The report will be launched June 28, 2005, with the Hon. Sarath Amunugama, Minister of Finance and Planning, delivering the keynote address. Based on an island-wide survey of more than 2,000 enterprises, the report highlights the difficulties that small-scale rural entrepreneurs face in starting and growing a business. The survey found that small businesses in Sri Lanka’s rural areas are hampered by poor transport, limited access to the formal financial sector, and frequent power outages. Although the island boasts a dense road network, as much as 90 percent of it is in poor condition because of lack of maintenance. The report points out that this dramatically increases travel times and contributes to almost half of all agricultural produce spoiling before reaching a market.
Firms in the North and East of the country affected by the conflict have developed coping strategies, such as reducing their inventory, producing from a residential location, and increasing outlays on security.
Urban businesses, located mostly in the Western province, enjoy better access to roads and other forms of transport, but are affected by the high cost and unreliable supply of electricity. This situation leads nearly 75 percent of urban manufacturing firms in Sri Lanka to purchase a generator, a significantly higher proportion than competitor countries like China (where only 27 percent do). As it can cost 3 to 4 times as much to generate electricity with a generator, urban firms are only half as productive as they could be with more reliable power.
“This is a further example that Sri Lanka needs to address squarely the issue of power supply, cost, and efficiency, through increased generation according to the least cost expansion plan; reduction of the short-term debt burden of the power utility; and restructuring of CEB.” said Alessandro Pio, ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka. “It is like a stool with three legs: it will not be stable and reliable unless all three are in place,” he added.
While Sri Lanka has to do better in terms of electricity and transport to catch up with better performing countries in the rest of Asia, there are areas where the country excels. One such area is telecommunications where early reform of the sector has seen a rapid expansion in the number of landlines and mobile phones along with plummeting prices and increased choice. Similar gains have been made in the garments, plantations, and airline sectors.
Another important constraint exposed in the report is the country’s labor regulations which can be characterized as inflexible and arbitrary. Offering no certainty to the investor, they discourage firms, especially local firms, from job creation. The laws have also resulted in distorted business practices such as massive outsourcing and an increase in the use of temporary and contract labor, reducing training opportunities, productivity, and the potential to capture economies of scale.
The report suggests that steps taken towards establishing a peaceful solution to the conflict and improving political stability will spur investment in Sri Lanka. The report also urges the government upgrade the energy and transport sectors so as to benefit both rural and urban firms. Measures to stabilize the economy by reducing the deficit, expanding access to finance and reducing its cost, taking measures that will lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness of the state-owned banks are also recommended. Small enterprises in rural areas are among the most challenged firms in the country. Government can support them by strengthening marketing channels through regional chambers of commerce, improving business development services, and focusing on establishing promising business clusters.
For more information on the World Bank in Sri Lanka, please visit:
News Release No:2005/536/SAR
Contacts: In Colombo:
WB: Chulie de Silva (94-11) 5561323
ADB: Hasitha Wickremasinghe (94-1) 238-7055, Ext.12
In Washington, DC:
WB: Benjamin Crow (202) 473-5105