BoI woes
Posted on July 14th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The so-called yahapalanaya has become another Rajapaksa palanaya. The holier-than-thou politicians currently at the levers of power stand accused of all wrongs they vehemently condemned while they were in the Opposition. The accuser has now become the accused and vice versa!

Chairman of the Board of Investment (BoI) Upul Jayasuriya has resigned in a huff. We yesterday quoted sources close to him as having said his resignation was due to political interference, which prevented him from acting according to his conscience. As a very senior lawyer and twice-President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya should have known what he was getting into when he accepted that political appointment. It is said that he who lies down with dogs is bound to rise up with fleas; he also runs the risk of suffering canine bites. Political appointees are always at the mercy of politicians. They get kicked out the moment they fall from grace. Conscience in a highly politicised, corrupt state institution is like chastity in a house of ill fame.

Whether Jayasuriya is free from blame for the pathetic performance of the BoI during the last two years or so and various allegations against it is not immediately known. But, if he dares ruffle the feathers of the powers that be he will be asking for more trouble. He has made a name for himself as one of the main architects of the 2015 regime change. He intrepidly stood up to the Rajapaksa government, which went all out to frighten him into silence. He stood his ground and fought back courageously. This, he did at a time many other Opposition big guns including the cantankerous UNP politicians were whimpering and cowering before the Rajapaksas, who bulldozed their way through.

Jayasuriya has got the typical karapincha treatment from the UNP; he has been used and discarded like curry leaves, as a local saying goes. He now finds himself in the exalted company of the disgruntled advocates of yahapalanaya like our Rathu Sahodarayas and some civil society activists.

The yahapalana administration is obviously down at heel. This situation is mainly due to massive election bribes it imprudently showered on the electorate after the Jan. 2015 presidential polls with a view to winning the general election a few months later. There is no way it can recoup the losses however much it regrets having fulfilled its election promise to grant the public sector employees a huge pay hike. Aggravating its financial woes, foreign direct investment has dwindled drastically. The Volkswagen project has not come about and a much-hyped tyre manufacturing plant in Horana, too, has become a farce.

The country’s premier investment promotion institution must have as its head a dynamic technocrat of integrity adept at attracting investors. Trust is the key. Foreigners or Sri Lankan expatriates will invest here only if they can repose their trust in those who handle the country’s investment sector; they also need proper infrastructure and an investor-friendly environment sans negatives such as labour disputes, political interference, corruption and bureaucratic red tape. This country, we are afraid, is not investor friendly if the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index is any indication. It has been ranked 110th. Last year it was in the 109th position. It ought to learn from countries like Singapore, the second easiest country to do business in the world, how to promote FDI.

The BoI has remained rotten to the core over the last several decades with politicians, their family members and cronies interfering in it and amassing wealth with impunity. Even the few foreign investors who have come here are disgusted because they are without proper facilities and have to grease palms to get anything done. If the government is to attract FDI it has to get rid of Messrs Ten Percents within its ranks as the first step towards making the country investor friendly. But, how can a bunch of rulers who have earned notoriety for shielding racketeers who have robbed the Central Bank be expected to give the BoI a shake-up?

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