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NCC focusing on SDGs, inclusivity and equality

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Speech by the President of National Chamber Nandika Buddhipala 63rd Annual General Meeting

I am honored to be elected, as the President of this prestigious Chamber for the second term, and I assure with confidence and pride that I will take forward the good work done by my predecessors to take the Chamber to greater heights.

I am taking over the Presidency of this Chamber at a very critical period for the world economy as well as the Sri Lanka economy. Sri Lanka economy is facing many internal and external challenges. I think it is pertinent to discuss certain post Pandemic global economic and geopolitical emerging issues which would have ramifications to developing world similar to us very briefly.

GOBAL ECONMOY AND LOCAL ECONOMY – Roadblocks and Sustainable Pursuits

It is expected that the global growth would reach 5.3 per cent in 2021, however, reducing the momentum 3.6 per cent in 2022. In 2020-22, it is estimated that the global economy faces a cumulative income loss of about USD 13 trillion. The expectation of inducement of demand stimulus and improving transformative public investment programmes in the medium and long run are restricted by increasing inflation expectation in developed and developing economies where US reaching inflation level of 7% after may be 40 years of history raising doubts whether such inflation may not be transitory in nature.

The international think tanks including United Nations recommend that conventional wisdom, which attempts to control inflation through wage reduction would not auger well for the sustainable development of the world economy at this juncture. Such agencies further warned that strategy adopted by many countries through slowing demand growth by putting stop to the stimulus packages would not stop inflation, since its source is imported inputs, including commodities.

The multilateral financial institutions have highlighted the fact that there is a compelling requirement to look at current issues in a different angle where simple market operations proclaimed by the conventional wisdom may not provide solutions to such issues; hence, need to embark on big spending programmes, initiatives to tax the rich and curtail the power of monopolies, recognition of the role of targeted capital controls, an endorsement of a strongly interventionist policy agenda to take care of green investment push.

The developed countries have been able to take care of such aspects through increase of financing due to their privileged status of issuers of international-reserve and trade currencies whereas developing countries are not in a position to adopt such strategies continuously without having complicated economic impacts. Therefore, developing countries are encountered with more immediate and serious challenges where their restrictive fiscal space, ever increasing debt burden and failure to implement sustainable vaccination programme for Covid19 having serious divergence and enlarging difference with their developed counterparts.

UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) in their recent publication, Trade and Development Report 2021, critically examined current challenges encountered by developing countries. They are of the view that building protection against the vagaries of global finance is critical for developing countries and it is required to start with a proper evaluation of sovereign and private debt burdens and repayment profiles, which affect development strategies but also crisis response. Even though they recognize that debt re-profiling and relief, including debt cancellation, are necessary, they further emphasized that the multilateral relief provided by IMF through cancellation of debt service obligations and the expansion of SDR allocations between April 2020 to October 2021 has been insufficient and only a symbolic measure.

UNTACD further commented that developed countries having similar debt ratios to developing countries also have been able to weather through issues and recorded positive economic growth thanks to their ability to issue reserve currencies.

Globally, several issues continue to gather growing priority: the focus of the G20 is on the importance of initiatives such as, inclusive collaboration, global health, digital transformation and sustainable energy. The focus of the UN and its sustainable development goals remains on alleviating poverty, which requires strong radical focus on improving health and education sectors, on reducing inequalities, and in putting into action measures and solutions to tackle climate change, to protect our planet’s natural resources and biodiversity.

However, businesses are not only responsible for creating economical value for stakeholders, but are increasingly expected to adapt to these global demands and adopt inclusive, equitable and collaborative efforts in creating sustainable growth for people and the planet.

For Sri Lanka, there are several major roadblocks that need to be dealt with before we persistently contribute to these global agendas. The nation was gutted by safety and health concerns, however, has been able to manage rapid vaccination program successfully, slowdown of commercial activities and tourism due to the pandemic; in addition to these, the country’s debt vulnerabilities and dwindling Forex reserves made a deepening chasm in economic progress and social development. Nevertheless, the country is gradually dealing with each challenge, pressing on despite impediments.

As depicted in The Vision of National Chamber, to be the leading source of services and assistance to businesses countrywide for promotion of domestic and foreign trade with special emphasis on the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. We have carried out many activities as I will discuss.

