Thursday, June 29, 2006

Colombo Calling

As Sri Lanka went on the brink on civil war and a high-ranking military official was assasinated on his way to work, I was there in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for work.

There was clearly a visible army presence in the city. At night, when you travelled, you would be stopped from time to time for random checks. But the military officers that stopped us were polite and careful not to alarm a foreign visitor.

One of the things that surprised me is how people have accepted that the political uncertainty is here to stay. Despite this, it has not dampened its people's desire to do good for their country.

My Sri Lankan host explained, "Generally, the unhappiness is with the army and political leadership. However, sometimes there are civilian casualties as a result of attacks against the army."

And this was seen in how many people are committed to learning and development. For example, I met a lawyer who for the last 15 years has almost independently coordinated the publication of the Sri Lankan Bar Association's law journal. And managing a law journal is no small feat!

There is also a lot of development work going on. Sri Lanka's tallest landmark is in the process of being built. Its airport is being renovated to match some of the best airports in the world. In fact, when I landed and walked into the arrival area of the airport, it felt like I had touched down in Heathrow Airport in London, England.

I stayed in Cinnamon Hotel and its standard of hospitality matches that of the Hilton or the JW Marriott.

Sri Lanka has also opened its economy to attract foreign investors. Foreign entities can own up to 100% of ventures. Some of the world's best companies are setting up shop here.

The Sri Lankan government has also just announced plans to have companies run taxi fleets of international standards. Banks and insurance companies are seeking to increase their capital to provide better services to their customers.

It is also easy to do business here since people speak their mind and generally tell you what they can or cannot do. So you are less likely to be left second guessing what's on people's minds!

There is also good balance of old and new. The day to day affairs of some companies are run by young persons - some a lot younger than me! And the strategic direction in these companies is handled by what I would call "wise old men"; many come back from retirement to do this. For example, the chief of one company I visited is 72 years old!

These companies have made good use of technology and talent from overseas to grow their business.

I have come home desiring to persuade my friends to take a holiday in Sri Lanka. Colombo is indeed a city to go back to.

Dharmendra Yadav

No comments: