THE SPEECH DELIVERED BY MR. SAMANTHA RANATUNGA – CHAIRPERSON OF THE CEYLON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AT THE 177th AGM OF THE CHAMBER.
28th June 2016, Oak Room, Cinnamon Grand
- Your Excellency Atul Keshap / U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka & Maldives,
- My colleagues at the Head table,
- Distinguished Invitees,
- Members of the Chamber; and
- Members of the Media.
It is my pleasure to welcome you all /to this 177th Annual General Meeting / of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
With my assumption of office last year / as Chairperson of this prestigious Institution –the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, I commenced work with a new Board under a new management model.
The Chamber Rules were amended last year to replace the three member Standing Committee ‘A’ with a nine member Board, of which four are Ex-officio members and five are elected members. The new model was adopted to ensure greater decision making power and transparency within the main Committee / at the same time empowering the Secretariat to carry out activities more independently/. Therefore, the new model of management / introduced by amendments to the Rules / provides for a CEO led Secretariat / deviating from the earlier model of a Chairman-led Secretariat. In my view the new model has worked well.
In the course of last year,/ the CCC identified 10 principles /that will guide the focus of Chamber activities. /The ten Principles of the Chamber support and complement / the transformation of the Sri Lankan Economy./ This is a significant step taken by an Institution which has / a 177 year proud record of serving the business community. In all of its activities involving members / the wider private sector / and Government partners, / these principles will guide our work/ and will reinforce the vital connections between the private sector and the government to achieve a positive transformation of the economy.
The Chamber continued its focus on its core activities of advancing and promoting trade, tourism and investment opportunities in Sri Lanka and of facilitating growth of businesses. In pursuance of this / we held our flagship events – the Sri Lanka Economic Summit/ and the Best Corporate Citizen Awards / and initiated a new event – the Business Conclave. The Sri Lanka Business and Investment Conclave 2016 held in March this year / was one of the significant events introduced to the annual activity calendar of the Chamber.
The Sri Lanka Investment and Business Conclave 2016 /offered opportunities /for institutional,/ corporate /and individual investors /and business houses /to obtain insights to what Sri Lanka offers within the investment regime as well as a high level strategic networking opportunity /to identify potential business partners in Sri Lanka./ 261 participants attended the event of which 125 delegates were from 27 countries including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Singapore and Switzerland./ The greatest interest of prospective investors was shown for the / Agriculture,/ Export Manufacturing,/ Infrastructure,/ Power & Energy /and Tourism & Leisure sectors.
As in the past, we continued to receive overseas business delegations for the promotion of bi-lateral trade, services, investment and tourism from several countries. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce being identified by our 120 plus MOU Partners, as the trusted source for business interactions through the 22 Business Councils which cover direct access to around 80 Countries/ regularly initiate business to business meetings/ on behalf of our stakeholders. During the last year, the Business Councils Unit of the Chamber facilitated over three thousand individual business contacts /.
Yet another important activity of the Chamber / is its knowledge transfer programme which seek to enhance the knowledge of our members / in a wide range of subjects that matter in the business world. The Chamber held several seminars focusing on business growth / taxation / energy / and the economy.
With the focus of Government on improving the investment climate and on trade liberalisation, we see the need to strengthen the capacity of our members to take advantage of trade and investment opportunities. /With this in mind,/ the Chamber will launch a comprehensive new knowledge platform /called ‘Trade Intelligence for the Private Sector’ or TIPS. /Through this initiative, /we will deliver seminars and trainings, / disseminate research insights and data,/ as well as bring on board/ international resource persons /to provide cutting edge information. /The private sector needs to be prepared/ for the trade policy changes /that are set to take place./ Better information /and insight /will ensure that the private sector contribution to policy formulation and Trade Agreement negotiations will based on an understanding of the real merits of the issues.
As a further initiative to contribute to national development, the Chamber established the National Agenda Committees / NACs. The NACs are the premier thought-leadership groups of the Chamber that will spur new thinking on strategic economic issues and provide private sector input to Sri Lanka’s reform agenda.
