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Finance minister urged to give fresh impetus to doing business conditions in Sri Lanka

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‘Venora Group lost export orders worth US$ 300,000-400,000 due to foreign exchange issue’

‘Many companies do value addition below 10%, but government is allowing that to happen’

By Sanath Nanayakkare

Venora Group of Companies Chairman and MD – who is also the Chairman of Mechanical-Electrical-Plumbing (MEP) Industry Forum Sri Lanka told The Island Financial Review recently that he was confident the new finance minister Basil Rajapaksa could give visionary leadership to transform Sri Lanka’s ease of doing business ranking to be among the first 50-60 or so in the world.

Venora Group Chief – Engineer Sagara Gunawardana who is wearing two industrial caps said, “New Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has a huge task before him in the current challenging context. I am confident that he can rise to the challenges the country is faced with because when he was the minister of economic development from 2010-2015, he did a remarkable job at that time. He was able to attract foreign investors to come here by creating an environment conducive to trade and investment. He is very knowledgeable on what needs to be done to foster strategic relationships with all actors of the economy; namely manufacturers, suppliers, exporters, importers and state institutions related to trade.”

Talking about his group he said,” We are working on six or seven apartment projects in Colombo City limits. They consist of 20 to 30 floors up to 50 floors. In addition, we have undertaken installations at medium and large-scale hotel projects in the South. Although tourism has been hit hard by the pandemic, some investors are still keen on investing in Tourism related businesses. The single digit interest rates introduced by the government could be a main driver for this development. Investors used to borrow at 17%-18% a few years ago and the decision made by the government to get the banks to lend at current rates has encouraged investment, leading to a faster recovery of the economy. Another key reason that has strengthened the confidence of the business community is the government’s accelerated vaccination drive in all parts of the country. It is encouraging to see how the vaccination numbers have increased in the country and I urge everyone to get vaccinated because that is our best hope while other prevention measures must also continue.”

“Venora has been awarded the manufacturing and installation contract of power panels at the new dairy farm project in Ambewela, Pattipola owned by United Dairy Lanka (Pvt.)Ltd., Further, we have undertaken contracts of this nature for a few high-rises coming up in Union Place, Colombo including the iconic TRI-ZEN by John Keells Properties, 447 Luna Tower which is a Japanese investment and we are also working with the new Peoples’ Bank Head office and Akuregoda Ministry of Defence complex.”

“Mainly we are manufacturers of power panels and we export our products under a BOI entity named Venora Lanka Power Panels situated in Free Trade Zone at Biyagama. The COVID-19 pandemic situation opened the doors for us to export power panels to a few projects in Singapore,Bangladesh,Ethiopia and Kenya as the supply chains there were badly disrupted during the time, therefore, I urge Sri Lankan manufacturers to stay resilient and drive ahead their plants and the workforce to export finished goods because that’s where our future is.”

“According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka is ranked 99 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business. The rank of Sri Lanka improved to 99 in 2019 from 100 in 2018. This means foreign investors have almost 100 investment destinations on their radar, when we invite them to invest in Sri Lanka. This is a hard fact and we have to come up with solutions for it.”

“Authorities need to understand why foreign investors would want to come to Sri Lanka and create those conditions to attract them to the country.”

“Chinese investments in Sri Lanka are a lot. But what we need to be mindful about is whether they do enough value addition in Sri Lanka.. I know many companies that do value addition below 10% and the government is allowing that to happen. We should take a cue from late legendary businessman Upali Wijewardena, the founder and chairman of Upali Group which diversified from confectionery to electronics and automobile assembly with greater value addition on the Sri Lankan soil.”

“Today Micro Cars in Peliyagoda and Mahindra -Ideal Lanka facility in Welipenna assemble vehicles and they source some of their components locally. That’s the kind of investment we need to bring into Sri Lanka because the name of the game is ‘greater value addition’ within the country instead of just attracting FDI to the country.”

“We should invite Toyota, BMW and other reputed brands to assemble their cars here. Today a lot of our trained technicians especially those who pass out from the German Training School go to countries like Australia for employment. If we have the right companies here, we can retain this human resource in the country and allow them the opportunity to boost our production economy, taking a holistic approach to growth.”

“In recent past we could see that professional engineers and other skilled workers migrating to foreign countries because there is a high demand for them in those countries.”

