The Horana Export Processing Zone, set up by the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) contributed USD 31.8 m (LKR 5, 796.7 m) in export revenue as at end of 2018. Horana Export Processing Zone is located in the Kalutara district in the Western province. It is located 80 km away from Bandaranaike International Airport, 55 km from Colombo Port and only 18 km to the Southern Expressway (E01).
The zone’s enterprises have a significant impact on the local economy as they provide employment to 2,428 staff. The Zone therefore promotes the government’s objective of developing regional industrialisation.
There are currently 21 enterprises in commercial operation at the Horana EPZ, involved in a manufacture of apparel & accessories, food, wooden, consumer, steel & aluminium, paper and plastic products.
Among the leading enterprises at the Horana EPZ are Unilever Sri Lanka Ltd, which manufactures consumer products such as soaps, shampoos and toothpaste, NatuRub Export International (Pvt) Ltd, which manufactures apparel accessories including yarn and lace, and Eco Spindles Pvt Ltd, which manufacture yarn by recycling plastic bottles.
(Media & Publicity)
Board of Investment
Investor facilitation further enhanced
The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Coast Conservation & Coastal Resources Management Department. The MOU was signed on behalf of the BOI by Mrs. Champika Malalgoda, Director General of the BOI and by Mr. B K Prabath Chandrakeerthi, Director General of the Coast Conservation & Coastal Resources Management Department.
The signing of the MOU by the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resources Management Department is very significant as approvals by this body are vital for projects in the tourism sector and also for those related to the mining of mineral sands.
This agency is the 13th state body to sign the MOU covering the Single Window Investment Facilitation Taskforce (SWIFT). The signing was done under two phases. So far the agencies that have joined SWIFT are the following:
Coast Conservation & Coastal Resource Management, Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation (SLLRDC), Department of Registrar of Companies, Urban Development Authority, Sri Lanka Customs, Department of Inland Revenue, Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB), Department of Immigration and Emigration, National Dangerous Drug Control Board (NDDCB) and Department of Import & Export Control (DIEC). Other state agencies involved in the investment process will follow
The purpose of SWIFT is to fast-track investments through an effective One Stop Shop. The concept of the One Stop Shop has been in existence for a very long time, but traditionally has relied on the presence of officers of other agencies assigned to the BOI One Stop Shop, to help to facilitate projects. However, due to other factors, it is sometimes difficult to obtain the participation of representatives from the relevant line agencies, whose additional approval are needed for a project to be started.
In the current system, which was approved under a Cabinet Memorandum issued by the Cabinet of Ministers of Sri Lanka, all agencies that are party to the MOU are connected through an online connection, which makes it possible to act on a project proposal without the requirement of being physically present at the BOI’s One Stop Shop.
This is particularly crucial, since some projects may require up to 14 approvals or permits, and any investor who would have to physically go to all these ministries would be deterred by the excessive bureaucracy involved. Advances in the field of IT have made it possibly to create a central authority without necessitating the presence of officials at a dedicated office.
The BOI therefore is confident that the continual development and implementation of SWIFT would encourage investors to invest in Sri Lanka as the process is considerably simplified and the new system would also provide greater information and would additionally be much more transparent.
The introduction of this new system will, therefore, facilitate considerably the process of investing in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, it utilises cutting-edge technology and promotes the establishment of an investor-friendly environment. It will contribute towards the country achieving the targeted FDI inflows of USD 2.1 bn by the end of 2019. Line agencies that sign the SWIFT Agreement are agreeable to granting approval to investors within a short timeframe.
Dilip S Samarasinghe
(Media & Publicity) Board of Investment
BOI signs agreement with British Company to invest in modern disposable medical devices manufacturing in Sri Lanka
A leading UK manufacturer has gained Board of Investment (BOI) approvals to begin laying the foundation for its newest state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka. Flexicare (Group) Limited is a UK-headquarted manufacturer and supplier of medical devices, with subsidiaries in over 12 countries and 2 manufacturing sites, providing disposable medical consumables to over 110 countries.
The Agreement was signed on behalf of Flexicare by Mr. Ghassem Poormand, Chairman of Flexicare (Group) Limited. Also present at the signing ceremony were Mr. Hash Poormand, Managing Director and Mr. Sanjeeva Jayasinghe, General Manager Flexicare Sri Lanka. Mrs. Champika Malalgoda, Director General of the BOI also participated. Mr. Ghassem Poormand, Chairman of Flexicare (Group) Limited stated “We are a privately owned British Company which has been in existence for 20 years. Our products include anesthesia and respiratory products such as oxygen masks and nebulizers.”
