Rare appearance by Paski at Colombo forum
By Bandula Sirimanna
Sri Lanka’s private sector progress has been hampered by lack of coordination between state agencies, delay in decision-making by top officials and difficulty in arriving at a consensus on business matters by the two ruling political parties, a powerful advisor of the Government has said.
However, R. Paskaralingam, advisor and close aide to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a rare public appearance on Thursday, told a group of local businessmen that a proper system in decision-making is gradually evolving for the betterment of the country.
The veteran, soft-spoken bureaucrat revealed that he is acting as a conduit at the moment to co-ordinate and work with all government development agencies in order to accelerate the pace of economic growth.
Mr. Paskaralingam was chairing a business forum in Colombo organised by the National Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka, where he took immediate action, contacting relevant officials and arranging one-to-one meetings with them to assist at least 25 businessmen to sort out their business issues.
Neatly dressed, calm and cool but sharp minded, the influential one-time Finance Ministry Secretary showed his efficiency and ability to analyse issues by directing top officials to evolve on the spot solutions to grievances of businessmen attending the forum.
Displaying his power over the country’s bureaucracy, he contacted the heads of RDA, BOI, Treasury and several other state agencies over the phone directly to find ways and means to settle issues of businessmen.
These included the heavy cess levied on maize imports affecting the poultry industry, insurance company listing issues, road construction payment problems, gem industry grievances, investment and heavy taxes imposed on industrial ventures at the BOI Meerigama Investment zone and tender issues, etc.
He revealed his close connections with Ministry Secretaries and the officials who have worked with him in the public service and also young officials to get their co-operation to settle official matters.
In an upbeat note he expressed the belief that private sector as the engine of growth could be revitalised creating a suitable and conducive environment and level playing field in the ease of doing business in the island nation.
He noted that he looks forward to work with the private sector and to put forward their issues and concerns and assist in the swift development which the country desperately needs.
He emphasised the need of cutting bureaucratic red tape while allowing bureaucracy to take decisions without the fear of consequences for taking the right decisions.
True to his words, Mr. Paskaralingam contacted several ministry secretaries, chairman of state agencies and some top officials over his Android mobile phone to find instant solutions to certain issues put forward by businessmen at the forum.
During the discussions, he revealed that the government cannot make huge investments in new mega infrastructure development projects like express highway in the next five years due to current financial constraints and heavy debt burden.
This is a vicious cycle that must be broken if consistency and predictability is to be restored to the tax system. This is possible if the government adopts proper policy making, he commented.
President of the National Chamber of Commerce, Sujeeve Samaraweera noted that they plan to hold this business forum as a regular event of the chambers to assist business to sort out their issues through Mr. Paskaralingam.
|R. Paskaralingam, the influential former Finance Ministry Secretary popularly known as late President R. Premadasa’s right-hand anchor man, is back after eight years in self-exile and playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the present regime as advisor to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe since 2015.He has avoided media publicity and generally not seen at public events.Paskaralingam, widely known as ‘Paski’ was a key player in the 1989-1993 United National Party government.He is currently entrusted with the task of co-coordinating and work with all government development agencies playing an advisory role without bounding various rules and regulations of the state bureaucracy.He was the Secretary to the mighty Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Construction and also the Chairman of the Urban Development Authority, entrusted with the planning and building of the new capital city arising out of the Diyawanna marshes and village reawakening programme during the Premadasa regime.|
Different postures of Mr. R. Paskaralingam during the event. Pix by Priyantha