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COVID-19 diaries: Sri Lanka needs a resilient logistics system

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By Winnie Wang , Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank

Logistics carry dreams. Back in 2007, when I applied to graduate schools in the United States, nothing could beat the excitement of handing over my applications to FedEx, clinging to the receipts with precious tracking numbers, and checking them a hundred times a day until I got confirmation that the packages had indeed arrived at my dream schools—all within the three business days they had promised.

A few months later, it was UPS that brought me the offer letter from MIT, transforming my destiny from a rural girl in China into a truly global citizen. I had never been on an airplane or anywhere out of my homeland before my flight to Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Two years ago in 2019, life brought me to the World Bank office in Sri Lanka, near the Port of Colombo, one of the 20 most well-connected ports in the world.

Watching a busy port at work can be endlessly fascinating. It still gives me a thrill to see the giant ships glide by, laden with containers carrying cargo from halfway across the world, including, recently, all our household goods, especially boxes upon boxes of my children’s favorite toys.

It’s logistics that made it all happen.

COVID-19 Rocks the Logistics Boat

As effective as logistics may seem at facilitating the transport of college applications and children’s toys, the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled significant vulnerabilities in that sector. 

In the initial weeks of the lockdown last year, I remember struggling to put together a meal with only rice and milk powder left in my kitchen. While most other residents of Colombo must have endured similar experiences, Sri Lanka’s farmers were left with no option but to throw away their fruits and vegetables since there was no safe and efficient way to store and transport them. Meanwhile, consumers in the city had to wait for several days before they could buy fresh produce and pay a much higher price when they were finally able to do so. It was a lose-lose situation for everyone—consumers, producers, and the myriad others in the supply chain.

COVID-19 had underscored how fragmented Sri Lanka’s domestic supply chains were—particularly those related to agricultural products—leading to inefficiencies throughout the logistics sector. 

Initially, online delivery systems also crashed as the country had very limited experience with digital platforms and paperless transactions. However, they picked up quickly, and small and medium enterprises were quick to utilize social media and smartphone apps to deliver goods to customers.

Even so, the pandemic brought the fundamental challenges that confront Sri Lanka’s transportation network into stark relief. The vital sinews, which keep the island nation’s freight and cargo moving, were unduly dependent on road transport. Around 97 percent of the country’s domestic freight is transported by road—with half the trucks returning empty—causing unnecessary congestion in the road network and increasing transportation costs. 

The pandemic also highlighted the inadequacies in the warehousing infrastructure. According to the National Export Strategy (NES), only 138 customs-bonded warehouses exist throughout Sri Lanka, with around 80 percent of them located in the Western Province.

Besides, cold storage facilities are insufficient for storing fisheries products, a key commodity, and no major facilities exist for the safe storage of perishables at important locations. This shortfall is likely to hinder the country’s planned expansion of agricultural exports.

At the broader level, Sri Lanka’s exports, particularly the key export commodities such as tea and garments, have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. For example, according to Sri Lanka Export Development Board data, garment exports recorded an 82 percent decline, falling from $333 million in April 2019 to just $58 million in April 2020. 

In a recent survey by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, 63 percent of Sri Lanka’s firms exporting goods and services reported significant disruption in their overall business operations due to COVID-19. 

Hitting the Road Ahead with Operational Efficiency

The Government of Sri Lanka is taking action to improve the country’s logistics system.  In addition to providing financial support and adopting many other initiatives, digitalization has been recognized as a key priority to improve the efficiency of the logistics sector and ensure contactless transactions for long-term sustainability. For instance, a few years ago, the blueprint for a National Single Window system was prepared jointly with the Government of Sri Lanka to facilitate efficient and paperless trade.

The private industry is also taking initiatives to improve the efficiency of the country’s logistics sector. In 2019, a private firm launched the Smart Truck Initiative via the SyTrans platform, making it easier for industry to book and schedule trucks through a mobile app. The initiative can yield even greater benefits if scaled up nationwide.

COVID-19 has taught us a valuable lesson—a national logistics system that is efficient and resilient is more important now than ever, as this sector provides the backbone for a functioning economy. 

Solutions such as digitalization, improved transport connectivity, multimodal transport operations, and better coordination between various stakeholders will go a long way in strengthening domestic supply chains  and maximizing the benefits that the Port of Colombo and others can bring to the country.



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OPPO releases new OPPO A54 in Sri Lanka

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OPPO, the leading global smart device brand, announces the launch of OPPO A54 in Sri Lanka.

A54’s attention to design and great usability is evident in both its exquisite appearance and how it helps to capture great looking shots. This starts with the Material of the Rear Cover, which uses metallic material for its 3D panel, but contributes to a stronger and less bendable structure but also a comfortable in-hand feel. As a result, A54 weighs about 192g and is 8.4mm thin. To align the overall look and feel of the phone, close attention is paid to the Middle Frame Process.

