July 30, Colombo: Sri Lanka has reached an era where rapid transformation is taking place to become a true middle-income nation and the massive investments the country has made so far, must now be utilized more effectively to generate greater economic benefits to all people, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.
Participating as the chief guest in the 175th anniversary celebration of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce held in Colombo Tuesday, the President said the country is already seeing that transformation, with higher investment, better facilities and a more skilled work force and reminded that there is still a lot more work to be done.
He said Sri Lanka has reached its present level of development and success as a result of the government's long-term vision, as well as the tremendous sacrifices and efforts of millions of island's people, over the past several years.
Speaking of the country's high economic growth which has been sustained around 7.5 percent for the last five years, the President said Sri Lanka has achieved a sustainable economic growth with the government's massive development move efforts and the long term vision.
The International Monetary Fund said Sri Lanka's economic growth has been one of the fastest among Asia's developing economies in recent years.
The President highlighted that in 2005, after 56 years of independence, the GDP was only US$ 24 billion and per capita income was a mere US$ 1,241.
Twenty years ago, only 46 percent of people had electricity and the infrastructure was of a very low level. Inflation was an average of nearly 12 per cent per year, and climbing and foreign reserves were only sufficient for about 6 weeks of imports. Unemployment was about 7 percent and poverty was over 15 percent. The debt level was nearly 91 percent of the GDP.
"All in all, it was a gloomy picture," he said.
"We have now established the longest-ever period, of stable and low inflation in our post-liberalization history; a stable exchange rate; decreasing debt ratios; shrinking fiscal deficits; and a large number of new and exciting business opportunities through our five-hub strategy," the President noted.
Commenting on the rationale of the massive development effort the government launched over the past several years, President Rajapaksa said the massive infrastructure development, building ports and airports, which had been criticized by some quarters, were aimed to benefit the unborn generation in the future.
"When we built ports, airports, highways, roads, and power plants, we were not thinking only about you and your children, but also about the unborn generations of all Sri Lankans," he said.
"When we took firm measures, to steer our economic macro-fundamentals to healthy levels, we were not only thinking of making it easier for you to do business now, but also about making our economic growth sustainable, inclusive and long lasting," he told the Chamber.
"In other words, we always took a very long-term view of issues, and did not focus merely the immediate and short-term time horizon," the President remarked.
"The outstanding successes that our country has been able to achieve over the past several years is a result of the collective efforts of the Government and the private sector. The private sector that I am talking of, ranges from the top Chairman of your largest corporate, to the simple farmer or fisherman in our most rural village. Let us realize that each one of them has played their role in realizing today's status of our economy. In the same way, each one will need to play an even a more enhanced role in creating the new future, we are designing for ourselves.
The President commended the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce for the vital contribution it has made to the country's economy and thanked the members, past and present, who have been in the forefront in guiding the destinies of the private sector which has helped Sri Lanak to reach its present level.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, economist Dr. Harsha De Silva, Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber Suresh Shah, Governor of Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal, and many foreign delegates were also present at the event.
(Photos by Nalin Hewapathirana)