Despite the directives given to all heads of state institutions by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop unnecessary expenditure in their respective establishments, the move made by the Board of Investments to spend a substantial sum to refurbish two floors has raised the eyebrows of its employees.
Although the previous Board of Directors of the Board of Investment (BOI) approved to refurbish the 24th floor where the Director General’s office is located and the 26th floor where the Chairman’s office is located at the West Tower, World Trade Center, Colombo at an estimated cost of an approximate Rs.190 million, it had to be stopped on the directives of the then subject Minister in the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections due to the high-cost involved.
The BOI was established as an Act of Parliament under GCEC Law No: 4 of 1978, to foster and generate the economic development of the State, to encourage and promote foreign investment, to widen and strengthen the base of the economy, to encourage and foster the establishment and development of industrial and commercial enterprises.
However, the former Director-General BOI, appointed by the former President Maithripala Sirisena two days before the 2018 constitutional coup, has allegedly worked contrary to the BOI’s objectives. “Instead of encouraging and promoting foreign investment and foster the establishment and development of industrial and commercial enterprises in the country, the former Director General (DG) was busy spending BOI funds to refurbish the said two floors in the guise of establishing a Front Office to enable the facilitation of the investors; a hassle-free process for their projects,” Senior BOI official told this newspaper.
Former Director-General BOI, Champika Malalgoda took all steps to re-start the 2019 stalled project, after the change of government. The project is to commence under the guise of establishing the ‘Front Office’ concept introduced by President’s Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara.
It is learned that after the unorthodox moves made by Malalgoda soon after the change of regime, the BOI employees had made a complaint against her to the President’s Secretary. This led to her removal from the post of DG with effect from Monday, March 2.
the BOI vehemently refutes the allegations levelled against the DG
“It is now up to the new DG to look into the malpractices followed by his predecessor and rectify them immediately saving the money the former DG wanted to spend for an unapproved project,” sources added.
The ‘Front Office’ concept is similar to the once operative ‘One Stop Shop’ model at the BOI that gave the investors a hassle-free opportunity to obtain the necessary approvals for their projects. According to the senior BOI officers, if the office space where the ‘One Stop Shop’ was functioned on the 27th floor is converted to the ‘Front Office Desk’ and if required essential changes are made, there is no necessity to refurbish the 24th and 26th floors as the BOI could save several millions of rupees in the nation’s coffers.
“In order to give a new look to the two floors, former DG, Champika Malalgoda obtained the approval to refurbish these two floors prior to the 2019 presidential elections, but had to stall the project on the directives of the then minister. There is no necessity to refurbish the entire 24th and 26th floors, but instead a face-lift can be given to the area where the ‘One Stop Shop’ was functioning to house the Front Office Desk at a lesser cost,” the senior officer said on conditions of anonymity.
Irrespective of party politics, all BOI employees are up in arms against the proposed refurbishment drive and have urged Malalgoda to abide by the President’s instructions. It is also learned that BOI employees have sent several letters to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, State Minister of Investment Promotions Keheliya Rambukwella and the newly appointed Chairman Susantha Ratnayake seeking their immediate intervention to stop the unnecessary expenditure and the removal of Champika Malalgoda from her post in order to safeguard the institution.
According to the sources, it is surprising as to why Malalgoda was planning to establish the Front Office Desk on the 26th floor which is contrary to Dr. Jayasundera’s directive- that it should be separated from other departments at the BOI.
“Malalgoda did not want to implement the directives given by the President’s Secretary. Instead, she wanted to spend BOI funds to revamp the two floors in the guise of spending money to establish the Front Office Desk. The Promotions Department and the Project Implementation and Monitoring Departments are on the 26th floor. The former DG wanted to move the most important section in the BOI- the Investment Promotions Department to the 27th floor where the One-Stop-Shop was housed and bring the Front Office Desk to the 26th floor to share with the Project Implementation and Monitoring section, disregarding Dr. Jayasundera’s directives,” sources alleged.
They even chose a designing company and the estimate which was approximately Rs.190 million
When this newspaper contacted Malalgoda to find out why she is planning to refurbish two floors with a staggering amount of state funds despite the President’s request to stop unnecessary expenditure, Malalgoda said that she is unaware of the proposed refurbishment drive, but later had to defend the institution claiming that the proposed project would not cost Rs.190 million.
“Malalgoda was planning these a few months before the presidential election. How can she pretend that she wasn’t aware of it? She was the force behind getting the then board approval in 2019. They even chose a designing company and the estimate which was approximately Rs.190 million. We are unaware whether government procurement procedure was followed to obtain the estimates and how the designing company was selected,” sources added.
