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SOE reforms seen as bedevilled by corruption and governance issues

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The panel discussion in progress

By Lynn Ockersz

The local State Owned Enterprises (SOE) reforms process is dogged by widespread corruption and governance issues. There was general agreement on this position at a wide-ranging discussion held under the aegis of the Sri Lanka Innovators’ Forum of the Dr. Gamani Corea Foundation on October 16 at the BMICH.

The prime focus of the discussion was a paper presented by the Advocata Institute, Colombo, on ‘Public Enterprise Reforms’. Key presenters for the Institute were its senior personnel Dhananath Fernando and Ms. Rehana Thowfeek. Director General, State-Owned Enterprises Restructuring Unit of the government, Suresh Shah, chaired the discussion and moderated it.

The principal panelists at the forum and some key comments made by them are as follows:

Dhananath Fernando: ‘Markets must be allowed to function. The government has no business in business enterprises. Doing SOE reforms fast and transparently is important. Profitability should not be the only consideration in this process. It is equally important to return to the country’s ownership these assets in the form of SOEs. The owners of an SOE are the citizens of the state. However, the worrisome matter is that citizens do not have a say in how an SOE is run; neither can they exit the reforms process if the SOE’s performance is unsatisfactory.’

Rehana Thowfeek: ‘A Rs. 1.8 trillion debt is owned by SOEs. However, reforming SOEs is vital for development. Corruption too is a recurring issue in SOEs. Sri Lanka’s health sector is a case in point. Privatization, though, should be seen as a priority.’

Suresh Shah: ‘The SOE restructuring process is geared to serve the wellbeing of the public and is not directed by the IMF. Listing of SOEs is vital but governance issues are getting in the way of development. The government should invest in the public sector but a prime issue is whether money is going to the right place.’

Dr. Lloyd Fernando, chairman, Dr. Gamani Corea Foundation: ‘There is a need to look at our problems holistically. The Temasek model is vital in this connection.’

Mahendra Jayasekera, Managing Director, Lanka Wall Tiles & Lanka Tiles: ‘There is this recurring problem of politicians trying to have a say in privatized enterprises. Besides, they are notorious for their double-talk. For example, they say one thing in parliament on SOE reforms and another thing to their electorates. They do not understanding the concept of return on assets. We have a serious governance problem in the country. We need to find out what benefits would accrue to the country from SOE reforms. Besides, people are skeptical about reforms being of any use.’

Chandrasena Maliyadda, Former Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, Ministry of Southern Regional Development and Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications: ‘Privatization must be carried out after studying every SOE. Each SOE is different. We do not know whether the bidders for SOEs have the capability to run them, once they take them over. The Kantale Sugar Factory is a case in point. The irony is that these bidders seek government assistance to run these SOEs once they are privatized. However, the private sector, although seen as an ‘engine of growth’ is not at all effective.

‘The main issue is that our economy has been eroding. We don’t produce, there are no vibrant entrepreneurs. There is no risk-taking. What happens in privatization is that SOEs go from one set of corrupt hands to another. We should look carefully at how we are going to privatize. Privatization, though, is no panacea. All sectors are corrupt. We need to tread carefully.’

R.H.W.A. Kumarasiri, Director General, National Planning Department: ‘Do we have a system to put the right man in the right place? Are we implementing plans effectively? Good governance is important in every sector. Are all our sectors heading in one direction or are we at cross-purposes? All relevant stakeholders in development need to communicate effectively with the public on these issues. Different models are needed for different SOEs.’



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UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka rallies corporates to ‘Forward Faster’ on SDGs

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Janani Wijetunge_Network Manager_UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka

United Nations Global Compact Network Sri Lanka (Network Sri Lanka), the country network of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, recently launched a rousing call to action for corporate leaders of Participant companies and across the country: commit to ambitious sustainability targets and amplify Sri Lanka’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a new global initiative called ‘Forward Faster’.

The ‘Forward Faster’ initiative of the UN Global Compact, calls on business leaders worldwide to take measurable, credible, and ambitious action in five key areas — gender equality, climate action, living wage, water resilience, and finance & investment. These areas can accelerate progress across all SDGs, enabling the private sector to collectively make the biggest and fastest impact by 2030.

At an event titled ‘Compass 2024’ and themed ‘Towards a Resilient Future Through Corporate Impact’, Network Sri Lanka introduced the Forward Faster initiative locally to ignite private sector leadership in driving transformational change. The programme also outlined Network Sri Lanka’s 2024 programmes and anticipated outcomes while laying the groundwork for companies to strategically direct resources. Representatives from Participating companies of Network Sri Lanka, key stakeholders, and special invitees were in attendance.

The event featured distinguished speakers including UN representatives, a presentation from the 2021 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Pioneer for SDG 12 Responsible Production and Consumption from Sri Lanka, insights on the experience from a representative of the John Keells Holdings PLC team that was selected to present at the Leaders Summit in New York through participation in the SDG Innovation Accelerator 2023, a discussion on navigating the future from working group heads and representatives and insights from the Regional Human Development report by the UNDP spotlighting current and emerging risks for local businesses. Compass 2024 highlighted the urgent need for ambitious commitments and collective action on SDGs to achieve Agenda 2030.

Welcoming the audience, via a pre-recorded message, Sanda Ojiambo, Assistant Secretary-General; Executive Director & CEO of UN Global Compact said, “I thank each one of you for participating in today’s critical dialogue. Our UN Global Compact now includes over 20,000 companies worldwide committed to sustainable and responsible business practices – a truly powerful force for the greater good. The Sri Lankan business community is an essential and growing part of our movement. In today’s uncertain global environment, your participation is more important than ever.”

