‘Slow economic growth threatens not only our very existence, but also our future’ | Daily News

‘Slow economic growth threatens not only our very existence, but also our future’

Lalith Wijetunge
Lalith Wijetunge

OPA’s President Elect Lalith Wijetunge speaks to the Daily News

Poor national growth is a personal disaster for every Sri Lankan and from kitchen tables and factory doors to boardrooms and trading doors, Sri Lankans of all walks of life have reason to be concerned about the future economic growth of our country as global competitiveness and continuous innovation are essential to any economic growth strategy in the 21st century

Therefore, we believe that every policy decision on strategic imperatives for economic growth can be and must be evaluated to enhance Sri Lanka’s competitiveness and unleash innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.

That is why we envisioned bringing out this most pertinent topic to light through publicizing the 30th Annual Conference on 'Strategic Imperatives for Economic Growth' that has been organized by the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA) on September 28 and 29.

The OPA, as the apex body comprising the nation’s most esteemed specialists who are undisputed authorities in their chosen spheres of expertise, will, through this conference, inspire and enlighten participants on key topics such as Human Resource Management and Technology for Economic Growth and Economic Development and Political Stability.

We believe that the eminent speakers who are experts in their field of studies addressing the audience on this day will bring new clarity and pragmatism to an issue that is often confusing and complicated.

The ensuing dialogue between the writer and Lalith Wijetunge, President Elect of the OPA could be an important and thought-provoking start, shedding light over the role played by OPA in leading thought and perhaps guiding the destinies of millions of Sri Lankans through their 30th Annual Conference.

Q. Growth is not a simple prescription, so how do we achieve greater economic growth through the able stewardship of OPA?

A. The truth is that Sri Lanka is in the thick of an economic crisis - a crisis born of deep indebtedness. If not arrested soon, it will keep employment and incomes at the worst for generations to come.

Therefore, we need to act prudently and with a renewed vision to stop the country from going down the precipice.

The need for reforming the economy is compelling as there is no way we can carry on in the current scenario.

In this context the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka could play a pivotal role as professionalism entails possessing specialist knowledge while following a standard of conduct based on ethics that govern the use of this knowledge when providing a service to the public.

Professionals provide essential and valuable services to any society. It is for this reason that the public depends on them more and more as economies advance. Therefore, professional status is an implied social contract to provide a service over and above normal duties.

In this regard, a professional is viewed as one who carries additional moral responsibility and is honest, impartial and with high integrity.

If we are to succeed economically, we need to demonstrate appropriate levels of professionalism as a professional is open to views of others and are objective and their decisions are made in the best interest of the country.

As professionals in Sri Lanka, we need to evaluate our performance and aim to constantly improve and we need to see ourselves as part of the solution rather than the problem.

Q. You justifiably elaborated the role of a professional in the context of Strategic Imperatives for Economic Growth. Now I wish to know how OPA is leading them?

A. The Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka was established in 1974 mooting the idea of a joint professional body to cater to the country’s growing need of professional opinion.

The OPA is now in its 42nd year and is the apex body comprising of 48 member associations representing the professions of accountancy, agriculture, archeology, architecture, banking, chemistry, computer science, defence, dentistry, economics, engineering, gemology, hospitality, law, librarianship, management, maritime, marketing, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, quantity surveying, science, ship brokering, statistics, supply management, surveying, town planning, human resources management and valuation with a combined membership exceeding over 50,000. Over the years, the OPA has grown into a powerful civil society consisting of an impressive list of professionals in varied fields whose outreach is extensive. To ensure broader participation, the OPA started the Annual Conference of which the first one was held in 1988.

Since then, the OPA has organized 29 annual conferences under a wide range of themes and policy papers submitted to the government for inclusion in the national policy and budget.

The OPA also holds regular seminars, workshops and lectures for members and the public thus creating awareness on good governance and development of the country while a number of standing committees work on diverse spheres enveloping issues of national magnitude.

The OPA activities culminate in its Annual Conference, the major event of the year. This inaugural ceremony of the 30th Annual Conference will be held on September 28 at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel Colombo from 5.30 pm onwards.

Every year the Conference has an objective which focuses on a theme that is timely and important to professionals and the country. This year’s theme is 'Strategic Imperatives for Economic Growth', which is of great relevance to the country in its present context.

The Technical Sessions will be held on September 29 at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo from 8.30 am onwards.

Many intellectuals and senior professionals, both local and from overseas, will attend these technical sessions followed by a panel discussion. The proceedings of the Annual Conference will be published and made available to the members and the public. The outcome of the Technical Sessions will be submitted to the Government of Sri Lanka for its consideration.

