13th August,  2006 Volume 13, Issue 5

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


Raffles for culinary delights

By Kshanika Argent

Located at Bagatalle Road, Colombo where formerly Café Kent was housed, Raffles Restaurant is a fairly new addition to Colombo’s elite fine dining restaurants.

Raffles has been dishing out culinary delights for the past three years, but has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the most innovative and refreshingly different restaurants in town.

Raffles is housed in a colonial styled building, which is over a 100 years old. The outer appearance of the restaurant which speaks of old world charm is vastly different from the sleek and new age setting of the inner dining area.

The restaurant is open from 10am to late evening and the indoor dining area can accommodate up to 90 guests, while the outdoor garden dining area can accommodate about 100 people. Cozy and laid back, Raffles serves what Managing Director Tony Bohoran likes to call ‘New World Cuisine’. The brand new menus soon to be introduced to the restaurant will feature a host of "new fusion dishes" which Bohoran has been a pioneer in introducing to Sri Lanka.

Bohoran, a chef himself has been in the food industry for the past 25 years and has a degree in Professional Cookery from the Ceylon Hotel School and School of Tourism as well as a degree from the American Hotel & Motel Association.

Together with directors Mohan De Silva and Oscar Wanigasekera and Director Operations Shan Nawas, they hope to take Raffles to new heights by expanding overseas in the near future.

The impressive menu consists of all kinds of imported and local meats, a wide variety of seafood, vegetarian dishes, as well as mouth watering desserts and also an extensive range of wines from over seven countries, a bar that is stocked with a host of imported spirits, all for reasonable prices.

Bohoran says, "Fusion cooking is the rave now, incorporating different flavours to come up with exotic dishes is the ‘in thing.’ It’s already caught on in western countries and is getting more popular in Sri Lanka today. At Raffles, we use local spices and other ingredients to create a western styled dish. One of the favorites here is my ‘ Coconut Crusted Fish with Sweet Tamarind Sauce.’"

Bohoran added that while he sticks to a more or less western presentation, the flavours are Asian. As for Raffles clientele, he says that the majority of them are corporate, government, NGOs and from foreign missions. Raffles’ outdoor catering division is doing well due to their super service, quality and tasteful food, above all value for money. Raffles also caters to the occasional wedding, providing star class service of which they are famous for.

According to Bohoran, the present trend is that more and more people entertain their guests at home and Raffles has some great packages for home catering starting from six people and above which is popular. As for special promotions, Raffles has a cheesecake promotion, which ends today (August 6). A wide range of delicious cheese cakes were on offer including chocolate chip, strawberry, blueberry, Nougatine and Kahlua, all of which were made using the Fonterra Brand of products.

Soon to be introduced is dishes from the Orient, which according to Bohoran is a special surprised to Raffles diners. Another feature regulars should look forward to is the privilege membership card which will be issued to all regulars and will entitle them to discounts.

Also coming soon to Raffles is a new cookery class, which will be conducted by Bohoran himself every Saturday for eight weeks. The course starts from August 19 and will be a comprehensive course in fine cooking, social etiquette, menu planning and table setting. The fee which is reasonably priced will include lunch, refreshments and course material. Entries will be limited to only 25 people.

Software industry urged to replicate Irish model

The $ 70 million local software industry should try to replicate the success of the garments trade by planning to "speak with one voice" concerning industry issues and by aiming at niche markets.

Sri Lanka should try to emulate Ireland and not India, in this field, by trying to create software solutions catering to the high end of the market, experts at a software industry seminar that was held on Thursday said.

Software Exporters Association (SEA) Vice Chairman Mano Sekaram speaking at this seminar said that Sri Lanka should try to replicate the Irish model and not the Indian model. He said that India has 400,000 IT qualified personnel, with 40-50,000 joining the industry annually.

India’s software industry was valued at $ 8-10 billion. But, Ireland, which is a country smaller than Sri Lanka both in population and size, generates a turnover in their software operations that is equivalent to that of India, he said.

The secret is to go for high value, said Sekaram. Value drives up prices, while volumes drive down prices, he said.

EDB Director General Sujatha Weerakoon said that the problem in taking this industry forward from the EDB point of view was its lack of unity.

In the past, the EDB had been involved in sponsoring the local software industry on a number of overseas sales promotional tours. She however said that because the industry does not speak with one voice, it was difficult for the EDB to promote it with the government.

SEA Chairman Jayantha de Silva agreeing with Weerakoon said that in a recent promotional tour to London titled Serendib and sponsored by the government, industry representatives who participated at this fair were giving different messages to clients.

