Ceylon Chamber of Commerce inducts Hans Wijayasuriya as its new Chairperson

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce inducted Hans Wijayasuriya as its new Chairperson during its 180th AGM on Friday.

Dr. Wijayasuriya, who is the Corporate Executive Vice President and Regional Chief Executive of Axiata Group Berhad, succeeded veteran banker Rajendra Theagarajah as the Ceylon Chamber’s Chairperson.

Additionally, Vish Govindasamy Group Managing Director of Sunshine Holdings was appointed as the Vice Chairperson, and Duminda Hulangamuwa Partner and Head of Tax Services of Ernst & Young was appointed as the Deputy Vice Chairperson for the year 2019 – 2020.

The following were elected to the Board of the Ceylon Chamber, in addition to the above office bearers.

Krishan Balendra, Chairperson, John Keells Holdings PLC; Husein Esufally, Chairperson, Hemas Holdings PLC; Pravir Samarasinghe, Director/Group CEO, Overseas Realty (Ceylon) Ltd. Shiromal Cooray, Chairperson and Managing Director, Jetwing Travels (Pvt) Ltd; Asoka Peiris, Director of Hatton National Bank PLC and Cargills PLC; and Dhara Wijayatilake, CEO of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

Address by Dr Hans Wijayasuriya
Chairperson, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
28th June 2019

180 Years – Reiteration of Continuity, Plurality & Sustainability

While being humbled on being inducted the Chairman of the Chamber, I stand firmly by the belief that the event of significance on an evening such as this, is not the induction of an individual or individuals, but the reiteration of the continuity and sustainability of this great institution which celebrated its 180th year of existence this year.

The sustainability of our chamber is routed in plurality – Our chamber is an institution not centered on a few people or organisations, but one made up of 686 member companies, 42 affiliate associations, and structured around 6 national agenda committees and 8 Sector Steering Committees supported by a 78 member strong secretariat.

The Chamber’s commitment to Plural stakeholder inclusion has over the years established an eco-system of influence and economic impact which spans the internal and external dimensions of our economy and has nurtured interlinkages between Private Enterprise, Government, non-Government institutions and Society at large.

Occasions such as this evening also point us in the direction of reflecting on and indeed recommitting to the Vision and Mission of this great institution.

The Vision and Mission of the Chamber places on us the onus of being a driving force in National Economic Development and Social Advancement, within a framework of Sustainable Social Equity. We are also called upon to be the clarion voice of the private sector – a voice which is non-partisan, and which is raised solely in the national interest.

Important Juncture in Sri Lanka’s Economic, Social & Political Trajectory

Today we stand at an important juncture of our nation’s economic, and should I add social and political trajectory. While I use an innocuous word such as “important” to describe the juncture we are at, a poll around this room and indeed the business community at large is likely to throw up a wide spectrum of adjectives including those pointing to uncertainty and even despondence – overall a predominance of negativity and retraction rather than positivism, hope and determination.

Our concern for our nation’s economy, and therefore the long-term well-being of our people are not unfounded and are reflective of economic performance realities. We are today a 90Bn dollar economy – when placed within a set of 10 comparable regional peers, comprising of all SAARC nations plus Indonesia and Malaysia from ASEAN, our economy is ranked the 4th smallest in absolute terms.

We can be proud however of the fact that we hold a 3rd rank in terms of per-capita GDP. In this respect we are also the highest ranked within SAARC.  Of concern however, is that our growth rate of 3.7% is the lowest – that is 10th ranked in this same 10 country set. It is hence the going forward trajectory we need to be concerned with especially in a frame relative to our regional peers.

Our positioning relative to peers also throws the headlights on national competitiveness and the question whether we as a private sector have focused sufficiently on building competitive advantage as a pathway to growth.

Last but most significantly, today our nation is threatened by the emergence of the sinister clouds of extremism and radicalization which if unabated will fracture the unity and collective momentum of Sri Lanka’s economy.

The Economy is what Business Makes of it – Positivism vs Despondence

The future of our economy as well as our nation at large will be what we make of it. We are born to a nation blessed with world class talent. We have in our midst Large, Medium and Small Enterprises who in their own right, are global, regional and domestic champions – a private sector which has collectively weathered many waves of economic, political and external turmoil over the past 3 decades and which has on all occasions bounced back to a trajectory of growth creating a foundation for peace and harmony in its wake.

In contrast with resilience, the sentiment of despondence instills myopia in vision and stunts creativity – a counterproductive vortex which will take us deeper in to mediocre economic performance.

The call of the hour is therefore to have no forbearance for despondence. If we are truly the engine of growth of the Sri Lankan economy– we need to be resolute in our belief that as a collective, we have the capacity to re-mobilise a growth trajectory at least on par with our regional peers.

