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Pros & cons of VRSs

C. Hewapattini

 A lay off or a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) can ruin some top conglomerates, a human resource development (HRD) manager warned.

Nations Trust Bank Plc (NTB) HR Head C. Hewapattini speaking at a seminar organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka on Tuesday (May 5) said that recently a reputed company announced a VRS scheme to get rid of 1,200 of its staff.

However among the 400 who applied for this scheme thus far were some of its talented employees who could find jobs elsewhere, he said.

Some of them have even contacted the bank and they are in the process of evaluating those applications, said Hewapattini.

But once the economy is on track, such companies would be hard pressed to regain its lost talent, he said.

Therefore it's the duty of HR professionals in companies to advise and dissuade such talented persons to take-up VRS schemes, he said.

VRS schemes also affect those who remain because there is uncertainty being built up whether it will be they who will face the chop next, said Hewapattini. A mentality like that affects productivity, he said.

"All what you have built can be destroyed in one single action," Hewapattini said.

People who apply for a VRS are those who have a market readily available outside.

Reducing the headcount doesn't mean reducing their talent pool, he said.  This is what companies have to watch.

The danger in a VRS is that it's the talented who first apply for such a scheme.

SL's investment in education, lowest

With the State running continuous budget deficits, compounded by Sri Lanka having the lowest investment in education in the South Asian region, an economist advocated the privatization of some of the national schools as a panacea to meet this investment shortfall.

World Bank economist Dr. Harsha Aturupane speaking at a seminar on education on Wednesday also suggested that children from rich and middle class families attending government schools should be made to pay for their education.

This would liberate much needed government funds for more deprived schools, he said.

Royal, Ananda and Visakha are a few of the more prestigious national schools.

Aturupane further said that the South Asian region was among some of the lowest investors in education among the world's regions, of which Sri Lanka is right at the bottom.

He debunked National Institute of Business Management Chairman Professor emeritus Lakshman Jayatilleke, a previous speaker at this event, who argued that maths and science should be taught in the vernaculars and that the teaching of subjects such as carpentry and masonry should take precedence over that of computers.

"A web designer or a web master in English will earn more than a web designer or a web master in Sinhala, or a carpenter or a mason for that matter," Aturupane said.

"English is the lingua franca in the market place and its deprivation would lead to countries such as India and Maldives overtaking us in the globalised market place," he warned.

"Otherwise we will end up producing web designers and web masters in Sinhala, and carpenters and masons, while importing web designers and web masters in English at a far greater cost," said Aturupane.

It has come to a pathetic situation that Sri Lanka has to import English teachers from India to teach English, because of a dearth locally.

He also said that when C. W.W. Kannangara introduced free education, his idea was to provide free education in English in national schools for the deserving poor student.

Vernacular education was in any case free, Aturupane said.

He also said that with urbanization came the clamour for so called better schools, even though two hours away from the village, making it more pressing for investments in such popular schools, which may carry a student population as high as 8,000 in some of these. Aturupane said that urbanization was a natural reaction to prosperity. "Fifty years of socialism has failed to uplift the country out of poverty, which, at the end of World War 2 was the second richest country in Asia," he said.

$ hitting Rs. 125, a dream

Exporters have lost their expectations that the US dollar would hit the Rs. 125 levels because of the belief that the government has secured the US$ 1.9 billion IMF standby facility, market sources told The Sunday Leader on Thursday.

The dollar fluctuated between the Rs. 116.50-117.30-118.25 levels on Thursday, with the State staying away from the market, they said. The State last bought dollars from the market via People's Bank on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile the money (rupee) market was short by Rs. 5.1 billion on Thursday, with the Central Bank to offer Rs. eight billion to the market of an 18 day tenure when trading opens tomorrow to tide over this shortfall.

Overnight call rate, the rates at which banks borrow from each other, were in the 10% levels.

Treasury (T) Bonds in secondary market trading were however trading at the 14-14¬% levels, up from the earlier low 13% levels.

Sources attributed the pressure build up on rates because T Bills, in last week's primary auction did not fall as sharply as expected. T Bills of a 364 day tenure fell by 27 basis points (bps) to 13.78%, compared to a steeper 135 bp fall to 14.05% the previous week.

Investors therefore expected this yield to fall to the 13% levels last week, but it was not to be, due to aggressive selling by the Central Bank (CB) on behalf of the government that pushed up rates, they said.Earlier, secondary market T Bond yields at Monday's trading remained unchanged over last Thursday's (April 30), being quoted at the 14.25-14.30% levels on uncertainty over the IMF loan, sources said.

On April 29 those were trading at the 13.75% levels, but shot up by 50 basis points (bps) since because of this uncertainty.

However, the US dollar in two way quotes remained unchanged at the Rs. 120/120/15 levels on Monday.

Meanwhile, a CB primary T Bond auction of a 10 year maturity fetched a seemingly high weighted average yield (WAY) of 13.74% on Monday, slightly higher than the WAYs fetched at the previous week's T Bond auction for maturities of much less tenures.

Sources attributed these high rates to "uncertainty," coupled with investors having had got their fingers burnt after subscribing to rates as low as 6-7% for T Bonds of 10 and 15 year maturities when they were introduced by the then UNP regime in 2002.

With the fall of that government in April 2004, both interest rates and inflation have had been on the ascent since.

Meanwhile at the previous week's auction T Bonds of one year and 11 months tenure fetched a WAY of 13.32%, T Bonds of three years and 10 months, a WAY of 13.63% and that of five years and 11 months, a WAY of 13.49%.

Though Monday's auction had a parcel of Rs. 500 million on offer, what was sold was only Rs. 150 million, probably because the market was asking for a higher rate for the balance than that which the CB was prepared to pay.

Issuing of T Bonds and T Bills to the market is a popular way for the government to raise money to meet its expenditure requirements.

Meanwhile this tender also had parcels of two years and nine months and three years and 10 months also on offer, with each parcel being of Rs. 750 million in value. However CB rejected bids received for those parcels, probably due to the aforesaid reasons. 