PROMOTION OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND INVESTMENTS

International connectivity

The National chamber strongly believes in creating connectivity between local entrepreneurs and international markets where we need to find national and international market opportunities for MSMEs in the country. We understood the importance of conducting virtual B2B meetings with the support of our diplomatic services and foreign ministry together with our linkages with other Chambers throughout the world in the absence of available opportunities in exchanging trade delegations physically due to prevailed Pandemic situation during last year.

We have already concluded several B2B virtual Business Forums with Turkey including Adana Chamber of Commerce and Adana Chamber of Industries with the participation of more than 60 companies from both sides. We have further signed MOUs with other regional chambers in Turkey such as Sinop Chamber of Commerce, Aegean Chamber of Commerce and Erzurum Chamber of Commerce and Industries as well.

We have signed MoU with the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industries and conducted a business forum with the participation of government authorities from both sides and a B2B meeting virtually, bringing in more than 50 business companies together.

Chamber has been able to conduct a Business Forum with Japan with the support of Sri Lankan Embassy in Japan, Japanese Embassy in Colombo, and the Sri Lanka Business Council of Japan. More than 60 Sri Lankan companies were connected for the business forum.

We further conducted a virtual Business forum and B2B meeting with Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the participation of BOI, EDB Sri Lanka and their counterparts in Kuwait. More than 40 business companies participated for the virtual B2B exercise.

Even in the midst of Pandemic threats, Chamber has been able to welcome 18 member south Indian power-loom sector business delegation visited the chamber who are interested in investing in Sri Lanka and managed to conduct physical meetings with delegation from Hungary with 14 Hungarian companies connecting over 45 Sri Lankan companies with them on B2B physical interaction in January 2022.

Chamber signed a MoU with Union of Asian Chambers (UAC) of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) in October 2021.

We were able extend our cooperation for the virtual Bangladesh Trade and Investment Summit took place in October last year in the strength of our existing MoU with Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Support Extended by Sri Lankan Missions overseas

We are happy to place on record that the supports extended by Sri Lankan ambassadors in other countries are commendable. We appreciate support extended by our ambassadors and commercial officers in Turkey, Japan, Oman, Kuwait, UK USA, Russia and Nepal. We also would like mention the enthusiasm shown by our own business community in these activities were overwhelming even during the pandemic period.

Support Extended by the Government authorities

It is noteworthy that all the activities carried out by the National Chamber were well supported by government entities such as EDB, BOI, Colombo Port City, Department of Commerce, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Industries and National Enterprise Development Authority (NEDA) etc.

Commercial Officers posted to our foreign missions out of Sri Lanka

As a part of regular activity of hosting commercial officers posted to our foreign missions out of Sri Lanka, officers assigned to Bangladesh, Belgium, France/Paris, India/New Delhi, Malaysia/Kuala Lumpur, Pakistan/Karachi, Singapore, Sweden/Stockholm, Thailand/Bangkok, USA/Los Angeles, USA/Washington DC were invited for an online meeting which was open to business community both corporate sector and regional MSMEs with an objective to support much needed exports and FDI for the economy.

REGIONAL INTEGRATION AND SME DEVELOPMENT

Western Province Entrepreneur Awards

Chamber together with NEDA (National Enterprise Development Authority) hosted the annual “Western Province Entrepreneur Awards” designed for Micro, Small, Medium and Large sector entrepreneurs in the Western Province last year. We believe that the Award Ceremony encourages entrepreneurs to develop their business processes and functional areas of business, taking into consideration the behavior of those that have succeeded. It is noteworthy that presence of women entrepreneurs has gone up significantly in the recent past where 17 women entrepreneurs managed to secure awards out of 24 awards.

Meeting District chambers and Provincial Chambers

We always wanted to have very close interaction with all the district and provincial chambers in Sri Lanka in our efforts towards the SME and regional development of the country. While we are integrating them in our development activities, I have started personally visiting them where I have already met, Lanka Business Ring (LBR) in Kandy, Jaffna Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Yalapanam last year and Galle District Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Matara District Commerce and Industry and Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce during January this year. I am planning to visit rest of the district and provincial chambers in the country in the near future.

