Productivity policy vital for economic growth, says expert | Sunday Observer

Productivity policy vital for economic growth, says expert

Sri Lanka is the only Asian Productivity Organisation (APO) member country which does not have a National Productivity Organisation. Setting up a full-fledged, stand alone, National Productivity Organisation is the way forward for industrial and overall economic growth in Sri Lanka, Company Director and Consultant Sunil Wijesinghe said.

He said the National Productivity Secretariat (NPS) is still a unit under a Ministry while in Singapore and Malaysia they are powerful Statutory Bodies.

USA was the most productive nation at the end of the World War 11. Japan realised that Asian countries lagged behind in economic growth and initiated the Asian Productivity Organisation (APO) in 1961 with Asian member countries.

Sri Lanka too joined, albeit a few years later. Most other Asian countries had open economies at that time, and developed their productivity programs fast. Even today Sri Lanka is perhaps the only APO member country which does not have a full-fledged, stand alone, National Productivity Organisation.

The Japanese Government carried out a massive program to inculcate good productivity habits and promote productivity techniques and practices in the 1960s through radio and TV programs but later it was the private sector that carried it forward through the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) and the Japan Productivity Centre for Socio Economic Development (JPC-SED).

At the start of the National Productivity Decade in 1996 Sri Lanka started emulating Singapore but later the focus changed. Singapore claims that their productivity programs have helped economic growth substantially. They had the highest patronage with former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew initiating the program when the annual productivity theme was launched each year. The initial focus of the program was to make government institutions more productive.

A few Sri Lankan enterprises have adopted good productivity practices while others lag. We need a massive re-launch of productivity enhancing programs in Sri Lanka.

Not only industrial growth, but also overall economic growth can be influenced by productivity, because productivity improvement techniques can be applied not only in factories but also in offices, plantations, schools and government offices and even in homes

Sri Lanka lags behind in industrial growth since economic policies are not consistent.

The frequent policy changes wreak havoc on the strategies of private companies. What is needed is for policy makers to prepare a comprehensive medium-term strategic economic plan, in a similar way to strategic corporate plans. Singapore prepared a Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) in 1990 and stuck to it.

Thereafter we need to communicate it to the people using tried and tested change management programs so that the population buys in to the program. The ideal would be economic policy stability even with changes of government.

During a productivity study tour to Singapore in the 1980s and following a briefing at the then Singapore Productivity Board one of our Sri Lankan colleagues visited the wash room and having seen a notice there which said “20 dollar fine if you don’t flush”, came back and asked the Director conducting the briefing how they can identify who the culprit is. His response was “How come only Sri Lankan visitors ask this question? The notice in the toilet is a mere deterrent,” he said.

He said having observed the happenings in Sri Lanka, Singaporeans believe that Sri Lankans are overly legalistic, and this hampers progress.

Today every newspaper, radio and TV channel gives pride of place to the interpretation of the Constitution, debates on the current crisis. There is hardly coverage of management, productivity, or economics. While there is no doubt that the current crisis needs to be resolved, couldn’t we also focus on building up our economy and improving the productivity of our enterprises? 

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