I am indeed very happy that despite the many busy schedules I have at the moment, I have been able to participate, once again at this awards presentation of Business Today. Business Today we know is the leading business magazine of Sri Lanka and we have also just heard from Arun the rest of its credentials, some of which did not know. I would like to congratulate Mr. Mathi and all of the staff of Business Today for having contributed to its great success in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Today we hold this awards ceremony at a time when the economy is facing very serious challenges in our country. Global recession, the sudden increase of the price of oil, by two and a half times last year within a very short period, the excessive expenditures we had to make on the war last year, the severe drought that has begun to hit us in the last one month and the July 24 attack on the Katunayake Airport and its subsequent effects which the economy is still feeling. The Government stands as it has always, to take up these challenges, to find solutions together with all of you through the dialogue we have always maintained with the leaders of the business community and go forward. But I would be glossing over the problem if I do not express, that this is perhaps the most serious package of challenges the Sri Lankan economy has had to face in a long time. Some of it the result of our own making and the rest of it nor. The fact that it has all come together has caused a very grave problem for all of us. I also believe, on the other hand, that the Sri Lankan business community and all citizens do have the resolve, the grit and the determination to overcome this situation as we have in the past. But perhaps this time, we have to put our heads together more seriously and find solutions.
We have been able to alleviate some of the resulting problems of the July 24 attack, the increased insurance cover etc., but there is still much more to be done. Increasing and improving the security arrangements at the airport and the Colombo port and also further stepping up the arrangements that we have had in the last six years for the security of the Colombo City. This is a time when we all have to work together, bury many hatchets, and try to find solutions.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the country due to certain problems that have arisen for the majority parliamentary group, which is the Government, due to poor representation. I would like to assure all of you that as a responsible Government, we have looked very seriously at every possible solution to this situation, whether or not we like some of those solutions. We as a Government, have objectively attempted to bring together the various conflicting forces as much as we have brought nine political parties into the Government for the past seven years.
We are also in the process of trying to persuade the forces that are outside the Government to work together in order to solve the major challenges that our country faces at the moment. Of course these challenges are not of our making, d1e main one is the continuing war which we inherited already after 11 years of its commencement. We have clone much in order to end the war through negotiated settlements and we are continuing along that path doggedly. These are not processes that are easy. Stronger democracies, richer economies than ours such as the United Kingdom have a similar problem though of a lesser intensity, which has continued for over 50 years. I’m talking of the IRA problem. Efforts have been made by many UK governments but they also seem to be going in circles. I don’t have to mention the Palestine-Israel problem, which has lasted for over 50 years. The world’s most powerful countries, have tried to act as third parties to resolve this issue, however, it still remains unresolved though many positive strides have been taken.
This is not to say that we are expecting to go on for 50 or 70 years. We are more determined to end this, if possible before the end of the second decade. We are nearing it, it’s about 18 years since the conflict began and we will continue in our efforts in resolving this through mediation and facilitation of the Government of Norway. Whatever other encouragement that we in Sri Lanka could give, that all of you could give, to the process would of course always be welcome. As far as the political consensus among the democratic groups is concerned, you all know of a process which the Government began over two months ago and which took a more formal, official allure a few days ago, since the Government began talks between with the major Opposition party. It has not yielded a final and positive result. Many issues were agreed upon, but there are some thorny issues on which the discussions ended.
All I can tell you for the moment is that the Government’s stand is that, if we work together with any political side it should be on a common program which is for the betterment of the country. We said this two and a half months ago and we still say it. We have discussed those issues, firstly peace, secondly constitution and constitutional arrangements for resolving the ethnic problem, and electoral reforms. We are offering to abolish the Executive Presidency but we are now told the other side is not interested in it any more. However, we are insisting on it. Sacrifices don’t seem to be very welcome at the moment.
The discussions have stalled on the issue of positions, which have been asked for and finally agreed to by the Government. However certain other propositions which were made by us – having agreed to give in a lot – have been refused by the other side. We shall continue whenever possible, but we realize that the political uncertainty which has arisen from a lack of a clear majority in Parliament is not healthy for the country, politically and economically.
The present Government had a majority of 18 additional MPs in Parliament at the conclusion of the elections last year. Even if one counts the main Opposition party together with the three Tamil parties – which have not officially declared that they are working with the UNP – even with that, there was a majority of 18 which has now dwindled to five. We have a Government that has won 10 mandate in seven years, the last one being 10 months ago. This comprises – two Parliamenta1y elections, two Presidential elections, five sets of Provincial Council elections and one Local Government election at which the Government won over 80% of the Local Government bodies in 1997.
These are the performances of the Government in the backdrop of a bizarre Constitution for which a people’s mandate was never asked, and that is why this peculiar situation has arisen. If we had the electoral system similar to those of India, UK, or France, the present Government would have today, two thirds of the Members of Parliament since the Government won a little over two thirds of the electorates in the country in October 2000.
It is a Government such as this, that is being told it is weak 10 months after the electorate has voted them in with a 2/3rds majority. The President who with the people’s mandate, has won twice over, has offered to relinquish the Executive Presidency. The Government has offered to give the Premiership to a party that has lost 10 election in seven years, but still that party is not willing to compromise. But we shall continue undaunted to stabilize the political situation so that we and the country can benefit from the good work that we have done in the past seven years.
I would like to once again congratulate Business Today, for all the accolades and achievements you have obtained and also say thank you on behalf of all of us for organizing this awards ceremony which is very timely, I believe, in a country where we have a very serious dearth of efficient business managers. The recognition of efficiency in business management I believe, is extremely important, and we are grateful that Business Today is doing something that we should be doing, perhaps in a more independent fashion which is probably more efficient. Thank you very much and I would like to take this opportunity to wish Business Today all the best, to continue your successes and your good work. My Government wishes the Top 10 award winners and Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawala for the very special award he has been accorded, and of course our best wishes to all of you to continue your good work in building the Sri Lankan economy despite the difficulties that we are temporarily facing.
01. Chairman, Vivendra Lintotawela received the Award on behalf of John Keells Holdings
02. Ranjit Fernando, Director/General Manager, National Development Bank receiving the Award
03. Chairman, Crisantha Cooray received the Award on behalf of Hatton National Bank
04. Harris Premaratne, Acting Managing Director, received the Award on behalf of Commercial Bank
05. Managing Director, Harry Jayawardena received the Award on behalf of Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka
06. Kishu Gomes, Director, Caltex Lubricants Lanka, receiving the Award
07. Fred Combe, Managing Director/CEO, Ceylon Tobacco Company receiving the Award
08. Giuseppe Tarnero, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestle Lanka receiving the Award
09. Chairman/Chief Executive, Sunil Mendis received the Award on behalf of Hayleys
10. Director/General Manager and CEO, Nihal Fonseka received the Award on behalf of DFCC Bank
Business Today Top 10 Trophies and the Special Award of Recognition
Glenda and Mathi K. Parthipan welcoming President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
The President and the Minister of Information and Media, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa
Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawala, Chairman, Ceylinco Consolidated received a Special Award of Recognition for his invaluable contribution to the upliftment of the Private Sector and Society of Sri Lanka
Business Today Top 10 analysts, Dinesh Weerakkody, Keith Bernard and Shiron Gooneratne
Glenda and Mathi K Parthipan with the President
Sicille and Lalith Kotelawala with the President
President with the staff of Business Today