“A Series is designed to enhance or complement our users’ lifestyles and OPPO A54 achieves just this with a phone that manages to balance a high-end performance with contemporary design. Its large 5000mAh battery and 18W Fast Charge makes sure you’re fully powered to get you through your day. With A54, you’ll also have enough storage and memory to make sure that you’ll enjoy your entertainment without the frustrations of an underperforming smartphone,” said Bob Li, CEO, XINDA Lanka (OPPO Sri Lanka).

The Rear Cameras itself feature a 13MP Main Camera, 2MP Macro Camera for close range shots, and 2MP Bokehfor brilliant bokeh shots that blur the background and highlight the subject of the photo. A54 enhances shots in all environments with Dazzle Color, balancing the saturation and brightness. A54 also supports filming videos including SLO-MO at 720P at 90FPS with the rear camera, and up to 10 video Filters including Original, Gentle, Noon, Subtle and more.

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Pan Asia Bank records best-ever Q1 results in challenging times – Profit After Tax soars by 81% to post Rs. 750 mn.

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Pan Asia Banking Corporation PLC reported the best-ever first quarter financial results during the quarter ended 31st March 2021 to report a Pre-Tax Profit of Rs. 986 Mn and a Post-Tax Profit of Rs. 750 Mn after recording impressive growth rates of 51% and 81% respectively, demonstrating the resilience amidst challenging macro economic conditions. The Bank’s performance was characterised by strength and resilience, despite the heightened uncertainty due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 impact on the Sri Lankan economy, the Bank’s Operating Profits before VAT on Financial Services reached Rs. 1,197 Mn with an increase of 47%, reflecting excellence in core banking performance and the success of cost containment measures evidenced by improvement in all key matrices which now rank among the industry bests. This feat was achieved even after setting aside provisions for probable loan losses amounting to Rs. 638 Mn. The Bank increased the provision buffers for probable deterioration in credit quality through management overlays, experience adjustments and adjustments for the exposures in the elevated risk industries during the quarter. As a result, total impairment charges for the quarter increased by 21% on YoY basis.

The Bank’s Net Interest Income for the period witnessed an increase of 17% due to significant reduction in financial cost of funds at a rate faster than the drop in interest yields of interest bearing assets. Consequently, the Bank’s Net Interest Margin for the quarter improved to 5.07% from 4.41% reported three months ago. In the meantime, the Bank’s Net Fee and Commission Income recorded a growth of 28% with the rebound in demand for credit due to revival of economic activity amidst the low interest rate regime. The volatility in foreign exchange rates enabled the Bank to increase its Foreign Exchange Income substantially as reflected in Other Operating Income.

The Bank is committed to revenue maximisation and cost management despite sector vulnerabilities that prevailed since last year. The Bank’s Cost-to-Income Ratio improved from 45.66% to 38.08% within a three months period owing to the excellence in core banking performance which is reflected in the noteworthy overall growth in key revenue lines and various strategies and measures taken to contain overhead costs. In fact, the Bank managed to bring down its Other Operating Expenses by 9% in 2021 Q1 compared to 2020 Q1. Meanwhile, increased allocations for performance bonuses, development of human capital and staff welfare led to an increase in personnel costs during the reporting period compared to 2020 Q1.

The Bank’s Post-Tax Profits for the reporting quarter also gained to an extent due to application of lower corporate income tax rate of 24% for tax provisioning in accordance with the guideline issued by CA Sri Lanka on 23rd April 2021.

The Bank continues to report solid Key Profitability Indicators which rank among the highest in the industry. The Bank’s Pre-Tax Return on Assets also improved to 2.24% from 1.70%. Further, the Bank reported a stunning Return on Equity (ROE) of 19.27% during the quarter under review which stands among the industry best. The ROE is the most important performance indicator to gauge the attractiveness of the Banking sector and Pan Asia Bank during its last few years has consistently remained an outlier in the industry.

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SLIIT nurtures school children at ‘Soft Skills + 2021’

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The SLIIT Business School (SBS) organised ‘Soft Skills+ 2021’ concluded on an extremely successful note recently helping students engage, cooperate and thrive in building their talents towards personal development and career progression.

SLIIT Soft Skills+ event is an annual flagship CSR Project of the SLIIT Business School organized with the primary objective of developing secondary school students’ soft skills in positive thinking, creativity, analytical thinking, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, and teamwork.

Over the years, the programme has garnered much popularity among schools and participants. Due to its tremendous success achieved in previous programmes, Soft Skills+ 2021 followed an upgraded structure. For the first time in the Soft Skills+ programme history, the event was held via online platforms, including a Soft Skills-based online quiz and an online workshop for students and teachers.

During the Grand Finale, Prof. Samantha Thelijjagoda, Dean of SLIIT Business School welcomed the participants and distinguished guests. Prof. Lalith Gamage, Vice Chancellor, SLIIT also addressed the gathering.

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