He added “Flexicare products are exported to 110 countries. The group has subsidiaries in the USA, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, India, China, South Korea and Malaysia.”
Flexicare Lanka was established in 2018 with a view to build a new bespoke operation in the heart of Sri Lanka, that will seek to support both the local market which Flexicare has been supplying with its exclusive distribution partner Technomedics International Pvt Ltd for more than 15 years, but also the international healthcare arena that Flexicare is active in. The project, which will be located in Bandaragama, is expected to represent an investment in excess of USD 10 m over the course of the coming years, and will create 600 new jobs in the region, in what is the first medical device manufacturing of its kind in the country with a fully integrated operation.
Sri Lanka was chosen as the outright choice for its 3rd manufacturing site due to the excellent infrastructure and forward investments in the country as well as its access to a world class export port that will serve the global markets that Flexicare is active in. Mr. Ghassem Poormand stated “Manufacture has been done in China since 2003 due to the expansion and growth of the business. We decided to manufacture in Sri Lanka due to market access to South Asia and South East Asia.”
“In Sri Lanka, the manufacture will initially be for items such as oxygen masks, nasal capula, Aerosol products and later be expanded to anaesthetic products.”
“We strongly feel that the project will significantly contribute to the growth of the national economy and help towards the achievement of the government’s long term goals relating to ‘Vision 2025’ for the development of the healthcare sector, as well as creating jobs and exports.”
Dilip S Samarasinghe
(Media & Publicity) Board of Investment
Consumers who purchase lotteries are a key factor for the development of the lottery industry in Sri Lanka. However, the busy modern lifestyle does not allow consumers to buy lotteries or find out results using the traditional methods. This causes a loss of consumers for the lottery industry. A successful response to this is updating the lottery industry with new technology. The National Lotteries Board, which earns financial resources for the betterment of the citizens and the country, has introduced a digitalised lottery service for Sri Lankan lottery consumers, further strengthening their traditional approach. The National Lotteries Board hopes to attract new customers to the lottery industry and to gain their support in strengthening the national economy through this new service.
Even though there are many apps for various services already available in Sri Lanka, an app for lotteries and related services is a first of its kind. Sujeewa Nissanka, Deputy General Manager, Marketing & Promotion, National Lotteries Board, spoke to OSL-THE Investment Magazine to discuss the SMS Lottery App introduced with busy consumers in mind. The introduction of the new SMS Lottery App has been done after a thorough analysis of the problems encountered by busy consumers in the traditional lottery methods.
Today, with a busy lifestyle, it is difficult to allocate time to buy lottery tickets. The lack of parking space in the vicinity of points of sale is another issue adding to the problem. Such problems are a key reason to make lottery related services available online, similar to other services. The busy lottery purchaser has to use various methods to find the results of the lottery purchased – watching the television lottery draw, reading the lottery results in newspapers or checking out the lottery box – and spend time on finding out results as well. With the introduction of the SMS Lottery App, he or she does not have to spend much time on the task. All lottery consumers can now purchase lotteries and check winnings easily through the SMS Lottery app.
Ease of use
If you have a smartphone, you can now access SMS Lottery App service from Dialog, Mobitel, and Hutch service providers. SMS Lottery App is available in Sinhala, Tamil, and English for the ease of consumers.
To access SMS Lottery App service, first, go to the website www.811.lk. If you want to make an online purchase of lotteries on a daily basis, you can subscribe to the relevant lottery. If you want to buy a lottery today, refer to Buy Now. You need to provide your mobile number and National Identity Card number to access SMS Lottery app services. Creating a password for your account for security reasons and accessing SMS Lottery App services with a text message to #811# is also possible.
You can also buy lottery tickets via SMS. Send an SMS to 811 with the code name of the National Lotteries Board lottery you wish to purchase (E.g. – Gowisetha GS, Megapower MP). If you purchase a lottery via the SMS Lottery App, the results of the draw will be sent to your mobile phone in an SMS after the draw. If you have any winnings, you will be notified of it via SMS as well. Usually, the duration of a lottery is 6 months and SMS Lottery App stores the data of customers’ transactions for a period of 6 months.
