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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Dr. Sarath Amunugama Foresees a Healthy Intellectual and Physical Developmental Future for Sri Lanka

Colombo, 29 April, (Asiantribune.com): The Rajapaksa Government has placed the highest emphasis on investment covering not only the physical infrastructure development which is going on at an unparalleled level in this country, in all parts of the country, but also the need to upgrade the intellectual infrastructure and social infrastructure. The President has called this a very vital life skill, stated Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Minister of Enterprise development at a seminar at Galadari Hotel organized by the Boil and Presidential Secretariat recently. He added like what late Shri Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned a great future for India based on an open cultural mind, influenced from the brilliant thoughts of men like Rabindranath Tagore, President Rajapaksa has launched a modernizing project. That is a link to globally achieving a highest level of growth and also set itself the highest possible standards for the country's growth.

Dr. Amunugama said that we are seen development of an unprecedented nature: the Uma Oya project and the refinery project, the Wirawila project. We are negotiating the Colombo-Kandy Highway. The huge exponential growth in infrastructure investment is therefore very much on the cards. Look at the Southern Highway, the Colombo-Katunayake Highway, the Coal Power Plant Norochchollai, and the forthcoming Coal Power Plant in Sampur, to be built with Indian assistance.

Here is the full text of Dr. Amunigama's speech:

Secretary to President, Secretary to my Ministry, Chairman BOI, Mr. Sunimal Fernando my good friend, His Excellency the High Commissioner for India. It is my great pleasure for me to be here this morning, to meet with the largest constituency for the teaching of English in Sri Lanka. Altogether 1600 of you are represented here; have on their own initiatives attempted to bring this very vital life skill to our people spread out throughout the country. And I think my first duty is to acknowledge your service and to thank you for this event.

I would also take to this opportunity to welcome all our good friends from India with whom we are now establishing contact and a good relationship. We could go on this journey together in the future.

My dear friend and colleague Sunimal will remember when we were in university, we invited Prof. Joan Robinson, a very Marxist professor of Economics in the University of London and later at Cambridge. She summarized the problem of the Sri Lankan economy in one phrase. She said the problem of Sri Lankan Economy is that we are trying to we eat mangoes before we plant the mango tree. Today we are trying to plant a mango tree in simple language that we undergraduates were to realize that Prof. Robinson was drawing attention to a very important fact. And that is that you cannot have growth unless you invest in appropriate infrastructure. Otherwise it is merely rhetoric, if we cannot take those hard steps and hard decisions that is the infrastructure groundwork for rationality and economic growth.

I am very glad and I am very grateful to His Excellency the President who has clearly shown the way that as far as this Government is concerned we place the highest emphasis on such investment covering not only the physical infrastructure development which is going on at an unparalleled level in this country, in all parts of the country, but we also need to upgrade the intellectual infrastructure and social infrastructure.

It is not very difficult for us to go forward because before us we have excellent examples emanating from the region. The growth in India and the growth in China are what I have in mind. Last week the IMF which makes it annual forecast of the global economy said that while there is a slowdown in growth India and China, these countries will still register very significant growth and will achieve the status of motor and global growth in the next decades. What is the basis of this phenomenal growth? Of course we cannot attributing for one single reason, but a primary reason, I think is to look at the ideas of the late Shri Jawaharlal Nehru. The Nehruvian vision was based on an open cultural mind, influenced from the brilliant thoughts that came down from Rabindranath Tagore. That vision imparted the notion that a society must be able to modernize itself, to link itself globally and also set itself the highest possible standards.

And in Sri Lanka in this turbulent time this has never been truer. In addition we need to take note of the hard truth that the whole world is undergoing transition. We have no better example than what is happening in Language training, IT, and the Scientific sectors of India and I think China is also catching up with the Indian model. So we in Sri Lanka we are in a very fortunate position. We are not talking of distant lands. And the time has come when we must address real problems. We are living the lifestyle of what Sunimal and Lalith referred to that as our people’s vision. Today the prices of oil has gone up to US$120 a barrel.