In the previous week's T Bond auction, which had a parcel of T Bonds of two years and 10 months tenure on offer, that parcel fetched a WAY of 13.73%.

IMF & diaspora

The US$ 1.9 billion standby arrangement (S.B.A.) asked by the Government of Sri Lanka (G.o.S.L.) from the I.M.F. is critical for the very survival of the island.

As said in these pages earlier, Sri Lanka is a net importer, meaning that its export earnings are insufficient to cover its import bill.

The situation has been made worse by government expenditure over-shooting revenue by a mile, falling remittances and investments and no doubt tourism earnings, slowing down of aid and the virtual drying up of foreign exchange (forex) markets, undoubtedly caused by the global recession.

Only a person who is not in his right senses will say that Sri Lanka can survive without foreign aid.

Those of us who are not so young can still remember the dark ages of 1970-77, when the economy was closed and thus being deprived of a greater part of foreign aid badly needed for infrastructure development and employment creation.

Free trade being the order of the day to obtain assistance as it's seemingly so even now, but with an additional adjunct now creeping in, such as to cease military operations to qualify for aid, as, apparently being Sri Lanka's case.

That was an era of shortages, hence the sprouting up of black markets, rationings, queues, corruption and cheating across the board-from the cooperative store dispenser to the top, and even starvation because the country did not have enough forex to leave alone import luxury items, not even enough to import the bare necessities like rice, wheat flour, sugar an cloth.

These factors make the I.M.F. S.B.A. critical for the very survival of Sri Lanka.

But a controversy over the disbursement of this loan now appears to rest over what is happening in Mullaitivu and not economics, according to reports.

It seems that political priorities and not economic are the over-arching conditions that appear to govern the I.M.F., headquartered in Washington, in regard to the disbursement of this S.B.A.

It's alleged that the above loan (needed to bolster the country's depleted  forex reserves) is being delayed because of a veto by the world's most powerful economy the U.S.A. on the grounds that G.o.S.L. is not agreeable to sue for a ceasefire with the L.T.T.E., now confined to a narrow strip of land in Mullaitivu.

Their concerns are ostensibly in regard to the safety of the reported 50,000 civilians being used as human shields by the cornered terrorists to prevent the army advance.

Whilst the safety of entrapped civilians caught up in a war situation is a cause for concern for anyone in the civilized world, whether in the U.S.A. or tiny Sri Lanka, G.o.S.L.'s reluctance to sue for a ceasefire is that this will be another ruse for the Tigers to re-arm and for their leadership to escape from the long arm of the law.

In fact it's reported that the U.S.A. wants the terrorist leadership to surrender to a third party.

However, a possible unsaid story in regard to the U.S.A. and the West's, and possibly that of India's pressure on G.o.S.L. to sue for peace is not due to the love of the innocent Tamilians caught up in the conflict (due to no fault of theirs), but due to pressure from powerful Eelam lobbyists walking in the corridors of power in international power centres, be it New York, Whitehall and even Delhi (courtesy through pressure from the political power blocs in Chennai).

How be it, G.o.S.L. appears to want to fight the war to a finish despite economic pressure from the rest of the world in the form of a threat to cut off aid, as opposed to using military pressure as was successfully done by India, earlier, in 1987, when too the terrorists had been cornered.

That threat of Indian military action worked well to cow down G.o.S.L. at that time, and thereby give a much needed lifeline to the L.T.T.E.

But events after 9/11, complemented by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a Tiger suicide bomber in May 1991 has made the distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter that much clearer to the rest of the world.

 Nevertheless our Foreign Ministry and our Foreign Missions in Washington, London and in other major cities in the West have to be faulted for apparently being "sleeping," by allowing the voice of the Eelam lobbyists in Washington to drown that of Colombo's.

But even at this 11th hour, with the fate of the S.B.A. now apparently being in the balance, G.o.S.L. needs to put its best foot forward to secure this much needed loan.This may need effective lobbying, particularly in Washington.

One possible way to get around this quagmire is to muster the support of that Sri Lankan Tamilian diaspora who are not pro Tiger terrorists, and there may well be thousands of them, i.e. those whose relatives have been killed by the L.T.T.E. or who are forced to pay money to this banned organisation on the threat that otherwise revenge will be taken on their relatives back at home, or whose houses and properties and other belongings have had been forcibly acquired by the terrorists.

State media recently reported that in response to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's appeal, some members of the Tamil diaspora visited the country to get a first hand impression of what's going on in the island, and their conclusions had apparently been positive.

The next step is to get them as counter-lobbyists in Washington.

The L.T.T.E. is virtually a spent force thanks to the military, what is now needed is for our missions in critical centres of the world, like in Washington and London, to get the support of these peoples (who should be given that clear message that the terrorists are now in their last legs in order to boost their confidence) to counter the Eelam lobbyists, in order to wrest this loan for the country.

Hot air over Chillies

There was some hot air blown at Monday's press conference organised by the local advertising industry to announce the winners at the recently concluded Chillies 2009 advertising awards.

Leo Burnett came first with 121 points, followed by Triad (101) and JWT (74).

Triad's Joint Managing Directors Dilith Jayaweera and Ms. Varuni Amunugama Fernando, joined by JWT CEO Thayalan Bartleet and its Vice President and Executive Creative Director Ms. Chandini Rajaratnam said that they preferred the old Olympic system to decide on the winner, i.e. on the basis of the total number of metals or medals won, as opposed to a points tally, which was the scheme adopted this year.

Fernando contended that under the new system creative works of smaller agencies won't stand a chance of being rewarded. They will oppose this system in future Chillies competitions.

However 4As President Ms. Laila Gunesekere Martenstyn contended that the previous "Olympic" style points system to decide on the winner, where the medals or metals tally adopted being the sole criterion was not feasible, because in certain categories awards were not made, whereas in an Olympic style system, gold, silver and bronze medals are assured for each event.

She further said that the industry embraced the point system this time on a majority decision.