Ease of pay
The purchase of lottery tickets via the app will be at a service charge of Rs. 04 plus tax. Accordingly, you can spend less than the usual lottery price of Rs. 25 and can easily play the lottery with new technology. You can make purchases from the SMS Lottery App whether you have a pre-paid or post-paid mobile connection.
You can get more information on the app by visiting the www.811.lk web site or by calling hotline 0112 734 081.
Enterprise, global benchmarking and location are the recipes for success
The government’s National Export Strategy, unveiled last year, has prioritised the achievement of some bold goals and objectives in nearly every field. In the IT sector, it hopes to unleash a USD 5 bn potential within the next decade. Around USD 3 bn are to be pledged to the industry over the next three years in the form of grants, equity investments, credit facilities, mentoring, and technical support to that end, with the goal of developing local start-ups and of attracting foreign investors. The government’s aims with respect to the industry, in other words, goes beyond it being a domestic concern; for the export market as for the domestic, it remains a viable investment centre. But for such a potential to be achieved any time soon, that aforementioned gap needs to be closed. Fast.
Sri Lanka is facing a peculiar challenge. While educational and legal frameworks, on the one hand, and social, cultural, and political factors accompanying the rise of Generation Z (those born after 1996) have facilitated the growth of a viable IT sector in the country, even to the extent of being congratulated and acclaimed as one of the top tech destinations in the world – as the Daily FT reported last June 2018 – a gap remains between the skills of students and IT professionals, and the level of applicability of those skills. In a context where there are more mobile phone subscriptions than people, and where every other sector – from transportation to food – have been turned into an application, it is more than just disquieting to come to terms with this paradox.
Meeting of minds
Probably the most significant social factor aiding the rise of the IT sector in the country, and pretty much everywhere else, has been, as stated before, the coming of age of Generation Z. 2019 is significant in that sense that it is the year in which those born in 2000, the first year of the millennium (or the last year of the last millennium to purists), will be doing their A Levels.
Educational institutions, legal frameworks, and cultural taboos, among other constraints, will have a big say in how this generation will “take to” the industry and whether their attitude towards making use of acquired knowledge will be different to and better than the attitude of preceding generations.
“To put it in perspective, we cannot get anywhere until and unless there is a marketisation of skills in the field. That requires thinking beyond just schools and universities.”
This, at least, is the belief of Hasitha Dela, CEO of Headstart (Pvt) Ltd. Headstart started around 2007, and has since evolved into a business providing end-to-end solutions in three specific areas: entrepreneurship, schools, and tuition. Its rise has been more or less interwoven with the rise of what is referred to as the smart classroom concept, whereby laptops, tabs, and interactive boards have replaced the traditional teaching experience in around 65 schools throughout the island.
Headstart’s journey began with a meeting of minds, between Hasitha and another friend with whom he studied at the University of Moratuwa. “This friend had done his A Levels, not here, but in the Netherlands. In fact you can say that Headstart was borne out of my experiences with different people, mixing with each other freely in the classroom at University. I was educated in Colombo, and that in the very centre of it also. In that sense my brushes with different kinds of people hailing from different backgrounds were limited. But that was until I came to Moratuwa, where there were people from Ampara, from Badulla, from Chilaw. They all brought a different set of attitudes to their education. I was fascinated by that.”
At the time, the concept of Edutech, which had become popular in countries like the United Arab Emirates, was only beginning to be noticed in Sri Lanka. In the pre-war period, it was felt that deficits in the education system, extending to both schools and universities, needed to be closed gradually, following the imminent cessation of the civil conflict.
The initiative to combat the issue came about, in part at least, with the then government’s goal of making the country IT- and English-literate within a decade or so, after 2009. While the programme to teach English “Our Way” faced its share of controversy and critique, its IT programme has gone ahead with noticeably (and thankfully) less controversy.
Edutech extending to advanced learning management systems integrating classroom experiences with developments in the IT world, Dela decided to develop a project that was in line the educational, technological, and political zeitgeist of the time. He with his friend baptised it Vidu Nana. To shorten what is obviously a very long, arduous, and ultimately successful start-up story, the project product, targeted at teaching A Level science and mathematics students, garnered both an instant following and a series of awards and accolades from the State and the private sector. “One thing led to another and we found ourselves being interviewed by ICTA officials, who told us to turn our project into a business. By the following year, we had done just that. From that point we just went on winning more awards.” These victories, incidentally, include a Special Mention at the e-Swabhimani Awards in 2009, an Honourable Mention at the Stockholm Challenge in 2010, and the National Best Quality ICT Awards in 2012, 2013, and 2014. During these years, and given these awards,
Vidu Nana naturally expanded.
