President has stabilised economy - Dilum Amunugama | Sunday Observer

President has stabilised economy - Dilum Amunugama

21 May, 2023

Priority is to pay back the loans:

Investment approvals to be made easier:

Issues with current investors have been sorted out:

Responsibility of BOI to safeguard investors:

State Minister of Investment Promotion Dilum Amunugama said that all SLPP parliamentarians are fully aware that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has stabilised the economy and law and order in the country.

So, they have decided to back the President and give him more time. The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, “We need to get investors, develop our reserves and start to pay back our loans. This is the priority. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone in Parliament including the Opposition to extend their support to the President. Especially, being in the Government, it is our responsibility to support the President and that is exactly what we are doing.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q: A committee of experts has been appointed to introduce a stable investment policy and a unified investment law. Could you explain?

A: There is an oversight committee that we have appointed to come up with a new investment law. When there is an investment law, it has to match with the other acts as well. Otherwise, there is no point of having an investment law because it will contradict with the other acts.

A team led by Ajith Gunawardena from the corporate sector and some senior Additional Secretaries from the Presidential Secretariat are formulating a law which will make investment approvals much easier. However, just formulating another act won’t help.

This law also brings amendments to the current prevailing acts where the investment is concerned. That is what the oversight committee is doing. If there are blocks in certain agencies until the correct investment law is drafted, we have appointed another expert committee of seven Ministry Secretaries to fast track whatever the investments coming right now before the new law is implemented.

Q: What are the actions taken to iron out concerns raised by investors pertaining to seeking approvals for investment projects?

A: One is the above mentioned committee. The other thing is the one stop shop called Investor Facilitation Centre (IFC) which we have started at the 27 th floor of the World Trade Centre (WTC) and it is backed by the IFC committee which consists mostly of the DGs of all Government entities. We get almost every DG on that committee.

We don’t call all the DGs at the same time. If there is an issue relevant to some DG, we meet once in two weeks and then that DG is summoned to the 27 th floor of the Board of Investment (BOI) at the WTC and investors are also called there and we manage to sort out their problems.

The issues with the current investors have been sorted out by the IFC within two or three weeks. When I took over, there were about 27 cases in the pipeline which were stuck due to all sorts of issues.

Other than two, the rest have been resolved by the IFC itself. That itself shows that it is working.

Q: You have said that BOI will be granted more powers in future to further facilitate investors through speedy approvals for investment projects. Would you like to comment?

A: This is the vision of the President. As the Minister of Investment Promotion his vision is that the BOI should be granted approval within seven days of receiving the proposal. There is a lot of work to be done. This is where the Oversight Committee and Expert Committee are working on. We are also making new mechanisms to speed up the process.

So, the new investment law will be in place. The Expert Committee is working on it right now and the IFC is also in operation.

As the next step, we are appointing honorary country representatives to the State Ministry of Investment Promotion. They all are well-to-do businessmen in whatever the countries that they reside and they have been given the authority to coordinate and negotiate investments in those countries at the high level in coordination with the Foreign Ministry missions. So, we are also expecting them to deliver in future.

Q: Amid challenges, there is a significant increase in the Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and you have said that BOI has attracted FDIs at record levels, amounting to US$ 713 million in the first nine months of 2022. Your views?

A: Yes. The BOI has managed to do that. We worked on an accelerated reinvestment program to get the current operators to reinvest. That has turned out quite well where we have got about 70 percent of the current operators to reinvest. That is how the BOI managed to hit the targets. New investments are also coming. After the recent crisis still there have not been investors that got off the ground or engaged but they are in the pipeline.

In the future, it may be in the coming two or three months they will also break ground and start with their factories and go ahead as the economy is being stabilised.

There is also a trend in the region where companies from Taiwan and China want to shift towards India and Sri Lanka due to geopolitical reasons. Therefore, we also want to capitalise on this and try to draw more investments to the country as possible.

Q: You recently met the Chairman and officials of the Port City Economic Commission to discuss the current state of the key regulations required to attract investments into the Port City and the project development plans for 2023. Could you elaborate on the outcome of the discussion?

A: I must say the Chairman and the Commission have done a fantastic job. In collaboration with the Ministry, they have overcome most of the obstacles. The main obstacle that we were facing was the Business of Strategic Importance (BSI) regulation which contains what will be the concessions and the operating methods within the Port City.

Finally, we managed with the help of the President to negotiate with the IMF delegation and World Bank team and come to some sort of conclusion as to where the concessions should be given and where it should be cut off.

So, that has been done and now we have forwarded the BSI regulation to the Cabinet. I am sure it will be approved in the coming weeks. Then there are about 30 to 40 current investors who have already made inquiries and those are in the pipeline waiting for BSI approval.

