Lanka moving into a middle income country fast - WIEF Chairman | Daily News

Lanka moving into a middle income country fast - WIEF Chairman

World leaders including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the WIEF held in Jakarta.

Sri Lanka is developing into a higher middle income country with strong economic growth over the last five years, driven to a large extent by the development of MSMEs,World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Foundation Chairman,Musa Hitam said.

In an interview with Daily News Business he said that there is certainly a lot of potential for foreign direct investments and public-private partnerships with the country now focusing on infrastructure development like roads, highways and power generation.“This was the reason we invited Sri Lanka to the 12th forum in Jakarta,” Hitam said.

“We also welcome the participation of non-Muslim countries to the Forum as business collaboration should be opened to all and not restricted by differences in religion or culture. This has always been our firm stand as a winning formula in encouraging greater participation at the WIEF.

“We believe that Sri Lanka's participation at the Forum would be a win-win situation for the country and participants wanting to explore new business opportunities provided by the current government.”

Asked to comment if Sri Lanka would be an eligible country to host the event he said that with the full support of the Sri Lankan government, Colombo can certainly be one possible venue as we look forward to organising the Forum in the future.”

“We are looking at several options, and hope to make an official announcement soon on the venue for the 13th WIEF.

There is a strong possibility that the Forum will return to Malaysia in line with our preferred practice of organising it alternately in Malaysia and an appropriate country as offered by the relevant host government,” he said.Excerpts of the interview with Hitam.


Q: What made him launch WIEF?

The WIEF was launched in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 as an offshoot of the Malaysian-initiated OIC Business Forum to serve as a global platform with a wide geographical reach that goes beyond the membership of the OIC to encompass both the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.

The basic motivation is to “build bridges through business” by focusing on business, economic and developmental issues of interest to participants whilst eschewing political, security and religious cum theological issues.

The subsequent establishment of the WIEF Foundation with its own Permanent Secretariat in Kuala Lumpur in 2006, the meticulous crafting of the themes, structure and content of the Forum annually in line with current needs and the hosting of the Forum in different capitals - KualaLumpur, Islamabad, Kuwait, Jakarta, Astana, London and Dubai, have transformed the WIEF into a globally recognised platform that continues to enjoy the support of governments and international organisations, the corporate sector, the academia and key decision makers as well as participants including, in particular, women and youth.

Hitam with Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremasinghe inviting him for the 12th WIEF.

Q: How difficult was it to get it off the ground?

To be realistic about it, initiating something new like the WIEF against competing Forums already in existence elsewhere is not without its own set of challenges. But taking a deliberately calculated modest, step-by-step, bottom-up approach to meet and overcome such challenges from its very inception has allowed the Forum to successively progress incrementally to what it is today.

We are fortunate to be able to ensure that the Forum remains relevant and sustainable with the continued support of all stakeholders not only within Malaysia but also internationally.

Q: What were the problems he faced?

Here again, it would be unrealistic to suggest that no problems were encountered. But thanks to appropriate leadership guidance, funding support and a Secretariat dedicated to providing their level best in organising the annual Forum, we have been able to minimise and address whatever problems faced so as to ensure the WIEF's continued success.

Q: How did he iron out the legal issues when setting up the Foundation?

The WIEF Foundation was legally instituted under the rules and regulations of the Registrar of Societies of Malaysia with its own Memorandum of Association, a Board of Trustees and an International Advisory Panel.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia is the Patron of the WIEF Foundation by virtue of his post.

Q: Who helped him and how did he raise sponsorship?

In the teething years, the Foundation received the backing and support of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia and Patron of the WIEF Foundation, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Such support continued to be given by the current Patron and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Governmental linkage and support since its establishment have been crucial in enabling the Forum to secure global recognition and participation by all stakeholders.

Sponsorship of the annual WIEF and the many programmes under the WIEF Young Leaders Network, the WIEF Businesswomen Network, the WIEF Education Trust as well as the WIEF Roundtable comes mainly from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and major companies representing the corporate sector both within and outside Malaysia.

The WIEF Foundation welcomes funding support from outside Malaysia as a way of making the Forum less Malaysian-centric. 

Q: What support did the government give?