Today, it has partnered with its intended institutions, schools and universities, along with the Ministry of Education on the one hand and the telecom industry on the other. It operates on three layers: entrepreneurial solutions, learning management systems for schools and also businesses (with a considerable client base), and guru.lk, the largest e-learning portal in the country “where we promote your course for free or through a subscription model, like Udemy.” The statistics are compelling: guru.lk counts in more than 541,000 users and 150 content partners.
Because of its phenomenal rise and the fact that it did something no one had done before, Headstart (which today is based in Rajagiriya) has gone on to represent Sri Lanka at various international fora, most of them with Microsoft. Hasitha has naturally encountered the West and the rest of the region to which Sri Lanka belongs, and observed how IT professionals and legal bodies overseeing the industry do business. Sharing these perspectives with OSL – The Investment Magazine, he contended, frankly, that while he is content with the way things are going, “there is much we need to do.” We present his perspectives in three broad areas: the IT export market, the need for institutions, and the “locating” of start-ups from the IT sector.
Hasitha is at his most optimistic with regard to the first of these issues. In keeping with the government’s Vision 2025 programme, it is no secret that achieving a USD 5 billion target in the industry requires exponential growth, the likes of which can’t really be attained with the present political and social realities with which the island is grappling.
Despite this, Hasitha has come to believe that our problem is not one of initiative or willpower. Instead it’s one of benchmarking: “We are a small country, we tend to think like the islanders we are, so there is this need, an urgent need in fact, to ensure that we use the right parameters when we assess the extent to which start-ups in the IT field have grown.” Headstart adheres to such parameters:
“We are partnered with global brands and these we use when assessing our present status and future direction.”
Benchmarking to international standards has paid dividends for Headstart. Ensuring competitiveness in the world market is essential in the modern IT field, in which domestic consumers use the internet to discover global solutions, not local ones.
Besides, demographic shifts all augur well for the sector. Smartphone penetration among the new generation (Z) has been more potent than penetration among any of previous generations, and this has facilitated a rise in IT consciousness. But there is a problem. Such developments hide a stark truth: that being tech-savvy isn’t the be-all and end-all solution to the problems of the industry. “We need to go beyond just memorising facts and applying them when such facts, and such knowledge, have become obsolete.” With IT, where what is learnt today can turn old tomorrow, “the picking up of analytical skills, for which Sri Lankans are renowned, is simply not enough.” What is needed, in short, is an entrepreneurial spirit.
That explains Hasitha’s scepticism regarding the proliferation of institutions (schools and other organisations) in Sri Lanka.
“Do we need them? Not really, because a) they don’t teach their subjects well, and b) given Google and Wikipedia, there is no need for anyone to pick up anything in the field through expensive courses. If you look at Silicon Valley, the tech boom in the US didn’t come about because the top brains there had plenty of institutions to go to and study from. It transpired because the guys there harnessed what they had learnt.” Underlying Hasitha’s attitude is a critique of the academic culture in Sri Lanka:
“We learn, write theses, and make presentations for the sake of scoring points with our teachers, and of getting a top mark. Once you’re out there, you aren’t going to get anywhere with such an approach.”
As for the infrastructural and geographic “locating” of start-ups and other businesses in the field, Hasitha’s opinion is that such establishments are neither metropolitan nor outstation-based. Headstart itself, with a base of more than 80 employees, is based in Rajagiriya, neither at the centre of the city nor completely away or cut off from it. “If you ask me why I selected Rajagiriya instead of Colombo 3, my reply would be that the closer you get to the centre the more expensive setting up these businesses becomes. If you ask me why I selected Rajagiriya instead of Horana, I would say that there is a mass influx of people from outstation areas to Colombo and the surrounding suburbs: in search of jobs, of educational prospects, and so on. We need to cater to them. They are the drivers of growth in the industry. That is a fact we cannot overlook, no matter how tempting it may be to set ourselves up elsewhere.”