Unveiling UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka’s overarching plan for 2024, Rathika de Silva, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka explained the roadmap will help participating companies enhance governance strategies, set ambitious targets across priority areas and unlock innovation opportunities.

“I want to assure you that Network Sri Lanka will be collaborating a lot more with key institutions to create more value for our participant companies,” he pledged.

Reminding participants that the world is not on track to achieve the SDGs, he noted, “When you sign up to Forward Faster, you could prioritise the areas of actions that are most relevant for your company and your industry and you could start there and then integrate the other areas of action as you go along”

In his address, Dilhan Fernando, Chairman of UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka, emphasized the urgent need for collective action, noting, “UN Global Compact offers something as important as a blueprint, that is collaboration, together we are stronger, that is what binds us. As the Global Compact we have the benefit of learning from around the world. Global Compact can empower you and bring you together with like-minded people. Coming together with the support of a global network, I believe benefits every business.”

Marc-André Franche, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, emphasized the private sector’s role and welcomed deeper cooperation. “The UN Global Compact exemplifies the spirit of collaboration and partnership that leverages the unique strengths and resources of the private sector to achieve our shared goals” he said. “As private sector leaders, you have a great responsibility to set examples as champions of sustainability. The United Nations is your partner in these endeavours. We are committed to working with each of you and re-envisioning our pathways towards the SDGs.”

Speaking at the event, Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative UNDP Sri Lanka said, “UNDP is working collaboratively with all of you to make sure our work contributes to a healthier planet and people, and investments required to recover the socio-economic status of the country are SDGs-aligned. And the private sector obviously plays an indispensable role in driving this change. We very much appreciate and highly value our partnership with all of you through the UN Global Compact Sri Lanka.”

By rallying participant companies under a bold strategic compass, Network Sri Lanka has signalled the intent to lead in accelerating Sri Lanka’s corporate sustainability transformation through multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Today Network Sri Lanka includes 75 business and non-business organisations, joining over 20,000 companies in the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Participants commit to align their business strategy and operations with the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption. It further encourages businesses to support the 2030 Agenda.UN Global Compact supports organisations irrespective of their size, sector and geographic location to align to the Ten Principles and progress in their sustainability journey.

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LAUGFS Eco Sri unveils a State-of-the-Art eco test facility to combat vehicle emissions in Kirulapone

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LAUGFS Eco Sri Limited, a subsidiary of LAUGFS Holdings, and a leading player in the vehicle emission testing sector recently announced the grand opening of its latest venture, the Kirulapone Vehicle Emission Testing Center. This flagship center, located in the heart of Kirulapone, marks a significant milestone in the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability and technological advancement.

The Kirulapone VET center is equipped with cutting-edge technologies and upgraded testing techniques, setting a new standard in vehicle emission testing across Sri Lanka. From automated vehicle number capturing to a seamless, paperless testing process, the center promises a smoother experience for motorists while prioritising sustainability and efficiency.

Speaking with CEO, LAUGFS Eco Sri – Saliya Dissanayake, at the opening, expressed his enthusiasm for the inauguration, stating, “We are thrilled to inaugurate the Kirulapone Vehicle Emission Testing Center. At LAUGFS Eco Sri, we recognise the urgent need to address the pressing environmental challenges posed by vehicle emissions. The Kirulapone Vehicle Emission Testing Center stands as a testament to our dedication to mitigating these challenges while ensuring our customers’ needs are met with the utmost convenience. Inaugurating the Kirulapone Vehicle Emission Testing Center is not just a momentous occasion for LAUGFS Eco Sri; it is a significant step forward in our journey towards a cleaner and a sustainable future. We invite the community to join us in this endeavour as we continue to innovate and lead the way towards a more sustainable tomorrow.”

The opening of the Kirulapone Vehicle Emission Testing Center was met with overwhelming positivity from the local community, addressing a significant gap in accessibility to such services. Its strategic location serves the immediate area and contributes to ongoing efforts to monitor and mitigate vehicle emissions, ultimately working towards the collective goal of reducing air pollution in the region.

Concluding, Dissanayake stated: “Reducing air pollution is crucial for public health and environmental preservation. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of pollutants, which can lead to respiratory problems and hinder lung development. Controlling vehicle emissions through rigorous testing is essential for protecting children’s health and creating a cleaner environment for future generations. This Vehicle Emission Testing Center plays a crucial role in mitigating air pollution in the area by identifying vehicles that exceed emission standards, thus ensuring that only environmentally responsible vehicles are permitted on the roads of Kirulapone.”

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Sri Lanka’s tourism poised for remarkable growth as visa free travel enhances industry potential

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Tourism in Sri Lanka is on a high growth trajectory following a boost in Sri Lanka’s potential as a must-visit destination. Visa free travel for tourists from China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan has provided the right nudge for tourists to put Sri Lanka on the top of their travel bucket list.

Nationals from these countries planning to visit Sri Lanka need to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before arriving, subject to granting of visa free of charge. The scheme is valid until March 2024 while the visa is valid for 30 days, permitting double entry from the date of initial arrival to Sri Lanka. However, industry sources believe that the boost in tourist arrivals may encourage the visa free travel scheme to be extended further.

Having welcomed 208,253 visitors in January this year alone, the highest in 4 years, the figures confirm a YoY increase of 103.1%. Tourists from India, Russia, the UK, Germany and China top the list with 28,493 arrivals in the first four days of February 2024, confirming a figure of 7,000 travellers a day. The tourist arrivals are led by Russia with a 15% market share while India holds second position with 4,123 travellers. UK was seen as the third best market, with 2,592 (9%) arrivals with Germany (1,977) and China (1950) following.

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