It is the highest level and for the first time there is a food crisis on a global scale. There is an economic downturn even in the Western economies. There are political crises in Middle East and elsewhere. In such a global environment it is very important that we, the decision makers in Sri Lanka, keep, to the use cricketing language, our eye on the ball. If we do not keep our eye on ball then I think the stumps will fly. So what we are trying to do today, is to look at the key areas in Sri Lankan growths. To look at our economy it is time that we go into one billion dollar return areas.

Our highest income comes from repatriation of funds by our workers abroad. 3.5 billion dollars are coming into this country by way of remittances; 2.4 billion dollars come into this country by way of our garment industry. Only last year we went onto a one billion dollar earning in the tea industry. These are the three main areas that bring us foreign exchanges. As strangely enough all three are associated with women. These are poor women in the Middle East, in the poor women in the garment industry, and the poor women in the plantations who are keeping all of us in the lifestyle that we are enjoy in the Galadari today.

So it is very urgent that we bring other categories into this one million dollar area. We can identify over five candidates, for this one million dollar category. The first category I can see is the tourism sector, which is now earning 500 million. I am giving round figures 500 million dollars a year, which can easily go up to one million dollars a year. When you think of global tourist industry you realize the huge market potential of India. The Indian Middle Class which is growing at 50 million a year.

I was happy to be the New Delhi, I think the High Commissioner was also there when we were complemented as the only country that has more than 100 flights per week to destination in India per week. We have touching 18 destinations for tourism, hence the groundwork has been laid for the industry to grow and achieve its goal of becoming a US$ 1 billion dollar industry.

The second one billion dollar industry is something that our Ministry can easily handle. We are currently earning 500 million US dollars from the Gem and Jewellery industry. President Rajapaksa has given every possible concession that the Gem and Jewellery industry would need to be profitable. And I have had an assurance from the gem and jewellery industry which was given at the public press conference, that thanks to these reforms we will very soon in the one billion dollar market bracket. Mind you this is not only gems but a very fast growing, diamond cutting and diamond processing industry which is in fact surpassing our income from gems. That’s the second billion-dollar sector.

The third and this is the thing that great important to us, is the IT sector BPO and affiliated and associated industries. It is now earning around US$400 million, but it can go up to a billion dollars. We have other areas such as Agro industries, pharmaceuticals, shipping which all can easily become one million dollar mega industries in this country, given our position as a hub.

When we need to ask this question as Planners and Ministers or as anybody interested in this country, why do we need t hit those minimum one billion dollars income for sectors in this country. This is because it is vital to provide a decent living standard to all of our people. After all giving a decent life to 20 million people is not a formidable task though we do think so and I must say our media also thinks that it is a superhuman task.

I was told by Mr. Chidambaram, the Finance Minister of India that every year no less than 20 million people in India who were having one meal a day are now within two meals a day. Every year 20 million are crossing that barrier. So our 20 million-strong population is a very manageable number to work on. If we can look at those infrastructure needs that we must necessarily provide if we are to turn across.

We are making a huge effort in the infrastructure needs. I must say never before, never before in the history of this country have we undertaken physical infrastructure development projects on the present scale. Look at the Southern Highway, the Colombo-Katunayake Highway, the Coal Power Plant Norochchollai, and the forthcoming Coal Power Plant in Sampur, to be built with Indian assistance.

Next week we are going to sign the Uma Oya project and the refinery project. I think also the Wirawila Project. We are negotiating the Colombo – Kandy Highway. The huge exponential growth in infrastructure investment is therefore very much on the cards. When I was Minister of Finance we were trying very hard to get one billion dollar foreign investment through Government to government means. Today with China, India and Iran we are going grows to 3 billion dollars of foreign infrastructure investment. These are very positive things that people never talk about. Last year 2007 was the highest ever-foreign direct investment to this country.