Investments beyond FDIs
In 1978 Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia to liberalise trade and investments. The establishment in that same year of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) ushered in what could have become a period of unparalleled prosperity. As Nimal Sanderatne notes, the level of liberalisation was such that, in the eighties, two major multinational electronic companies, Motorola and Harris Corporation, “had finalised plans to establish plants in the Export Processing Zone”, with Harris even starting to build a plant “with an initial employment capacity of 1,850 workers.” Then, of course, the promise of prosperity soured in 1983, with the anti-Tamil riots and the commencement of a 30-year war. The results were only to be expected: Motorola shifted to Malaysia and Harris soon left the island as well. Perhaps it has to do with the hangover all this resulted in (after all, it wasn’t just Motorola and Harris: even Sony, Sanyo, and Chase Manhattan Bank had plans to invest in the country), but as of today, the GCEC, which was renamed as the Board of Investment (BOI) in 1992, continues to have plans in the form of big investments through Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). Not that these plans have become so big that they can’t be attained. In 2017, for instance, the island achieved its highest level of FDIs at USD 1.63 bn, double the amount in 2016 (USD 802 m) and commendable given the political debacles of that year.
One wonders, however, whether the government’s and the BOI’s fixation with FDIs has been at the cost of other avenues of investment. Are we focusing, to put it simply, on the big picture, and conveniently forgetting alternative schemes through which we can narrow the trade deficit, widen the economy’s investment potential, and make Sri Lanka into what it should have become in the eighties? Let’s not forget that not even the post-2009 peace dividend led to the growth the country should have encountered; the situation has been such that, ever since 2012, we never went beyond a middle-income economy, lending credence to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s contention that we need to escape the middle-income trap. In economics as in politics, tragically, we tend to be smug and complacent.
We have the goods
That, at any rate, is the view of the former Honorary President of the Colombo Chamber of Commerce, Dr Amila Kankanamge, who spoke with OSL – The Investment Magazine recently. Dr Kankanamge’s diagnosis is both similar to and different from that of other economists: similar because it prescribes more and more investments and a shift to an export-led growth model, and different because it prescribes a shift from the usual investment and growth portfolios that most others have recommended. To begin with, as he quite frankly admitted, “Sri Lanka has everything and anything that an investor can need.” That the island lacks natural resources, manpower, and human capital is, for him, a complete myth: “We have the goods, but we’ve failed to make use of them.” This is in line with a point raised by Professor Gehan Amaratunga of the Sri Lanka Nanotechnology Institute that the economy is currently the size of Taiwan more than 35 years ago and that, if harnessed properly, it could occupy Taiwan’s position today in a matter of years, if not decades. But therein lies a dilemma. If we can’t harness what we have, and haven’t done a good job of marketing Sri Lanka to the outside world (“The Miracle of Asia” or “So Sri Lanka” or whatever), how can we even think of getting out there? After all, we still rely on worker remittances!
For Dr Kankanamge the problem is clear: we are focusing on priorities which we think are big enough to merit our attention. Even these, he concedes, haven’t been focused on properly. Here he singles out the BOI for censure. “In other countries, institutions with the same mandate as the BOI act as one-stop-shops for investors. In fact, when the BOI was started, that was its mandate, prescribed by law and sanctioned by the Constitution. But today it has turned into a facilitator. It advertises itself as the entry point for foreigners, but what’s the use of being an entry point if the investor is left to his or her own devices later?” To put it simply, the BOI has to stop mediating between ministries; it needs to stop burdening investors with more and more red tape and instead welcome them with a red carpet.
On the other hand, the BOI hasn’t failed to live up to its expectations. Through a series of advertisements last year, and this year, it managed to tentatively market export processing zones, industrial parks, and even hotel and leisure activity projects. Plans are underfoot to promote the country as an economic hub, though, as Dr Kankanamge warns, “the next five years will be a bumpy road for Sri Lanka as far as politics and economics are concerned.” Here he singles out politicians, in particular the current administration, for “focusing on cosmetic programmes while continuing the policies of previous regimes in neglecting to implement long-term national plans.” This, he argues, leaves the impression that investment is a political rather than an economic tool, “dependent on the whims of politicos.”
Untapped treasure trove
Sri Lanka has promise, “enough and more of it”, but lack of attention and focus has led the government to forgo three important factors for future investment growth: the SME sector, the implementation of policies for various sectors (including investment), and the potential of white collar over blue collar workers. The SME sector in Sri Lanka, accordingly to Dr Kankanamge, remains an untapped treasure trove. This is correct.
