by Steve A. Morrell
The Organisation of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA) has held discussions with the authorities of the government and have made proposals to further develop Tourism, Foreign Employment, Shipping, the Apparel Sector, Export Incentives, the Spice Industry and several other industries of the SME sector on a par with India and China.
Taking into account Sri Lanka’s geographical position in the Indian ocean and its multifaceted areas attracting international interest, the OPA has suggested continuous review and recommended credence for cogent action within a given time frame.
The press conference convened by the OPA last week was to project interest of areas for discussion not merely to highlight action, but to incentivise action to improve the economic position of the government to eventually ensure economic progress,
Dulith Perera President of OPA said that at a meeting in December 2020 of the executive council of the OPA, the Committee for the Development and Sustenance of foreign Exchange in Sri Lanka’ was formed. Since then the Committee has subjected to deliberations and generated proposals categorized as short term and Medium term options.
Short term options included, credit lines extended to long years with countries from major level of imports, development of the apparel export sector. Utilising the ‘New Normal’ and the developmens in the apparel industry in Bangladesh as index for further growth.
The OPA’s further deliberations included, seeking enhanced employment quotas from countries such as Korea, Japan, Middle East, Israel etc., to improve foreign remittances. Also negotiate an employment quota from China.
Creation of an authority to develop the spice industry, in the context that Sri Lanka spices are the best in the world and following the model of the tea industry for further development.
Developing the Colombo Port for international container shipping to include Colombo as part of the major shipping lanes and address the lack of containers needed for exports.
Encouraging foreign investment for a minimum of 100,000 USD, or an equalised portion of more than 50 percent of the total cost. The Banking institutions to enter into tripartite agreements with developers and investors.
Special concessions to the SME sector, to include interest free advances and credit guarantees to the apparel sector in particular to encourage this sector, which now contributes about 65 percent to the economy of the country. Support to this sector is recognized as crucial to progress of the economy.
Gems and jewellery is included in the OPA proposals.
Additionally Economic development through export of high tech products, A new dimension for tourism, that could include medical tourism, pilgrim tourism and the outstanding features of Sri Lanka’s topography. Expanse of beaches with aqua sports and abundance of fauna and flora including game parks,
Development of universities to attract influx of foreign students from countries like the Maldives, Pakistan, Bhutan, to name few, countries who could take advantage of educational possibilities that could cater to a student population from such countries.
The OPA’s resurgence programme also included resuscitating and re-structuring industries that needed assistance for progress with assistance from the banking sector.
Past President Ruwan Gallage elaborated on details that were conveyed to the government, for effective action both in the short term and long term.
Attorney at law, Ruchira Gunasekera, Gen Sec. Eng, Upali Jayawardena, President Dulith Perera, Past president Ruwan Gallage , Treasurer, Bandula Gamarachchi, and Shantha Senarath were at the head table at the press conference.
Pelwatte Dairy conducts O/L Seminars as part of its CSR campaign
Pelwatte, a local dairy brand with international standards and an unwavering promise of delivering quality fresh milk to its customers recently organized a series of seminars for the GCE Ordinary Level students. This was done with the intention of furthering Pelwatte’s corporate philosophy of uplifting livelihoods through sustainable methods. The seminars commenced during the last week of March and concluded in the 1st week of April 2022.
The seminars focused on maths in particular as it was found that many students either struggled in maths or were highly doubtful about it. Pelwatte, being a responsible brand took initiative to help these students in this time of need. With Education being at a critical juncture and O/Ls being a critical stage in a student’s career, this program was initiated. The Managing Director of Pelwatte Mr. Akmal Wickramanayake said “Pelwatte is a brand that goes to every extent to ensure that our communities are treated well. This includes ensuring that the next generation is well versed in their education”.
He said this while commending his in-house experts, Mr Asela Sampath who is a mechanical engineer and Mr. Kavinda Umesh who is a chemical and processing engineer attached to the Pelwatte Engineering and Technical team. These two individuals led the seminar and took the students through not just the entire syllabus but also through several model papers. They made sure to answer and clarify any and all doubts that these students had before they wrapped up.