I am very happy to say as the Minister in charge of foreign direct investment we got US$750 million US dollars investment. Don’t thing that it is political rhetoric when I say that the party that stands for foreign direct investment was able to get only US$250 million investment in that year they were in power. Last year we got 3 times that amount. And I am surprised that people say that foreign investors are not rushing to Sri Lanka. We had to triple the investment in this country. So what is missing then? What is missing is that the human factor must be modernized. We have a huge investment in social welfare. Even before independence from the time of the State Councils. This country has made huge investments in education, and every year and I must thank my colleagues Hon. Susil Premjayantha for his efforts. Last year was I think was a record year. The Budget included the biggest budgetary allocation for education.

So that country has made a tremendous sacrifice by using enormous funds on investing in education. We have made a huge investment in health and social welfare. Surely the time has come when we must now make the best use of that. As Sunimal clearly pointed out, there is no contradiction whatsoever between the social welfare and our cultural policies and the need for widespread education as a life skills.

In fact there it is because we have a very good educational system that we can now piggyback on that to have English Language and IT skills coming into this country once again. But this project is a comparatively modest one, we want 60,000 people who can use English as a way of employment skills, as a way of getting jobs, which is a very urgent necessity in this country.

Today young people are growing up and they are seeking jobs, more sophisticated jobs so much so that the BBC recently aired a debate on whether schools to are really necessary in the present context. The gist of that program was that the traditional school is out. I don’t think we are contemplating that but we need to understand that traditional schools are out and skills are in. This shift of focus is the nature of the western world’s thinking on education. So what we are trying is to emphasize the skill sector.

I want to end up with basic statistics. Hon. Susil will confirm today about 250,000 students sit for the A levels. Of this number 130,000 qualified to enter the universities, under the basic criteria required.

We can accommodate only 17,000 students despite the superhuman effort this government has made. I think from 12,000 we have gone to 17,000 within 2 years. We have an education system which is made to put a person in to the university. The whole end results of that education system not performing even though the public schools system has put some people like Sunimal and me in the university. Most of our fellow students fell by the wayside under such a system. The only end result of the huge investments and annual budgetary investment in education are just 17,000 people..

I mean that if this is not a recipe for disaster, what is a recipe for disaster? So what are we to do about it?

So this initiative of HE the President is at attempt to answer that problem. Every year something like 225,000-230,000 young people every year are ballooning into a huge constitution.

These young people that we need to address their future needs. Hence we have to address to this problem in the serious way and we are trying to give at least 60,000 of that interim group options on which they can build their future. Capability to going into the economy, and that why I look on you all as very important change agents for this country and I think what we are seeing today something which you thought about many years ago. This is a very positive this very forward looking group and we many interactive that.

As Ministry of Investment Promotion I can tell you I have discuss with Mr. Sunimal Fernando and we will find the required funds in various ways, so that your enterprises can go ahead with their projects. This can be achieved through the banking system, through the Presidential Award system, through donor funds, through our own support of small and medium enterprises. So let us go on this part together. Thousands and thousands of people made large segment for their budget available for education help and social welfare.

We made this scarifies. We ate less. We did not have enough houses. But we allocated these funds towards education. People might say that this was wrong also because we had allocated not enough for growth. What are sacrificing like this is going to mean? And today we are doing something that will make those sacrifices meaningful. Make sure the education system is meaningful. Our skill development system must be meaningful.

For that and I am most grateful for HE the President particularly to Lalith and Sunimal were made this their life mission. And to all of you and tell you that we have that huge constituency. We must talk about this. I must pay tribute to Mr. Edwin Ariyadasa, the most brilliant Sinhalese modern thinker. I must tell you one thing before I end.

Every single major Sinhalese scholar in this country has said that we must teach English. -Every single one of them. We must have a bilingual society.

So is that’s not mean that if you promoting this Sinhalese or Tamil will disappear. No, They will never disappear. As long as Sinhala people live, that there will be a Sinhalese language. As long as Tamil people live, there will be a Tamil Language. But we need an extra language. That’s what I trying to do and wish you well and I tell you that the Cabinet of Ministers and HE the President are totally committed to this objective.

- Asian Tribune -

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