These Committees are assigned a specific thematic area of importance to national development. The members of the Committees represent both the private and public sectors and are persons with knowledge and experience in the subject matter of the NAC. / The NACs ably assisted by the Economic Intelligent Unit of the Chamber will pro-actively identify issues, / consider advice from relevant stakeholders / and formulate recommendations / that will be submitted to the relevant policy makers. The Chamber will proactively pursue the task of ensuring that recommendations of the NACs will receive due consideration of policy makers.
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce represents a private sector that’s increasingly anxious to “Get things done.” We ask that Government cultivates confidence in our commitment to work with them in implementing what’s good for our country. We are in an era which offers us abundant opportunities to work together to make our nation a prosperous one, in many a sense. We are blessed with an impressive blend of natural and human resources. It is our challenge to make good use of these in a manner that is sensible, prudent and sustainable. We expect enlightened policies and we expect results.
This was our thinking when we identified the theme of the Economic Summit 2016 scheduled for 2nd and 3rd August / – “FOCUS, ACT, DELIVER” – articulating precisely those expectations.
Sri Lanka keeps getting a new lease of life every few years,/at this moment./ we have unprecedented support and goodwill from most countries of the world./ but /with all this support,/we seem to be quick to fritter opportunities away due to weak implementation./ The private sector is keen to partner with government to get things done./ Our globally competitive businesses / have a lot to offer towards national economic development. /But we need policy stability, /good governance,/ and transparency/ to enable good partnerships /between the government and business. /
Upon an acceptance that SME development contributes significantly to poverty reduction efforts, that /facilitating starts up and growth of the SME sector is of paramount importance for accelerating economic growth,/ job creation /and minimizing regional disparities, / the Chamber / worked very closely with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce /in developing the National Policy Framework for SME Sector Development. The Chamber was also actively involved / in implementing a number of SME Development initiatives /in partnership with the public sector and donor funded SME Development Projects./
The Chamber has undertaken projects on increasing financial literacy and management capability entrepreneurship development to around 2400 beneficiaries /through a World Bank funded project implemented by the Ministry of Finance. /Similarly, an energy management project to increase energy efficiency done through energy audits and training was carried out to more than 300 SME production facilities during the last year./ Taking the importance of the sector,/ we have always been in the forefront/ to build capacities of the SME’s.
To further encourage the SME sector / the Chamber has taken an initiative / to admit a new category of members / targeting the start-up businesses / in which / specific assistance will be provided / to this category/ to strengthen and develop their businesses to be sustainable.
As in the past, the Chamber actively responded to the recent natural disasters/ and engaged with civil society in disaster relief. / We thank our Members for their ready response to our call for relief assistance./
Further, we directly and through our relevant sectoral Associations/ approached the business community / in assessing the damage to the businesses /and lobbied with the Government for relief and assistance.
I am happy to state that / the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce/ is positioning itself strongly /in the changing economic policy /and reform context. /Our officers are engaged with the Government at the highest levels /to impact the policy process in a way that balances national interests and private sector interest in a manner that we achieve a result that is good for both./ We are engaging proactively /with decision makers on policy and regulatory issues /that affect business. /Our research and advisory inputs are sought after, /and the Chamber has emerged as the pre-eminent business voice/ in this area./ The establishment of the Economic Intelligence Unit which evaluates and monitors Government financial reforms and policies as well as the trust placed by our stakeholders /in our ability to take a national perspective on industry issues,/ anchored to the 10 Principles that we adopted last year has contributed to the high level of acceptance that Chamber enjoys.
You, our members belong to a group that contributes approximately 60 per cent to the GDP of this country. / I ask that you actively engage with us / and help us in engaging with the Government on your behalf / in / continually keeping the economic sector under review, / to contribute to policy formulation / and the enhancement of trade and investment / and the promotion of local industry and SMEs.
I take this opportunity to thank-
- you,/ our members for the trust placed in the Chamber,/
- the Members of the Board / for your guidance and commitment
- the Committee,/ for your dedication /guidance and cooperation
My sincere thanks to Mr Mangala Yapa, the former CEO who was with us until the end of February this year.
Mrs. Dhara Wijayatilake took over as Secretary General in March this year and the Chamber takes pride in having its first ever female CEO. My grateful thanks go to the efficient and effective Secretariat ably led by Dhara with the assistance of Mrs. Alikie Perera, the Deputy Secretary General/.