Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: Strong and Stable Leadership
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has always stood firm on his beliefs. He is a politician that has always respected the other. He has maintained a merit based approach in his party as well as the Government that has meant that everyone has to perform. It is in recognition of his strength as a statesman that we invited him as our Guest of Honour since 2011 for the Business Today awards while he was the Leader of the Opposition and later as our honoured Chief Guest. Everyone looks forward to his speech.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a strong leader, with a depth of experience. As a statesman and politician of a calibre that is rare today we have always respected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and we will continue to do so. It is expected that with the Government's new economic policy and direction the country will take-off in the near future.
Sri Lanka must become a highly competitive economy - Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
Venerable members of the Sangha, honourable ministers, Mr and Mrs Parthipan, winners of the awards, distinguished guests and friends.
My good friend Harry Jayawardena, I call him a friend because he used to speak to me during the dark days, he forgot one thing. J R Jayewardene's favourite song was the Frank Sinatra number "I did it my way". One person whose advice I valued was Narasimha Rao, the Indian Prime Minister whom I knew when both of us were handling education. He told me, "If I asked the private sector I could not have done the reforms. My back was against the wall but I did it and India prospered". So sometimes you have to act on your own and your convictions. I don't know whether I am doing my way, it is now our way. Many people have said recently that the Government is in trouble, I must say that the President and I are determined that we will be back for five years. We first ensured political stability. That will carry on. What is the advantage? By next election maybe we will go our separate ways, but we will be a developed country where despite who wins the basic policy will not change because we are working together. We have no intention of parting ways, but they say that your opponents are on the other side and your enemies are on this side. Now we have got into bed with our opponents, which is sometimes much easier. And I say again that it is "our way" because economic policies are no longer my sole decision. We have what is called the CCEM, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management, every Wednesday and spend hours, my good friend Nimal Siripala De Silva leads the SLFP side on that. It is a free discussion of views and they do represent the different voices of the Government and the private sector. But this is important. This is on political stability. We are working on macroeconomic stability with the IMF and with the others because we want to make a change in our economy as far reaching or as more than J R Jayewardene did.
And I say again that it is “our way”, because economic policies are no longer my sole decision. We have what is called the CCEM, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management. It is a free discussion of views and they do represent the different voices of the Government and the private sector...
The market economy must make us a highly competitive economy. We should not measure ourselves by South Asian standards. We will never succeed because we are leading. We must measure ourselves by ASEAN standards and that is going to be our benchmark in the coming few years. Our market will no longer be just 22 million, by mid next year we will give you three billion, when four FTAs are signed and the GSP plus is brought in. That is what we assure you. Just as much as we get access to other markets gradually we have to give access to our markets but gradually in order for us to be competitive. Be competitive, go out and expand. And one of these days the TOP 30 will be judged not on what they did in the Sri Lankan market, but what they have done outside. Both will have to be taken in. This is the economy that we want to create, to go out there and that is why we encourage private enterprise, big and small to take part in it. We are raising 12 billion rupees to make money available for the small and medium enterprises. A fair number of incentives (will be given) for private investors and foreign investors. But above all this there is one big venture that the Government is going to launch, a joint venture that will be with Government, it will be a public - private partnership, it will be with the Government, the private sector, big and small, the workers, the farmers and the service employees. Let's go down the road that we all become stakeholders, let us succeed. We want you to join with us and create new markets. Because, this market of three billion people, we will expand it to another billion. We will make us the hub of the Indian Ocean. It will be very competitive, which means logistics will become a big business. I have seen a number of Sri Lankan firms alongwith foreign firms applying for the East Terminals. That is good, you have confidence. We cannot forget our manufacturing sector, but we cannot pay wages of a Low-Income economy in a Middle-Income economy. We have to change and our industrial levels must also increase as we industrialise. Our service sectors, especially tourism, there are many more opportunities that you see but I don't see. Digital economy, all that is waiting for you, waiting for us. Let us work together. What are we giving you? The infrastructure that we give you will be, one is the South-West corridor, because that is becoming the fashion. You get the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. So we have this corridor with two harbours and two airports. Starting from Kandy, which should be expanded with the assistance of the Japanese, coming down into Wayamba (North Western) not merely the Central Expressway, which will later on go to Dambulla. There are some good tourist projects. When Iranawila is handed back by VOA we will call for an expression of interest for a golf course and the largest property development, just within 45 minutes from the Katunayake Airport. You heard so much of the megapolis, I will not go over it again except to say that we are working on the financial city as an off-shore financial centre, which some of you I hope will take part in. 600 acres, a separate jurisdiction. There will be development of infrastructure in the industrial estates in Wayamba, Divulapitiya, Kalutara, Avissawella, Eheliyagoda. The highway will also be extended to Ratnapura to Pelmedulla and the Southern Development where you will find Galle and passing Matara for service industries, for high value tourism and Hambantota, which will be again industrialised.
We must measure ourselves by ASEAN standards and that is going to be our benchmark in the coming few years. Our market will no longer be just 22 million, by mid next year we will give you three billion, when four FTAs are signed and the GSP plus is brought in..
On the other side, the second stage would be the North-East corridor around the Trincomalee harbour and the economic area. The potential for tourism is limitless. Develop the Higurakgoda airport as a regional airport, Malwathu Oya reservoirs, development of agriculture and the President's own programme ‘Pibidenu Polonnaruwa'. That is just the beginning. This is what we are aiming for.