The Call for Economic Resurgence

Each action we take individually may admittedly be a small step of faith as opposed to a giant leap – but collectively we will make strides – it is hence imperative to catalyse  a wave of Economic Resurgence – Resurgence which envisions the return to growth rates of 7-8% within the next 5 Years – Resurgence which also places us in a leading position in terms of growth, competitiveness and social development indices relative to our regional peers.

Today, 17 committees within the chamber eco-system are working on bringing together a Private Sector lead action plan towards reaching a 140 Bn Dollar economy combined with 7% growth rates and regionally benchmarked social development indices by the year 2025. In line with the vision of the chamber, our aspirations for economic and social advancement will be indelibly anchored on the fundamental of social equity.

Leading the resurgence as opposed to hoping for brighter externalities is the mindset change the private sector will need to undertake in these times of uncertainty.

National Unity & Harmony as a Priority

We must also lead the way in epitomizing and protecting national unity and harmony. The private sector – large and small have the unique potential to play an exemplar role in espousing the undisputed sensibility of securing national harmony as a fundamental –  – leaving no room for the embers of irrationality and opportunism to disrupt our journey.

We are honored to have with us this evening Her Excellency Robina Marks, who will share with us, learnings from South Africa including the role played by the private sector in building national harmony over the past decades.

Economic Disparity – the Root to all Problems?

It is indeed possible to seek refuge in a view that the fracturing of the political and social environment is beyond the control of the private sector. But do we not also subscribe to the common wisdom that the “root of all problems” lies with economic fundamentals – either in the form of disparity or distribution.

Do we not also simultaneously pride ourselves in being the driving force of the economy. Herein we must see a paradox and therefore a calling on us, as drivers of the economy, to seek out and eradicate the economic and social inequity which fundamentally underlie the incidences of instability in our external environment.

We need to be resolute in our commitment to be leaders of the solution than take refuge in being part of the problem.

Leaders create certainty for followers to build on. This opportunity to create our own certainty starts with big business and percolates down to micro enterprises which form the nucleus of social and economic development at provincial, district and village strata.

Indeed, Srilankabhimani Dr Ariyaratne may opine that it is the village economy which is the catalyst of certainty – permeating positive energy bottom up rather than top down. Dr Ariyaratne, as we all know has invested well over 5 decades in building a grass root empowerment and welfare model with the village as the nucleus. We look forward to learning from him as to how business large and small can play a more impactful role in the elimination of asymmetries which fracture social equity and retard economic resurgence.

The Emerging Era of Exponential Change

As we move forward in to the 2020-25 period, we are no doubt entering an era of exponential change – a period during which we will see quantum transformation in the foundations of global competitiveness and a phenomenal opportunity for smaller and agile nations.

The capturing of this opportunity would however need us to exploit with keen awareness, the mega trends, realities and tools of this emerging age. There are 4 transformational trends which I believe will provide us a springboard to leapfrog

First, the ethos of Inclusion and the thesis of Inclusive Capitalism. Second, the mega trends around the 4thIndustrial Revolution. Third, the power of eco-systems, and fourth the acceleration of pervasive Globalisation

Inclusive Capitalism

Returning to the FIRST of these mega trends, Inclusive Capitalism is a thesis which negates the contradiction between Capital growth motives and Social Development outcomes.

Growth models which ARE Inclusive would seek to ensure that the economic impact of products, services, employment and secondary and tertiary multipliers are relevant, available and affordable to as many people and communities as possible.

Through this approach, the seemingly conflicting objectives of Capital growth versus Outreach or in Sri Lankan context “going beyond the western province”, as well as Capital Growth versus Social and Environmental Contribution are no longer compartmentalized.  They are now integrated within a single-minded ethos of growing business but doing so with an objective of delivering an impact which is as plural as possible.

Deshamanya Mahesh Amalean founded and chairs a Sri Lankan organization which has delivered economic impact to every province of this country and has simultaneously established itself as a global champion – we look forward to learn from Deshamanya Amalean whether being unfaced by uncertainty, erasing despondence from his corporate ethos and applying the principal of inclusive impact, proved to be pivotal in creating a business that is globally competitive.

Inclusion is not a business model born out of Philanthropy … nor is it the pathway to mediocrity – it is indeed – albeit not perfectly so, the model which underlies the richest organisations on this planet – the internet giants of today have by design or accident capitalized on the “opportunity” of inclusion – and in breaking down legacy barriers have unleashed value at global scale.

