Colombo, December 18, 2010 – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank, concluded her two day official visit to Sri Lanka today by reaffirming the World Bank’s strong and expanding support to Sri Lanka as it transitions towards a middle-income country in lasting peace and noted the country’s potential in realizing its development goals.
“Sri Lanka has what it takes to be the Wonder of Asia through inclusive growth acceleration. To get there, raising investments, improving productivity of those investments through innovation policies, skills development and macroeconomic stability will be important,” said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. “Above all, implementing policies that promote the inclusion of all segments of society in the growth process, as envisaged in the Mahinda Chintana, will be crucial. Sri Lanka has won the war, now it must win the peace.”
Earlier today, she met with people who have benefitted from World Bank assisted projects in the Eastern Province, receiving firsthand accounts of how these projects are achieving the twin goals of inclusive development and enhanced economic growth. On her way to Batticoloa, she noted, "Flying over the east coast, I was awed by the incredible beauty of the country. It is clear that the end of the conflict offers enormous growth potential for Sri Lanka including in exportable services. I see tremendous opportunities in the tourism sector, especially linking up with the health sector to provide Health and Fitness tourism.”
Her visit to the Eastern Province follows meetings yesterday with President Rajapaksa, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal, and other senior officials along with the private sector. She delivered a speech on Accelerating Inclusive Growth in Sri Lanka on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Central Bank. During her speech, the Managing Director announced the country’s eligibility for financing from IBRD, the World Bank’s lending arm for middle income countries, in addition to continued financing from IDA. It’s a move which has the potential to more than double the amount of resources available to Sri Lanka every year from the World Bank to realize the country’s ambitious development goals.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala visited a Nenasala (telecenter) in Kallady, one of 600 telecenters in Sri Lanka which are linking over 70,000 monthly users supported by the E-Sri Lanka project and improving computer literacy and information technology (IT) skills. The project is promoting grassroots community-implemented innovation, with 180 innovations funded and 1000 software programs created to date. She met with fishermen who used the Fishing Lanka application to use GPS technology and SMS to track and share the location of fish. This has increased incomes of the fishermen by allowing them to catch more fish in a shorter period of time while saving on fuel costs for their boats due to more precise information.
The project has also advanced the Government’s efficiency and transparency in delivering services by introducing Information Communications Technologies (ICT) to over 92 percent of Government agencies. The gov.lk portal offers over 130 online translations and services. For example, 18 million birth, marriage, and death certificates have been scanned and copies of them are now routinely issued within 10 minutes. "The E-Sri Lanka project is important because it gives access to the entire population to become computer literate. This will be crucial if Sri Lanka is to expand industries like Business Process Outsourcing and become a knowledge hub,” she said.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also visited the IFC SME Toolkit Project supported by Dialog Axiata PLC, which assists with building capacity for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The SME Toolkit is an online information and training resource available in both Sinhala and Tamil and has benefitted 5,000 small businesses, of which 1000 are located in post-conflict Northern and Eastern provinces. Average revenue has increased significantly and the program has created thousands of new jobs.
In Thiraimaidu, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala visited one of the 832 villages that has benefitted from the Reawakening Project. The project provides income generation opportunities for vulnerable people, including victims of the conflict to restore normalcy to their lives and encourage social and economic integration. The 200,000 families that have benefited so far from the program discuss priorities through their Village Development Organizations and have seen their incomes increase by up to 50 percent. One of beneficiaries of the project, 40 year old Siriyalatha Weerakoon, said “As a widow, I had many difficulties earning enough to support my family. I was able to receive Rs. 20,000 in support from the program to cultivate Black Gram and earned Rs. 50,000 after a success harvest. From this, I was able to repair my house and spend money on improving my children’s education. I have now become the president of the Microfinance committee and work hard to help others,” she said.
While speaking with the local fishermen there, she promoted the Fishing Lanka application that she learned about from the fishermen at the Nenasala in Kallady as a means to further increase their incomes and was encouraged by the news that one of the residents is garnering a university education, the first from the village and a source of pride. “Seeing these communities rebuild after facing tremendous difficulties is very encouraging," she said.
Later, at the Eastern University, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala met with students supported by the Higher Education Project, which emphasizes employability skills such as computer literacy and English language. It has benefited over 100,000 students and 5,000 staff throughout Sri Lanka. The program is now being scaled up to benefit 1,000,000 students and about 20,000 academic staff throughout the country. Students showed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala their favorite websites and practiced their English skills. She was impressed by the university’s investments on assisting its disabled students such as converting certain works into Braille for the visually challenged students and encouraged the students and faculty to work hard and pursue their dreams. “I’m touched by the support given to the disabled students. They all have brilliant minds that should not go to waste and we will continue to help as much as we can to further these opportunities,” she said.
Former Eastern University Agricultural Sciences student and current assistant lecturer, 27 year old Ragupriya told the audience how the project supported the purchase of proper laboratory equipment to improve the quality of their research infant weaning on rice and pulses. “With the new equipment, I was able to develop my research and have my work published. This gave me an opportunity to attend the Rice Congress conference in Viet Nam this year to present my findings and allowed me to share and gain global knowledge,” she said.
On Friday afternoon, during her speech at the 60th anniversary of the Central Bank, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala affirmed the World Bank’s continued assistance in helping Sri Lanka realize its development goals and highlighted the importance of investment, innovation, inclusive development, and knowledge sharing. “The expansion of the knowledge economy and the search for innovative ideas by all Sri Lankans will be important to successfully accelerate growth and improve living standards,” she said.
Since the World Bank Group’s first development credit to Sri Lanka for the Aberdeen – Laksapana Power Project in 1954, the institution has become one of Sri Lanka’s largest development partners. It has worked closely to support the country’s progress in infrastructure, education, health, and environmental protection. It is currently supporting the implementation of 17 projects totaling $1.25 billion in assistance aimed at maximizing impact and results.