(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – The Sri Lanka Delegation, led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, engaged in high-level discussions with World Bank President Mr. Ajay Banga and other World Bank officials at the World Bank Headquarters (UNHQ) yesterday (18). The meeting cantered on a range of critical topics, including economic reforms, agriculture, tourism, and digitization.
President Wickremesinghe expressed gratitude for the vital financial support provided by the World Bank during challenging times, stating, “The money was available at least for the basics and that helped us tide through the most difficult months. Now it’s a matter of finalizing the debt restructuring and moving on from there.” He emphasized the need for fast and sustained economic growth.
Regarding economic sectors, President Wickremesinghe highlighted the immediate focus on tourism, food security and agricultural modernization.
“So now we are planning it and the first the total package of economic reforms that have to be done. We will not have this window of opportunity. Crisis gives you a window of opportunity and we will not have that again. So we will drive that as far as possible. And then focus immediately on the different sectors. We are starting with tourism, which is the lowest hanging fruit. Then, food security and agricultural modernization. Those two would be the ones that we start with. Thereafter, we will be going into the other areas, the traditional exports. Agriculture would mean modernization and the whole gamut of things.”
In the realm of education and technology, President Wickremesinghe expressed his desire for additional technological universities and renewable energy development, which would significantly impact the northern region of Sri Lanka. He also mentioned plans for a climate change university.
World Bank President Ajay Banga commended Sri Lanka’s commitment to reforms, emphasizing the importance of credibility in the country’s approach. He noted that the World Bank is actively involved in advisory work and encouraged Sri Lanka to rely on their support.
Mr. Ajay Banga also praised Sri Lanka’s focus on tourism, highlighting its job creation potential. He mentioned discussions about ports and trade and offered assistance in digitization, renewable energy and education. Mr. Banga also mentioned potential collaboration on power grid connectivity with India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
“These re topics we understand well. When I was in India we discussed the power interconnection idea and I was told that ADB is already working on this and we have connected up with ADB and if there is any way we could be helpful with India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, connecting up their power grids, it will be to your benefit in the short term and also once you produce more energy, for your long term as well. I know ADB is there working with you, but you should know we are there if you need us.”
President Wickremesinghe elaborated on the expansion of Colombo’s port and the benefits of transhipment, creating a significant cargo hub.
He discussed the potential for industrialization in South India and Sri Lanka’s plans to phase out certain subsidies while providing grants to universities and students.
The conversation further explored the significance of digitization, with Mr. Banga emphasizing transparency and trust-building through digitization of governance. He also suggested the adoption of a school system digitization model he witnessed in India.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ali Sabri highlighted the importance of agriculture in Sri Lanka’s workforce and the need for increased productivity. “Agriculture is high on the President’s agenda because 27% of the workforce is in agriculture but they only contribute 8.7% to the GDP. So we need to uplift that standard in terms of yield and productivity and value added manufacturing.”
President Wickremesinghe mentioned upcoming bills focused on women’s rights, gender equality and violence against women.
World Bank President Ajay Banga commended President Wickremesinghe’s vision, particularly his focus on job creation for the younger generation and improving quality of life. He assured the World Bank’s commitment to supporting these goals in alignment with Sri Lanka’s plans.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe also invited the World Bank President Mr. Ajay Banga to visit Sri Lanka to which he responded positively.
The meeting between President Wickremesinghe and World Bank President Banga underscored the importance of collaboration and reforms for Sri Lanka’s economic growth and development.