Streamline expectations

Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI Lanka is highly dependent on the Government’s five hubs plus tourism strategy to achieve and maintain high growth in the future. Given that the Government has admitted as much, it might be time to listen to the possibility that this is too much for the limited capacity of the island to take within the space of a few years and rationalise by following clear goals with dedicated timelines. The idea that Sri Lanka’s Government has put too many irons, six to be precise, in the fire at the same time was suggested by Private Sector Development Specialist of the Competitive Industries Practice at the World Bank Group P.S. Tewari. While addressing the gathering at the Colombo University MBA Alumni Association and Daily FT forum on the five hub strategy, he made some telling insights despite professing to have a very limited idea of the inner workings on Sri Lanka. One was the simple fact that each of the hubs would take immense effort, resources, time and planning to execute, especially for a country that has not had sustained economic success and is still struggling to win the confidence of large-scale international investors. Essentially, Tewari pointed out that unless the Government and the private sector are willing to seriously pull up their socks and concentrate heavily on enhancing the regulatory environment, industry specific financing, skills development and technology innovation that cuts across the different hubs, the massive ambition of floating six hubs at the same time would not work. But Sri Lanka could get one or two right and then gradually work on the rest, after making sure they are feasible. Tewari added extra impact to what most pundits have been saying for years, namely that the public and private sectors have to become more competent, stamp out corruption, put clear regulations in place and maintain strict law and order. These are all obvious points no doubt, but they are extremely hard to implement on the ground, especially when they revolve strongly around good governance. Other aspects include detailed design of projects, having a clear goal and then breaking them down so each company would know what they have to achieve, and establishing Key Performance Indicators for the public sector as well as founding an apex body that has enough teeth to not just work together but also innovate. He also earmarked other needs such as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for foreign investors, which the Government has attempted to set up for years but has not been able to do so sans political involvement. Creating a knowledge hub would require moving far beyond bragging about Sri Lanka’s high literacy rate and understanding the importance of innovation. Singapore for example has invested US$ 1 billion in liberal arts because the education needs of the future are so little known. The local education system by contrast continues to limp along with diminishing budget allocations, opaque regulations, politicisation and corruption ruling the day. What the presentation made clear more than anything else is the gargantuan amount of work that remains for Sri Lanka to do – not to mention the political will to just aim for impossible dreams, but the honesty to know when they are not working and change swiftly to what does.