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Sri Lanka seeking to boost economic ties with Saudi Arabia

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State Minister of Regional Cooperation, Tharaka Balasuriya, addressing the corporate and industry leaders at the Ministry of Investments of Saudi Arabia accompanied by Ambassador P.M. Amza and Additional Secretary of the Ministry.

The State Minister of Regional Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tharaka Balasuriya, and State Minister of Foreign Employment and Market Diversification, Priyankara Jayarathna, and Delegation undertook an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to promote economic and commercial activity and to attract foreign direct investments to Sri Lanka as well as to boost and enhance employment for Sri Lanka nationals in Saudi Arabia, amongst others. The primary objectives of the State Ministry of Regional Cooperation are to aggrandise and to boost trade, particularly exports, attract investments and expand economic activity with other countries, thus encompassing the sphere of Economic Diplomacy.

During the High-level visit to Saudi Arabia, State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya and Delegation had discussions, meetings, calls and engagements with both the political leadership and with the corporate captains of Industry, amongst others. State Minister Balasuriya had meetings and engagements with the Minister of Investments; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Chairman and CEOs of large diversified conglomerates and with leading Business Chambers based in Riyadh, amongst others. Both the Minister of Investments, Khalid Al-Falih, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel bin Ahmed Al- Jubeir, expressed and voiced interest to look at Sri Lanka at this critical juncture with great interest and keenness, given the strategic location of the country, the thrust areas that Sri Lanka projects for foreign investors, educated and highly trainable workforce of Sri Lanka and access to a mega market consisting of over 1.8 billion people in South Asia since Sri Lanka has FTAs and multilateral trade arrangements, amongst others. Minister of Investment, whom State Minister Balasuriya met first, immediately scheduled and coordinated a high-profile meeting with corporate and industry leaders of the level of Chairmen and CEOs of some of the largest Business Houses in the KSA. This meeting was attended by nearly 25 top most executives of companies in Saudi Arabia having a combined net market capitalization of well over USD 1.4 trillion. Most of them were keen and eager to consider Sri Lanka as an investment destination and to conduct commercial activity.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia articulated that the large Sri Lankan migrant populace in Saudi Arabia has markedly and manifestly contributed to the advancement and augmentation of the Kingdom, over the years, during the Luncheon hosted by him in the honour of State Minister Balasuriya and Delegation. State Minister Balasuriya placed on record the sincere appreciation and gratitude of the Government and the peoples of Sri Lanka for assistance, cooperation and facilitation as well as aid and grants extended to Sri Lanka, during the last four decades, which have significantly and pointedly contributed in elevating the socio-economic landscape of the country. He further added that Sri Lanka was most grateful and obliged to Saudi Arabia for supporting Sri Lanka in multilateral forums, during the past, mainly at the Human Rights Council.

State Minister Balasuriya met with Ali Al Hazmi, Group CEO, and Board of Directors of a highly diversified and global corporate, Ajlan & Bros Holdings Group. During this meeting, each of the Directors of the Ajlan Group expounded and illustrated their myriad of expertise in realms of power, environment, oil and gas, tourism, logistics, healthcare, education and technology, amongst others. They conveyed their interest to engage, pro-actively, with Sri Lanka, at this critical and seminal cross road of geo-economic and geo-strategic transformation of international business and commerce in the region. State Minister Balasuriya was accompanied by the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia P. M. Amza, Additional Secretary of the Ministry Prof. A. Saj U. Mendis and Minster (Commercial) of the Embassy, Sanjeewa Pattiwila, during all engagements and meetings in Riyadh. State Minister Balasuriya and delegation met with LUCID Corporate, which has specialized in manufacture of Electric Vehicles. The Head Office of LUCID is based in California and State Minister Balasuriya discussed the proposition of sourcing graphene from Sri Lanka, since it is a material imperative for batteries for Electric Vehicles, amongst others. Sri Lanka has the purest graphene in the world. Obviously, LUCID expressed palpable interest in this business solicitation.

State Minister Balasuriya had a high-level Forum at the Federation of Saudi Chambers of Commerce, which was attended by a number of prominent and elite industry and corporate leaders. Both State Minister Balasuriya and Ambassador Amza addressed the Forum by accentuating the six thrust areas of Sri Lanka, which were tourism, ICT, pharma, logistics, textiles and minerals, amongst others. State Minister Balasuriya and Delegation had a highly focused meeting with the Chairman and Board of Directors ACWA Power, one of the largest power-generating companies in the world with a value of over USD 65 billion. The Company generates over 40,000 MW of power on an annual basis and is present in over 15 countries. They have already expressed interest in Sri Lanka to construct six solar power projects and two wind power projects at an estimated cost of USD 800 million. Each of these eight projects would generate approximately 100 MW of power and the Company is 50% owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, amongst the five largest Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) in the world. The senior executives of ACWA Power were met in Sri Lanka in order to strategize the most efficacious courses of action to execute the project before State Minister Balasuriya left to Saudi Arabia for the two-day visit. During all meetings, calls and engagements, State Minister Balasuriya emphasised and enunciated that this was the best time to establish a business and/or investment presence in Sri Lanka when many other countries, both in the region as well as in Europe and the US, are already present in the country.

State Ministry of Regional Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombo



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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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