If the old style was adopted, JWT would have had come on tops, with Triad second. Under the old system which was adopted upto last year, Triad won the even in the last three occasions, said Jayaweera, as old as the Chillies event, since it was first inaugurated.

Meanwhile, Martenstyn who works for Grant McCann Erickson, an advertising agency, saw her company ending up in fourth place with 55 points.

A total of 12 agencies, including the aforesaid four, won at least one award at this ceremony to reward creativity in the local advertising industry.

The industry said as the judging was done by foreigners, it gave them an impetus to present their creative works in foreign advertising competitions such as at Cannes and at Adfest, Pattaya, where the local industry has been winning accolades since last year.

The points scheme adopted this year comprised 12 points for the best creative work, 10 points for a grand prix award, seven for a gold, five for a silver, three for a bronze and one point for a "finalist."

Military ops. & Japanese aid Akashi non committal

In the backdrop of pressure from the West on the Government of Sri Lanka (G.o.S.L.) for a cessation of hostilities, Japan's peace envoy Yashushi Akashi was evasive when The Sunday Leader asked him what's Japan's stance if the Sri Lankan military continued with their "humanitarian" operations to ensure that the totality of the island's geographical area came under Colombo's writ.

"We will have to make our assessments as per the unfolding scenario," he told this reporter when he was asked last Saturday what impact on Japanese aid will continued "humanitarian" military operations will have to ensure that Colombo's writ will be extended throughout the island.

But "defensive" operations are understandable, he said.

Akashi however told reporters on the same day that Japan does not subscribe to the strategy, "more peace, more aid."

"Japan does not share this view."

He also said that they never restricted aid to Sri Lanka because of the conflict. "Why should the common people be penalized for G.o.S.L. not toeing the "more peace, more assistance line," Akashi said.

He admitted that there are differences among the Co-Chairs in relation to dealing with Colombo on the L.T.T.E. question, but that hadn't stopped them from working together for Colombo's "common good."

The Co-Chairs are Japan, Norway, U.K. and U.S.A., "with India being the fifth as they are always being consulted in regard to the island's burning problem," said Akashi.

He further said that the L.T.T.E. missed the bus by boycotting the 2003 Tokyo Peace Conference and thereby lost the opportunity to air their grievances to the international community.

Akashi further said that the plight of the internally displaced persons (.ID.Ps) seemed worst than when he last visited the island which was in January.

"This may be because of the sheer numbers, with over 100,000 arriving into the cleared areas in the past few weeks alone, he said.

Akashi however said that G.o.S.L., U.N. organisations, International Organisation for Migration and N.G.Os were doing their utmost to alleviate the sufferings of the I.D.Ps.

G.o.S.L. had told him that 80% of the I.D.Ps would be re-settled by December.

One of the biggest bogeys in this regard were mines, he said.

This was Akashi's seventeenth visit to the island. He left last Saturday night.

During his stay here he had meetings with three of the four Rajapaksa brothers, the President and his adviser Basil and Defence Secretary Gotabaya, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, T.N.A. M.Ps, Co-Chair Ambassadorial representatives in Colombo, U.N. and other aid officials, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, whilst also having had visited an I.D.P. camp in Vavuniya.

He said that his talks with the Rajapaksa brothers were fruitful.

"I came here to look at the evolving situation vis-…-vis I.D.Ps in the North and to contact with G.o.S.L. leaders and others to assess the present situation and resolve the remaining difficulties," he said.

" I hope the L.T.T.E. will soon change their attitude and will allow those civilians to move out from those areas. At the same time that G.o.S.L. will keep to its promise of zero civilian casualties, no combat, nor the use of heavy weapons," Akashi said. He termed this as the second most important issue, i.e. of the plight of civilians left behind in the "so called no fire zone."

Akashi further said that there had been firing inside the "so called no fire zone," but said that he was unable to pinpoint who was responsible for this firing.

Correlation between poverty & gender inequality

World Bank (WB) research shows a strong correlation between high incidence of poverty and low levels of gender equality, WB Country Director in Sri Lanka Ms. Naoko Ishii said.

 Speaking at the Key Persons Forum organized by The Women's Chamber of Industry and Commerce recently, she said that global studies undertaken by the WB show that investments in girls and women yield large social and economic returns.

Thus the WB is committed to equal and fair participation of women and men throughout the planning and implementation process of a project to ensure sustainable development.                  

When a girl is given the opportunity to study she has a good chance of finding employment, earning an income and becoming financially independent, all of which improves her quality of life.

"We have found out that the benefits do not end there: Studies show that she is likely to reinvest about 90% of her earnings into her family's wellbeing, bettering the lives of those around her," said Ishii.

She will also marry and have children later in life and have gained knowledge that allows her to keep her children healthy and educated.

These immediate effects contribute to slowing population growth, which in turn impacts everything, from health to climate change and consequently the economy.                                              

Investing in women is smart economics, and investing in girls, catching them upstream, is even smarter economics.

If you invest in girls, if you educate girls, if you get girls into jobs, you solve so many problems.

So, investing in the education and empowerment of girls can be a key factor in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty.                                      

Last October, the Nike Foundation and the WB's Gender Action Plan, Gender Equality as Smart Economics, launched the $20 million Adolescent Girls Initiative to smooth the transition from school to productive employment for girls and young women aged 16 to 24 by helping them complete their education, build skills that match market demand, find mentors and job placements, and by offering incentives to potential employers to hire, retain and train young women.

Girls should have the same opportunities as boys to lead full and productive lives.

Some of the research that we have done has emphasized that this is also a question of smart economics; investing in women yields very large social and economic returns, in this and in coming generations.

This is a commitment by the WB group to enhance women's active participation in development through economic empowerment initiatives throughout the world.

Full disclosure reporting

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) withdrew a proposal to withhold data in its Wildlife Strike Database, after a 30-day comment period produced almost unanimous support of disclosure and released the data on a public website.

