The 26 female professional leaders who spoke at the Daily FT-Colombo University MBA Alumni Association pre-Budget Forum in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank. Finance State Minister Eran Wickramaratne, Treasury Deputy Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Standard Chartered Bank Sri Lanka CEO Jim McCabe, Colombo University MBAAA President Thusitha de Silva and Daily FT Editor Nisthar Cassim are also present – Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera, Indraratne Balasuriya and Lasantha Kumara –
By Charumini de Silva
In a first-of-its-kind forum, 26 top female professionals yesterday spoke out on a multitude of issues confronting them and the economy and shared their ideas and recommendations for the Government to considerahead of next month’s Budget.
The forthright comments on industry and gender issues and the appropriate solutions to resolve them were highlighted to a top team from the Finance Ministry at the unique Daily FT-Colombo University MBA Alumni Association-organised pre-Budget Forum at the Hilton Colombo. Standard Chartered Bank was the strategic partner for the eighth consecutive pre-Budget Forum.
State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne, Senior Advisor to the Finance Ministry Mano Tittawella, Treasury Deputy Secretary S.R. Atygalle and Finance Ministry Economic Advisor Deshal de Mel were among the event’s eminent attendees.
Each of the 26 female leaders listed three or fewer primary challenges and problems as well as recommendations to overcome them. Female employee welfare and measures to increase the participation of women in the labour force as well as overall human capital development and education system reformfigured highly on the discussions’ agenda. The woman leaders drawn from different sectors also listed issues facing the economy and suggested their solutions for the Finance Ministry’sconsideration
Among them were an improvement to the ease of doing business, the introduction of new technology, digitalisation and changes to tourism, agriculture, property, real estate and construction, shipping and logistics, ICT, craft and the creative economy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, banking, finance and insurance, capital markets, leather, cinema and advertising.
The problems listed included excessive and unnecessary taxation, ad hoc policy decisions, a lack of finance, high cost of finance, public sector inefficiency, etc.
The female professional leaders who spoke out were Chathuri Ranasinghe – Chairperson, Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce;Chiranthi Cooray – Chief Human Resources Officer Hatton National Bank; Prof. Chitra Weddikkara – Chartered Architect; Darshi Keerthisena – Creative Director, Buddhi Batiks; Gayani de Alwis – Chairperson, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Sri Lanka; Gowri Rajan – Director, Sun Match Company; Indrani Fernando – Managing Director, Philips Hospital; Jayanthi Dharmasena – Director, Hayleys Plc; Laila Gunesekere – President, International Advertising Association Sri Lanka; Lakmini Wijesundera – Chief Executive Officer, Iron One Technologies; Linda Speldewinde – Founder/Managing Director, Fashion Market.lk; Marise Deckker – Chairperson, Astron Ltd; Nilanthi Sivapragasam – Chief Financial Officer, Aitken Spence Plc; Prasansini Mendis – Chief Executive Officer, NDB Securities Ltd; Roshanie Jayasundera-Moraes – Executive Vice President, John Keells Holdings Plc; Samadanie Kiriwandeniya – Chairperson, Sanasa Development Bank; Sandya Salgado – Business Partner, Good Karma Consultancy; Shashi Kandambi Jassim – Senior Deputy General Manager, Sampath Bank; Shehani Seneviratne – Chief Operating Officer, 99X Technologies; Shehara Jayawardana, Group Joint Managing Director, McLarens Group; Sherine Fernando – Director, Janet Group of Companies; Shiromal Cooray – Managing Director, Jetwing Travels Ltd; Sonali Wickremaratne – Director/Head, Global Internal Audit Department, Virtusa; Sulochana Segera – Chairperson, Women in Management; Surekha Alles – Managing Director, Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd; and Sushanya Samarakkody – Director, S A Perera & Company.
Commending the efforts taken by the Government to encourage female participation in the labour force and entrepreneurship through the Enterprise Sri Lanka program, the industry leaders highlighted the importance of childcare facilities as another need to be incorporated in the Budget.
Many pointed out a lack of childcare facilities as a major factor for women in the 30 to 39 age group for leaving the workforce. Although setting up childcare facilities was outlined in the 2018 Budget, they claimed that it was not implemented except in one or two companies.
Despite tourism being identified as low-hanging fruit in bringing in much-needed foreign exchange to the economy, the industry claimed that bureaucracy and an unfair taxation system which applies only to the formal players which represent 40% of the sector was burned to a point where stakeholders found it difficult to continue businesses at present.
While many industries acknowledge it appears that bureaucracy was now crippling business rather than enabling enterprises, the tourism industry alleged that competition among bureaucrats had delayed the extremely important Global Tourism Campaign for years. Promoting cinema tourism and medical tourism were other proposals that were made.
The financial sector representing banks and insurance companies called for relaxed interest rates for SMEs, life insurance policies for women, the abolitionoff taxes on savings, the revocation of withholding tax on insurance policyholders, the establishment of development banks for large projects and the reconsiderationof finance sector consolidation.
Those from creative and crafts industries insisted that the sector should be on the national economic agenda, noting that those were areas which could easily be developed through a vast community, while also calling to consider creating a fund for craft entrepreneurship.
The top women professionals also offered their view on the sexual harassment they undergo at workplaces and within society at large, with many men considering them sex objects, which is a major factor forcing many women out of the workforce.