Partnering with CA Sri Lanka SME task force

National Chamber is proud to be a partner with the CA Sri Lanka SME Task Force, with the objective of securing professional Accountants to mentor Micro and SME businesses throughout the island and Chamber was able to partner with CA SME Taskforce launch of mentoring programme in Jaffna during November 2021 when easing off of pandemic conditions allowed to conduct such a launch physically.

To be continued



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Private Tutoring Amidst Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis: Issues Faced by Students

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By Usha Perera

Sri Lanka’s education sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces acute challenges due to the current political and economic crises. The sudden imposition of curfews and the lack of transportation have resulted in school closures and students being deprived of structured and systematic in-school education. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for just one day causes a loss of 25 million learning hours and 1.4 million teaching hours. Alongside this, private tutoring has gained greater importance. This blog discusses the issues faced mainly by Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students in attending tuition classes based on an IPS study. The study findings are derived from a sample of about 340 students, and 16 teachers and tutors across Sri Lanka.

Affordability of Private Tuition Classes

The surge in the cost of living with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and loss of income generation channels have been unbearable for parents of school-going children. The IPS study found that students who belonged to family income levels below LKR 30,000 spend approximately LKR 3,000-Rs. 7,000 per month while students whose family income was above LKR 200,000 spend approximately LKR 18,000- LKR 20,000 per month on private tuition depending on the grade of the student. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 1.

Further, most O/L and A/L level students spend more than LKR 2,000 per month on data packages for both school and tuition online classes, while most students who spend more than LKR 2,000 per month are concentrated among the higher family income categories. If LKR 2,000 is spent on monthly data packages, it would approximately account for 1% of whose family income is above LKR 200,000, and more than 7% of whose family income is below LKR 30,000. All this highlights the perceived importance of private education, especially among O/L and A/L grades, and the financial burden it imposes on a family’s household income.

These affordability concerns were partly offset by the introduction of free online classes during the pandemic, which has provided considerable relief for financially vulnerable students according to students interviewed for the IPS study. Affordability concerns were further allayed by reduced class fees by some tutors. The fees reductions were made accounting for the structural changes of administrative and operating costs of an online setting applicable based on the scale and intensity of operations of tutors. Financial issues faced by the families experiencing household income losses during the pandemic were also considered in fees reduction.

Accessibility to Online Classes

Online platforms were the sole medium for conducting classes during the pandemic while it becomes an option in the current context considering the social unrest, curfews and travel constraints due to fuel shortages. However, many students faced accessibility issues in joining online classes. The issues faced were poor signal coverage, high data costs, lack of necessary devices, and affordability concerns in the context of lost household income during the pandemic. Most of the students who belonged to a family income level above LKR 200,000 used a laptop/tablet while most of the students who belonged to a family income level of below LKR 30,000 relied on a smartphone. Smartphones were found to be less user friendly for academic use. In addition to the above issues, the ongoing power outages also present impediments to online education.The accessibility issues are mainly experienced by students from families with comparatively lower income levels, and those who had to rely on a smartphone for academic purposes. This implies a close positive relationship between household income and the quality of the education received; financial strength being the primary determinant of accessibility.

Figure 1: Monthly Tuition Expenditure by Monthly Household Income
Source: Institute of PolicyStudies of Sri Lanka, 2021.

However, these accessibility issues were partly offset by the divergent opportunities experienced by students, especially in the context of online platforms. These prospects included the ability to join online classes conducted in distant locations that would otherwise have been restricted due to travel constraints and increased time available due to school closures. As a result, they increased the duration of tuition classes using the saved travel time.

Way Forward

While private tutoring became a way of bridging the gaps in the education system during the crisis, learning losses for the most vulnerable groups have further widened with accessibility and affordability issues. Since these issues were mainly observed among O/L and A/L student groups, there is a higher risk that vulnerable student groups would be highly challenged during their most decisive years leading to higher education and career development. Thus, it is necessary to address the affordability issues, focusing more on the vulnerable student groups. Financial assistance could be provided in terms of a certain number of free hours of teaching for selected financially vulnerable students and allocating a selected proportion of students to be taught at a concessionary rate.

