|Tuesday, 10 September 2002|
Meeting Point : Real contentment is based on sustainable growth -Chandra Embuldeniya
by Chandani Jayatilleke
Contentment for all through sustainable growth is Chandra Embuldeniya's dream about Sri Lanka. "The business community should try to fit into this model of economic development. Maximising profit is not the way to contribute to sustainable growth of the economy. We have actually not looked at real sustainable development in our economy in the past," he said.
While pursuing economic objectives to gain commercial benefits, business and industry should seriously consider social and environment factors.
"Development projects should focus on people's well-being. Projects should not be aimed at destruction of our environment," Embuldeniya said as he settled down for an interview with the Daily News on the sidelines of a major investment forum and an exhibition - INTRAD 2002 at the BMICH last Friday.INTRAD was organised by the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka headed by Embuldeniya.
"I am thrilled to see the success of the Intrad Exhibition," an elated Embuldeniya said. "Investors and buyers who visited the exhibition and investment forum were quite pleased with the arrangements we had made and they were happy with the range of products and services presented at the exhibition," he said.
"We had over 100 foreign investors from 12 countries including Australia, Canada, Pakistan, South Africa, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, Germany, Japan, Oman and the US. They were here on busy schedules. Most of the investors and buyers participated in the Investment Forum and one-to-one meetings. In addition, all exhibitors had received inquiries and orders for their products and services."
The inquiries were mostly reported for goods such as Ceylon tea, Ayurvedic herbal medicines, gems and jewellery, spices and wood products such as toys. There were buyers of tea - some came looking for particular brands of Ceylon tea, he said.
Compared with previous exhibitions, this year's event was better. "While previous exhibitions focused only trade, this exhibition targeted foreign direct investment and exports. Our economy depends heavily on foreign investments and in my thinking this was the best time to promote such investments to the country," he said.
Intrad 2002, being the first major exhibition and investment forum held in the country this year, was supported by Government institutions and other chambers. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Industries, Enterprise Development, Industrial Policy and Investment and Department of Commerce, Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Board of Investment, Sri Lanka Tea Board and Export Development extended their fullest support towards making this event a reality, Embuldeniya said.
"In Sri Lanka, development is going to be spearheaded by the private sector, but this does not mean that the public sector has no role. There should be investments in large-scale infrastructure development which should be funded by the private sector. This economic revolution will hopefully happen during the next few years," he said.
"Growth has also to be driven by investment from the private sector to produce high quality goods and services and to create value for consumers. Consumers are the most valuable assets and markets are the biggest opportunities. We should learn to read markets and understand their signals and transform these signals into quality products and services. Our private sector is quite capable of producing these results," Embuldeniya said.
Investment Forum overseas
On completion of the successful INTRAD, Embuldeniya hopes that such events would be held overseas to get a better response from investors.
"We have achieved our goals through this event. But, we have also realised that investor fora abroad would be even beneficial, considering the outcome of this event.
We are aware that the EDB is already organising such promotional activities with a few selected exporters. We have the capacity to present quality investment and export promotional activities for a select product range. To do so, we have to get organised and equipped with promotional tools such as literature, CDs etc. We need to look at customer needs and select the product range accordingly."
"Exporters must also learn from these events. The future of exports largely depends on specialisation and value addition. Therefore, exporters should put more effort to get their priorities right in the exercise of exports," he said. For Embuldeniya, INTRAD 2002 was an eye opener. While many colleagues discouraged him saying that the investor forum would not receive the anticipated response, he was determined to go ahead with what he had planned earlier. "The problem with our people is that they are disbelievers.
We should have faith and then try to achieve it. In other words, we have to follow our dreams to achieve success in everything.
People are talking about economic development. Everyone has ideas, but nobody is making an effort to implement them. This is a sad situation.".
"Many investors would say 'we'll wait and see'. But I say investors should see how their projects perform, should let their ideas work and do something for the benefit of people and the country. We must make use of opportunities."
"In our country, there are many people who have lands with water facilities in the outstations and are living in the city. They are not making any use of these properties nor do they give them to another person to start some venture due to greediness. This is not the right thing to do."