These series of seminars were conducted mainly in Buttala with the participation of schools such as Pelwatte Mahavidyalaya, Kukuranpola Vidyalaya, Dutugemunu Mahavidyalaya and Pelwatte Ranjan Wijeratna Vidyalaya. Students in the Hundreds attended these seminars which lasted for a day. Students from the respective schools got to learn from two qualified engineers who not only showed them how to solve mathematical problems but also gave them an idea about the type of career they can go into in the future to develop the engineering field in Sri Lanka.
Pelwatte received many blessings from both the students and their parents who were present for carrying out such programs. The current situation of the country is such that many corporates have either completely scrapped their community welfare programs or have limited it. However, Pelwatte aims to continue doing such activities to not only uplift communities but to also boost morale. Education is a very important focus area for Pelwatte as it has continuously done many activities to uplift education especially in rural areas that are in need of programs like this.
‘HNB continues to demonstrate resilience under stressed conditions’
In the backdrop of turbulent market conditions, Hatton National Bank PLC continued to demonstrate resilience, strength and stability, posting a profit before tax of Rs 5.9Bn and a profit after tax of Rs 4.8Bn for the first quarter of 2022 recording a YOY growth of 7% and 3% respectively. At Group level PBT and PAT were at Rs 6.4 Bn and Rs 5.4 Bn respectively.Commenting on the first quarter performance, Aruni Goonetilleke Chairperson of Hatton National Bank PLC, stated that “as Sri Lanka goes through unprecedented times, HNB has yet again demonstrated resilience. At this critical time, I wish to reiterate our commitment to all our stakeholders. As a responsible Domestic Systemically Important bank, ensuring safety, stability and sustainability is our prime focus.”
With the tightening of the monetary policy since August 2021, the AWPLR increased by nearly 400 bps over the 12 months up to March 2022. This enabled the Bank to record a 59% increase in NII during 1Q 2022 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. The Net Fee income grew by 42% YoY to Rs 3.2 Bn for the first quarter of 2022, driven mainly by improved cards transactions and trade income.The significant devaluation of the rupee as at March 2022, compared to the previous year, resulted in trading gains of approximately Rs 7.5Bn in 1Q 2022. The Bank also, booked an impairment of Rs 7.4Bn against the impact of the currency devaluation on foreign currency denominated loans and investments, which was set-off against the position revaluations.
The Bank’s net stage III loan ratio improved from 2.55% as at December 2021 to 2.41% as at end March 2022 while stage III provision cover increased to 59%, maintaining its position as one of the best in the industry in asset quality. However, considering the significant volatility in macro-economic factors in 1Q 2022, the Bank recognized a higher impairment charge of Rs 13.4Bn. This included an impairment of Rs 6.7Bn on account of investments in foreign currency denominated government securities, subsequent to the announcement made by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in relation to suspending the repayment of external foreign currency debt obligations of the Government and the sovereign rating downgrade.Operating expenses increased by 21% in 1Q 2022 driven by salary revisions, relatively higher card transaction volumes with the pickup of economic activity and general expenses increasing in line with higher inflation. However, the stronger growth in income, enabled HNB to record a cost to income of 25% during the first quarter of 2022.
HNB’s total tax charge increased by 33% to Rs 2.8Bn for the first quarter. The effective income tax rate increased from 31% in March 2021 to 37% in March 2022 due to the YoY reduction in interest income from foreign currency denominated government securities.Jonathan Alles, Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer of Hatton National Bank PLC stated that, “Sri Lanka has been travelling through a tough terrain over the past few years commencing from adverse weather conditions experienced in 2017-2018 to, unfortunate Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 and then the most unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic which impacted the entire globe. The banking sector of Sri Lanka and HNB has weathered these challenges and emerged strong and stable. Today, Sri Lanka as a nation is facing one of the most challenging times in its history. The next few months would be even more challenging. As such, it is extremely important that we play our part as responsible Sri Lankans at individual, organizational and country level. We believe that the authorities would take necessary steps to ensure political, social, economic and financial stability enabling successful conclusion of discussions with International Monetary Fund, the multilateral organizations and supporting nations to secure much needed funding.”