De Silva said that to rectify this shortcoming, the two major associations dealing with software exports, namely SEA and the Sri Lanka Association of Software Industries, taking a cue from the country’s successful garment industry, is planning to merge, so that they could speak on behalf of the industry with one voice.

He said that the MoU in this connection would be signed next week.

The futility of trying to emulate India was further underscored when it was said that India annually produces one million graduates and 300,000 engineers yearly.

Sekaram also said that due to the disunity of the industry, countries such as Malta, Egypt and Ghana were pulling ahead of Sri Lanka, though being late starters in the industry compared with Sri Lanka.

Tony Weerasinghe, CEO Millenium Information Technologies (MIT) told the audience that Fidelity, an outsourcing company, wants a minimum of 1,000 people for their operations, a number which Sri Lanka cannot generate.

MIT is a local software company with offices in the USA and Singapore that has specialized in catering to niche markets, by providing customized software solutions to stock exchange trading platforms both here and abroad.

"Don’t try to have your fingers in every pie," said Weerasinghe. He further said that Sri Lankan software companies face an identity crisis when trying to market themselves globally. "It is because they have not heard about our country," he said.

Weerasinghe who recently won a contract to establish a software trading platform for the Boston Stock Exchange (BSE), said that when he first tried to obtain a request for proposal (RFP) document, he was refused because they had not heard of MIT.

He had then tried to get an appointment with its president, but that too was turned down.

Finally, Weerasinghe was able to sell his idea to the BSE President while the latter was having a dental appointment and the rest was history.

He further said that the security risk was something that Sri Lanka would have to learn to live with. Recently, bombs went off in a number of places in India, but now nobody is talking about it, he said.

What is important is performance, said Weerasinghe. Superior performance and delivery nullifies all other negatives such as security risk, he said.

Meanwhile, the government controlled Institute of Communication Technology Association (ICTA) has obtained aid to the tune of $ five million from USAID and the World Bank to take the local software industry forward.

"Part of these monies would be used for a promotional campaign in the UK, where selected local software companies would be taken to England on a match-making programme early next year," said Ranjit Fernando of PriceWaterhouseCoopers that has been appointed as the implementing agency of this project.

Fernando, a former secretary to the Enterprise Development Ministry and CEO NDB said that the local apparel industry was built-up by the banks. This was when the subject of the lack of funds for the development of the industry cropped-up at this seminar.

What is needed is confidence building, he said.

ICICI Bank that helped develop the Indian software industry is now here with plans to open 12 branches. The industry should tap this bank for funding, said Fernando. He also emphasised the importance of branding. He said that one of the top garment exporting companies vendors a particular bra in the US market for $ six.

But that same bra is retailed for $ 128 in the US market, he said. Fernando therefore emphasised the importance of forward integration. He said that one of the successes of the garment industry was their ability to "steal" the best brains.

When he was CEO NDB, he lost a number of his banker graduates, because of this type of poaching.

Harrods buys Stassen teas

Despite Sri Lanka’s over 100 year history in exporting teas, most of it is shipped in bulk form, with little or no value addition.

One of the few local companies that is trying to reverse this trend is the Stassens Group which exports premium teas to Harrods of London, a top departmental store in the UK.

Harrods buys these speciality teas at premium prices ranging from an average Great Britain Pounds (GBP) three a kilo to GBP 14.50 per 100 grams This is in contrast to the average price of $ two a kg that teas fetch in the Colombo Auction.

Harrods in turn retails some of these premium teas at GBP 60 per 100 grams. H. Rahman (60), Consultant Tea and Coffee Harrods told reporters on Friday that Harrods has doubled their offtake of speciality teas from Sri Lanka during the past five years, from 25,000 kg. (25 metric tons) to 50,000 kg. due to the succesful business relationship that Harrods has with Stassens, that controls 36 tea gardens in Sri Lanka.

This departmental store buys most of its Ceylon teas from Stassens. Rahman, a Bangladeshi who has been a tea-taster at Harrods for 30 years said that their link at Stassens is one of its directors, Zackie Alif.

Harrods is also into designer tea, just like the designer names that one gets in clothing, Rahman said.

Among the speciality teas that Harrods buys are those that are known as Cocktail teas that fetch an export price of GBP 14.50 for 100 grams and at the retail end in London GBP 60, Silver Tips, Gold Tips and Green Teas to name a few.

Currently Harrods is negotiating with Stassens to buy a type of teas known as "Eagle Nest" which could fetch a premium price of GBP 10 per 100 grams, he said. "The requirement is for 1,000 kg. of Eagle Nest, but we would be fortunate if Stassens could supply 30 kg annually," said Rahman.