"This country has golden opportunities. Our older generations had told us if you throw a handful of grains you get acres of paddy. If you plant a seed you would get a tree. This is the kind of soil we have. Are we making the full potential of it? This is a point to ponder."
National list of investments
We need to get a national list of investment projects, describing the nature of the project, investment, ideal location, employment opportunities and security. We need to get this organised urgently. Such a list will definitely help promote investments in the country, particularly overseas investments. When we talk to foreign investors, we should have such information. If we have 10 good projects listed in this form, we can easily sell them abroad."
"Why do investors still wait? I would like to tell them that this is the right time to make investments. The investment climate is good enough to go ahead with any project," Embuldeniya said.
Hailing from Embuldeniya in Nugegoda, Chandra had his education at Nalanda College, Colombo. He entered the University of Peradeniya and obtained a BSc honours degree in Mathematics. After graduation, he took up a teaching assignment at the University as a tutor and later he was promoted Assistant Lecturer.
Embuldeniya was fortunate enough to savour a new experience in the North when he was invited to teach at the University of Jaffna when its Science Faculty was started in 1974. "I consider this as an honour bestowed upon me by Prof. Kanagasabapathy who was my teacher at Peradeniya. Recalling his experiences in Jaffna, Embuldeniya said living in the peninsula for an year was one of the most cherished memories in his professional life.
From Jaffna University, he joined the Survey Department as an Asst. Superintendent and then he joined the Agricultural Development Authority. "I had a very productive stint at the ADA working under two wonderful gentlemen Dr. Upali Nanayakkara and the late Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, who was the Chairman of the ADA during that time.
"Dr. Nanayakkara was a specialist in marketing and Wijeratne had a fantastic vision for the industry. Their insights made me a complete professional. While Wijeratne focussed on new export projects, Dr. Nanayakkara implemented an effective marketing plan. That was the secret of agricultural export growth during the time.
During his stint with the ADA, Embuldeniya got an opportunity to go to the US to study Economic Forecasting. "I even got the opportunity to sit with the Secretary to the US Department of Agriculture and learn how economic forecasting was done at that level," he said.
However, the major turning point in Embuldeniya's professional life came with an overseas assignment. A Dubai-based, US$ 1.5 billion aluminium company selected him as its Statistician/Economist. Owned by a Sheikh of Dubai and managed by a British company, this company even produced power, more than what Sri Lanka produced then. He also worked for the British Bank of the Middle East for two years before he decided to
"It was the time my children were growing up. I terribly missed Sri Lanka's culture and yearned to see them growing in the same culture I was brought up in. Moreover, I wanted to pay dividends to my country for what I was given by the country," the patriotic Sri Lankan said.
Back in Sri Lanka, Embuldeniya took up the General Manager's post at the Elephant Lite Corporation, battery manufacturers. The company was in bad shape and had run into financial difficulties as a result of bad management. The company was under the Hatton National Bank. The HNB wanted to improve its financial situation and sell it.
"On the first day when I went to the factory I was not allowed to go in as the company had just changed the management and ownership. Later I somehow managed to increase its productivity and efficiency level by using good management practices. I even empowered the workers in order to get the maximum support from them," Embuldeniya said.
Having achieved his target at Elephant Lite, he joined the Informatics Group as its Chief Executive under the chairmanship of Gamini Wickramasinghe.
"I got involved in IT and Agricultural projects launched by the company. My only regret in professional life is that we were unable to set up the IT Graduate School in Malambe as planned due to bureaucratic procedures. But I still hope that Informatics will pursue this project in the future although I am not in the Group on a full-time basis now," he said. Embuldeniya is currently involved in many government and private sector projects as a committee member and a consultant. "But, my positions are honorary posts and I am not engaged in any income earning activity at present."
A father of a son and daughter who are graduates of the Oxford University and Warwick University, Embuldeniya spends a peaceful life with his wife who is a teacher while looking forward to contributing his best to the growth of sustainable development of the country's economy.
Produced by Lake House