Sri Lanka launched the first ever reform initiative for its third economic force in more than 100 years with a strong nod of encouragement from none other than the country's Head of State on July 1.
"Cooperative Development 2020 Vision is the roadmap that we are introducing to modernize this sector" declared the Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 1 July.
Minister Bathiudeen was addressing his Ministry's 95th International Cooperative Day event held at Kurunegala on the afternoon of July 1, led by HE the President Maithripala Sirisena, himself a one-time employee in a cooperative in his youth. Joining the event was Secretary of Ministry of Industry and Commerce Chinthana Lokuhetti, Wayamba Province' Cooperative Minister Gunadasa Dehigama, and Ministers Gamini Jayawickreme Perera, Anura PRiyadarshana Yapa, S B Navinna, TB Ekanayake, and Champika Premadasa. A cheque of Rs 100 Mn from the Cooperatives Board was also handed over by HE the President Sirisena to the Wayamba Provincial Cooperative Employee Fund at this event.
"The Cooperative system is our third economic force. It was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1906" said Minister Bathiudeen addressing the event, and added: "Since then it continued to follow the same traditional methods and even today, there is no change in the way it does its business. This Cooperative Development 2020 Vision is the roadmap that we are introducing to modernize this sector as well as its business practices. I thank HE the President Maithripala Sirisena for the guidance given to us in this regard."
The cooperative sector, considered as the third economic force in Sri Lanka, has a strong presence in rural areas of the country. There are almost 14454 cooperatives employing 46000 in various productions services, SMEs, women's development, rural banking, insurance and farming active in Sri Lanka. Its asset base stands at a huge $1.8 Billion with another dollar one billion in savings. The membership in SL coop system exceeds five million, a considerable number of them being women.
HE President Sirisena praised the Cooperative Development 2020 Vision given to him by Minister Bathiudeen. "I had a look at Minister Bathiudeen's Cooperatives Development 2020 Vision and I have to say he has carried out my requests on coop reforms very well in formulating it. Our Cooperative system is also facing the burden of taxes. I will discuss with Minister Bathiudeen and shall get a Cabinet Paper moved to remove some taxes on cooperatives so that they become more viable. I shall do my best to our Cooperative sector to relieve it from its issues."
The comprehensive Cooperative Development 2020, the first major reforms to be introduced in 111 years since the introduction of the system to the country, envisions modernizing this sector with the introduction of modern business practices, strengthening sub sectors, introducing new information technology, and connecting more youth to the network.