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Full text of the speech by His Excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2020 on December 01, 2020 

  • Shrimathi Nirmala Sitharaman, Honourable Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs of the Republic of India
  • Ajith Nivard Cabraal, State Minister of Money, Capital Markets & State Enterprise Reforms
  • Hans Wijayasuriya, Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
  • Distinguished Invitees
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to address you this morning at the inaugural session of the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2020. I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to Shrimathi Nirmala Sitharaman, Honourable Minister of Finance & Corporate Affairs of the Republic of India for gracing this session as its Keynote Speaker.

This year, with the prevailing global pandemic, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has taken the commendable step of hosting this Summit on a virtual platform.

During the past six weeks, the Government has focused intensively on containing the threat posed by the second wave of the virus. However, unlike in the early stages of the pandemic, a lot more is known about it now. This allows us to better balance the twin imperatives of containing the virus on the one hand and ensuring continued economic activity on the other. We must all adapt to this new normal.

In some ways, this new normal has had beneficial consequences. It has forced the adoption of many new work practices. Working from home has been normalised for most knowledge workers. Offices where the physical presence of staff remains necessary are devising means to improve efficiency so that work can be carried out even by a skeletal staff. Innovative technology driven solutions have been adopted to solve logistical problems. Consumers have become more familiar with using online platforms for day-to-day activities, whether in accessing financial services or for shopping.

Such changes can potentially transform how economies operate even after this pandemic is a thing of the past. If our institutions are agile and adapt quickly, we will see gains in productivity resulting from these changes.

I therefore strongly encourage the development of new business models, adoption of new technologies and platforms, and improvement of infrastructure needed to support this productivity enhancing transformation. Investment is also needed in human resource development to enable our workers to make the most of these changes.

It must be admitted, however, that some Government institutions may lag behind in this regard at the moment. This is due to legacy problems including lack of infrastructure, process engineering, and training. Changing this is one of my key priorities.

The very recent establishment of a separate Ministry of Technology under my direct purview is an important step in our overall drive towards digitization. Fostering the creation of a “Technology Based Society” that improves services available to citizens whilst enabling our industries to compete globally is a key pillar of the Vision I articulated before my election as President.

By converging four prominent technologies—social, mobile, analytics, and cloud—we have the potential to transform the way governance works. The recent introduction of the website to ease COVID19 contact tracing is a case in point.

More broadly, the fostering of citizen-centric digital governance will ensure that services such as obtaining National Identity Cards, Passports, Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Driving Licenses, Land Deeds etc., is made faster and more convenient to the public.

The digitisation of the National Persons’ Registry in particular will enable a more streamlined and secure process for identity verification. This will in turn build the foundation for improved online service delivery in many other areas, including financial services and ecommerce. It will also greatly enhance the Government’s ability to effectively widen the tax base, which will be one of the key factors in improving our fiscal position.

A significant issue in Sri Lanka’s current economic context is the extremely high debt burden we are faced with. The large volume of pending debt repayments is a matter of concern. It is important to stress, however, that Sri Lanka has always met its debt obligations on time and in full, and that we will continue to do so.

Nevertheless, our overreliance on loans must come to an end. That is why the focus of the Government is on fostering investments. We must attract more Foreign Direct Investment and encourage more local investment to drive our economic growth. With this in view, the Government is bringing in new laws to fully protect investments. We are also committed to enhancing the ease of doing business in Sri Lanka so that returns on investment can be generated faster.

In this context, I must also note there have been several instances of projects, including some funded by foreign Governments, that have stalled due to various reasons. Such delays are deeply problematic because they inhibit the benefits of these projects from reaching the people. They also create a negative picture about the way the country operates.

The Government is keen on addressing such problems that discourage investors. I note with interest that our closest friend and partner India is in the process of setting up a digital unified single window clearance system so that access to regulators, policymakers and facilitators will all be available at one point for investors.

Such mechanisms improve the speed and ease of doing business. They also enhance transparency and reduce corruption. Mechanisms to monitor project implementation and enable intervention when required are also important.  Means of introducing these are being assessed.

The theme of this year’s Economic Summit—Roadmap for Take Off: Driving a People-Centric Economic Revival—is very appropriate for our present circumstances. Several key economic areas have been badly affected.