He said that annually Harrods procures around 150,000 kg. of speciality teas worldwide, with half of it procured from India, mainly from Assam, including Darjeeling teas produced from that region.

When The Sunday Leader asked whether there would be an impact if Ceylon Tea changed its name to Sri Lanka Tea, he said that from Harrods point of view there would be no impact. Teas grown in Sri Lanka are known by both names by Harrods, said Rahman. It is upto the local Tea Board to decide under which name teas grown in Sri Lanka should be identified, he said.

Ceylinco, ahead of Swiss Re, and all

By Kshanika Argent

Ceylinco Insurance (CI), the leading insurer in Sri Lanka, was crowned the most innovative insurance company in Asia for 2006, for its groundbreaking "One and Only" (OaO) insurance policy.

CI General Division with its innovative product OaO impressed the 22 member judges panel drawn from regulators, industry and association leaders from the Asian and global markets at the Tenth Asia Insurance Industry Awards 2006 held at the Empire Theatre, Brunei recently.

Most, if not all global players, through their offices based in Asia were in the running for the awards and, as a result, many Europeans and American companies bagged the bulk of the prizes with only a few being awarded to Asian companies.

In the highly competitive category of ‘Innovation of the year’, CI received the coveted top prize, ahead of multinational giants operating in Asia, like Swiss Re, HSBC International Life, American Home Assurance, HSBC Insurance Brokers, 3i Infortech and Benfield.

The judges in their review said, "CI, as long been regarded as one of the more innovative players in the market place, and with the launch of its OaO insurance product, it is clear that the company is continuing this tradition."

The Asian Insurance Awards, considered the "Oscars in the insurance world" are jointly organized by the Singapore-based Asian Insurance Review and the London based The Review, to honour Asia’s finest in the insurance industry.

Ajith Gunawardene, Chief Executive Director of the company had this to say, "We aim to satisfy the aspirations of our customers. We look beyond the traditional approach, thus being a vibrant and innovative company close to the hearts of our customers, in introducing solutions to fulfil their needs.

The OaO product was born as a result of our staff being encouraged to take part in the new product development process and I express my appreciation to all of them.

Further we wish to express our gratitude to the Arpico and Laugfs chain of supermarkets and to all our partners in the outstations who made the success of this product possible."

Ceylinco Insurance Company Ltd (CICL) Chairman Dr. Lalith Kotelawala, said, "It is a significant accomplishment for a Sri Lankan company to achieve such a recognition in the global scenario. This proves once again our concern for the Sri Lankan insuring public and we will continue to meet the needs of all Sri Lankans."

Over the years, CI has invented and reinvented products to suite the diverse needs of its customers. The insurance giant has constantly placed its customers requirements in the forefront, with "compassionate" solutions and moreover, proving to be a beacon of hope during the nation’s darkest hour, the 2004 tsunami.

Last year, CI was the only insurer to come forward and settle all claims following the tsunami devastation. Last year too the company launched the "OaO" insurance scheme with a vision to introduce into the market a product that defies the theory of insurance only being affordable to the affluent.

Instead, the OaO product was made available to all department segments of the market, via distribution through major supermarkets and department stores – a concept that had never been attempted before in the world of insurance.

CI was first recognized as a true innovator in "Asia 2003", when it won the award for its revolutionary motor insurance scheme of settling motor accident claims – VIP On-The-Spot.

Danish monk promotes FOSS

Sri Lanka’s Free Open Source Software (FOSS) week begins today. And one of the propagandists to promote FOSS because it is free, or, where a copy of a FOSS programme compatible with a licensed product could be got for a fraction of the cost of the latter from a departmental store in Colombo, is a Danish Buddhist Monk, Venerable Mettavihari (61).

Mettavihari who learnt his computers while serving in the Danish army told reporters on Wednesday the seemingly obvious thing, that pirating is wrong.

"When free software, as compatible with the likes of licensed software such as Windows is available, why resort to pirating?" Mettavihari who is based in Maharagama asked.

"We must have a proper license if we are using Microsoft," he said. Pirated copy is wrong. Eighty per cent of the people are using pirated software though the government discourages it, said Mettavihari. FOSS is the alternative.

There is a community that produces FOSS, they believe that the software they produce should be free, he said. "Let us pay for licenses or look for alternatives," Mettavihari added.

A South African philanthropist sends FOSS programmes by airmail free on request, he said. Mettavihari who has been in Sri Lanka since 1969, married a local architect, before the couple who were childless, entered the monkhood by their own volition in 1988.

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