Following is the address delivered by National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka President Asoka Hettigoda at the NCCSL’s 53rd Annual General Meeting
Ayubowan, good evening. Let me extend a warm welcome to all of you to the ceremonial sessions of the 53rd Annual General Meeting of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka.
Our Chief Guests, Minister of External Affairs Professor G.L. Peiris, Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation Dr. Sarath Amunugama, your excellencies, members of the diplomatic community, Government officials, past presidents, office bearers, members, staff of the Secretariat, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen, I consider it to be a great honour and a privilege to address you at this 53rd Annual General Meeting of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka. Let me firstly, thank the members of National Chamber for the confidence placed on me and re-electing me as the President for another term.
The National Chamber was established in 1948 as a forum for the Sri Lankan business community to interact with the Government policymakers to represent the national interests. A group of Sri Lankan business leaders, such as Robert Senananyaka, Sir Cyril De Zoysa, Faleel A. Gaffoor, N. Sellamuttu and Roland Wanigatunga established the National Chamber.
Many leading businessmen have led the chamber over the years and continue to make a tremendous contribution to the national economy while supporting its membership. Today, the National Chamber has a corporate membership of over 587 companies including Sri Lanka’s best blue chips and a SME membership of over 2,500, who come from all parts of the country, representing all sectors of industry and commerce.
My workplan for last year
In the brief address I made at the last AGM, my workplan focussed on three key areas, namely, skills development, improving trade and investment in the Asian region and promoting sustainable development.
Year 2011 was a very successful year for the National Chamber as we managed to do many activities that were considered as ‘first-ever’ for the chamber.
Visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Chief Guest of Ayurveda Expo 2011 which also became the most successful event in the history of the chamber
A National Chamber delegation was welcomed by President of Viet Nam Truong Tan Sang
Established a Sri Lanka Bangladesh Business Council
Inaugurated a Certificate Course in Entrepreneurship Management Course with University of Colombo
Launched a website with the partnership with Sri Lanka High Commission in the UK to find employment for British qualified Sri Lankan graduates who live in the UK
These are some of the highlights of 2011. You will find all the details in our newly formatted Annual Report and the newsletter, ‘Voice of Business’. Let me briefly mention some of the other activities of 2011.
Many seminars and workshops were held, such as:
Import and Export Procedures, Taxes for 2011, Simplified VAT, Relaxation of Foreign Exchange Regulations, Investing in Shares, EPF & ETF guidelines, Analysis of Budget 2012, etc.
Held SME seminars with Dr. P. B. Jayasundera in Colombo and in Kandy
Distributed grants to SMEs with the participation of Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa
Jointly organised the Sri Lanka-Viet Nam Business Forum
Held many bilateral trade discussions with Ambassadors and High Commissioners of Canada, Pakistan, Germany, France, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, Russia and Korea.
Discussions were held with all the new Sri Lankan designates
Signed MOUs with American Chamber and Viet Nam Chamber
Organised Sri Lankan business delegation visits to China and Vietnam
In the area of sustainable development and promotion of business excellence, the National Chamber became the first chamber in Sri Lanka to be certified as ‘Carbon Neutral’. We also conducted the most-sought-after business excellence program in Sri Lanka, ‘National Business Excellence Awards’ for the eight consecutive year, recognising the best private and State sector entities.
My workplan for this year
With two consecutive years of high GDP growth – over 8% in 2010 and 2011 – Sri Lanka has shown the world its capacity and strength to become a middle income nation faster than expected. Tourism, agriculture, fisheries, transport, banking, manufacturing, and construction sectors recorded higher growth rates during 2011. Single digit inflation, low interest rates and improving customer demand have certainly helped these growth rates.
Under these circumstances, I would like to propose to continue focussing on the three areas which I mentioned during my speech at the last AGM as it is quite evident that our progress towards becoming a middle income nation is irreversible and the importance of skills development, trade and investment and sustainable development and business excellence are even more critical to sustain the GDP growth rate of 8% for 2012.
The importance of skills development in a globalised economy is a well known fact as increasingly organisations emphasise competence development and lifelong learning. To cater to the needs of a middle income country, I propose to set up a 180-seat fully equipped auditorium on the fourth floor of the National Chamber to conduct skills development and training programs and to make the National Chamber the centre of excellence in this regard. This will be the biggest development that the chamber would have undertaken since setting up office at D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha in 1995.
Improving trade and investment with Asian Region with a focus on SME
With two largest populated nations in our region, we will continue to focus more on trading with Asia while creating more business councils with Asian countries.
To support SME development and investment, the National Chamber will lobby the banking sector to improve long-term low cost lending to SMEs and traditional and non-traditional exporters who add value.
NCCSL will continue to hold international trade and investment events such as Arogya 2012, International Medical Exhibition and Symposium in August and other trade and investment activities throughout the year.
Sustainable development and business excellence
We as a nation have to be competitive and sustainable while exhibiting excellence in all business activities we do as it essential for the survival in today’s globalised environment. Such development balances the environment, economy and our culture, and brings real benefits to all citizens of our country.
Certain countries have introduced a carbon tax on merchandise with high carbon levels and products coming from countries that refuse to contribute to reducing greenhouse gases. Further, the use of certain chemical pesticides and fertilisers and poor labour conditions, are factors considered by certain countries in controlling imports.
As we target to generate more export revenue, sustainable and excellent development practices will give us the competitive advantage we are looking for. This year, the National Chamber will focus on green building strategies and carbon neutral practices and hope to form a separate committee to focus on organic farming. We will also promote the National Business Excellence Awards to all parts of the country especially to the north and the east, as sharing these excellent practices will benefit the whole country.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, my team and I will assure you that we would do our utmost to make our business community competitive, productive and sustainable and play a key role in equitable development of Sri Lanka working with all the stakeholders.
However, lower growth rates in our trading partners such as US and EU, unrest in Arab countries, rising labour costs and other internal and external factors present us a challenging year ahead. And I believe, if all stakeholders work together, achieving this momentous growth will be within our reach.
Thanking people who helped
Cathy Freeman, the first Aboriginal to win a Gold Medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics held in Australia, said, “You got to try and reach for the stars or try and achieve the unreachable”.
The National Chamber will fully support the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to make this country the ‘Wonder of Asia’ with the support of Sri Lankan companies in the driving seat. This is also the mandate of the National Chamber.
Firstly, I must thank my father, Deshabandu Dr. Victor Hettigoda, for allowing me to spend many days of the week at the chamber and my mother for looking after the grandkids and my two sisters, Vidyani and Lankani, who have always been an invisible strength to me, and lastly, the most important figure in the my life, Anusha, who has given me all the freedom to focus on my business and chamber activities and my two forgiving gems Vinuri and Akila, whose favourite phrase is “are you going for a meeting again?” … Thank you to all my dear family members.
I would also like to thank my colleagues of National Chamber, Office Bearers Sunil Wijesinha, Thilak Godamanna, Sujeiva Samaraweera and Ananda Wehalle for all the advice, support and assistance given to me during the last year.
I also wish to thank E.M. Wijetilleke, Secretary General and the staff of the chamber for the tremendous support and cooperation extended during the last year. The contribution of all chamber standing committees, district and regional chambers, associations and business councils deserve special acknowledgment.