The worst hit has been Tourism, which usually contributes so much to our economy. Leaders in this industry together with the medical community must set out a plan to restart tourism as soon as possible. This plan must adhere to all health protocols and ensure tourists have an enjoyable stay in Sri Lanka while remaining isolated from the wider public. By imposing minimum lengths of stay and attracting high-spending tourists, it should maximise earnings from tourism so that the economy benefits overall.

Especially since the number of tourist arrivals may need to be limited early on, we should first reopen to the highest spending tourists we can attract. This can also reposition Sri Lanka as a destination for higher end tourists, resulting in higher revenue generated by the industry in the long term.

Despite its overall negative impact on the economy, the current situation has nonetheless provided an impetus for improvements in certain sectors including manufacturing. Increased global demand for Personal Protective Equipment has encouraged many of our strong, well established companies in the apparels sector to pivot to manufacturing these products.

I am in fact glad to note that Sri Lanka’s export revenue in 2020 overall has fared considerably better than the ongoing pandemic would have initially led us to anticipate. This is largely due to such commendable efforts by our private sector.

We must also understand that the disruption of global value chains and supply chains, and constraints on traditional manufacturing hubs, create space for countries like Sri Lanka to innovate, produce new things, and enter new markets.

Our rising entrepreneurs as well as established companies must seek out new opportunities, moving beyond their comfort zones to explore new ways to deploy their talent and capital. Instead of relying on our geostrategic position and traditional industries alone, we must seek new frontiers for our resources.

Many companies in Sri Lanka have proven their ability to tackle complex manufacturing in some industries. Their capital, management expertise, and well-trained, experienced human resources should be deployed in new areas.

With the Government as an enabler, the private sector must expand its role in the economy. It has often been pointed out that the private sector is the engine of growth. However, for the private sector to truly live up to this reputation, it must make bold investments that can potentially realise outstanding returns, instead of continually adopting conservative, low-risk strategies.

The Government will play its part to unleash the full potential of the private sector so that the interests of our people will be best served. The Budget for 2021 contains a range of initiatives designed with this in mind.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Poultry sectors will be exempted from income tax for the next five years. Improving productivity and enhancing earnings from these sectors is critical. The private sector must introduce new technologies that enable farmers to produce more, and to target lucrative new export markets.

Encouraging wider adoption of organic farming and traceability mechanisms will help increase the price of our produce internationally. Finding new markets and investing in better processing, storage, packaging, and transportation is important, together with increasing value addition through agricultural product processing.

Tax concessions will be granted for strategic investments larger than ten million US dollars in value for agricultural product processing, IT, dairy, fabric, tourism and export industries. Exports are being strongly encouraged through the removal of import taxes on required raw materials, machinery, and equipment used by direct and indirect exporters.

New investment into digital infrastructure is being strongly encouraged. Companies in the Information Technology space must make full use of these incentives to expand and seek new markets for Sri Lankan talent. Companies must also invest more in IT education and training.

Given the fast-changing nature of the industry and its high earnings potential, companies can gain enormous returns by training large numbers of young people in this field themselves, without over-relying on Government funded institutions for new recruits.

Vocational and technical education in general can benefit from much greater private sector investment, for which the Budget also provides incentives. The forced migration of education to digital platforms has shown that there are opportunities to be exploited in online education too. This is an area to which more attention can be paid by established companies as well as by Start Ups and individual entrepreneurs.

Small and Medium Enterprises and Start Ups are being encouraged through concessionary funding schemes and the establishment of a stronger Development Bank that should lend based on assessments of project viability instead of collateral.

Nascent domestic industries will be supported through cess that will be selectively imposed. Other initiatives including simplifying Customs Duty and related streamlining will facilitate functional economic improvements. A range of capital market incentives are also being introduced to encourage investment.

Setting the platform for a robust economic revival requires both the public sector and the private sector to work in partnership. We must ensure that all our initiatives in various sectors are guided by a shared central vision and driven by clear objectives and actionable plans. All initiatives undertaken by both the public and the private sector must contribute to uplifting our growth trajectory.

In this context, I am aware that the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has prepared an Economic Acceleration Framework with the participation of over 70 industry professionals for the consideration of the Government. I appreciate this initiative and look forward to perusing this document. Value generating proposals will certainly receive the Government’s serious attention.

I trust that over these two days, the speakers, panellists and the leading luminaries from the public and the private sector participating in this Summit will give considered thought to innovative ways and means of fostering a truly people-centric economic revival.

Together, we have the opportunity to make a transformative and beneficial difference to Sri Lanka’s future.

In concluding these remarks, I wish to reassure you of my great and sincere confidence that together, we shall.

