Top entrepreneur Access Group Chairman Sumal Perera on Wednesday suggested that his fellow business leader Vallibel One Group Chairman Dhammika Perera should consider becoming the next presidential candidate prompted by a scintillating discussion on politics and the economy.
The duo got entangled in debate along with four other business leaders at the packed ‘Fireside Chat’ organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka (ICCSL), the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) Sri Lanka Division and the Daily FT.
The event featured Access Group Founder and Chairman Sumal Perera, Hirdaramani Group Director and former Chairman Janak Hirdaramani, Vallibel One Group Founder, Chairman and Managing Director Dhammika Perera, Stassen Group Chairman and Managing Director Harry Jayawardena, MJF Group Founder and Chairman Merrill J. Fernando, and Softlogic Holdings PLC Founder, Chairman and CEO Ashok Pathirage.
During the lengthy discussion that spanned many different topics, the business leaders highlighted the challenges of doing business in an environment riddled with policy inconsistencies and called for stronger engagement with policymakers.
Despite largely agreeing with his compatriots, Dhammika Perera had a slightly different view, offering to provide extensive expertise to the Government to assist policymakers to understand a range of issues from flood mitigation to debt management.
His lengthy explanations were received with multiple rounds of enthusiastic applause, and Perera even included sage advice to participants on not becoming depressed over the country’s current political and economic situation. Instead, he advocated for professionals to focus on their work, assuring that Sri Lanka’s economic woes were not as serious as they appeared. His insightful analysis delivered with a sprinkling of humorous comments delighted all participants.
“Any government asks for technical assistance, and I’m happy to put my time because it is my passion. Even today you can ask how to restructure 40 ministries and I can answer. You can ask me how to restructure total debt, I can answer. I have solutions. I have done the research as part of my business and because I’m not involved in day-to-day operations, I have enough time to do the analysis. It is because I have this knowledge that politicians sometimes seek my assistance and I can put my time into any government. I have no issue. But implementation is the biggest problem,” he said.
Having heard out Perera on several topics, Sumal Perera suggested that Dhammika Perera toss his hat into the ring to contest the next presidential election. The recommendation of sorts sparked laughter and applause from the audience who appeared to support Sumal Perera’s view. The sprightly discussion also took a slightly contentious turn when the discussions revolved around Government inefficiency, mismanagement and wastage, with Sumal Perera insisting that the taxpaying private sector should have access to better services and support from the public sector.
“If the private sector is going to be the engine of growth, then you can’t take money from that and give it to an inefficient public sector. It is as simple as that. You can’t take from an efficient sector and give to an inefficient sector. It’s like us having a group of companies and from all our profitable companies we take the profit and keep alive some unprofitable subsidiary. If the private sector is the engine of growth, then you must support that,” said Sumal Perera, giving an example of challenges he faced when taxes for the construction industry were increased under the Inland Revenue Act and Nation Building Tax revisions.
Dammika Perera responded by pointing out that the Government had to increase its earnings to provide essential services, run the public sector and manage macroeconomic needs such as debt payments.
“The private sector has to grow, but the Government must also balance their cash flow because otherwise, the country cannot run. I was involved as a policymaker under the previous Government, so I can understand, as both a businessman and a policymaker, how to run the country. We have to balance both. I know that the private sector is unhappy,” he noted.
At this point, Sumal Perera remarked: “I think you should run for president. I would support you fully.”
However, Dhammika Perera emphasised that he has no political aspirations and was only keen to extend expertise if requested by the Government.