Once the approval is provided they will immediately engage and start signing their contracts and commence work.

Q: The assault on the Omani investor by a group of thugs has set off alarm bells among the investor community with some investors even threatening to pull out. What are the steps being taken to ensure that such incidents will not happen again?

A: That was a big black mark on the side of the country and it affected the investments as well. Anyway, we had managed to sort out the situation. The CID is probing into the incident and a few people have been arrested. Some BOI officials allegedly involved in the incident are also under probe.

We had managed to negotiate with the Omani Ambassador and he was really constructive in coordinating the discussion and encouraging the investor to stay back. Finally, they have agreed but we will be relocating them to Katunayake and we will be giving them premises over there and they will operate with us.

However, this has been a good eye-opener as to how these thugs and mobs operate and interact with investors. We have come to the conclusion most of these issues are based on disposal items of the factories.

It is the responsibility of the BOI to safeguard the investors. I have instructed the BOI to come up with a mechanism where the investor or the operator would not engage with these types of people or characters.

I have also told the BOI to come up with some sort of mechanism for factory disposal and that it should to take responsibility. In the future, they might have to do that and I don’t know what the mechanism will be. The investors might have to register with the BOI and do these clearances and there will be some sort of criteria as to who will be allowed to engage with the factories and deal with them.

Q: Recently there was speculation that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be sworn in again as Prime Minister. Is there a move like that?

A: That is not true. There was not even a discussion on that matter. Of course, he was the Prime Minister. While being the Prime Minister since there were all sorts of turmoil within the country. I would say that turmoil was not controlled properly by the then President and he decided to step down.

At present, Dinesh Gunawardena has been appointed as the Prime Minister. So, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa or the party has no plans of reappointing him. He has been the Prime Minister, President and he was the only leader who reunited the country. I don’t think even he doesn’t want to get into the position of Prime Minister again. That is all false information going around.

Q: There is a speculation that the remaining members of the SLPP are heavily divided over various issues. How will this affect the party at a future election?

A: The members of the SLPP are not divided at all. We are still working as a party together. But as you know correctly, Ranil Wickremesinghe being the only UNP member in Parliament was appointed as the President by the SLPP members.

Of the total number of 134 votes, there were only five or six votes from the Opposition. The majority of the votes were from the SLPP. Actually, he is the SLPP President though he is the Leader of the UNP. All of us are aware that the President has stabilised the economy and law and order in the country. As I previously said, we are trying our level best to attract investors. We need to get investors, develop our reserves and start to pay back our loans. This is the priority.

Q: Several SLPP stalwarts have said that they will support President Ranil Wickremesinghe if he contests the next Presidential Election. What is your opinion on this matter?

A: Isn’t that fair since we appointed the President with a two-thirds majority. Of course, we have to accept the fact that there were reasons. There were conspiracies and all sorts of problems. Still we failed to handle the situation and that is the truth.

Later Ranil Wickremesinghe being appointed within the Parliament as the President, he managed to control the financial situation and economic situation and enforce law and order. Then I would say right now since the SLPP has not decided on any other candidate or proposed anyone, it is our feeling that we should allow the country to run for another five to ten years without disruption.

That is why some of the SLPP members say that the President should continue for a little bit longer till the country is stable.

Q: Former Minister P.Harrison and MP Vadivel Suresh have said that they will support President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Government and at least 20 more SJB MPs will join the Government soon. How confident are you of gaining the broader support of the Opposition for the Government’s economic development program?

A: We have asked them to support the Government very openly. As you know even in Parliament the President has openly requested the support of the Opposition for the sake of the country. Unfortunately, the Opposition Leader and the party hierarchy of the SJB have decided otherwise.

My feeling is that there are still members among them who have a guilty conscience and say that for the sake of the country that they should back the Government and the President.

I am sure that is what they are saying. I hope they will do that for the sake of the country.

Q: Some sections of the Government and even the Opposition seem keen to have an early Presidential or General Election. In your view should an early election be held or should the present administration continue for the next two years to ensure political stability and also the economic gains made so far?

A: What is an election going to do? An Election is not going to do anything. When it is due you are supposed to have elections but that also depends on whether it is the country or the election. I don’t see anyone trying to have an early election as Provincial Council and Local Government elections have also not been held.

I don’t see any point in having a General Election early. The best is to push as much as possible to stabilise the country to the maximum possible level. Still the key priority will be to build the reserves, get investments and start paying the loans. If we conduct elections without starting to pay loans, anyone forming the next Government won’t be able to run the country.

First it has to come up with a formula to sort out the economic stability. Whichever Government that comes to power should be able to operate and run the country. That is what the President and the Government is trying to do right now.