Member of Parliament Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle has been appointed as the State Minister of Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention.

The new State Minister was sworn in before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat this evening (30).

State Ministry for Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention is a new portfolio.

Promoting and maintaining the highest standards of primary health care is one of the main objectives of the ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ Policy Statement.  President is of the view that the development and expansion of primary health care services is vital to ensure a high level of health care for the people, especially in rural areas.

With the spread of COVID-19 President decided that a policy and a practical mechanism should be put in place to preemptively identify and control the spread of pandemics.

The new Ministry was created to meet this goal.

Ms. Fernandopulle was previously the State Minister of Prison Reforms and Prisoners Rehabilitation.

The newly appointed Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa today at the Wijerama Residence, stated the Prime Minister’s office.

The 4th National Security Adviser (NSA) Level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation was hosted by Sri Lanka in Colombo on Saturday with the participation of India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, the Minister of Defence of the Maldives Ms. Mariya Didi and Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Kamal Gunaratne.

Mauritius and Seychelles were represented virtually at the Senior Officials’ level.

In view of COVID-19, the dialogue was conducted adhering to strict health guidelines using the ‘Air Bubble’ concept for the visiting delegations.

Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives launched the Trilateral NSA level meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation in 2011 and three meetings had been held so far. The last meeting was held in March 2014 in New Delhi. The past deliberations and outcomes have helped the three countries in improving close coordination in maritime security of the region. These were supplemented by Deputy NSA level meetings for sustained engagements and the implementation of the discussions at the NSA level meetings.


Recognizing the significance of the forum for promoting meaningful cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region on common issues pertaining to maritime security, the three countries took stock of the current maritime security environment in the region and discussed mutual cooperation in the areas of Maritime Domain Awareness, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, Joint Exercises, Capacity Building, Maritime Security and Threats, Marine Pollution, and Maritime Underwater Heritage.

They agreed to further strengthen cooperation in dealing with these challenges, to ensure peace and security in the region for common benefit.

The three countries also exchanged views on common security threats and agreed to broad base cooperation by expanding the scope to improve intelligence sharing and include issues like terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cyber security and the effect of climate change on maritime environment. The Heads of Delegations agreed to meet regularly to share, discuss and ensure timely implementation of decisions taken at the meeting. They also decided to hold Deputy NSA level working group meetings biannually for cooperation at operational level.

The National Security Advisor (NSA) of India Ajit Doval called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat on Saturday evening.

President Rajapaksa and the Indian Security Advisor engaged in a highly fruitful discussion aimed at further strengthening all forms of bilateral relations.

Indo-Lanka security cooperation, maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean region and infrastructure development in Sri Lanka were among the major topics discussed.

Both sides agreed that infrastructure development projects initiated with the assistance of India should be completed expeditiously.

Doval expressed India’s willingness to identify and invest in new fields that can contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic growth.

President Rajapaksa and Indian NSA Doval stressed the need to further consolidate mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation which is already at a very satisfactory level.

Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday.

Defence Minister Didi arrived in Sri Lanka for the 4th Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation Dialogue in Colombo.

The meeting took place on yesterday, with the participation of Vice Chief of Defence Force of the Maldives Brigadier General Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef, Maldivian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Omar Abdul Razzak, Defence Attaché for the Maldives in Sri Lanka Lieutenant Colonel Ismail Naseer, State Minister Ajith Nivard Kabraal and Secretary to Prime Minister Gamini Senarath, stated the Prime Minister’s office in a statement.

The World Bank’s new Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The World Bank’s new Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Faris Hadad-Zervos, completed his first visit to Sri Lanka yesterday. The purpose of his visit was to meet key policymakers and understand the country’s development priorities.

Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, this was the Country Director’s first visit to Sri Lanka in his new role. Hadad-Zervos was joined by Chiyo Kanda, the new Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka, based in Colombo.

“We appreciate the frank and productive conversations we had with government officials, members of the private sector and civil society and all those whom we met during our visits in Colombo and the Provinces. These gave us a growing understanding of the Sri Lankan sustainable development storyline and aspirations,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “The World Bank is a long-term partner for the people of Sri Lanka and is committed to help the country reach its full potential for the benefit of all its people.”

The new World Bank management team paid courtesy calls on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Cabinet and State Ministers, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Secretaries and senior officials associated with the current World Bank programme in Sri Lanka.