FAA had been concerned that some airlines and airports would reduce voluntary reporting of bird strikes for fear that the public and news media would misunderstand or misinterpret the data.

 But the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) warned that withholding  data could interfere with analysis and mitigation of the problem.

 DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said, "Public disclosure is our job. The sea change in government transparency is beginning, and we are happy to be a part of it." FAA estimates the voluntary reporting system captures only 20% of wildlife strikes, but has declined to adopt an NTSB recommendation to make the reports mandatory. Among disclosures in the data: about 100,000 reported wildlife collisions have been made since 1990, with 11 deaths; most were bird strikes; 28 aircraft were destroyed since 2000, with five fatalities and 93 injuries; wildlife strikes more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000.

Airports reporting the most incidents with serious damage included New York Kennedy located amid wetlands and Sacramento which lies beneath the Pacific Flyway used by millions of migrating birds.

A significant decrease in major damage in 2007 and 2008 may be attributable to tightened engine design standards to better withstand strikes, and increased airport wildlife management. (Washington Aviation Summary) 

Milk certified by Aussie govt.

On a fact finding mission about Maliban Milk and the milk foods market in Sri Lanka, we met Maliban Chief Operating Officer D. L. Weerasuriya and Maliban Milk Sales and Marketing Head Nalinda Jayamanna.

Question (Q): Claims of milk food manufacturers that their milk powder is of the highest quality and gives the best nutrition has become a marketing cliché which no one pays any attention to. Are you any different?  Can Maliban Milk give proof of its quality?

Answer (A): We can. Maliban Milk is solely manufactured by Murray Goulburn Australia. Murray Goulburn milk only caters to markets such as U.S.A., Japan and Europe. We decided to introduce it to Sri Lanka as Maliban Milk because that is the only milk in the world that carries the approval and certification of a Government; that of Australia. That is a claim no other milk can match.

Nutrition which is a vital criterion for markets of developing countries was another factor which made us decide on Maliban Milk for Sri Lanka.

Eight litres of liquid milk is required to manufacture one kilo of milk. To achieve the correct concentration only 87% of water should be removed from liquid milk in the spray drying process. That Maliban Milk meets this concentration standard has been certified not only by the Australia Government, but also by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute through its SLS certification. Our commitment to standards was further confirmed when Maliban Milk was awarded the HACCP certification for the safety of food products. Incidentally we are the only milk powder in the Sri Lankan market to be awarded this certification.  

 Q: Shouldn’t the pricing and content of milk powders conform to some standard?

A: Yes. There should be a common standard and we are confident that Maliban Milk has kept to the right side of this standard. In fact I would go further and say that we have even raised the standard for other milk powders.  In turning liquid milk into powdered milk most milk powder manufacturers remove the milk fat content which is about 36% and replaces it with palm oil or animal fat substitutes. This is done because replacing milk fat at Rs 650 per kg. with animal fat or palm oil at Rs 120 per kg. translates into a huge profit for them. The milk protein content which is about 24% of whole milk is treated the same way, because it’s more profitable to replace milk protein at Rs 900 per kg. with cheaper wheat protein or melamine substitutes. Some companies even go to the extent of substituting sugar for the milk lactose. So what happens is that milk powder consumers get the bad end of the stick. Not only are they deprived of the 100% goodness and wholesomeness of milk, they also get various health complications caused by those replacement substitutes. 

Maliban Milk is manufactured without removing any of these vital nutrient components and contains the optimum amount of milk fat, milk protein and lactose. And we have mentioned this fact in our pack as a further confirmation of trust.

Q: Consumption of Maliban Milk is at an all time high, your comments?

A: It is an expression of the consumer’s faith in us. In the quality of our milk as well as our pricing strategies which are consumer friendly and the taste of Maliban Milk which is exactly to their taste.

In the near future, we hope to introduce the milk powder 1+ and 3+ varieties  to the market. It is an important market for us because it gives us the chance to value ad to the future of Sri Lanka through nutrition.

Q: You mentioned consumer friendly pricing strategies, what are they?

A: We introduced Maliban Milk in a poly pack, so the cost of the conventional shelf pack is eliminated and the consumer gets the benefit. Also we introduced Maliban Milk packs of various innovatively consumer friendly sizes which became popular because they cater to the whole spectrum of consumer income levels. We shall go on providing 100% “milk goodness” to Sri Lankans because they deserve nothing less.

Competitive insurance

Royal College Union (RCU), the the Old boys of Royal College Colombo’s official body, signed up with HNB Assurance PLC recently to provide an attractive insurance products package to its members. This event took place at the RCU Head Office at Rajakeeya Mawatha Colombo.

RCU comprises a nearly 14,000 past students member base who are engaged in all types of professions and industries here and abroad.

Under the MOU signed with HNB Assurance, Royal College’s past students can now get their Insurance needs serviced routed via RCU at competitive terms.

HNB Assurance is regarded by many as the fastest growing insurance company in Sri Lanka. Despite just seven years in operation, it has grown rapidly to secure the sixth rank in terms of combined turnover among 15 insurance companies in Sri Lanka.

It has been rated ‘A’ (lka) on its financial strength by Fitch Ratings Lanka Ltd, becoming only the second insurer in Sri Lanka to receive a Fitch Rating. It is also ranked among the ‘Top 100 Brands’ in Sri Lanka compiled by LMD in association with Brand Finance.

Lectures on TV

CIMA announced yet another innovation:  “Revision Lectures on TV”. 

CIMA Sri Lanka Division bi-annually organizes revision lectures for its students to ensure that they are equipped to succeed in their exams, and this venture would help the vast number of students who are unable to attend these lectures to better prepare for the examinations.

An eminent panel of lecturers from some of the leading CIMA tuition colleges in Sri Lanka have partnered with CIMA in this initiative that will be telecast daily on MTV until May 17 with repeat telecasts on Sirasa  and Shakti TV.

Speaking on the programme Regional Director CIMA Bradley Emerson said, “At CIMA we are continuously looking for innovative ways to meet the needs of our students. It is in line with this objective that this year CIMA in partnership with partner MTV piloted this unique project to conduct a series of revision lectures for students at the Managerial level.