To address the accessibility issues, recording the lessons and distributing the notes on different platforms will help to a certain extent. Providing digital equipment and networks for selected tuition centres and schools could also be considered since the lack of facilities and resources was identified as major accessibility issue for distance education. These would require collaborative efforts among the government, tutors, parents, non-government organisations and any other well-wishers.

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Allianz Divitharana: A new take on Life and Health Insurance

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The world’s number one insurance brand Allianz has announced the launch of its new Divitharana Insurance product, which provides comprehensive life and health insurance for policyholders and their loved ones, at an easily accessible and affordable price. The product, which has been designed for the mass market, a segment that is highly price sensitive, comes with a host of benefits and features, making it a truly comprehensive insurance product, that covers all of life’s important bases, protecting life’s most precious things.Tailored for the mass market, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, technicians, teachers, executives and other members of the general public, Divitharana Insurance provides life insurance at a flexible and economic price point, with the option for policyholders to settle the premium in monthly, quarterly, biannual or annual instalments, while also providing the convenience of increasing the cover provided during the policy period, without having to go for a new policy. These are particularly important features amidst the present economic challenges the nation is facing, as it allows everyone to have access to good and reliable insurance, regardless of their income level and style.

A key differentiator of Divitharana insurance is that each policyholder will be entitled to an individual investment account, on which an annual dividend will be declared and the proceeds credited to the policyholder’s account. On top of this, policyholders will also be entitled to an additional loyalty bonus of 20%, which will be added to the maturity value for continued on-time premium settlements. other than the life cover provided by Divitharana, policyholders can also opt to include additional covers such as Disability Benefit, Critical Illness and Hospitalisation cover, while also enjoying the flexibility of extending the insurance cover to include their spouse & children.

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SLT-MOBITEL doubling the cloud with country’s first-ever VMware Cloud Foundation deployment

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Understanding the importance of breaking new ground to reap the benefits of Enterprise premium cloud services, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider, has become the country’s first-ever service provider to enable VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) deployment in the island and importantly the first telco provider to have two clouds. Amidst the changing dynamics, the deployment milestones are supporting SLT-MOBITEL’s Cloud programme in accelerating digital transformation.SLT-MOBITEL Enterprise premium cloud was launched in 2018. Having a successful journey for over three years, the new mobilization now elevates and transforms the premium cloud through VMWare Cloud Foundation. Importantly, SLT-MOBITEL is the first local organisation to partner VMWare as a Business Continuity Certified Planner (BCCP) and initiate VMWare Cloud Foundation in Sri Lanka.

VMware Cloud Foundation is a suite of VMware products that provide building blocks necessary to implement an integrated software-defined data center platform. Its components combine to automate deployment and lifecycle management, helping to simplify IT operations and reduce administrative overheads for enterprises.With its Cloud Verified Status and as a VCF Enabled Partner, SLT-MOBITEL is now in the forefront as the only service provider in the country offering a range of new differentiated services such as automate infrastructure and application delivery with self service capabilities to help organizations plan, manage and scale their data center operations especially dramatically reduce provisioning times and cut operational costs.

The SLT-MOBITEL VMware VCF deployment ensures customers transition to the industry’s most advanced cloud platform with a complete set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management to run enterprise apps in private or public environments.By doubling the cloud SLT-MOBITEL establishes customers have both production and disaster recovery sites with different scales, located at two different Data centres with required ROP and RTO. The Disaster recovery site can be deployed at any scale with respect to production sites according to the enterprise customer’s requirement. SLT-MOBITEL also provides migration as a service with the features from NSX –T.

Through VCF, SLT-MOBITEL is offering customers the benefit of real disaster recovering services, a Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) and monitoring services, latest networking enablers with NSX – T up-to-date versions of VMware software vSphere, vSAN and intelligent, advanced VMware capabilities including ESXI and VSAN and efficient and effective migration services. SLT-MOBITEL also provides IaaS services, Virtual Machines, and Virtual Data Centers along with a range of other support facilities such as Disaster avoidance with Stretch Cluster (RPO 5 minutes), Disaster Recovery as a Service, and Backup as a service.Above VCF deployment is directly done by Vmware Professional Service team to ensure the highest quality deployment .

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