“While there is no cohesive, global definition for SMEs, in Sri Lanka such entities earn a turnover of less than LKR 750 m a year and hire less than 300 employees in the manufacturing sector and less than 200 employees in the service sector.”
Figures and statistics are constantly bandied about, and advertised, by both private and government bodies, as proof of the importance of their contribution to the economy: making up more than 75% of all enterprises, employing more than 45% of the workforce, and contributing to more than 50% of the island’s GDP. These figures, however, again underlie a dilemma: SMEs tend to be throttled by various pressures and barriers, and they are, in the government’s scheme of things at least, passed over in favour of big investments (FDIs).
A study conducted in 2018 by the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura lists down these factors quite clearly. Among them are the high cost of capital, lack of government incentives, currency fluctuations, high insurance costs, and a lack of production capacity for exports.
Most SMEs tend to be owned and managed by those falling within the 36-50 years range, and most of the owners have not gone beyond their Advanced Levels. It hence goes without saying that SMEs have harnessed the entrepreneurial spirit of the country, outside the parameters of age and educational attainment.
The sad fact is that while contributing to more than half the country’s GDP, they make up around 5% of the country’s exports. The Enterprise Sri Lanka website laments the fact that while Bangladesh and China have entrepreneur/business owner to workforce population ratios of 11.6% and 7.5% respectively, the ratio in Sri Lanka is 2.8% (although, tellingly, the site does not lament the lack of export presence for SMEs in the country).
The proposition is simple: by making it possible for the SMEs to turn into export brands, we can save the time and the money spent in trying futilely to find foreign investors who, given the political instability we are facing here at present and will continue to do so for the next few years, will entertain doubts about coming to the country. Two brands, which started out small, have already done it: Dilmah Tea and Spa Ceylon. “Will there be others to follow them?” is a question we can ask.
Dr Kankanamge moves on to another pertinent issue. The balance of payments deficit, precarious in times of recession, and high debt levels (like right now), have for the most depended on remittances from domestics working abroad. But since of late, the remittances have depleted and hover between the LKR 6 and 7 bn figures. Imports, meanwhile, have risen and exports have come down. This has to do with two policy lapses: the absence of an investment plan for those remittances and the failure to substitute white collar professionals for domestics. “Look at it this way,” he explains, “Countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal are already overtaking us in the market for domestics. We are focusing too much on regions like the Middle East.” What with cases like Rizana Nafeek’s execution, Kankanamge suggests, we should instead be thinking of western countries, where there is more respect for domestics and where strong immigrant labour laws prevail. Moreover, “instead of letting the remittances stagnate in RFC and NRFC accounts, we should channel them to big potential investments, so that they can reap high returns for families of workers and the economy as a whole.”
But this is just stating half of the story; for Kankanamge, the problem will not end there “until and unless we move on to white collar workers, and export them to the developed world.” This will not happen unless we come up with national policies for health, education, transport, and infrastructure which transcend political party ideologies. Again, he faults the government. “We have not been able to come up with five year plans in a context where other countries in the region are coming up with plans for the next 10 years. That reflects badly on us.” The final analysis, by Dr Kankanamge, is stark and cogent: “The next five years will be crucial for this country. We can either go forward, or get derailed. Chances are that we will get derailed, but I have hopes. After all, getting back to my first point, we don’t lack anything. The only thing we lack is the effort and the initiative needed from the government and the Board of Investment. If they can wake up and follow the recommendations we’ve laid down, I think we can tide over some of the worst times we can expect ahead.”
The Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Toronto, as part of its tea promotional programme in 2019, participated in the 7th Annual Toronto Tea Festival 2019, organised by the Tea Guild of Canada, held on 1 – 3r February, 2019 at the Toronto Reference Library, with the support of the Sri Lanka Tea Board.
Along with the Consulate General, over 30 tea vendors and other private sector entities, dealing with tea and other natural products took part at the event. At the Sri Lanka Tea booth, Ceylon Tea samples from 6 regions in Sri Lanka were displayed and free Ceylon Tea samples, provided by the Sri Lanka Tea Board were distributed among participants, numbering over 2,700, during the three day event. Hot tea from these regions was also served to all the visitors. At the event, the participants were given the opportunity to participate in the seminars and listen to presentations on tea related topics. Internationally renowned speakers were available for clarifications on tea and culture.