They also met with members of civil society from across the spectrum, private sector representatives, development partners as well as thought leaders to better understand Sri Lanka’s vast potential for sustainable growth.

The visits included the port and other facilities in the Hambantota district to observe infrastructure development in the south. At the government hospital-Halthota in Kalutara district, they learned about the government effort to improve primary health care, integrating screening and management of non-communicable diseases, and strengthening promotive and outreach services.


“The World Bank is mindful of the challenges the country is facing in this COVID-19 era but will also keep our eye on the opportunities for sustainable recovery. We will leverage our knowledge, technical and financial resources to support Sri Lanka to build back better in the post-COVID era for inclusive and resilient growth,” said Chiyo Kanda, World Bank Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka. “We are in the process of updating our Systematic Country Diagnostic to deepen our understanding and inform our next Country Partnership Framework that will define the World Bank Group’s engagements with Sri Lanka for the next 4-5 years.”

The Systematic Country Diagnostic is a thorough analysis, informed by consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, of the key challenges and opportunities in reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.

In response to the COVID pandemic, the World Bank leveraged the existing portfolio and repurposed a significant portion to support the Government’s effort to reduce the impact of the pandemic. Providing urgently needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), supporting vulnerable groups with temporary cash support, improving COVID-19 protection measures on public transport, facilitating tele-education for school children, and providing digital solutions to improve delivery of public services are among the emergency response activities already completed or ongoing. Discussions are under way to further adjust the programme to adapt to government’s priorities and emerging development needs.

The current World Bank portfolio in Sri Lanka consists of 19 ongoing projects, with a total commitment value of US$3.65 billion in a variety of sectors including transport, urban, agriculture, water, education and health.

The newly appointed Inspector General of Police (IGP) C.D. Wickramaratne called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, today (27).

Mr. Wickramaratne assumed duties as the 35th Inspector General of Police.

Joining the service as an apprentice Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1986, he is a graduate from the University of Colombo and General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University.

In addition, he holds a Post-Graduate Diploma from the University of Bradford, and a Diploma from Harvard University.

President Rajapaksa congratulated the new IGP and presented a memento to him.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa called on the newly appointed Chief Prelate of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya, Most Ven. Makulewe Wimala Nayaka Thera.

The President who visited the Vidyawasa Pirivena in Minioluwa, Mirigama where the Nayaka Thera resides, today (27) extended his best wishes to the newly appointed Prelate.

Appreciating the unparalleled service rendered by the Ramanna Maha Nikaya for the Sambuddha Sasanay and to the nation, President Rajapaksa said that he and the Government would extend their fullest support to continue this endevour.

The President also wished the prelate good health and a long life and signed the guest book with a special note. The Nayake Thero chanting Seth Pirith invoked blessings on President Rajapaksa.

The Anu Nayake of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya, Most Venerable Nedagamuwe Vijaya Maithri Thero, and several other members of the Maha Sangha and Member of Parliament Kokila Gunawardena were present at the occasion.

Indian National Security Adviser Ajith Doval called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa this afternoon.

Sri Lanka is to host the 4th National Security Adviser (NSA) Level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation between India, and the Maldives.


Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday stated that the government is committed to continue education even during the pandemic since it is a basic right of the children.

“There is uncertainty surrounding almost every aspect of the COVID-19 crisis. But taking it as a challenge, the Education Ministry in collaboration with relevant other authorities including health and transport has taken measures to ensure a safe education background for the children,” he said.

The Minister made this observation at a special media briefing held online at the Government Information Department.

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Consultant Community Physician Dr.Susie Perera yesterday stated that the preparations made to follow the health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus in schools are at a very satisfactory level.


Dr. Perera further stated that the risk of developing COVID clusters linked to schools is very low. She also said that and that there is a system in place at the school level to monitor the health facilities installed at schools.

She said parents should act responsibly in not sending a quarantined child to school and also desist from sending children to school if they have symptoms like flu, the common cold or a cough. She stressed the strong need to continue education and urged everyone to extend their support to control the COVID situation of the country.

A new Cabinet Minister and State Minister were sworn in before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential secretariat today. Accordingly the President’s Media Division stated Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara was sworn in as the Cabinet Minister for Public Security, in addition to his
current portfolio as State Minister of Provincial Councils & Local Government.
Meanwhile Chamal Rajapaksa was sworn in as State Minister of Defence, Home Affairs & Disaster Management, in addition to his Cabinet Ministry Portfolios.

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