the years ahead, we dream of a ‘new system’ – we identify the enshrining of the principles of integrity, unity, equality and an underlying meritocracy as the foundations of creating such a new system. I believe we all need to be committed to be the change we dream of integrity and the eradication of corruption should start from within the private sector – let us set standards which are uncompromisable," he said.
Dr. Wijayasuriya expressed the belief that the future can be bright. "It is for us to shine the beacon with collective energy and to do so with singular focus and positivism. It is for us to envision with clarity the facets of the future we wish to create, and to be the change we want to see.”