“Everyone is aware that we have a US dollar shortage in the country. Due to this, we encounter difficulties in opening letters of credit (LCs) to import intermediary goods for our export orders. This has badly affected our export orders. Our local customers know about the restrictions and difficulties and they remain patient, but that’s not the case with our foreign customers. Sometimes banks take as long as a month to open an LC which leads to long lags in purchase order lead times. And this makes it impossible for us to deliver the orders on time, so we don’t accept such time-bound orders. In the past few months due to this issue. Venora Group lost export orders worth about US$ 300,000-400,000.”

“A key strategy to have our foreign reserves improved is to have foreign direct investments (FDIs) that earn foreign exchange for us. I know that between 2010 and 2015, the BOI invited a lot of investors from Japan and other countries. In fact, they came here, but now with the current situation of issues with LC opening and labour issues, some of them relocated their operations in Vietnam, Bangladesh and other countries. Investment authorities in Bangladesh and Ethiopia offer a one-stop-shop for investors. In Sri Lanka, the procedure is still cumbersome.”

“The Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) in the 1980s helped set up various industries in the country by offering favourable investment conditions for reputed investors with free-hold land, tax holidays etc. Today Sri Lanka offers little for such investors. And on the top of it, there is no consistent and cohesive investment policy in the country.”

“Policies on investment tend to change when governments change. From the standpoint of investors, this affects the predictability of their investments in important respects. What we need to put in place are ‘openings’ in the investment promotion process, not ‘barriers’.

“Foreign investors have almost 100 investment destinations on their radar when we invite them to come and invest in Sri Lanka. These are the cold hard facts that we need to address as we try to promote Sri Lanka as an investment destination.”

“Minister Basil Rajapaksa has the ability to streamline the affairs effectively to boost our exports and increase our foreign exchange earnings. I am confident that he will come up with a strategy for this and implement it. I am also confident that he can make reforms to upgrade Sri Lanka’s ease of doing business ranking to be among the first 50-60 or so in the world. Such an improved assessment of business conditions in Sri Lanka will be well-received by investors and private corporations across the world,” he said.



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DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama pawning facility lends a helping hand to those with urgent cash requirements

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DFCC Bank has increased the advances of its “DFCC Ranwarama” Pawning Facility as a solution for families to meet their urgent cash requirements as many families are experiencing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has had a significant impact on the Sri Lankan economy.

Through this scheme, all Sri Lankan citizens over 18 years of age with the contractual capacity to declare themselves as owners of the articles can now pawn gold or gold jewellery. DFCC Bank accepts jewellery made of 18 Karat -24 Karat gold, with the articles being assayed using the latest available equipment. Items of 24 Karate will hold an advanced value of LKR 82,000/-, while 22 Karat pieces will hold an advanced value of LKR 68,000/- at an interest rate of 0.75% per month. Those who engage in these transactions are provided a maximum of 12 months to settle the pawning advances at their convenience.

DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama Pawning Facility offers many other special features including the highest advance amount at competitive rates of interest, confidentiality and guaranteed security for the articles, flexible payment plans with redemption options when required and redemption without prior notification. All of these facilities are available with no hidden charges, offering customers the best service available in the market.

You may visit a DFCC Bank branch closest to you to transact or visit the Bank’s website at www.dfcc.lk for further information. Customers can also contact DFCC Bank’s 24-hour contact center on +94(11)2350000 for further inquiries.

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HSBC Sri Lanka recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank by Global Finance

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HSBC has been recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance at the World’s Best Consumer Digital Banks Awards in Asia-Pacific. While this is the bank’s fourth award win for this year, this also marks the 13th time that HSBC Sri Lanka has been named the Best Consumer Digital Bank, since 2006.

HSBC Sri Lanka is also the only market in Asia Pacific to win the prestigious award this year.

According to Global Finance, the global health crisis accelerated the need for digital and contact-free solutions by banks in helping create safe and efficient banking services for customers. HSBC Sri Lanka was quick to react in supporting customers in providing seamless digital bank offerings in an increasingly demanding environment, while ensuring customers have a secure banking service with a full spectrum of client-centric banking services.

Through its wealth of digital capabilities and offerings, HSBC allowed customers to adopt a mobile-first approach, and provide them with faster, easier and more secure banking services 24/7. The bank introduced a virtual on boarding capability for account opening, loans and credit cards supported by Adobe Live Sign, eKYC and virtual PINs to provide a seamless on boarding experience for customers. HSBC also offers credit card activation through SMS and an e2e virtual registration process for online banking, offering a virtual banking experience.

