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District Enterprise Forum
FCCISL iniative: Public-Private sector synergy
In recognition of the need for more Public-Private collaboration the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Sri Lanka( FCCISL) has introduced the District Enterprise Forums(DEF) on the lines of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise(MSME) forum of International Labour Organization under the Pro-poor Enterprise Growth.

The forum comprises of public and private sector enabling the public officials and businessmen to interact in the cause of business. The objective of the forum is to improve the policy and regulatory environment for business through dialogue and to take proactive action where it warrants. What falls outside the scope of DEF affecting the business climate is expected to be taken to a national level forum for lobbying.

Secretary General of the FCCISL Mr. Samantha Abeywickrema considers it a boon to business and actively supports the concept by encouraging the district chambers.

He made the observation: "FCCISL is a private organization that directly contributes to provincial economic development. Among the various provincial level development plans introduced by us at district level a basic level plan is the DEF. The main objective of DEF is to handle bureaucratic issues affecting businessmen at district level as well as to resolve policy obstacles amicably and cooperatively through discussion with relevant officials and authorities, thereby building a conducive business environment.

We believe there are number of issues that can be resolved at district level without sponsorship at national level. To resolve these it is important that the private sector and public sector work in corporation reaching consensus. In Sri Lanka in the provincial development plan it can be introduced as the first time private and the public sector has worked together in an amicable and structured manner."

The forum is headed by the District Secretary and functions under the aegis of district chambers. The business interest is represented by entrepreneurs affiliated to the district chamber. FCCISL is an apex body of district/regional chambers. The oganisation penetrates to regional enterprises through the regional chambers spread island-wide and is committed to empowerment of regional businessmen. Among the many roles played by the FCCISL on behalf of twenty three district and seven provincial chambers the most notable are:

*Promote the interests of the federating units.

* Aiding and stimulating business while playing a catalytic role.

* Interacting with the Government, Ministerial Consultative Committees to safeguard the cause of private sector.

The FCCISL has considered the perpetuation of the forums important for the following reasons.

a) A trade chamber is a brand representing the voice of business community. Collective voice of the business community can be presented to the public sector direct under a single banner.

b) If a matter is resolved through the forum a precedence is created that can be followed by the relevant institution giving certainty to the administrative process to be followed, should the same issue crop up later. If a matter is dealt with on an ad-hoc basis the administrative shortcoming could persist.

c) When a matter is referred to another government authority through the forum the issue is likely to get focused since the forum consists of key government officials.

d) It is an opportunity for the public officials to identify challenges to development from an entrepreneurs’ perspective.

e) A business friendly environment will attract investors. The very existence of a forum of the nature is an indication of a favorable environment for investors and prospective investors. This unique mechanism is expected to act as a catalyst for development. Deputy Minister of Finance recently said that one of the challenges facing the government is activation of development on a regional basis.

The position of private sector as an engine of growth was reaffirmed by him while saying that main incentives have been given in the last budget for SMEs. The incentives are meant to encourage private enterprises towards development. Private sector is a key component to the development challenges facing the government. The experience, technology and efficiency of private sector are basic to development. Successive governments have acknowledged the importance of the private sector for a healthy economy.

In spite of the unfavourable tax structure among others, the policy of government towards private sector is clear. But just having a stated policy, as important as it is, may not be enough to drive growth and development. For instance business friendly policies of the government can be undermined by government bureaucratic hurdles.

The administrative structure in Sri Lanka comprising of Central, Provincial and Local government administrative is complex. Besides there are various other statutory bodies operating. Naturally, such an administrative structure creates barriers. Therefore, an important consideration to the private sector collectively is the mechanism available to access public officials charged with the responsibility for implementing policies on a single platform.

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