Eran outlines practical solutions aimed at resolving corruption and other issues

Continued From Yesterday
A National Land Bank

Another huge barrier you face when you are in business is, basically getting some land to set up a factory, industry or even an office. I am a person who came from your side (private sector) to this side (public sector) and I can share my view on this area of activity of obtaining land for a Multi model Transport Hub. I had to get involved with the UDA, CGR, CTB, Municipal Council, the state authorities; just to get a plot of land sorted out and it took nearly two years.

The President the other day said a National Land Council will be set up and a national land policy will be adopted. What I ask is, do it quickly rather than allow time to pass. We are taking it beyond that and we will create a National Land Bank. This is one of the huge obstacles, the businesses in our country face. That is why we want to make sure that we go in this direction.

Fuel and Energy issues

The other issue you are currently facing is fuel and energy. No easy solution and payment cannot be made as there is an immediate dollar shortage in the country. A few months ago MP Harshana Rajakaruna and I were at the COP – 27 meeting in Egypt where the President was in attendance at the meeting of leaders of countries meeting on energy and the environment. We were there as Members of Parliament with other Members of Parliament of South Asian countries. One of the things we don’t openly talk about is, we have a huge potential in sustainable energy; our policy is to open a system. Sri Lanka’s biggest hurdle is that we have closed our borders and we need to open them. Bigger issue is we have closed our minds and we have to open our minds and think out of the box.

Therefore, this potential can’t be tapped unless we have foreign investments and we heard our political parties saying that foreign investment will not be welcomed in the energy sector. What kind of nonsense is that? We are never going to do it with our savings because we know about our debt problem. Therefore, we have to open it up for foreign investment. I can’t understand their logic; what are we talking about here is solar energy and wind energy. We are selling the resources. Therefore we have to open up. We have so much of potential. Harshana and I had discussions with India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Sri Lanka’s needs can be met by more than that, we could even become an exporter of energy. Therefore we need to move in that direction.

Legal process

Other issues businesses have are legal issues. I must confess upfront I am not a lawyer, not a legal person. But there is a lot that has been written. Fair and equal treatment is absolutely important. Businesses also need guarantees against appropriations. When I was in Parliament first in 2010 – 2015, it was awful to see what the then government did.

The private sector lost confidence. We have constitutional guarantees. But despite the constitutional guarantees unlawful expropriation is a predominant concern of the private sector. State has the right to regulate, but not to unlawfully or indirectly expropriate. Fair treatment must be ensured and we will work on it.

We need to be seen as a reliable country where local and the foreign businesses actually can deal with us. This needs a lot of consultations on how we are going to do this. We need to make Sri Lanka a Centre for Arbitration in the region to move in this direction.

Centralised approvals for local BOIs

Why only the concept for foreign investments, why haven’t we thought about it? Several years ago when I was a banker I was asked how to develop ICT. I was not an ICT man but I was a developer. I was ask to take over the ICT. I went and looked at it. There were more drivers and clerks than ICT people there. I came up with a recommendation to shut it down and that is how the ICTA was started. Some of these reorganizations will have to be radical. I will give an indication that we will do the reforms; starting a new BOI for local businesses. We have to be radical in our thinking if we want to enable this country to go ahead. These are not new but other countries have done these things. Therefore, these things can be done.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

Our foreign policy is that of an independent state. I like the old language that was used by Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. A Non – Aligned country. Taking into consideration the security concerns of our neighbour India, the closed proximity we have, we have to work intelligently. But we are an independent state. That is our foreign policy. In this foreign policy we don’t care where the investment comes from. Rule of Law will be paramount. We have to have an empowered BOI. Exports will be given primacy. Value addition to high- end services, basically high tech manufacturing institutions, will be relooked at.


Harsha De Silva M.P gave the staggering statistics of State Owned Enterprises. I remember a former Prime Minister called me one day and said he wants to put Sri Lankan Airlines under me. I said Sir, wait a minute. I don’t want it. He looked very puzzled. He asked why? I said; Sir, there is no point in giving me the things that cannot be overturned by me. Everybody looked shocked. We have to stop fooling ourselves.

SoEs need to be reformed. I am going to tell you what our policies are. Our philosophy is limited government ownership in strategic areas. There are strategic areas, such as, finance, food and energy. But you know to do things better. I don’t think the government needs to be involved. You are the entrepreneur, you know the market you know better, therefore, you should be doing things. Now the number of SOEs have risen from 105 to 250.And the losses have risen to more than a trillion rupees. We believe in Public -Private Partnerships. We looked at various models of PPP.

We see now the institutions are put under different ministries and the ministers are managing them through their secretaries, like chief executives giving instructions to commercial enterprises. We want to move away from that. We want to take the people who know what to do to be in-charge of them. That is why that structure is important and the businesses can lead those structures. One more thing, bankruptcy can also be avoided. Therefore, we need a law on bankruptcy and on reorganizing bankruptcy. Preliminary work was done and the AGs Dept. played a key role in it.


We need to take this country to the next level. It is not going to be easy. I think we have a 2- 3 year struggle on our hands. Stabilization first, as Dr. Harsha said. If I use the word diaspora here, this word has been redefined with Sri Lanka’s conflict in mind. That is why I purposely use the words Overseas Sri Lankans. Sri Lankans living overseas are not a liability; they are one of the biggest assets this country has. Their educational level is very high, they have the technology and the foreign currency, so many huge advantages and we want to welcome them here. If they decide to have dual citizenship they will be given it. Their 2nd generation born abroad will be given permanent residence and we will open our doors to them and their investment. Why should we close the door on these biggest assets we have?

Education for all

Physical location is a great advantage this country has. We are the hub of the Indian sub-continent in education and human resources. Airport, ports, logistics are available.

SJB policy is that every child in this country must have access to higher education.

Though education is a public good the supplier need not necessarily be the government. Private sector too can be a supplier.

Two private sector medical colleges opened by the private sector previously were shut down due to protests by left wing political parties who are against private sector contributions towards education.

The responsibility of the government is regulation in providing education.

We want to preserve our societies and families. We don’t want our youngsters going abroad, looking for greener pastures or for shelter in other countries. This not only about the economy but also about values culture, family society etc.

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