Interview: Upul Jayasuriya
What are the key constraints Sri Lanka faces in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI)?
UPUL JAYASURIYA: Overall Sri Lanka is in an advantageous position to attract FDI. Doing business here is much easier than in any other country in South Asia. Our labour force is skilled, efficient and friendly. Infrastructural facilities have been improving year after year. Sri Lanka has made a rapid recovery from a 30-year civil war, and can now boast of a secure environment that even some developed countries do not enjoy. The biggest assets that we have are the vibrant presence of the rule of law and a democratic process which leads to good governance in business. More specifically, the need to create an equal playing field for businesses to operate in.
Furthermore, those agencies are empowered and regulated by the statutory framework put into place by parliament, and have created an atmosphere and a conducive environment in which companies could operate. Investment protection agreements have been entered in to with several European countries. In addition to that we have a constitutional requirement to protect investments in Sri Lanka. We have a level playing field, and so in every country, whether it be the US, the UK, China or India, all have a part to play in the investment process in Sri Lanka.
How can operational procedures at the BOI be better integrated and streamlined?
JAYASURIYA: We are currently reinventing the one-stop-shop to house all facilities that will be required by the various state agencies involved in foreign investment. We are fully expecting those agencies to be integrated, facilitating all the necessary approvals to be obtained smoothly. We will also be allocating one officer to oversee each BOI project, who will serve as the relationship manager for each particular project. They will be responsible for all the facilitation involved. There will be a call centre that will be operating from 6am to 10pm. This call centre will respond to all inquiries promptly as they will be possessed with the management information system. This system will enable all foreign inquiries to be responded to over a period of 16 hours a day.
The BOI is also in charge of Customs ordinance for all imported duty-free machinery. We have had a prominent role to play with regard to tax holidays and post tax holidays. The facilities that are available in Sri Lanka are second to none in the entire South Asian region. All of these changes will help the BOI to regain its status as a facilitating entity within government.
Which sectors does the BOI view as being most opportune for investment?
JAYASURIYA: As part of our overall FDI strategy, we have a compiled a long list of sectors and types of investments earmarked for specific countries. These sectors include, but are by no means limited to, high-tech and heavy industries, light engineering, the pharmaceutical sector, export-oriented services, leisure and tourism, agriculture and agro-processing. For Singapore, for example, we have identified infrastructure and power projects, township development, housing and industrial zones and IT parks on a public-private partnership basis.
What can be done to further the promotion of Sri Lanka’s investment climate abroad?
JAYASURIYA: The role of the BOI encompasses the marketing of Sri Lanka’s investment climate. Taking part in road shows and trade fairs, which allow the BOI to address international interest groups, is a traditional route to promotion and is part of our ongoing strategy. We at the BOI are also partnering with diplomatic missions abroad to distribute information about the BOI. Most importantly, we are inviting companies who have invested in Sri Lanka to serve as goodwill ambassadors in their respective countries.
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