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Thursday, 27 January 2011 08:54 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Senior Minister Amunugama raps private sector

The Sri Lankan private sector was given a jolt yesterday by the Senior Minister for International Monetary Co-operation Dr. Sarath Amunugama as being unenterprising and weak and unwilling to undertake major infrastructure projects in the country.

By Cassandra Mascarenhas

This statement was made in response to a query made about the privatisation of infrastructure in the country at a luncheon forum organised by the Council for Business with Britain (CBB) held at the Hilton Residence yesterday at which the Minister was the Chief Guest and keynote speaker.

“We have an unenterprising and weak private sector that is not willing to come forward and take on large scale projects in the country. Has there ever been an instance where a party from the private sector has approached the Government to undertake a major infrastructure project for the Government to even refuse it?” asked Amunugama.

He went on to say that following in the footsteps of India and privatising infrastructure development is indeed the way forward.

This was currently been implemented with certain large scale projects in the country at the moment being handed over to private companies, but on a side note he added that the process shouldn’t be addressed by the term ‘privatisation’.

Making a presentation titled “Sri Lankan Economy - Priorities, Plans and Prospects,” Dr. Amunugama said Sri Lanka was presented as a growth area which is now ready, complete with the required manpower, to develop and just needing to focus on key areas to exploit. The Minister pointed out one such example — the country is now ideally poised by being so close to India, to expand via financial services as India which is growing at a terrific rate, is now desperate for financial services especially following the hot topic of illicit funds stashed in Swiss banks by Indian nationals as revealed recently.

Amunugama listed three elements that the Government is concentrating on maintaining; the first being the absolute commitment to keeping Sri Lanka terrorism-free and continuing to ensure it complete security. Second, to continue infrastructure development in the country.

“Sri Lanka was woefully backward until the year 2005 when it came to infrastructure development until the Government decided to make a massive investment in infrastructure and has now made improvements in every sector and at present very significantly, in power generation. The large investment in infrastructure is now finally paying off but there are still many more areas to invest in, one such area being our railroad network which needs to be transformed,” admitted Amunugama.

The third area was to steady the country’s macroeconomic situation and the fact that interest rates now higher than inflation rates and the ever-reducing fiscal deficit was referred to as a great achievement. The Government’s primary objective is to encourage savings amongst the people.

The issue of ‘brain drain’ was dismissed by the Minister by being a problem of the past and Amunugama in fact welcomed the free movement of capital and labour to and from the country. His justification of having over a million Sri Lankans currently working overseas was that 99% of them eventually return to the country and enrich the country annually with over four billion USD in remittances.

Citing the island of Mauritius as an example which attracts one million tourists a year, the Minister said that reaching the target of one million tourists in Sri Lanka would be child’s play and he praised the entrance of more foreign players into the Sri Lankan tourism sector such as the Hong Kong-based Shangri La Hotels that is slated to complete a hotel in Colombo next year. The existing hotels were commended for taking measures to deal with the expected influx of tourists like the Taj Samudra for example, that has an expansion project in the works.

“The entrance of more foreign parties will also allow us to easily reach the FDI target of one billion USD that has been set. Sri Lanka does not need to spend excessive money on grand advertising campaigns to attract tourists. While publicity is also important, what is required is to offer visiting tourists a memorable experience so that they would return and in turn promote Sri Lanka as a tourist destination,” said the Minister.

Floods a blessing too!

The recent catastrophe of the disastrous floods from which the country is still recovering from was given a positive spin by the Senior Minister who seeing the silver lining in the clouds stated that they would provide savings of US$ 2 billion to the country.

“Everyone is talking about floods these days. What people don’t realise is that as a result of this, all the dams are full and the effectiveness of hydro-power projects from this should result in savings of two billion USD for Sri Lanka,” said the Minister.

While understanding the severity of the disaster, the Minister went on to say that the consequences of the floods will not be as harsh as predicted. Following the glut situation that farmers were faced with after a record breaking crop last year, the recent floods have provided farmers with a use for the stocks of rice they had left from last year’s spillover.

Furthermore, farmers will not be badly affected from loss of crops due to the damage suffered by their cultivation plots as many of them were allocated extra plots of land last year and have therefore cultivated more land this year. Amunugama predicted that this extra produce will balance out those lost as a result of the floods and even went on to say that there may be a glut situation of rice in the market this year.