Further allegations have been levelled against Malalgoda for removing many experienced Executive Directors without giving them any responsibilities and promoting inexperienced employees who are close to the DG as Executive Directors.
Sub section 3.3 of the Scheme of Recruitment of BOI states that there should be 8 EDs
“Sub section 3.3 of the Scheme of Recruitment of BOI states that there should be 8 EDs. But she got it increased to 13 without providing any explanation,” sources claimed.
Meanwhile, by letter dated August 20, 2019, the aggrieved parties had written to the Auditor General that although there are only eight ED posts, there are now 13 EDs at the BOI. This letter has been copied to the President and Prime Minister as well. “Since Malalgoda was appointed as the DG, she has removed a few very experienced ED’s and replaced them with her allies. Now there are 13 EDs at the BOI,” sources claimed.
Meanwhile, Malalgoda came under criticism for recruiting two new Assistant Directors alleged to be her relatives, to the BOI permanent cardre flouting the Scheme of Recruitment (SOR) few months before the 2019 Presidential Election.
It is alleged, that these two new Assistance Directors were recruited when there were no vacancies.
“Applications were called for one Assistant Director to fill a vacancy and it was filled by an experienced candidate. Two more Assistant Directors were also recruited in an unorthodox way when there were no vacancies. The BOI employees who possessed the necessary qualifications and experience to get promoted were overlooked by these two appointments. After Mallagoda was appointed as the DG in 2018, the employees who were friendly with her have been promoted bypassing the SOR guidelines,” sources said. By letter dated October 28, 2019, the concerned staff of the BOI had written to the Auditor General about these two promotions depriving the experience and qualified staffers who were waiting for years to be promoted.
Meanwhile, the sources further said that instead of strengthening the promotions, investment, project implementation and monitoring departments of the BOI, DG Malalgoda with the former management had recruited and granted promotions for the research, finance, human resources and industrial relations department employees without giving a proper explanation.
the Front Office Desk is going to be established on the 26th floor despite agitations by BOI employees
BOI refutes allegations
When inquired from Director Media and Publicity BOI Dilip Samarasinghe as to why the BOI wishes to re-start the once stalled project after the new government assumed power, Samarasinghe said that the project was never stopped, but the new Board members who visited the two floors had expressed views on the need to refurbish the two floors, and make them investor-friendly and to set up a proper record room.
Need for proper record room
“The Investment Appraisal and Investment Promotion are the key Departments that serve as the first contact points of the Investors who come to obtain the services of the BOI. Though there is a long-felt need in re-arranging these two floors, a Board decision was not taken during the previous administration. The new Board Members who visited the two floors have expressed views of the need to refurbish these two floors, and make it investor-friendly and also to set up a proper record room,” Samarasinghe claimed.
When asked what the estimated cost is to refurbish the two floors, Samarasinghe said that there was no such approved estimated cost as yet, but added that initially there is a need to re-arrang the Investment Appraisal and Investment Promotion Departments to create a better working environment and once the board approval is obtained, the estimated cost will be calculated.
Although Samarasinghe made such a claim, it has been learned how Malalgoda got the new Chairman’s consent to go ahead with the stalled project.
Meanwhile, Samarasinghe confirmed that the Front Office Desk is going to be established on the 26th floor despite agitations by BOI employees. The desk will operate as a separate unit as the management has made a decision that the most suitable area for the Front Office Desk is on Level 26 where the Chairman’s Office is also housed. The Project Implementation Department will be shifted to the 27th floor.
With regard to how recruitments are made and whether the BOI, follows the SOR and whether they advertised the number of vacancies for the questionable Assistant Director posts, Samarasinghe said that the BOI follows the requisite criteria set by the SOR in relation to all posts by circulating the available vacancies internally and externally by advertising in the newspapers. “There were vacancies for the post of Assistant Directors in 2019 and the set criteria were adhered to, when recruitments were made within the approved overall cadre of the BOI. Furthermore, the BOI does not advertise the number of vacancies that exist as a general practice,” he added.
Further Samarasinghe said that the BOI vehemently refutes the allegations levelled against the DG for selecting her favourites including her relatives for the Front Office Desk though they do not have the necessary experience.
“The BOI vehemently refutes the allegations levelled against the DG in recruiting Assistant Directors. When it comes to promotions, the employees who have the experience are promoted, but not on any other affiliations,” Dilip Samarasinghe told the Daily Mirror.