We are grateful to MTV for initiating such a novel concept and to all our lecturers who at short notice readily accepted our request to be on the programme.  We are convinced that our youth will stand out in the corporate world with CIMA and programmes of this nature is an indication of our commitment to reach out and help them achieve that”.

MTV Sales Director Lakshmi Jayasinghe who initiated the programme thanked CIMA for partnering MTV in this pioneering effort and said, “We have always perceived CIMA to be a high notch professional qualification and currently see it as the sought after institution  in serving the higher education needs of the youth around the country. Our association with them in this series of programmes is to serve the large number of students islandwide which undoubtedly adds value to the MTV brand. “  

This is yet another first by the global management accounting professional, CIMA.

Corporate Cizenship

KPMG International’s Citizenship & Diversity Global Head Lord Michael Hastings will present a case for ‘Corporate Citizenship and Diversity in the Modern Enterprise’ at a “high profile” ACCA-KPMG CEO Breakfast Meeting at Cinnamon Grand on Wednesday.

In an evaluation process sponsored by JP Morgan last year, Hastings was  listed among the 100 Most Influential Black People in the UK.

With ACCA being the acknowledged global pioneer in sustainability reporting initiatives and KPMG, whose commitment to corporate citizenship globally in environment, healthcare, education and community development initiatives is renowned, Hastings draws from the

organisations’ expertise and his own experiences to add much value to the topic being discussed.

In addition to his role at KPMG International which also includes

representation at the World Economic Forum’s Global Corporate Citizenship International Committee and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, Hastings is also a Non-Executive Director on British Telecom’s Board for Responsible and Sustainable Business, a Trustee for Vodafone Group Foundation and was previously the Head of CSR at BBC.

Hastings, who was conferred a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in

2003 in recognition of his services towards crime reduction has initiated and mentored numerous corporate citizenship efforts around the globe in areas including climate change, disaster relief, community development, equality, children’s welfare and diversity.

A multiple honouree from various organisations, he was awarded the honour of an independent peerage to the House of Lords in 2005, and also received the UNICEF Award for his’Outstanding Contribution to understanding and effecting solutions for Africa’s Children’ in the same year.

Online customer support portal

Abacus eServices, Asia’s only GDS online customer service self-help portal has received growing interest from travel agencies across Asia Pacific over the past one year and even more so in the current tight economic environment.Abacus eServices provides agencies 24/7 access to GDS’ full range of business services and market information. Abacus eServices was first launched in January 2008 and is now subscribed by over 4,000 travel agencies across 25 markets in Asia Pacific. It is progressively being introduced to more countries in the coming months. Abacus International is owned by Sabre and a consortium of Asia’s leading airlines including All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Dragonair, Philippine Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, SilkAir and Singapore Airlines. Sabre is the global leader in electronic distribution of travel and travel related services.

Abacus International Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, is a joint venture between Abacus International (Singapore) Pte. Ltd and Softlogic Holdings Ltd.

“Since it was introduced to Delair Travels (Pvt) Ltd., we have relied on Abacus eServices for so many of our agency’s operation and service needs.

It has given us access to so much vital information about the industry and there are plenty of user guides, tips & e-Courses at our fingertips 24/7 with eServices to boost our productivity and efficiency,” said Delair Travels (Pvt) Ltd. Director Dino De Fonseka.

“The prevailing tight market conditions mean that agencies need to choose and use selective channels that provide the greatest value to their business. Abacus eServices self-help portal serves that purpose fully as it allows our travel agencies remote access to tools, solutions and information to help them sharpen their marketing and operations edge,” said Abacus International Pte Ltd. Vice President Marketing Brett Henry.

“Whether it’s getting hold of productivity reports, upgrading travel agents with over 65 e-learning courses or being among the first to know of the latest in-market promotions from airlines and other travel suppliers-these are all essential aspects of the agency business where Abacus eServices can offer our agencies an overriding edge amid the current hyper intense competition.“  Abacus’ suite of eLearning courses offers travel consultants the flexibility of taking short 15-30 minute courses instead of attending full day classes that take away productive time from their agency.

In addition, Abacus eServices saves time and costs for travel agents as useful features like Format Finder help agents learn formats and industry procedures quickly.  With no start up costs or registration required, Abacus eServices will be accessible using single sign-on technology; in this case using the travel consultants host reservation credentials. 

Singapore-based Abacus International is Asia-Pacific’s leading travel facilitator with more than 15,000 travel agency locations in 25 markets. With more than 20 years of experience in fusing international best practices and local expertise with global and local partnerships, Abacus provides travel information and reservations tailored to the Asia-Pacific region.

Book reviews

The Management Club (TMC) recently launched a project in their series of Knowledge Development activities for members and guests by initiating a “Share a Book” evening.

Kicking off this new initiative at TMC, V. Satyendra, TMC’s founder member and a Board member reviewed the book “Increase your Financial IQ” by Robert Kiyosaki.  

It turned out to be an interesting and educative evening for those who were present as the presenter also shared his personal experiences over a successful career spanning over three decades

One interesting element of the book that came to light was that money does not make one rich, but it is only the way you use your financial IQ that would make you successful.

According to Kiyosaki the five basic measurement criterion of Financial Intelligence were how you make more money, how you protect your money, how you budget your money, how you leverage your money and how you improve your knowledge on financial information.

Kiyosaki in his book says that as every goal should have a process to achieve same, hard work will be an essential requirement in trying to make more money.

To protect your money the 7

Bs, namely bureaucrats, bankers and the brokers, businesses, brides and beaus, brothers in law and barristers, will have to be tactfully handled.

The book also describes that the most important asset one can have is ‘good knowledge’ while poor or mistaken knowledge is a liability and that it is not the physical assets that makes one rich, but it is the information that makes you rich or poor.

