“Come and see,” Dr. Amunugama tells US firms, quoting Dhamma Pada at NY Forum
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 00:00
Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation and Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Sarath Amunugama had a very simple but a strong message in his keynote to participants at the packed New York Investor Forum. Quoting the Dhamma Pada or wisdom from Lord Buddha, he told the Forum “Ehipassiko” and translated it by saying “come and see” to believe the progress and the potential in Sri Lanka. Following are excerpts from Dr. Amunugama’s keynote:
Your interest today is, ‘What is so special about Sri Lanka?’ After all, in New York there are 193 countries represented, they all have a story to tell, and very often it is presented as a very attractive tale. Therefore, what is special about Sri Lanka? What is the comparative advantage that would interest you to come to Sri Lanka, to think of our economy and to finally invest in our country? That is the area that I want to address.
Firstly, Sri Lanka is a country that has emerged very successfully, very victoriously from a 30-year terrorist conflict. Today, we know that terrorism is rarely defeated comprehensively, it tends to recur and the world is full of examples of terrorism playing havoc with economic growth. But we in Sri Lanka are proud to be one country which has comprehensively defeated terrorism and what was once a dangerous place to live in is today one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Now that is a tremendous advantage, because when you think of investment you want a peaceful environment in which you can take rational decisions, you can invest and make money – that is a big advantage we have in Sri Lanka.
Secondly, for 30 years we could not get that desirable momentum in our country, due to a period of war. During the past five-and-a-half years, we have been able to make an extraordinary investment, firstly in infrastructure. Let me give you a few examples, Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia which can guarantee, a power supply 24/7. Every other country in our region has power shedding where their manufacturing process is disrupted. We can offer a continuous power supply and this is a huge investment when it comes to economic investment.
We have a huge investment in ports and airports, on roads, a big investment in education. When it comes to the funding for infrastructure development, Sri Lanka has been very successful in finding the resources necessary for infrastructure development. In Sri Lanka we take this for granted but in the developing world it is a very difficult task to get the funding necessary for what is called “shovel-ready projects”. There are many countries in our region which have been waiting for five, eight and even 20 years to get the funding for their infrastructure projects. For example, the Padma Bridge in Bangladesh, they have been struggling for 10 years to get funding.
No institution will fund infrastructure if they don’t have the confidence that this country will grow, will earn and will be able to pay back these loans. This is a very important area, which adds to the confidence that is in Sri Lanka.
The third aspect is sound macroeconomic management; on all indices, we have done well. The growth trajectory, our inflation rate has been controlled, our foreign reserves are growing, the debt to GDP ratio is coming down.
The fourth point is that we are doing all this in a democratic environment. It is very rarely that you can get this scale of change and growth in a country, which is strongly committed to democratic values, where elections are held very frequently, where governments and ministers come and go. We have done tremendous work in the areas that were affected by the conflict; the GDP growth in the regions affected by the conflict far exceeds the GDP growth in other regions of the country.
Sri Lanka is committed to growth, development and accountability, within our democratic and national process because the question of sovereignty is involved. We are committed to accountability, but within our sovereign nation.
The fifth point, which gives us a comparative advantage, is our social inclusion; our economic growth is part of our social inclusion. The lagging areas must have special attention and this is well exemplified in our achievement of the millennium development goals. We also have a focus on education, we have near universal literacy and gender equality; this is going to play an important role in the growth process in the future. The Government is committed to shifting education from the liberal arts to science and technology. These are all key factors which put Sri Lanka in a comparative advantage when you look at Sri Lanka from an investment perspective.
Finally, I want to come back to the element of our geographical location. We are at the mid-point between the oil producers and the oil consumers. Therefore, you see that we have a country that is leapfrogging into the future, one would call it a country with a very dim past, from that past we are now entering a phase where geopolitically we will be very important and with our trade and other connections; we would be one of the most promising economies in the future. I would like to quote from Lord Buddha’s wisdom “Ehipassiko,” that is “come and see” for yourself the new Sri Lanka and its enormous progress and opportunities.