“It is equally important that we focus on the real economy and sustainable foreign exchange earning avenues that will support us over the medium to long term. Providing necessary support to drive exports, remittances, tourism, manufacturing and industrial development would be key. At the same time, diversifying foreign exchange earning sources would also be important. Focusing on Sri Lanka as an education hub, promoting agri-preneurs, IT, KPO, BPO industries would also be vital in this regard. We need to be cautious about our spending, and purchase local products to support our micro, small and medium enterprises, while at the Government, institutional and corporate level, adopt very tight cost containment measures and slash budgets.”
“As we encounter many obstacles in our day to day life, I would like to place on record my sincere gratitude to each and every member of the HNB team for their continuous commitment and dedication in delivering essential banking services to our valued customers.”(HNB)
SLIIT launches CODE with the country’s first free AI/ML online course
Ushering a new era of online learning, SLIIT unveiled its Centre for Open and Distance Education (CODE), a fully-fledged, independently developed online platform offering a range of self-paced courses. CODE aims to fill skill shortages in the industry by enabling youth to equip themselves with highly sought after skills.The Centre, established by the Industry Engagement Unit of the Faculty of Computing, SLIIT, held its virtual launch event recently under the patronage of Prof. Lalith Gamage, Vice-Chancellor, SLIIT, senior management, and staff from SLIIT with industry professionals and prospective students in attendance.
The inaugural course offered by CODE is ‘Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Engineer Stage 1’, which has been developed for anyone aspitring to become an AI/ML Engineer. The next two courses lined up are in Cyber Security and Cloud Computing. . The comprehensive courses, molded with hands-on exposure to cutting-edge technologies, will seek to maximize the employability potential of the youth.Prof. Chandimal Jayawardena, Dean, Faculty of Computing SLIIT, said, “SLIIT developed CODE as a free learning platform designed to offer courses and learning materials for those who wish to develop skills needed by the industry within a short time period. Courses offered by CODE are self-paced and will be equally relevant for school leavers, university students, as well as industry professionals. . The first course in CODE, the AI/ML Engineer stage 1 course can help anyone who wants to develop a career as an AI/ML engineer. This will be followed by two other courses covering stages 2 and 3. We are proud to launch this distance education platform as part of our mission to provide useful and relevant education to a wider audience, reaching beyond traditional university education. Being a platform open for free courses, CODE platform also illustrates SLIIT’s commitment to addressing and contributing to the needs of the society.”
The SLIIT AI Course, which is the first course to be offered to students via the CODE platform, consists of fundamental, intermediate, and expert levels, with the initial Stage 1 covering fundamentals relating to artificial intelligence and machine learning, with an understanding of how each area of expertise is used in the industry related to AI.The course has been designed with a practical and hands-on approach that will introduce the learner to the industry’s most innovative tools and technologies, including TensorFlow and PyTorch. Courses are designed to ensure an individual can gain exposure to programming basics since a certain knowledge of programming basics is required for the course.
Lessons related to the course will be introduced weekly and participants need to study the content, complete the assessment components such as available quizzes and achieve sufficient marks to complete the course and gain the certificate. Upon completing the course, participants will receive a ‘Certificate of Completion’ from SLIIT.CODE invites school leavers, non-IT graduates studying IT-related programmes and IT enthusiasts to enhance their skills and knowledge to enrol in the AI/ML Course. All courses are free of charge, and there is no restriction on the number of participants for each course.SLIIT believe the courses offered via the CODE platform will empower students to maximize their potential for employability while enhancing their capabilities of gaining foreign employment, engaging in remote work, or even working for reputed IT companies in Sri Lanka.
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