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Join the Club, ‘Make in Sri Lanka’ – –Automobile Industrialist Nalin Welgama




A policy framework (SOP) is to be unveiled on 15 March 2021, to gradually move away from importing vehicles to Sri Lanka, and simultaneously create a solid ecosystem for the assembly of automobiles and facilitate original equipment manufacturer (OEM) status for local auto component manufacturers.

The Ministry of Industries has designed this SOP (Standard Operations Procedure) to empower the vehicle assembly industry having taken on board the views, experiences and input of local automotive companies that have already set up their assembly lines in the country.

Ideal Motors is one such company which has set up its Mahindra Ideal vehicle assembly Plant in Welipenna, Kalutara. The Island recently had an interview with Ideal Group Founder and Executive Chairman Nalin Welgama, to learn about the reasons why the SOP document had been created and whether it would help create a level playing field for any potential investor or another automotive company to venture into the industry.

“The SOP to which we have given our input will entail a mechanism to ensure greater clarity, transparency and fairness for any potential investor or another automotive company in Sri Lanka to enter the auto assembly industry,” Welgama said.

“It will ensure not only a level playing field for all potential investors and existing players entering the vehicle assembly sector, it will also remove any barriers, obstacles and bottlenecks that hinder their operations. The Cabinet approval has been given to Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa to unveil and implement the SOP governing assembly of vehicles in Sri Lanka. In fact, this would be a policy framework and a quality manual on national and international standards for automobile assembly in Sri Lanka as a sustainable alternative to importing vehicles to Sri Lanka in line with the ongoing import ban on automobiles.”

The Ideal Group founder added that Upali Wijewardena, the pioneer in auto assembly in Sri Lanka, had been the first Sri Lankan who set up an assembly plant under Upali Group to assemble Fiat and Mazda cars in the country. At the time, the company didn’t have a direct connection with the parent companies and thus a globally recognized automotive manufacturer was not here.

“Otherwise, there would have been R&D and technology transfer to make the assembly operations viable in the long term,” he said.

Welgama said that since then two other companies have engaged in similar assembly operations here. However, neither have had any direct partnership with a global automotive giant nor was there an investment from an overseas parent company or the required R&D and tech support. They also didn’t do car assembly on a daily basis as an established production base, he said.

“They brought down kits from time to time, assembled them here and released to the market. That was not a sustainable model as producing a reliable car is a complex workmanship. In contrast, the approach we have taken at Mahindra Ideal car assembly plant in Welipenna, has addressed these issues in a practical way. Mahindra & Mahindra which enjoys its presence across 100+ countries and operates in key industries have partnered with us making a 35% equity in the joint venture. And they have committed themselves to providing our youth with the necessary tech skills to assemble vehicles of global specifications and standards in Sri Lanka. That is just one part of the transformation we have been able to achieve for Sri Lanka as a result of our partnership with Mahindra. Secondly, and most importantly, Mahindra-Ideal partnership has paved the way for emerging automobile component manufacturers in Sri Lanka to make their presence in the global supply chain as original equipment manufacturers (OEM).”



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SJB MP slams police double standards



“Why one law for Ponnambalam and another for Gamage?”

The police have failed to display the same efficiency they displayed in arresting Jaffna District MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam with regard to arresting State Minister Diana Gamage, who should have been spending her time at the Mirihana Immigration Detention Centre, Kurunegala District SJB MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha told Parliament on Friday.

“If the police had displayed the same efficacy, Diana Gamage should have been at the Mirihana Detention Centre at this time. Instead she comes to parliament and issues threats to other MPs. The courts have clearly stated that the CID could take her into custody because she had been using two passports.

“The Immigration Controller himself has reported to the courts that she had been a UK citizen since 2004 and using a UK passport since then. She has not revoked her UK citizenship. In addition she has obtained anther passport through the Secretary General of Parliament. The Speaker too should have a responsibility to prevent a foreign citizen sitting unlawfully in the House,” he said.

Jayamaha said that Gamage had no right to sit in parliament. “The case against her regarding her having forged passports is postponed again and again. The law is not implemented. My colleague Mujibur Rahuman tabled a document in this House that the Defence Secretary had been informed of the illegality of Gamage’s presence in Parliament. I tabled the same again today.

“She recently told a TV talk-show that she had applied for the revocation of her UK citizenship. We do not know whether she has two tongues,” the MP said.

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Sarath Weerasekera opposes SLT share sale on security grounds



Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), which owns a fixed and mobile telecom group, which is partly foreign owned and listed should not be privatized, the head of a parliamentary committee on national security has said.

Government MP, Retd. Admiral Sarath Weerasekara who chairs the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security told parliament Friday that divestment of the 49.5 percent stake in SLT held by the government could “expose the country’s strategic communication infrastructure and sensitive information to private companies that are motivated by profit, which could pose a threat to national security”.

Weerasekara also said that any individual or organization proscribed or otherwise that “aided terrorists or extremists” must not be allowed to purchase shares or control Sri Lanka’s national assets.

The claim comes despite satellite links and international cables connecting the country being built and managed by foreign conglomerates in which many connected countries are also shareholders. SLT is also a shareholder in some global cable companies.

Weerasekara suggested that the government retain the right to repurchase shares held by the majority shareholder of SLT.SLT’s second biggest shareholder, behind the Sri Lanka government, is Malaysia-based Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd with a 44.9 percents take in the company.

Most Sri Lanka’s mobile firms were also built and owned not just by private firm but foreign ones. SLT’s own mobile network, Mobitel was a build operate transfer project by Australia’s Telstra.

Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers in March 2023 listed Sri Lanka Telecom among several state companies to be re-structured.SLT currently enjoys market leadership in fixed-line services and is the second-largest operator in mobile. It also owns an extensive optical fibre network.The company was placed on watch for a possible rating upgrade by Fitch Ratings in March 2023 after the government announced the restructuring. (EconomyNext)

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Cardinal hits out at government demanding local elections



By Norman Palihawadane

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has urged the government to hold local elections to secure the democratic rights of the people.

“Voting is a right of the people that we must all enjoy. It is a right that every person over 18 -years of age is entitled to to determine the future of the country,” he said on Thursday.

“Today justice as been turned into injustice, governance to dictatorship and law into lawlessness,” the 75-year-old cardinal told a gathering of hundreds of people at a function at St. Anthony’s College in Kochchikade.

Local polls to elect 340 councils were slated for April 25 but the election commission postponed it, citing a lack of funds.

“The government said earlier that it doesn’t have money to hold an election, now it’s saying that it has money. If the government has the money, please give an opportunity to the people to vote and let the people express their wishes. How much of what came from the IMF was used for agriculture? How much for the fishing industry? And what about education?” the cardinal queried.

Rather than improving the lives of people, “politicians import goods, and bring in what we need and what we don’t need, destroying our economic independence, leading us to depend on foreign countries,” he said.

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