(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized that immediate measures are being taken to create an investment-friendly environment in the country to promote greater foreign investment and create economic stability.
Addressing the gathering at the Mireka Tower Opening Ceremony at Havelock City in Wellawatte yesterday (20), as the Chief Guest, President Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka needs to be made an investor-friendly country to attract foreign revenue and get out of the vicious cycle of foreign borrowing.
The President also said that laws that had been introduced under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) will be re-enacted to introduce an efficient system replacing the existing slow process, to encourage foreign investment.
The President further said that he had already appointed a committee to bring the Board of Investment (BOI), the Export Development Board (EDB) and the Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation (SLECIC) together onto one platform and establish one investment promotion agency to encourage foreign investment in Sri Lanka.
“I must say that we have to now seriously look at foreign investment, replacing foreign loans, as our main source of income,” the President said. “We have to become an export-oriented economy, and we have to keep increasing our foreign investments.”
The President explained that in order to increase foreign investment, Sri Lanka must have an outward-looking economy. “We can’t have an inward-looking economy,” he said.
As the economic stabilization is taking place, and the discussions are on between Japan, China and India, about the main creditors, on how to restructure the debt, the government is also looking at how to revive growth, the President explained.
Sri Lankan President noted that one of the biggest issues in attracting foreign investment is the number of government agencies that investors have to pass through.
“You go through BOI, Tourist Board, or some other ministry, then you go to Port City and then you come back to where you started. Then you do a second round. After about ten years, you can get the investment through. This just won’t work,” he stressed.
“When we came in 1977, we started the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC). There, the decisions were taken quickly and really in ten years, we got four zones going that is Katunayake, Biyagama, Koggala and Seethawaka. Then there was Pallekele which Mr Wijethunga wanted. Thereafter, what are the big investment zones that we have started?”
He pointed out that the whole system has broken down. “The Tourist Board is where people go around for various fairs and come back after they have had a good holiday.”
Therefore, the President said he has appointed a committee which is now looking at the whole structure and the investment authorities. What this committee is recommending and working on is that the BOI, the EDB, and Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation (SLECIC) are brought together as one investment promotion agency.
Secondly, the industrial estates and investment zones will be broken off.
“I think Katunayake and Biyagama are the best zones in South Asia. We are now looking at thousand-acre zones and initiating them from Bingiriya, then Hambantota and Trincomalee. A separate corporation will handle these.”
The next step is to “cut through” the laws and go back to the GCEC system to make the investment process efficient.
“When the investment is made, the organization has two weeks to make their remarks and the thereafter-final decision is taken. That is the only way,” he said.
Next is to develop the quality of human resources, and manpower available and look at the infrastructure.
“If these steps are in place, we won’t need 40-year tax holidays. We should have an efficient bureaucracy and efficient infrastructure to ensure that investment can take off,” the President pointed out.
Therefore the government would be focusing mainly on zones, whether it be for manufacturing, IT or even tourism, rather than have people located everywhere they want. “We could expedite matters earlier under the GCEC because we had an efficient system,” the President recalled.
“So this is the new system, we are looking at. How do we open up? There will be many laws that will be changed and there will be some who will object and say that we are betraying the country. So remember that propaganda will go on. But we must have fast growth. We have gone down. It doesn’t mean we have to stay down,” he stressed.
The President also noted that Sri Lanka is resilient and will bounce bank like a “football”.
“Sri Lanka can be like a football. You hit it, send it down and then it bounces back up again. So that’s what we have to be and we must go all out.”
President Wickremesinghe noting that people leaving the country due to the current crisis situation said more people need to be trained and the education system is being modernized.
He said the government is also looking at modernizing the economy and agriculture and will announce many of the measures that will be implemented by early next year to get the legislation enacted.
“However, this is all to make Sri Lanka an investor-friendly country. And when investors come in, we will certainly have more employment, and higher income and we will be able to get off this vicious cycle of foreign borrowing. We can’t do this a second time. So let’s make up our minds. Let us commit ourselves to moving forward to promote greater foreign investment,” the President expounded.