The Consulate’s participation facilitated promotion of Ceylon Tea, raising awareness among the participants on Sri Lanka’s rich tea culture, history of Ceylon Tea, processing techniques, and preparation styles.
A large number of participants showed genuine interest about the tea production and on purchasing Ceylon Tea. The tea promotional event was a success and the Consulate General intends to participate in the next year’s Tea Festival as well.
Sri Lanka’s Beijing Deputy Ambassador, former Italian PM Massimo D’Alema among those honoured.
At a presentation ceremony held on 24 January, Shani Calyanaratne Karunaratne, Deputy Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Beijing, received the prestigious title of “Silk Road Super Ambassador” in honour of her outstanding contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The envoys of four other countries also received this honour. Karunaratne pointed out that the award not merely honoured herself, but also emphasised the special relationship that exists between China and Sri Lanka. Although they only established official diplomatic relations 62 years ago, friendly ties between New China and Ceylon (as it then was) began with the Rubber-Rice Pact of 1952. Links of trade, culture and diplomacy between the two countries stretch back two millennia, to when the Sri Lankan port of Godavaya was a entrepôt between China and the West.
The BRI, a determined, a trans-continental effort to improve co-operation and connectivity, seeks to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links between China and 65 other countries – coverings 62% of the world’s population and 30% of its gross domestic product (GDP), as well as three-quarters of its known energy reserves. It has two principal parts, the “Belt” being the primarily land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, which connects China to Central Asia and Europe; and the “Road” being the New Maritime Silk Road, which links China by sea to South and South East Asia, the Gulf, East and North Africa, and again Europe.
Sometimes called the “Chinese Marshall Plan”, it dwarfs the post-Second World War US economic aid programme, both in the size of investment and in the scale of its objectives. It promises to transform the environment in which the economies it encompasses operate, improving connectivity, reducing trade and transport costs, and increasing investment.
An evaluation committee, comprising the Silk Road Cities Alliance, China Friendship Foundation for Peace and Development, Silk Road Cities Institute and the Beijing Belt and Road Community, selected the final award applicants from a shortlist of publicly-nominated diplomats in China. The public had earlier been given the opportunity of voting, via an electronic app, for individual diplomats they considered had rendered an outstanding contribution to the BRI, and this formed the basis for the shortlist. Aside from Karunaratne, the evaluation committee gave the award to the Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khalid, Maltese Ambassador John Aquilina, Maldivian Ambassador Mohamed Faizal and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ambassador Anton Rill. Former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema also received
Shani Karunaratne speaks on receiving her award
an award for his contribution to the BRI. A former editor of the Italian daily newspaper L’Unita, he was the first Italian prime minister born after Italy became a Republic, and the first to be a former Communist. He has supported greater European integration, and greater European involvement in the BRI, as well as a common European commitment to greater relations with China to achieve European goals and aspirations. He has also called for a more harmonious globalisation, to overcome deleterious effects on the poor.
The BRI links East with West, North with South
The evaluation committee related the achievement for which Karunaratne received the award: “Mrs. Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne currently serves as the Deputy Ambassador at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in China, taking part in over 25 Belt and Road programmes in China under Sri Lanka-China bilateral relations. Mrs. Karunaratne is a bilingual professional and a career diplomat with 23 years of service of bilateral and multilateral work.” Karunaratne has been a main speaker at some BRI programmes during 2018, and also co-authored an academic paper titled “Heuristics of the Historic Cultural Communication to the Development of Tourism between China and Sri Lanka”, published in the International Tourism Leaders’ Summit Journal of the University of Colombo in October 2018.
Shani with Embassy support staff
Awardees stand for the national anthem
“I have been a diplomat for 23 years and a public servant for 33 years,” Karunaratne said upon receiving the award. “For our kind of work, this kind of an evaluation is rare and this is the first time I am receiving an award for my work as a diplomatic officer. I am very happy to receive this from the People’s Republic of China. In fact, receiving this award is a great milestone in my career. I am humbled that all of you have recognised not only my contribution but also Sri Lanka’s contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Born in Badulla, in the Uva Province, Karunaratne studied at Visakha Girls’ High School in Badulla and Musaeus College, a leading school in Colombo, and went to El Paso High School in Illinois, USA, as an exchange student. A graduate of the University of Peradeniya, she has earned two post-graduate degrees and is currently reading towards a PhD on China-Sri Lanka tourism at the University of Colombo.