Address by Honorable Navin Dissanayke at the BizPact “Invest in Sri Lanka” International Symposium on Thursday, June 25th 2009 at 1:45 p.m.
Posted on July 2nd, 2009

Investment Promotion Minister Navin Dissanayake

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, At the very outset, let me tell you that this symposium could not have been organized in a better time. The timing is so perfect on so many fronts; on the domestic front, the war is over, there is an increasing demand for foreign capital not only in the northern and eastern provinces, for there has not been any meaningful investment in these two regions during the last three decades. The socio-political forces have overridden the financial and economic needs of the day in these two provinces. However, in the rest of the country too we cannot be too content of the pace at which investment has been flowing.

 There are many reasons for this. The global recession that set in during last quarter of 2008 engulfed not only the western capitalist economies; its adverse effects began to seep into the developing countries like Sri Lanka, in particular, and the South Asian region, in general. At a time when an Auto giant like General Motors is declaring bankruptcy, when financial mega companies like Lehman Brothers are collapsing, what are the options open for an ailing mixed economy in Sri Lanka? Theses are the bitter questions that we must ask ourselves if we are to face these problems and find solutions to them. How can we improve our ranking in the business world and compete with the growing economies in the west like USA, UK and Scandinavia but also in the east like Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. Unless we position ourselves against our superiors in the West as well as in the East, we are bound to fail in our attempts to bring in better times for our people. In other words, we must raise our bar, so to speak, and in this context, I must tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that the Board of Investments and the Ministry of Investment Promotion are taking very meaningful and tangible measures to improve our means and methods of attracting both foreign and domestic investment. If there are obstacles in the infrastructure facilities, we will clear them, if there are impediments in the release of land for the various projects, we will eliminate those impediments so that the land is handed in the shortest possible time; if the concern is obtaining permission from the environmental agencies, we will expedite those procedures.  

Especially in relation to the particular region we are geographically place in, namely the SAARC region, we stand among the top in availability of infrastructure facilities. That includes India. We are more a very poor country. We have graduated for that abysmal category to the middles-income category. However, we cannot be content with that rating. My vision is to raise our per capita income from US$2000 to US&10,000. Let us make a collective effort to raise our growth rate 10% in ten years. It is possible if we apply ourselves, not as individuals, but as a cohesive community of investors and beneficiaries, in other words, as a total entity of a nation. There lies our salvation, and there lie your profits. For profits follow economic activity. And economic activity follows investment.

 We have good examples from our recent past. The accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme is such a program. How was such a gigantic project completed in such a short time like six years? Five major dams, Victoria, Kotmale, Maduru Oya, Randenigala and Ulhitiya and their head-works were completed; hundreds of thousands of hectares were opened up for cultivation in the downstream of the Mahawelu ganga. More than one hundred and fifty thousand families were settled on these lands, social and irrigation infrastructure was constructed to facilitate the settlers. How was this achieved? It was by decisive leadership, single-minded dedication, a sense of urgency thereby creating the phrase “accelerated”, total focus on the part of all those who executed the work, and above all, investment. If the investment was not forthcoming, there would not have been the Mahaweli program; there would not have been electricity. In the twenty first century major part of Sri Lanka would have been in darkness if not for the hydro power electricity generated by the Mahaweli head-works.

 The building blocks in the twenty first century are Japan, India and China. The US has realized it, the rest of Europe has realized it and those three countries have realized it. The progression of China and India from the third world to the first world in terms of economics is remarkable. The growth of their domestic product is phenomenal, so that the global recession that has enveloped the all other countries is having not so critical an impact on India and China. On the other hand, Japan stands alone as the biggest bi-lateral donor of the world. Japan’s good relations with Sri Lanka have extracted a promise from Japan that they will invest two billion US dollars in the next five years. So let us do our bit. And the contribution by organizations like Business for Peace Alliance in this regard is commendable and praiseworthy.

 In that context, our attempt will be to make the surrounding environment as investor-friendly as possible. In this regard we are bound to face severe competition from the other developing countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and even India. Today I see before me some very friendly and known faces. I see some strangers too in our midst. To both these groups, either friends or strangers I state most emphatically that we are sensitive to the needs of the investor and that sensitivity is further sharpened to accommodate the socio-politico-economic needs of a people.

 Therefore, the role played by an organization such as Business for Peace Alliance is not only vital, it is essential. To galvanize an investor community on an accelerated footing is our primary objective and I am sure that BizPact will contribute its mite towards attaining this goal. One of the most difficult tasks, at a time when the economies in the world are gripped by a recession of global proportions, when the people all over are losing jobs on a progressively increasing scale, when the lending institutions are crippled by sudden withdrawals by the depositors, is to ask  prospective investors to pitch in. Here in this venture, my Ministry and the Board of Investments will make a deliberate and conscious attempt to accelerate the procedures, overcome the obstacles and employ more helpful methods to assist the investor. We will rest only after achieving the desired result so that we may say at the end, to paraphrase Winston Churchill: “never in the annals of business investment, was so much done for so many by so few”.

 I take this opportunity of thanking Suresh de Mel, Chairman of Business Alliance and other members of this prestigious organization for affording this occasion to me to address you. As I said at the beginning of my address, this symposium could not have been better timed. The need is present, the opportunities are present, the incentives are present. Your organization by its very structure is a network of all main regional Chambers of Commerce throughout Sri Lanka. In that sense, your organization has a unique qualification to host a conference of this nature.

 Present today are some members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. I take this opportunity to appeal to their sense of patriotism and to their good business sense. Your investment will not only be in the context of profit making, but also in the interest of your motherland. My office is open to all of you, should you decide to meet me to iron out any difficulty.

 In conclusion, I extend my sincere and best wishes for the success of this symposium and my heartfelt thanks to the organizers for inviting me.

 

Thank you, all.

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