New legislation being formulated to transform the Port City to ‘Colombo Financial Zone’, President reveals

(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his address at the 2023 Commercial Mediation Symposium at Colombo’s Hilton Hotel, emphasized the need for a cultural shift towards efficient dispute resolution in Sri Lanka. He acknowledged the long-standing reliance on trial courts and stressed the importance of embracing alternate dispute resolution methods.

Highlighting the government’s commitment, he mentioned the establishment of the Alternate Dispute Resolution Center in 2018 and expressed support for its continued growth. President Wickremesinghe urged the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Investments to collaborate on supporting these initiatives.

“Alternate dispute resolution, arbitration, both have a long way to travel in Sri Lanka and that’s our problem. We have to first find ways of how we can adjust to this process. You need a change of culture. Change of culture where disputes can be resolved in the shortest possible time. Which means we are in a way wedded to the old concept of the trial court? Whether we have a domestic inquiry, we all want to follow the same procedure. I don’t know why. But nevertheless, this is one of the challenges that we have to face.”

He emphasized that success in dispute resolution was crucial for Sri Lanka’s aspirations to be an outward-looking economy. The President mentioned forthcoming legislation to transform the Port City as the Colombo financial zone and the transition from the BOI to the Economic Commission, both aimed at resolving disputes efficiently.

President Wickremesinghe also underscored the significance of international trade agreements and the need for Sri Lanka to become a center for alternate dispute resolution. He urged legal professionals to look beyond Sri Lanka’s borders and specialize in emerging fields like AI, Blockchain and green energy to secure the nation’s competitive future.

“Now we want Sri Lanka to be a center. One is the new legislation which will replace the port city to make it a Colombo financial zone with jurisdiction for offshore activity. The new law has been drafted. And we will see the light of day before the end of the year. Secondly, the BOI will be replaced with the Economic Commission. Which is also looking at the resolution of disputes. We will be entering a number of free trade agreements. We have got one with Singapore. We are about to finalize one with Thailand. We are discussing with India of upgrading agreement. Talking with Bangladesh. And more than that, we are moving to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

That’s the largest trading community in the world. So this means that alternate dispute resolutions are going to be important.”
In a final call to action, he offered government funding to support learning and expertise development in these new areas, inviting all stakeholders to join in the journey towards a more efficient and forward-looking legal landscape in Sri Lanka.

President Wickremesinghe emphasized that Sri Lanka must position itself as the central player in the region. When examining Singapore as a benchmark, Sri Lanka should strive to match or surpass Singapore in various aspects, except for cost, where it should maintain a competitive advantage. This approach is crucial because there exists a noticeable void in this region, which Sri Lanka can effectively fill if it acts swiftly.

“This is the key lesson to be derived. Furthermore, it is essential for all lawyers and individuals involved in legal services to broaden their perspectives and explore opportunities beyond their current scope,” the President added.

The event was organized by International Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre (IADRC) and the event was graced by the presence of the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha P.C., State Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Mr. Anuradha Jayarathne, Judges of the Supreme Court, Attorney General, Former Attorney Generals, Retired Judges of the Supreme Court, Resident Representative of UNDP Ms. Azusa Kubota, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms, Chairman of IADRC Dr. K. Kanag-Isvaran P.C, Director & Secretary General of IADRC Ms. Dhara Wijayatilake, legal professionals and the representatives of reputed companies in Sri Lanka.

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