Sri Lankan consultants create 'a new way to shop' in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has become a late entrant to the 'supermarket era' with help from professionals from Sri Lanka, comparatively a super-marketing veteran in the region.

Agora - 'a new way to shop', Bangladesh's first definitive supermarket chain, which opened its second outlet in Dhaka, Bangladesh recently, is a unique example of multi-disciplinary Sri Lankan expertise as an export, the project's lead consultant said in a statement.

Agora's operating company Rahimafrooz Superstores Ltd, (Issued Capital of Taka 38 million i.e. a Rs. 60 million investment) has met all cost targets and achieved targeted gross profits in its first year of operation, and plans to set up more outlets in Dhaka, the company said.

The project owes its initial success entirely to Sri Lankan professionals. They were responsible for pre-feasibility studies, the financial model, marketing consultancy, operational planning, air-conditioning design, and supporting the supply and installation of equipment, software development, and the recruitment and training of personnel including the placement of a Sri Lankan Operations Manager to operate the chain.

This 'package' of expertise and the product concept for the Agora project was put together by Visvaka Consultants (Pvt) Ltd. and Sensei Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. Visvaka is a new business consultancy set up by Chula de Silva, no stranger to supermarketing in Sri Lanka having conceptualised the Keells Super chain in the 90's during his tenure as Managing Director of Jaykay Marketing Services, a subsidiary of the John Keells Holdings Group. He is one of only two Sri Lankan Fellows of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the UK, and the only one in the country's private sector.

Visvaka offers entrepreneurs in the food industry expertise in manufacturing processes with the ability to source experienced consultants from the United Kingdom and the USA, as well as expertise in factory audits and food retailing. The company also markets innovative food ingredients.

Sensei Lanka headed by Ranjan de Silva former Director of Keells Foods and Supermarkets [JayKay Marketing] and former Chairman of The Chartered Institute of Marketing - Sri Lanka branch, is Sri Lanka's premier corporate culture change and personal breakthrough consultancy.

The promoter of the Agora project, Rahimafrooz, one of the most respected companies in Bangladesh manufacturing and marketing stored power systems for the automotive industry, decided to locate a Sri Lankan consultant to the exclusion of European possibilities, having seen and experienced Sri Lankan supermarkets.

Mundogas responds to allegations
Mundogas has sent a detailed response to allegations made in the The Sunday Times FT article published last week. Here are extracts of the reply (with accusations in bold):

The Chairman of Mundogas Lanka was reported as stating that the barge was "half full" while at the same time the declaration given to the port was that it was empty, and subsequently a leak had revealed the contents.

The barge was empty on arrival in the same fashion as an LPG cylinder is empty when it is returned for refilling. There is always a residue in such cylinders that essentially cannot be pumped and this was the case of the few remaining few tonnes of LPG on board the barge. Since this was clearly the case, it is self-evident that the chairman of Mundogas Lanka was misquoted.

The "leak" referred to arose when the barge was being towed to Galle and was discovered soon after it arrived in Galle and was thus already known at the time of the cargo declaration. The gas leak itself was so small as to be hardly detectable and the seal was dealt with. The report by the Master to the Harbour Master indicates responsible behaviour on the part of the operators.

How did Mundogas manage to get its barge permanently berthed at the Closenburg jetty without assurances of compliance with safety requirements and without any lease agreement with SLPA for an appropriate commercial fee?

Mundogas agreed with SLPA and SLN from the very start that stringent safety procedures would be adopted. These were encapsulated by Mundogas themselves in a comprehensive manual entitled "Operating Principles" that was provided to SLPA and are required to be followed by their own staff in future. In it Mundogas agreed that:

(i) LPG/C "Formentera" would be fully compliant with all International Regulations for Barges engaged in the business of carrying liquid petroleum gas.

(ii) A comprehensive inspection process would be conducted by Mundogas in cooperation with the Galle Harbour Master to ensure that all visiting gas carriers calling at the port for replenishment purposes were similarly fully compliant.

(iii) The Design and Construction Standards for the on shore installation will be in accordance with American Petroleum Institute Standards.

(iv) The National Fire Protection Association Standard (NFPA59) would be followed throughout.

(v) The terminal work will be inspected during construction and endorsed on commissioning by Germanische Lloyd.

(vi) Operations of the terminal would be based on the recommendations of the Society of International Gas Tankers and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO).

On accusations of inadequate safety measures being taken at the jetty.

(i) The barge is located within an area which is totally fenced in and guarded round the clock.

(ii) The barge has its own fire fighting and other safety equipment on board.

(iii) The construction procedures for work on shore were prepared by Colombo Dockyard and counter-signed by Germansche Lloyd.

(iv) The port authorities have their own tugs available to move the barge in case the need arises during the day and there is another tug available during the evening hours.

Mundogas says no such requirements exist for the port to stop activities within 200 metres of the barge and if this was so "operations within the Port of Colombo would have stopped many years ago!"

It said there is no technical legislation in connection with the SLPA or any port handling dangerous cargoes such as LPG. It rejected the accusation that IMO regulations didn't permit the filling of cylinders, discharge of LPG from vessels to road tankers or the operation of floating storage vessels.

Stationery barges cannot be used for storing of LPG within a commercial port unless the jetties are suitably located and designed for the safe handling of hazardous material.

It is not clear what "suitably located and designed for the safe handling of hazardous material" really means but given the involvement of outside safety bodies brought in by SLPA and Mundogas to vet the design and commissioning of the facility at Galle, the jetty will most certainly be suitable for the operations envisaged.

An LPG cylinder-filling plant cannot be operated at all within commercial port premises.