The President of the OPA will present the welcome speech and President Elect will introduce the theme of the 30th Annual Conference, 'Strategic Imperatives for Economic Growth'.

The Chief Guest, Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy, will welcome the distinguished audience. The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Adil Malia, Chief Executive and Managing Director, The FiRM (Firdose Robin & Malia LLP).

Technical Sessions of the Conference will begin at 8.30 am on September 29 with the welcome address by Lalith Wijetunge, President Elect of the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka.

Session I between 9.00 am to 10.30 am - main topic will be Human Resource Management for Economic Growth. Chris Obeysekera, General Manager (HR & Administration) Lanka Bell will chair the Session. Murali Prakash, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Taprobane Holdings PLC will speak on Key Human Resource Management Challenges while Darshana Amarasinghe, General Manager, Union Assurance PLC will speak on Managing the Skills Gap.

In Session II from 11.00 am to 12.30 pm - main topic will be Technology for Economic Growth. Peter D’Almeida, Managing Director, N*able (Pvt) Ltd will chair the session. Dinesh Saparamadu, Chief Executive Officer, hsenid Business Solutions (Private) Limited will speak on Technology Penetration in the Knowledge Economy while Rohan Pallewatte, Chief Executive Officer Lanka, Harness Company (Private) Limited will speak on Innovation and Creativity.

In Session III from 1-30 pm to 3.00 pm, main topic will be Economic Development and Political Stability, Ruwan Gallage, President, OPA will chair the Session. Professor Sirimal Abeyratne, Professor of Economics University of Colombo will speak on New Approaches for Economic Development, while Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Leader of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Member of Parliament and Chief Opposition Whip will speak on Political Stability for Economic Growth.

The Panel Discussion from 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm will be moderated by Professor Ajantha Dharmasiri, Director, Post Graduate Institute, University of Sri Jayawardenapura, and President, Institute of Personnel Management with Panelists Dr. Adil Malia, Chief Executive and Managing Director, The FiRM (Firdose Robin & Malia LLP) and Dr. M Ganeshamoorthy, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Colombo, Jonathan Alles, Managing Director, Hatton National Bank, Nishan de Mel, Executive Director, Verite Research in attendance.

The OPA today stands as a renowned institution binding together professionals representing the widest spectrum of disciplines addressing national and international issues having a direct impact on the country.

Q. How is your professional profile in line with the responsibilities you hold now as President Elect of the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka?

A. I am a Fellow Member of the Institute of Personnel Management of Sri Lanka and Past President of the Institute of Personnel Management of Sri Lanka for three consecutive years from 2007 to 2010.

During my tenure as President of the Institute of Personnel Management of Sri Lanka, I was able to transform the Institute into a dynamic and vibrant professional body, whilst bringing HR into the forefront in the corporate world. I was able to represent IPM Sri Lanka in several international forums in various parts of the world including the United Kingdom. I served as Vice President of the Asia Pacific Federation of Human Resources Management, the professional body of Human Resources and People Management Associations’ representative countries in the Asia Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand and all other Asian Countries.

I have participated in several international meetings and conferences in various parts of the world representing the HR fraternity of the country including the World Federation of Personnel Management and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in the United Kingdom.

In recognition of my outstanding contribution to the HR profession in Sri Lanka and overseas, I was awarded the 'IPM Lifetime Gold Medal for HR Excellence” in 2017', the highest accolade an individual could be crowned with for achieving excellence in the HR profession.

Also the 'Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution in HR' at Sri Lanka’s Best Employer Brand Excellence Awards in 2017, 'Lifetime Achievement Award in HR' at the 'Global HR Excellence Awards' in 2013 in Mumbai, India, 'Lifetime Achievement Award in HR' at the 'Asia’s Best Employer Brand Awards 2012' in Singapore and 'International Pride of HR Profession Award' at the Asia Pacific HR Congress in 2009 in India.

I am a Professional Member of the Institute of Management (U.K.), The Institute of Management Services (UK), Fellow Member of the Sri Lanka Institute of Training and Development, Fellow Member of the Institute of Certified Professional Managers of Sri Lanka and Life Member of the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka.

My professional experience is wide and varied since I have served as Head of Human Resources at Sri Lanka Telecom, Human Capital Solutions (Private) Limited, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (popularly known as Lake House), Ceylon Leather Products Private limited, Korea Ceylon Footwear Manufacturing Limited and in numerous private and public sector organizations. I serve as Consultant - Human Resources & Administration at Dutch Lanka Trailer Manufacturers Limited, a well reputed BOI company, at present. 


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