The Malaysian government had been instrumental in providing funding support by way of annual grants to cover operating expenses of the WIEF Foundation and special budgetary allocation for the hosting of the Forum in Malaysia since the launch of the Forum and the establishment of the Foundation. Similar support received by the relevant governments has allowed the Forum to be hosted in other capitals outside Malaysia.

Whilst the Forum itself is independently conceptualised and organised, continual support and cooperation received from other Malaysian Agencies including the Prime Minister's Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry have made it possible for the Forum to enjoy the participation of government leaders, the corporate sector and the media in the wide ranging and multi-faceted programmes offered. 

Q: How had the event helped the participating countries?

Participating countries benefit directly or indirectly through the opportunity provided by the Forum for their leaders to share their national economic strategy and investment opportunities to encourage the inflow of foreign direct investments as well as to engage with leaders of other countries.

The countries concerned were also able to showcase their products and to network with potential investors, business leaders and entrepreneurs from other countries.

One tangible outcome of the Forum was how the UK became the first country outside the Islamic world to issue a sovereign Sukuk in 2014.

Its total value was $200 million and it was 10 times oversubscribed by investors from the UK, Middle East and Asia. And this led the UK government to launch the first Islamic Market Index at the London Stock Exchange and to look at making London a global hub of Islamic finance.

The announcement to issue the Sukuk was made at the ninth WIEF which was held in London in 2013.

The most recent 12th WIEF held in Jakarta was also significant in successfully creating a strong momentum to accelerate economic growth not only in Indonesia but in other participating countries with the exchange of 10 Agreements between the Parties concerned relating to real estate, medical facility,halal industry, Islamic Finance and capital market amounting to US$ 899.6 million.

The Jakarta Forum also saw the Sri Lanka-Indonesia proposed collaboration in the development of a railway system in Sri Lanka; the Guinea-Indonesia agreement to start joint capacity development in the fields of agriculture, energy and aviation; and the Tajikistan-Indonesia agreement to establish bilateral cooperation to construct small and medium hydropower plants and to launch joint minerals processing ventures in Tajikistan.

As the organiser of the WIEF, our primary objective is to see leaders of participating countries taking full advantage of the platform offered to proactively initiate new areas of business and economic collaboration that would bring long term benefits to their respective people.

Q: What is the secret behind the success of WIEF?

I would say that our success, thus far, can be attributed to the unique nature of the WIEF itself - aplatform where Islamic economy, businesses, technology and culture intersect and where bridges are built connecting businesses in the Muslim and the non-Muslim world.

The WIEF is also non-elitist and is targeted at the ordinary people with special focus given on MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises).

The basic idea is to groom MSMEs into large corporations which in turn will help other deserving MSMEs to also grow.

As stated earlier, our bottom-up approach and focus on business and business only whilst eschewing issues relating to politics, security and religion have created a conducive environment at the Forum to promote business collaboration among participants without being distracted by such controversial issues.

I need to mention here, that to remain relevant we have been opened to new ideas, initiatives, innovation and creativity from within and outside the Foundation in the interest of continuously improving the structure and content of the Forum whilst widening our global reach in terms of individual participants and participating countries.

Several new features have been added since the first Forum.

These include Masterclasses, Business Exchange, IdeaPad, Pitching Sessions, LinkedUp, Special Complementary Programmes, Sponsors Programmes, Country Investment Programmes, SME Exhibition, Marketplace of Creative Arts Festival, and Business Networking Breakfast, all in all, specifically designed to cater to different audiences present at the Forum.

Q: What were the novel features at the Jakarta forum?

In close consultation with the Indonesian Government as host of the 12th WIEF in Jakarta, a special half-day programme on MSMEs was conceptualised for the last day of the Forum.

The primary objective was to upgrade MSMEs in Indonesia to the next level by introducing Sessions dedicated to discussions on the various options available for credit access and financing and on improving operations by adopting technology.

We also gave special emphasis to Sessions relating to the development of modest fashion into Haute Couture so as to be among the ranks of global brands in the fashion world/industry, infrastructure funding, Islamic Finance and halal industry including halal tourism. Being the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia is certainly well placed to benefit substantially from the promotion of Islamic economy covering all these key sectors. 


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