The 4th Industrial Revolution

THE SECOND Megatrend –  the 4th Industrial Revolution or 4th IR for short – I have consistently believed in the power of technology to deliver a more equal nation – that is to bridge asymmetries in opportunity, to eliminate disparities in the access to basic human rights such as information, education and health – and in cumulation the opportunity to flatten the rich-poor gradient across communities, societies, businesses and ultimately nations.

I also believe that the plurality so established accelerates the creation of economic wealth. I believe it is by no means a zero-sum game – that in fact everyone is a winner in a more equal world

The 4th IR is centered on the democratization and exponential broadening of the affordability and applicability of technologies such as Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Internet of Things and a myriad of technologies including augmented reality and cryogenics bringing together biological and physical spheres.

I believe that the 4th IR if applied with an inclusive mindset provides an exciting platform for the reduction in disparity and inequality – the installation of a modern rendition of social equity. An opportunity for smaller nations to catch up with the legacy dominions and likewise for single country businesses to reach out and be competitive players in global ecosystems.

Ecosystems & Pervasive Globalisation

Which brings us to the THIRD and FOURTH Megatrends – those of Ecosystems and pervasive Globalisation – they both ride on the outcomes of the third and fourth industrial revolutions – revolutions in connectivity, digitisation and automation not only of physical processes but also of knowledge and learning.

Going forward, competitiveness of individuals, businesses and nations would depend not only on the strengths and capabilities of the individual or monolithic business but on the power and competitiveness of the physical and virtual eco-systems of which they are a part.

Thinking which is Inclusive, as well as eco-system based, in combine with IR 4 technologies will then enable Pervasive Globalisation. Today’s technological platforms if deployed inclusively enable true globalization of every possible interaction or transaction we can think of. Barriers of language, distance and subject or individual specific information domains would be rendered irrelevant.

An Era of the Collective – the Role of the Chamber

In summary we are entering an era where the collective is clearly more powerful than the single. An era where the large cannot flourish without the small and it is always more profitable to include rather than exclude.

It is an era where a collective and non-partisan, nation minded and context focused organization such as our Chamber has a very important role to play. It also represents a calling for us to align and exploit these mega trends in the interest of economic and social advancement based on the fundamental of social equity.

The Chamber will continue to bring together the energy and aspirations of the private sector in articulating our collective vision for the country’s economy. The Chamber will also enable eco-system linkages across the full spectrum of the economic pyramid, as well as across industry sectors and provide a platform for alignment, dialogue and collaboration with the government.

From Government we will seek enablement – a call for constructive policy frameworks which are designed to enable growth. We will also continue to seek transparency and consistency. We will assume as a fundamental deliverable of government, the fostering of national harmony and the maintenance of law and order.

The “Ask” from Government

We will also seek from Government the setting and execution of progressive fiscal and monetary policies – the confidence espoused by the global debt market in the recent dollar bond issuance is indicative of the positive role Government continues to play in this regard.

While continuing to applaud those institutions and individuals within the public sector who play a pivotal and sacrificial role in advancing our nation, we will also call for the installation of a meritocracy and the eradication of corruption at a fundamental and structural level. Here we refer not just to the direct leakage of Rupees and Cents but also the cost of bad decisions and even inaction which are motivated by factors other than the national interest.

We are confident that Private sector positivism in combine with a constructive and enabling role of government and a renewed focus on inclusive development, can rapidly transform the deficits in business confidence locally, as well as globally among foreign direct investors – in combine setting a fresh trajectory for economic growth in the years ahead

A “New System” – BE the Change We Dream of

As we look forward to the years ahead, we dream of a “new system” – we identify the enshrining of the principles of integrity, unity, equality and an underlying meritocracy as the foundations of creating such a “new system”.

I believe we all need to be committed to BE the change we dream of

integrity and the eradication of corruption should start from within the private sector – let us set standards which are uncompromisable.

If we seek a meritocracy and a dilution of the influence of political patronage – let us create growth and opportunity for people across all parts of this country so that there is no place for political patronage.

If we recognize the importance of equality and the eradication of disparity as a foundation for peace and harmony – lets us pledge our efforts towards a establishing a more equal and inclusive economy.

If we so walk the talk – I believe we will succeed in driving a resurgence not only of the economy but also of a new social order and meritocracy which will be a benchmark in the region.

I thank you for your patience this evening and for bestowing on the newly elected committee, board and myself, your trust and confidence to guide our chamber in to the year ahead. It is our ambition to build on the foundational work of our predecessors, to sharpen the effectiveness of the chamber and to enhance our delivery to members and the nation at large.

Envision and Create a Bright Future

I sincerely believe the future can be bright – it is for us to shine the beacon with collective energy and to do so with singular focus and positivism. It is for us to envision with clarity the facets of the future we wish to create, and to BE the change we want to see.

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