Meanwhile, the second in TMC’s “Share a Book” series was presented by the Immediate Past President of its Board, Col Faiz Ur Rahman, who reviewed Robert Sutton’s Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving one that Isn’t.

This too turned out to be an interesting and thought provoking evening for those who were present as Ur Rahman drew comparisons from his personal experiences to what was described by the author in the book. In his book Sutton explains how a “jerk” would make people who have no power to retaliate feel small in front of their colleagues, thus having to change their behaviour patterns after experiencing such unpleasant circumstances.

It was said that being treated by superiors like this is a phenomenon that every one has to survive with, as all individuals display these traits at one time or another in their lives.

If a person sees his co workers as his competitors and believes that the best way to climb the ladder is to push other people down or out of the way then that person possesses two of the major characteristics in contributing to an uncivilised workplace according to Sutton.

TMC plans to continue these “Share a Book” evenings on a regular basis in view of the enthusiasm that it has so far generated among members and their guests.

Excellence in service

Sir Winston Churchill once observed that the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know these were impossible, therein lies a parallel.

 In 1980 it seemed inconceivable that a fledgling company named Frostaire, solely dedicated to affording prompt and efficient service in the maintenance of air-conditioning and refrigeration units, would, in just five years since inception, venture into the assembly of air-conditioning and refrigeration units.

Today, Frostaire can claim to have one of the largest installed bases of air-conditioning and specialized refrigeration appliances in the country. 

The wide range of air-conditioning units, from the standard ‘Room’ and ‘Split-Type’ to packages, provide the exact air-conditioning and refrigeration solutions to the most demanding applications in housing complexes, apartments, offices, commercial buildings, hospitals, factories  and more recently,  schools.

 A dedicated Refrigeration Division instals pre-fabricated cold rooms’ and is supplemented by ‘Thermo King’, a well-known brand of refrigeration trucks that keep perishable goods fresh during point-to-point transportation.

The current workforce of over 150 personnel comprises salespersons, trained to advice customers in the selection of the precise equipment to match their requirement.

There is also the equally well-trained technical staff to provide high-calibre after-sales service-which in fact begins “even before installation.”  Sales engineers first survey the premises, prepare a lay-out plan, work on heat-load calculations and finalize the planned lay-out in consultation with the in-house Design Office. Post-installation customer care is provided by service centres at Union Place, Colombo and Welisara. Dedication to customer care is underlined by the deployment of a Mobile Workshop which carries out repairs and services on-site. This Mobile Workshop has a two-way communication system for closer co-ordination and prompt response. Frostaire also has an in-house research and development laboratory equipped with the latest technology which includes Psychometric Testing systems.

Frostaire is now a conglomerate. Five dedicated subsidiaries handle every facet in the air-conditioning and refrigeration trade and the high degree of commitment has gained the company membership in prestigious trade and service organizations.

Frostaire however does not regard past achievements as laurels to rest on, but rather the inspiration to focus on new frontiers and continue making a mark where it matters.

Hire & fire

Rethink when hiring a person because in this country getting rid of people is not easy. If you recruit him at 20, with the retirement age at 55, you are saddled with him for 35 years. Hiring is an assessment.

Personal (salary) costs work out to be 30-40% of total operating expenses in this country. in Japan it’s higher, at 70%, because of a scarce talent base-Nations Trust Bank Plc HR Head C. Hewapattini speaking at a seminar in Colombo on Tuesday.

Grand Prix win

Triad won the first ever Grand Prix awarded at the recently concluded Chillies. This is the first time that Chillies has awarded a Grand Prix, a recognition of the “Best of the Best” work.

Triad’s haul included the ‘Best Campaign of the Year’ award together with two Golds, six Silvers, 11 Bronzes and 14 Finalist awards. Winning across categories and brands, the work recognised as outstanding were campaigns for brands like Sri Lanka Telecom, Hutch, Elephant House, Laugfs, Heladiv, Nippolac, CIC, Singer Sri Lanka and Perera & Sons as well as social responsibility initiatives done for Sri Lanka Army and the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing. .

In Brief

Sampath, LOLC, in race for Seylan

LOLC and Sampath Bank are allegedly the two short listed prospective investors that submitted bids for a 1/3rd stake in Seylan Bank when bids closed on Thursday, according to reports.

It's learnt that LOLC is planning to come up with some foreign funds in this investment.

The original five bidders who prequalified to buy this stake were the aforesaid bidders,  John Keells Holdings, NDB,  and  V.V. Karunaratne & Company.

The apparent attraction in Seylan is its market share, being the third biggest private bank, in terms of loan portfolio size, despite inter-company transactions allegedly amounting to Rs. 7.8 billion "scarring" its books.

These inter-company transactions, according to a report submitted by the auditors KMPG as late as Wednesday had alleged that these loans had not been properly secured.

"That may have had scared the other pre-qualified bidders," the sources said.

But considering Seylan's balance sheet size, valued at some Rs. 110 billion, that may have had prompted LOLC and Sampath to still go ahead with their bids, they added.

Central Bank in a statement said that the Monetary Board is expected to make the final decision by May 20, 2009 and notify the successful bidder immediately thereafter.

Chit system

The chit system, a popular mode for ruling party MPs to ensure that their supporters get jobs in the public sector is back, said National Institute of Business Management Chairman Professor emeritus Lakshman Jayatilleke at a seminar on Wednesday.

The chit system, as a tool to give jobs to party supporters, held sway during the then UF government regime of 1970-77.

Usury spurs growth

Insurance companies saw their bottom lines in the first quarter of 2009 grow not due to growth in its core business, i.e. an increase in collection of gross written premium income, which in fact declined year on year, but due to high interest earned by investing in high yielding government securities, over and above the minimum 35% threshold, because there was no better investment tool to turn to-Industry sources

CIM in B'desh

Chartered Institute of Marketing Sri Lanka Region (CIM SLR) is looking to expand into Chittagong, Bangladesh, considered as that country's education hub.

With a tuition provider identified, this centre is expected to be up and running, in time for the July intake.