Within the Galle Port the structure of the cylinder filling plant operated by the Colombo Gas Company exists until relatively recently. Mundogas further disputed the quantum of the insurance cover saying that SLPA has required P&I cover of $2m per incident.

Statistics show that gas carriers are amongst the safest vessels afloat due to the high level of maintenance demanded for this type of vessel.

There has never ever been an accident involving a gas carrier in any port and that the CEA and CCD approvals have already been obtained for the project after the requirement was initiated by the SLPA.

Economic growth seen accelerating if truce holds
The economy made a healthy recovery last year and could grow by 5.5 percent this year if the ceasefire holds and the peace process continues, the Central Bank said last week.

Gross Domestic Product grew by four percent, higher than the original forecast of 3.5 percent, the bank said in its annual report for 2002. The ceasefire "brought not only a sense of relief throughout the country, but led to a spontaneous increase in economic activity and a containment of non-productive expenditure," it said.

It described current macroeconomic prospects for 2003 as "favourable" if correct measures are implemented with a recovery expected in all major sectors - agriculture, industry and services.

The bank forecast growth would stay high and hit seven percent in 2006.

Growth in the services sector will be mainly driven by expanding activities in trade and transport, recovery in tourism and port services, and expansions in the telecommunications and financial sectors.

But the bank warned that the impact of the SARS virus on tourist arrivals and the continuation of the peace process would be crucial to sustaining growth, given a still weak industrial sector.

Recovery in industrial output had been affected by power cuts early in the year, weak export demand and higher production costs.

Last year's recovery was a healthy turnaround from 2001 when the economy shrank 1.5 percent because of intensified fighting and a severe drought.

The bank said defence spending fell to four percent of GDP in 2002 from 4.8 percent the year before. Savings on defence helped reduce the budget deficit by about two percentage points last year. The budget deficit was reduced to 8.9 percent of GDP from 10.8 percent in 2001. It is forecast to come down to 7.5 percent this year.

"A salient feature of 2002 has been the noteworthy improvement on the fiscal front," Central Bank governor A.S. Jayawardena said.

With inflation on the decline Sri Lanka could see lower interest rates this year.

"When inflation comes down, when there is a slower rate of money supply growth, and when the government reduces its borrowing, then interest rates will also be lowered," said A.G. Karunasena, Central Bank director of economic research. "If the negative growth of 1.5 percent was turned to a positive four percent in 2002, the achievement of eight percent growth would not be difficult," he added.

The inflation rate is expected to drop to seven or eight percent at the end of the year from 9.6 percent at the start of the year. Inflation, based on a 12-month moving average, was 9.9 percent in April, the same as in March.

Last year's growth came mainly from the services and agricultural sectors while the industrial sector posted only a marginal recovery owing to weak export demand.

As much as 80 percent of the overall growth in 2002 came from the services sector, the bank said.

Agriculture and allied activities accounted for 13 percent growth, reflecting a recovery in paddy, tea, rubber and fishing.

The bank also said lower government domestic borrowing had made available more financial resources to the private sector.

Emirates group declares 74% profits rise
The Emirates Group has declared a 74 percent hike in net profit to Dhs 1.05 billion ($285.7 million) for the financial year 2002/3, ended on 31st March 2003, driven by the growing confidence of its customers in the airline and travel-related group of companies.

Emirates Airline's operations alone achieved a staggering 94 per cent increase in profits, from Dhs 468.2 million ($127.6m) to Dhs 906.7 million ($247.1m), a company statement noted.

The airline carried 8.5 million passengers, an increase of 26 per cent over the year before total of 6.8 million. It is 20th in size among international airlines and one of the five most profitable.

Ceylinco Centre offers free chemotherapy infusion services
The Ceylinco Cancer Detection Centre has announced it will waive its fees for individuals undergoing chemotherapy infusions for cancer from May 1 to 15 in a special gesture to mark the launch of the facility.

This offer, which is open to any cancer patient who makes an appointment during this period, covers all institution fees, the company said. Only the cost of drugs needs to be paid by the patients who also have the option of bringing their own drugs.

This unit, which is located at 60, Park Street, Colombo 2 is the only stand-alone chemotherapy infusion unit outside a hospital in Sri Lanka. It offers a facility where cancer patients can receive their chemotherapy in a clean, comfortable, relaxed and friendly environment.

Consumer prices continue to fall
Consumer prices fell over the previous month for the third consecutive month in April, in contrast to the marginal monthly increase observed for this month, the Central Bank said.

Improvement in availability, mainly of vegetables, rice and coconut, contributed to this trend. The absence of any pressure from oil prices or other administered price increases during the month also supported the overall average price decline, it said.

The Colombo Consumers' Price Index (CCPI), the official measure of price changes within the Colombo Municipality for lower income groups published by the Government Department of Census and Statistics, registered 3317.0 in April, indicating a decrease of 0.8 percent over the previous month. The index in April 2003 when compared with April 2002 (the point to point change) increased by 8.3 percent. which was higher than the 7.9 percent seen in March 2003. The annual average increase of the index remained stable at 9.9 percent in April 2003.

The Colombo District Consumer Price Index (CDCPI). computed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka of the lowest 40 percent of increase - Colombo District, decreased by 0.3 percent in April. The point to point increase of the index decreased to 3.0 percent from 3.2 percent in March. The annual average change of the index declined to 5.1 percent compared to 5.5 percent last month.

The food category was the main contributory factor for the decline in the CDCPI in April. Prices of rice, most varieties of vegetables and fruits, a few other condiments, coconut oil, a few varieties of dried fish and green chillies registered price decreases, while a few varieties of dried fish, most varieties of fish, lime, betel, leafy vegetables, big onion, dried chillies, prepared food, cow milk (fresh) and dhal registered price increases during the month.

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