... Firstly, no one is selling the Port. I cannot sell the port, the land is there and we are leasing it out to a PPP (Public-Private Partnership). What have we got? A harbour for which we have to start paying the interest and servicing the debt of 1.3 billion US dollars and the airport, as the honourable minister will say. Well, one way we can do is increase taxes. We can double the taxes on alcohol, we can increase the corporate taxes and income tax. We have a white elephant, that's what it is. We are now turning it into productive use. The Minister of Shipping, the Minister of Aviation and Minister of Southern Development; what are we doing? We are giving a majority of shares to China Merchants in return for 1.1 billion dollars. Now, rather than make to a balance of payment, when the fund managers are taking the money out, as interest rates will go in US. And why because you need volume in a harbour. Why should anyone come? We are negotiating on the airport. Already there are offers on a Chinese refinery and another one from Arabia and America. The Chinese one they say will cost us two billion. Am I to reject it? A dockyard to repair at least a minimum of 60 ships a year going on to 100; an LNG plant that will provide power, cement plants; basically over three billion dollars. Today we heard that there may be a second cement plant and whether we can accommodate it. And 15,000 acres where the Chinese require industrial estates in the Thai style, not talking about what we are going to do. We need eight billion dollars worth of investment that brings in something. Am I to give it up? People are asking today where I am going to find the 15,000 acres. I say we have over five million acres in the area that we are talking about, excluding Yala not only Bundala. The land has been identified by the Ministry of Southern Development. The surveyor general is surveying the Hambantota land because the Chinese team will come in early December and then the Monaragala lands, Matara and even Embilipitiya are on stand-by. So let's use it to industrialise the South to a large extent and then we will be signing the agreement with the Singaporeans, Surbana Jurong for the planning out of Trincomalee. India and Japan are also quite interested. We do not have money to develop either Hambantota or Trincomalee. If we get foreign investors and do it, am I to take it or reject it. That is when you find development of also the beaches, agriculture and IT.
We do not have money to develop either Hambantota or Trincomalee. If we get foreign investors and do it, am I to take it or reject it. That is where you find development...
... I first introduced computers to the Ministry of Education. We had a rough curricula and we developed it. Are we going to have computers, tablets, and laptops only for the rich? Or are we giving it so that everyone has IT knowledge and you have an IT skilled labour force... We have kept aside addition to the monies we are giving for technical training. There is four billion rupees kept aside in a separate fund to fund training with the private sector to pay for allowances, two of your members of the private sector are working on some of the programmes, one is Mr Ken Balendra who is heading a team looking at Public Private training programmes, other is Dinesh Weerakkody who has got us assistance from abroad to identify areas. So we want you to come in, we will provide the money, the buildings and we will work together to provide jobs for young people. A future for them. We start with four billion rupees, if we can spend more we will spend more.
We are about to start a very large technical training institute in the Hambantota and Matara area with one to just cater to the industrialization in Hambantota. We need much more. We have to start training. That is why we are providing, a package of incentives for some of you who are worried what will happen to us when the market liberalises gradually. We are giving a trade adjustment package, which will include capital allowances. For others, a low tax regime for direct investment, foreign or local and capital allowances. Unfortunately, some members of the private sector who are talking today have confused depreciation and capital allowances. I would like to remind you again depreciation is what you would write-off against your profits, under section 25 of the Act. Capital allowances are what you pay against your taxes under assessable and taxable income under section 33 and 34, if I am not mistaken. So that is the difference. But we have talked with you and we have decided that the Minister of Finance and Minister of Development Strategy will produce a comprehensive note on all the tax incentives available. Areas like Jaffna, we are giving double the allowances to get in quickly. We decided today that we will prohibit the transfer of approvals, permits whether it is BOI, Tourist Board or UDA approvals, because we have a good business of selling our approvals. We give it in your name about six months start work and you will not be able to transfer it. You come ready and work and we are setting up a single window for appearances working on two weeks. We are setting up the committee now and the legislation will follow after the development of the Investments (Special Provisions) Law. We are working on the incentives we have to give.
I plan to work together with you all so I will be calling up, starting from tomorrow, the private sector. But I also have a policy, nothing for nothing. You invest the money and I will work with you.
But what else are we aiming at? Certainly we want to expand employment and give the people higher incomes, improve productivity, increase competitiveness and go for growth. The Central Bank says six per cent next year, but I want to push for seven per cent because then by 2025 we can double the GDP and double the income. Then again in another eight years we can double it again. We will become a high income country and that is what we are doing.
At the same time, we will keep our attention on the rural economy to stabilise it and modernise it. This is what we are planning. And I plan to work together with you all so I will be calling up, starting from tomorrow, the private sector. But I also have a policy, nothing for nothing. You invest the money and I will work with you. Correct? We have to create jobs and as you invest I have to ask you, ease of doing business some of you will take part in those committees and report to us, how to promote investment, how promote the different sectors, all that is there. And I will talk to you all and decide what we have to do and go ahead. The work has started and this is a golden opportunity for our country to expand in this political stability, which you will not get after the end of these five years. That is the one that will make us go forward. It is a make or break time for us and I hope to see the TOP 30 who have not already invested to start investing. We will call you up and by the end of next year we will report to Parliament who has invested. Let the people judge. We will also get foreign investment but we want all of you. We want Sri Lankan players and there may be new people who will come that we do not see here, just as much that some of you were not there 10-15 years ago. That is competition and that is how you have to go ahead. And at the end of the day you will have a drink and Harry will benefit. Thank you.