However, CIM SLR has found India to be a difficult nut to crack, because of those students' preference for a U.S. qualification.

CIM is a U.K. qualification. CIM SLR is already in the Maldives. Colombo is CIM's centre in the region.

Foreigners to stay away

Foreign portfolio investors will stay away from the bourse even after the war because they can buy stocks at bargain prices back at home, market sources told The Sunday Leader.

They will be out of the market for a long time, they said.

 On Thursday the market experienced a net foreign outflow of Rs. 25 million on a foreign purchase figure of Rs. 40 million.

On Thursday the benchmark ASPI gained by 2.69 points on the back of retail interest in JKH, NTB, Chevron and Commercial Bank. Turnover was Rs. 330.4 million.

They expected the bourse to come down this week due to profit taking, with its future direction unclear.

Thursday saw 557,100 shares of NDB  changing hands at the Rs. 93 per share levels; 990,300 shares of JKH at the Rs. 78 levels; 220,300 shares of Chevron at the Rs. 118 levels and 224,400 shares of Commercial Bank at the Rs. 95 levels.

80% apparel exporters crashed

Eighty per cent of apparel exporters to the U.S.A. globally have crashed due to the recession, an apparel exporter representative said.

Brandix's Head of Risk & Control, Ms. Aroshi Perera, speaking at a seminar organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) on Tuesday (May 5) said that this meant the contraction of 60,000 garment manufacturing factories to only 8,000.

The major export destinations of local garments are to the U.S.A. and E.U.

"But this does not mean that the U.S. consumer has cut down his expenditure by 80%, " she said.

In fact in December Brandix exported its highest ever number of pieces of garments, this shows that there is enough opportunities in a recession, said Perera.

However, margins have shrunk.

Departmental stores like Marks & Spencer are retailing clothes at virtually give away prices, offering discounts as deep as 50-80%, she said. Brandix has frozen recruitment.

If a person leaves, others are expected to do his job.

Perera however told The Sunday Leader that the recession should end by August.

Diesel sales down 12%

Kerosene sales in February 2009 remained unchanged year on year (YoY) at 12,000 metric tons (mts).

Kerosene sales in the first two months of the year declined by 7.4% YoY to 25,000 mts. Petrol sales in February 2009 declined by 2.4% YoY to 40,000 mts. Petrol sales in the first two months of the year however increased by 3.6% YoY to 87,000 mts.

Auto diesel sales in February 2009 declined by 12.4% YoY to 127,000 mts. Auto diesel sales in the first two months of the year declined by 5.1% YoY to 279,000 mts.

Electricity generation down 8%

Electricity generation in February 2009 declined by 8% year on year (YoY) to 732 GWh.

Electricity generation in the first two months of the year declined by 6.2% YoY to 1,539 GWh.

Cement consumption down 71%

Total cement consumption in February 2009 declined by 70.5% year on year (YoY) to 81,000 metric tons (mts).

Total cement consumption in the first two months of the year declined by 69.7% YoY to 182,000 mts.

Transshipment volumes down 19%

Transshipment volumes in February 2009 declined by 19.2% year on year (YoY) to 168,468 twenty foot equivalent units of containers (TEUs). Transshipment volumes in the first two months of the year declined by 14.8% YoY to 357,884 TEUs.

Tea export earnings down 33%

Tea export earnings in February 2009 declined by 33.4% year on year (YoY) to US$ 72.3 million. Tea export earnings in the first two months of the year declined by 32.9% YoY to US$ 133.9 million.

Rubber export earnings down 45%

Rubber export earnings in February 2009 declined by 45.5% year on year (YoY) to US$ eight million. Rubber export earnings in the first two months of the year declined by 45.5% YoY to US$ 15 million. (Source : Central Bank)

Tea & rewards

At Nations Trust Bank Plc (NTB) top salesmen are not only rewarded, but they also have tea with the CEO, a motivating factor that the bank has found out which sometimes is as great as the cash reward-NTB HR Head C. Hewapattini speaking at a seminar in Colombo on Tuesday.


The best companies now know, without a doubt, where productivity-real and limitless productivity-comes from. It comes from challenged, empowered, excited, rewarded teams of people. It comes from engaging every single mind in the organisation, making everyone to have a voice-a role-in the success of the enterprise. Doing so raises productivity not incrementally, but by multiplies-Former GE Chairman Jack Welch, as retold by Nations Trust Bank Plc HR Head C. Hewapattini at a seminar in Colombo on Tuesday.

$ 17 mn. for two Ceylinco cos.

A Dutch investor is interested in taking over two troubled Ceylinco Group of Companies, reporters were told on Wednesday.

G.Sivajothi, Director ISL Investments, a promoter of this transaction said that the investment looked at was US$ eight million for TFC Homes which has Rs. 1.2 billion worth of real estate stock in its portfolio and US$ 10 million in Ceylinco Building Society (CBS) which has a real estate portfolio of US$ seven million and a loan portfolio, mainly housing, of Rs. 11.2 billion.

CBS also has a deposit base of Rs. 1.8 billion.

He expected these deals which will give the investor 100% control in each of these companies to be wrapped-up in the next 4-6 months.

In the event this fails, they have other investors to turn to, the promoters said.

To AGN Board

Sunil Abeyratna of Abeyratna & Co-Chartered Accountants, was appointed to the Board of AGN International Ltd., UK at its meeting in Paris recently.

He was also appointed West Asia & Africa chairman at the regional meeting held in Syria in November 2008.

AGN is a worldwide association of separate and independent accounting and consulting firms. Each AGN member operates under its own local, national name.

AGN is represented in over 90 countries and has over 500 worldwide offices. It's ranked sixth worldwide in International Accounting Association's, on fee basis.

