Well-known business leader and Vallibel One Chairman Dhammika Perera speaks at a forum co-organised by the National Human Resources Development Council, where he launched a 2030 vision and action plan for Sri Lanka – Pic by Lasantha Kumara
- Business leader launches document listing policy recommendations for 21 ministries
- Confident that if implemented, Sri Lanka’s per capita income can be increased to $ 12,000 by 2030
- Backs public sector and State employees, says they are competent and dedicated, can deliver growth if presented with clear vision and work plan
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Well-known business leader Dhammika Perera yesterday launched ‘Sri Lanka 2030: A Developed Nation’, which presents goals and recommendations for 21 ministries.
The aim of the document is to lay out an economic growth strategy and action plan to increase per capita income from the current $ 4000 to $ 12,000, and make Sri Lanka a developed nation by 2030. Data-based Budget proposals were part of the recommendations given for the Finance Ministry, which Perera advised should be more proactive in utilising State assets and resources.
Perera, who is the Chairman of Vallibel One PLC and Co-Chairman of diversified blue chip Hayleys PLC, used a public sector forum titled “Changing Role of the Public Servant” to launch his vision and plans for the country.
“Sri Lanka needs a proper work plan with the right vision for the country. The public sector is dedicated and competent enough to attend to the implementation,” Perera told the forum organised by the National Human Resources Development Council (NHRDC), together with the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management and the Association of Public Finance Accountants of Sri Lanka, which is the public sector wing of CA Sri Lanka.
Perera spoke positively about the public servants he has worked with, recalling that no official he has encountered has disregarded his duties. He pointed out that even though there are many complaints of too many public servants in Sri Lanka, the reality is that even public servants are largely middle class, and it was important for them to be part of the development process, because they too needed to reap the benefits of growth.
He called for public employees to move away from standard frameworks, and to think creatively to meet Sri Lanka’s development challenges.
In his address, Perera opined that when a country reaches upper middle income status, one of the challenges is growing income inequality. Therefore it is essential that per capita income continues to grow to $12,000. He pointed out it is relatively easy for any country to reach $4000 per capita income, but after that many countries end up getting caught in the middle income trap.
“Everyone talks about the middle income trap, but no one outlines how a country can go from upper middle income status to developed status. This is where direction from the top is important. The public sector needs to get the right directions from the top so that the right policies can be implemented. There must be a vision. For a vision to exist there must be a plan. So we need stronger national security, healthcare, environmental protection, housing, education, and morals. This is what it means to move forward.”
He advocated future Budget proposals should be based on an economic analysis done by the Finance Ministry, and the implementation of an information management system to track Budget implementation, as part of a host of policy recommendations covering 21 ministries.
The 21 ministries for which policy recommendations were listed by Perera were: Finance and Planning, Education, Higher Education, Technical, Vocational Education and Training, Social Development, Regional Development, Agriculture and Agro Based Industry, Investment Promotion and Job Creation, Transport and Civil Aviation, Ports and Shipping, Tourism, Power and Energy, Information and Communication Technology, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, National Security, Foreign Affairs, Youth and Sports, Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, and Arts and Culture. The remaining ministries are to be evaluated in the second part to be released soon, Perera added.
He said that daily government revenue is Rs. 5 billion, but this needs to grow to Rs. 7 billion for the Government to run efficiently. Therefore it is imperative for the Government to increase public revenue. However, there is also a necessity for policymakers to move away from attempts to increase direct taxes. Instead, Perera advocated that the focus should be more on growing overall investment and job creation. He pointed out it has taken Sri Lanka 70 years to reach $4000 per capita income, and the country cannot wait several more decades to reach $12,000.
“Our birth rates are slowing down. According to a World Bank report released in 2018, about 62,400 jobs need to be created per annum for Sri Lanka to grow at this rate. In the US, economic growth is measured by the jobs report. If jobs are declining, action must be taken to increase jobs. Otherwise there can be no growth. There is an economic theory that for every 1% unemployment is reduced, there is 3% economic growth. Technology can be used to reduce unemployment and underemployment. If a job bank is created, or for example if an app is launched and people are told to download the app and update their qualifications, it would be easy to see who is unemployed and where they live,” he said.
Perera noted education is the main element needed for a country to transcend beyond the upper middle income band. However, Perera claimed that there were significant numbers of school dropouts in Sri Lanka, as many as 28,000 per year. He backed precision poverty reduction schemes to reduce this problem. As many as 30,000 students fail maths at the Ordinary Level examination, so there needs to be a national program to encourage students into STEM streams. He also talked at length about a project to record the maths syllabus and release it online, as well as provide it to underserved schools.
In his extensive address, Perera touched on urban beautification, raising living standards, empowering the public service, and making governance more efficient. He also highlighted the need to encourage organic growth of technology-driven businesses and IT-focused education systems, pointing out that when the two are joined, the result is hubs such as what is found in Bangalore. Based on data, he also said that encouraging big name universities to relocate to Sri Lanka would result in more revenue from foreign students than what is currently being earned by the tourism industry.