Post-war economic recovery: Need for boosting manufacturing sector

Singer turned entrepreneur convinced Lanka on right track


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Australia-based entrepreneur of Sri Lankan origin, Claude Selvaratnam, called for a cohesive effort to enhance the manufacturing sector in accordance with an overall strategy geared to exploit the post-war stability.

The three decades long war ended on May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Selvaratnam, Managing Director of Perth-headquartered Vista Bay International (Pvt) Limited, emphasized that expanding of the manufacturing sector would be the key to Sri Lanka’s success. Both public and private sectors should focus on the manufacturing field, the versatile businessman said in an interview with The Island on Monday at Kingsbury, adjoining the President’s House.

Vista Bay supplies electronic equipment and a range of services to customers in several countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

It would be the responsibility of the state and private sectors to take advantage of the peaceful situation achieved under the incumbent leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Selvaratnam said. Asked whether he was confident of full post-war economic recovery, Selvaratnam said that the country was blessed with a capable workforce and therefore those managing the financial system needed to create the required conditions to achieve prosperity. Selvaratnam added: "We are in a position to compete with countries in the region. A high-quality product can always fetch a good price and if we get our act together we will be able to achieve anything."

Selvaratnam is in the process of working out some lucrative projects with Hayleys, Dialog TV as well as Japanese owned Tos Lanka situated at the Biyagama Export Processing Zone (EPZ). "I have a long and fruitful association with blue chip conglomerate Hayleys. In fact, we have been together for 20 years and even during the height of the conflict, the relationship remained strong."

The genial businessman is promoting high quality IPTV system from Spanish firm, Entertainment Solutions. "Over 26,000 units are installed primarily in hotels in about 40 countries."

Selvaratnam said that his intention was to partner Tos Lanka whose Executive Director Merrick Gooneratne, a veteran administrator and industrialist, is a childhood friend from Negombo.

Responding to a query, Selvaratnam said that since the conclusion of the conflict, over four years ago, the country had made substantial progress. Perhaps the entire country wouldn’t approve of current policies though no one could ignore giant efforts made to develop the country. Selvaratnam said that he along with his wife, Yvonne, had the opportunity to take the Katunayake-Colombo expressway to reach Kingsbury in 20 minutes.

Recollecting their visit to Colombo during the conflict, Selvaratnam said that people were free to move. They pointed out the absence of checkpoints manned by the military in the city and its suburbs. The Selvaratnams said that the City had undergone a major change since the end of the conflict. It would be a pity not to accept the significant improvements made in all sectors, including the hospitability trade.

Selvaratnam insisted that he always believed the war would come to an end though some felt it could go on indefinitely. The businessman said that his decision taken in consultation with Yvonne in the 70s changed their lives. Asked to explain the circumstances under which they reached Australia, a smiling Selvaratnam said: "Not by boat."

Having served the then Ceylon Electrical and Mechanical Engineering unit for six years (late 50s to early 60s), Selvaratnam moved to the music scene, paving the way for a band of his own called ‘Exquire Set.’ Selvaratnam recalled serving in Talaimannar where the army was engaged in tackling illegal migrants from India. At that time it was a major task, Selvaratnam said while recollecting with nostalgia ‘The Cadets’, a singing group which he formed with Arthur Speldwinde and Neil Peterson. Selvaratnam said: "I was a Private at that time. Our Commanding Officer gave us the opportunity to perform at many places, including Ave Maria Convent, Negombo, where his sisters studied."

Selvaratnam specializing in the everlasting songs of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, quickly won many hearts including that of Yvonne, the then Secretary to the Chairman of Hotel Ceylon Intercontinental. Selvaratnam’s group performed at several places including ‘Little Hut’ Mount Lavinia, ‘the Mascarilla night club’ at the Galle Face Hotel, ‘the Alhambra night club’ as well as the ‘Cats Eye’ at the then Ceylon Intercontinental. Having entered local audiences for many years, Selvaratnam moved overseas and the opportunity to settle down outside Sri Lanka had been made during a stint in Amman, Jordan. Turning towards Yvonne, having breakfast seated next to him, Selvaratnam said: "A Canadian diplomat serving in Amman urged us to migrate to Canada. But an Australian diplomat insisted we take up residence down under. They were among those impressed with my singing. As some of Yvonne’s close relatives lived in Australia, we decided to move there. Western Australia was chosen as our new home as I felt sparsely populated region would give me a greater opportunity. The rest is history."

Selvaratnam said that he never stopped working. In 1989, Selvaratnam secured an Australia Design Award for an infra red car immobilizing system. In spite of his busy schedule, Selvaratnam wouldn’t miss the opportunity to sing again. Selvaratnam recently had the opportunity to entertain a gathering at the Kingsbury when Vista Bay International joined the Hayleys Industrial Solutions to make a presentation on IPTV system. Some of those present at the seminar had urged Selvaratnam to perform and he responded by singing Nat King Cole’s ‘Love’ much to the delight of the gathering.

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