Com. Solution

Dialog Broadband Networks launched SmartHome, an all-in-one communication solution for households. SmartHome is a simple and cost effective communication solution that integrates voice, broadband internet and email into a single package.SmartHome is a convergence of technology and offers a multitude of benefits for the domestic internet and fixed voice-line user. The ability to connect a fax line to the SmartHome system is another advantage of this communication solution. SmartHome gives the customer a single bill for total voice, broadband internet and email services, and this comes in addition to the cost benefits offered through the SmartHome connection. Dialog Fixed-Telephony and Broadband Services Chief Operating Officer Suren Goonewardene aired his views in this regard.

Rs. 5.6 mn. For soldiers

Mobitel recently handed over a cheque worth Rs.3.9 million contributed by its subscribers, to the ‘ApiWenuwenApi’ Housing Project undertaken by the Defence Ministry, taking the subscribers’ total contribution to the fund up to Rs.5.6 million to date.

Associated at this event were Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka Telecom Mobitel Chairperson Mrs. Leisha De Silva Chandrasena, Mobitel CEO Suren J. Amarasekera,Senior General Manager Sales and Distribution Chandika Vitharana and General Manager Marketing Roshan Kaluarachchi.

Certified partner

MillenniumIT (MIT), a system integration company became the first partner in Sri Lanka to obtain both the Cisco Advanced Unified Communications (UC) and Cisco Advanced Security Certifications (SC) recently.

 MIT has over 30 dedicated Cisco certified engineers and Routing and Switching and Unified Communications labs locally.

The Advanced UC and SC are Cisco programmes on Internet networking equipment and network management to acknowledge the partner’s investment in gaining the necessary expertise in selling, designing, installing, and supporting integrated advanced technology solutions.

UC focuses on IP Communications market opportunities that require advanced product knowledge and the ability to deploy solutions over multiple sites and geographies.

The focus of the SC specialization is on developing sales, technical, and services capabilities that distinguish channel partners by providing integrated, collaborative, and adaptive security solutions.

MIT’s Networking Business Head Gladwyn Georgesz and Cisco India & SAARC Vice President Sales (Sri Lanka region) Rajkumar Natarajan also made their comments in regard to the same.

Neonatal care

Nawaloka Hospital PLC Chairman Deshamanya H.K.Dharmadasa recently opened their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in their new state-of the-art hospital complex in the presence of consultant paediatricians, obstetricians and gynaecologists. 

“ At NICU we have 12 equipped beds with ventilator facilities and a one to one nurse to bed ratio,” said Nawaloka Hospitals Director/General Manager Professor Lal Chandrasena.

Fake fags

Counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes have been on the rise in 2009 with over Rs. 500 million worth of cigarettes being confiscated by the authorities during the first quarter of 2009 Ceylon Tobacco Company in a statement said.

The company in the period under review made a profit after tax of Rs. 493 million, a 39% year on year increase, whilst contributing Rs.11.4 billion to Government revenue.

Air travel hit

Global premium travel declined by 16.7% in January and 21.1% in February,

reports IATA, noting an extra day in February 2008.

The number of economy class passengers fell 8.3% in February, following a 4.7% fall in January.

In March, total global passenger demand fell to 11.1% below March 2008 levels;

freight demand was down 21.4%. DOT reports U.S. airlines carried 10.9% fewer system passengers (51.5 million) in January, year-on-year; with 11.5% fewer domestic and 7.2% fewer international passengers, and average load factors of 73%.

U.S. carriers operated 769,500 flights, down 11.2%; domestic down 11.6%, international down 7.5%. ATA reports that U.S. airline passenger volumes fell 10% in March, compared to a year ago, with passenger revenue down 23% as carriers cut fares by 13% in an effort to spur demand; cargo traffic declined 21% year over year both in January and February. (Washington Aviation Summary)

120 destinations

Emirates Holidays’2009-2010 brochure of nearly 500 pages covers over 120 worldwide destinations.

“Birds of Ceylon”

The first guide book on Sri Lanka to be published in Russian, ‘Guide to Birds of Sri Lanka’ was launched at the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB), Colombo recently.

Representing the publishers, JMT Travels Tour Operators Managing Director Natalia Chelnokova presented the first copy to SLTPB Chairman Bernard Goonetilleke.

This 122 page book contains 120 colourful pictures of various bird species identified by their scientific names. 

The book intended to facilitate Russian visitors interested in the

diversity of destination Sri Lanka’s tourism offers, will also be exhibited in Russia in schools and universities.

A publication in Russian on the National Parks of Sri Lanka is due to be released shortly.

Employee retention

Sri Lanka Ceramics Council (SLCC) is pleased that the Government, having considered the implications of the recently introduced excise duty on LPG has removed it with effect from March 26 2009, SLCC in a press release said.

The Council also notes with appreciation the speed with which the decision has been implemented by Finance Ministry officials.

This indicates the Government’s responsiveness to factors affecting the competitiveness of particularly export industries.  “This move will also help the endeavours of our member companies to focus on one of their main objectives during this crisis period; that of making efforts whereever possible to retain its current labour force.

Royal tops

Royal College ‘A’ team emerged winners of Sri Lankan Masterminds 2009, while Soft Tec, Seylan Bank and Commercial Bank ‘A’ team were close behind at the Sri Lanka Masterminds competition that was held recently.

Over 30 teams, representing the corporate sector and schools participated at this event. as well.

The event was sponsored by DFCC Vardhana Bank.

Passes Rs. 1 bn.

Amana Takaful Insurance (ATI) recorded its first year of premium income above Rs one billion in 2008, together with improvement to the bottom line, by reducing its operating losses by 65.7%, in its 10th year of operations in Sri Lanka.

ATI Chairman Tyeab Akbarally and Director/Chief Executive Officer Ehsan Zaheed made their comments in this regard.

Tea export prices down 10%

Tea export prices in February 2009 declined by 9.6% year on year (YoY) to US$ 3.46 a kilo, while its Colombo Tea Auction price in February 2009 declined by 16.4% YoY                      to US$ 2.54 a kg.

Meanwhile rubber export prices in February 2009 declined by 42.1% YoY to US$ 1.46 a kg., while coconut export prices in February 2009 declined by 26.4% YoY to US$ 0.14 a nut.


 In Brief







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