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Sri Lanka needs sensible regulation to keep tourism investments flowing: Hiran

10 March 2015 05:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Foreign investors will not tolerate the treatment the domestic investors have been receiving from the public sector, according to a top figure in the tourism industry, who was speaking at the Sri Lanka Law Summit yesterday.
“We are Sri Lankans. We will live here and die here. So we will continue to invest and move on. But when the foreign investors come, they want clear policies to invest and get out.
They’re not interested in lobbying or going after different people,” Jetwing Group Chairman Hiran Cooray said.
He said that for Sri Lanka tourism to compete at a global scale it needs foreign brands to invest in the country and market it using their brand image and distribution networks, as local brands such as Jetwing, John Keells, Aitken Spence and Hemas have reached a ceiling. He reprimanded the politicians for frequently changing policies related to investment on whims, which causes the reverse. As an example, he took up land restrictions on foreigners, a policy which also exists in Thailand and Malaysia, with which investors have no problems unlike in Sri Lanka.
Investments Promotion Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne, who was present, said that last year’s Land Act will not be changed by the new regime.
 However, he agreed with Cooray, expressing disappointment over Sri Lanka only being able to attract US $ 1 billion in foreign direct investments annually. Cooray also accused the system of not being ready to embrace and approve innovation. “Whenever we send our papers for approval, the authorities look at how they can stop it. The only way (to go ahead) is if you give something and get it in three months. Or you wait 12-18 months for them to find excuses not to give approval.”
He said that Jetwing’s floating hotel, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, cannot get underway in Bentota, as approval has not been given even after he had visited 20 line ministries and a local government office.
“Nobody knew whom to go to, what to do. There has to be regulation but sensible regulation.” Cooray further said that despite the government asking local companies to invest abroad, a proper framework does not exist. “If you send the money the proper way, by getting the approval from the Central Bank, people will actually be really lucky to get it in six months. The Minister of Finance has to sign it and those days the Minister of Finance was the president and it was a nightmare.” He said that Jetwing will not invest abroad once again, until procedures which could approve papers within one to two weeks are implemented.
Wickramaratne said that a one-stop-shop “Central Facilitation Agency” is being formed at the Board of Investment to address most the issues brought up by Cooray. (CW)
 
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