In Sri Lanka more than 90% of its personal customers now use digital channels including mobile banking, e-wallets, real-time cash deposit machines and other digital services.

Nadeesha Senaratne, Country Head of Wealth & Personal Banking said, “We are truly honoured to be named the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance in recognition of our digital capabilities, and delivering important everyday services and features that customers need and expect. As a leading international bank, we are putting the power of our bank in every customer’s pocket, with easier and more secure digital banking. We want to take the hassle out of everyday banking, and enable customers to easily manage their money online, from opening a new account in a few clicks, to making real time payments and accessing credit.”

Senaratne added: “We’re also blending the power of technology with the expertise of our people and empowering our frontline teams with the latest data and insights tools, to be better-equipped to check customer satisfaction in the moment, to understand, and respond to their evolving needs and give customers excellent service.”

Winners were selected by a world-class panel of judges and entries were judged based on the strength of strategy for attracting and servicing digital customers, success in getting clients to use digital offerings, growth of digital customers, breadth of product offerings and evidence of tangible benefits gained from digital initiatives.

Earlier this year, HSBC Sri Lanka was also named International Bank of the Year by Asiamoney and Finance Asia respectively, and International Retail Bank of the Year by Asian Banking & Finance.

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BoardPAC appointed Strategic Partner of Commonwealth’s Business Network – CWEIC

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BoardPAC, the Sri Lanka-based multinational Board meeting automation solutions company, has been appointed a Strategic Partner of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), the organisation officially mandated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to promote trade and investment between the 54 Commonwealth member countries.

This prestigious appointment will see CWEIC relying on BoardPAC’s award-winning solutions to conduct board and committee meetings with members and maintain relationships across the Commonwealth network at a time when the global pandemic’s complete disruption of business activity has resulted in a surge in the demand for efficient board meeting automation.

The Company said the partnership will also effectively promote the BoardPAC platform to new users and facilitate its expansion into new territories and focus markets. BoardPAC already has a global user base in excess of 50,000 and a presence in more than 40 countries.

Noting that BoardPAC’s latest partnership serves as yet another testament to the quality of its solutions, BoardPAC Co-Founder/CEO, Lakmini Wijesundera stated: “Our growth plan includes expanding our worldwide network, and our strategic alliance with CWEIC will strongly help us extend our presence into Commonwealth territories. The strategic cooperation between CWEIC and BoardPAC is especially relevant in light of the worldwide pandemic, and the emerging need for secure remote working and filling the void in virtual board meetings.”

CWEIC Chairman, Rt. Hon. Lord Jonathan Marland said: “We are looking forward to work closely with BoardPAC. The alliance will not only help CWEIC to conduct virtual board meetings securely and safely, but also align ourselves with all governance, risk and compliance as well as environmental, social, and governance frameworks.” Echoing this sentiment, CWEIC Deputy Chair, Sir Hugo Swire stated: “We are excited to partner with BoardPAC and extend modern digital governance and compliance solutions to organisations operating in the Commonwealth.”

Disclosing that BoardPAC’s excellent track record inspired confidence within the CWEIC to implement its solution on a global scale, CWEIC Chief Executive, Samantha Cohen CVO added: “We’re delighted that BoardPAC, one of the most renowned virtual board meeting automation providers in the world, joined our network of Strategic Partners. BoardPAC will add significant value to our board and committee meetings, allowing the CWEIC to conduct meetings with its members throughout the Commonwealth more effectively. The partnership also demonstrates the opportunities within the Commonwealth, and the confidence businesses have towards the Commonwealth and CWEIC.”

A commercial, not-for-profit membership organisation, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council’s network includes around 100 business and government Strategic Partners (members) including Standard Chartered, Zenith Bank, Trade & Investment Queensland and the Government of the Maldives from 30 countries and territories. Every two years, CWEIC hosts the Commonwealth Business Forum in association with the host country of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

BoardPAC is an award winning, multinational, paperless board meeting automation solutions provider, recognised for driving simple, secure, sustainable and experiential communications for Board and Executive members. Leading corporates such as Petronas, Deloitte, EY, Mercedes Benz, Prudential, Hong Leong Group, Stock Exchange of Malaysia, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Bombay Stock Exchange, Bank Negara, Maybank, Power Grid Corporation of India, Colombo Stock Exchange, and Sri Lankan Airlines are just some of BoardPAC’s success stories, and the Company said the partnership with the CWEIC will pave the way to several more high-profile additions to this list.

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