BOI into a world-class outfit
Saliya Wickramasuriya, chairman/director-general of the Board of
Investment, has a tough assignment on his hands – restructuring
a powerful government agency to a world class service organisation.
“It’s a huge challenge but we need to move on,”
he said in an interview, adding that the agency should be efficient,
effective and investor-friendly and empower top officials to take
decisions. Some employees are opposing the changes. Excerpts:
have decided to change the organisational structure of the Board
of Investment into five divisions from the current vertical structure.
We have combined functions to core areas aimed at delivering a world
The newly appointed Deputy Director Generals of BOI are Duminda
Ariyasinghe – Marketing, Prasanna Weerakoon – Operations,
L D Dickman (acting) – Infrastructure, Tissa Fernando (acting)
- Corporate Services and A M C Kulasekara (acting) – Investments.
position of Secretary-General with DDG status – a designation
provided for in the BOI Act – has been revived and he would
replace the senior advisor category that prevailed in recent years.
The Marketing division is a combination of promotions, research
and planning. It will provide medium and long term strategies and
transforming economic policies into investment opportunities.
There would be focus on project proposals, approvals and compliance.
In the financial monitoring sphere we would be looking at the performance,
balance sheet, employment, investments of BOI companies.
this alert the BOI to companies that are in bad shape?
Yes but more than that BOI companies need to provide audited accounts
to receive whatever tax holidays they are entitled to. Without these
reports, the monitoring department wouldn’t be able to approve
the tax benefit.
This particular group in the BOI will ensure that companies are
on track. This process is carried on an annual basis.
BOI requests the audited accounts of more that 1,600 enterprises
but only 40 percent comply with the request. It was less before.
Asking for audited accounts --is it by law or a request?
If companies want to benefit from tax holidays, then that could
only be done by perusing their annual reports.
would this data help the BOI?
It would show us that the company is proceeding according to planned
growth as prescribed in the agreement. The monitoring process helps
with lots of other things – we would know their liquidity,
cash flows, whether the company has underperformed and if so why,
whether we could help in the recovery.
it help to know in advance when companies are in troubles?
It would. We have in fact brought in a traffic lights-type grading
system of companies based on labour compliance, wages, human relations,
welfare, etc. Companies are graded under green, yellow and red tags
with the intention being to foresee possible closures. Knowing before
hand the problems a company faces would help us to step in and see
whether we could help in the recovery and minimise problems for
employees. We are also improving our Business Intelligence collection
about verifying the background of an investor?
That’s what we want to do. We really don’t know company
A or company B. In the case of well-known companies, that’s
not a problem but in the case of others we need a background check,
annual reports, who are the bankers and other information that would
help us make a sound decision.
We need to know who we are dealing with. We need to have as much
facts as possible before approving an investment. All these changes
in the BOI are at various levels of implementation; some have been
implemented; some are being implemented as we go along.
Operations’ is a new division focusing on customer support.
It would look after zones and regions with the main objective being
to improve the operating environment of investors and help in more
We recently issued our first quality policy and are gearing up for
ISO certification. We have issued a Master training plan, investment
policies, guidelines for employees and a code of conduct.
zones and property: We have a lot of property. We are also planning
three new zones – 1,500 acres at Welikande in Polonnaruwa
bordering the buffer zone and two other zones on the southern highway
We hope to create a public-private sector partnership in running
these zones which would be owned by the BOI and managed by a private
party. We have acquired the land at Polonnaruwa. An investment will
result in development, jobs for the area. The BOI has to lead than
follow. Everyone is conservative but we need to take some risks.
At the 200-acre Horana zone, we have engaged an Indian company competent
in economic zones to provide us a kind of bid document which can
take to the market.
core business is not running zones but stimulating the economy.
All the new zones would be privately managed and publicly owned.
At the Horana zone, we want to attract high-value factories that
would feed the garments industry in backward intergration process.
This would help save enormous sums of foreign exchange in raw material
imports. We will continue to manage the old zones.
this is also a new department which hopefully would be a champion
of large scale national projects. There are good projects at line
ministries but large scale projects are lingering as coordination
is a problem.
This group would analysis incoming projects. For example if we see
a need for water treatment plans, power projects and so on that
would boost investment in a particular area -- we will then suggest
and provide assistance on technical and other input to get them
off the ground.
This unit will drive national projects and not be passive. The overriding
mandate of the five deputy directors general is to take responsibility
for their various functions. The policy advisory committee will
operate under the director-general.
opposition to the restructuring?
This is a substantive change of culture in the organisation mainly
to ensure transparency and properly organised work roles. There
are some in the BOI who are reluctant to relinquish their area of
responsibility. I agree we have not been able to convince everybody
that the changes are in their own interest and the national interest.
those who object are in a minority. The changes have been made in
a global context. We are measured by another’s yardstick.
We have to attract foreign investors and provide them a world class
In this process, we are bound to break a few eggs, demolish a few
mafias and some comfort zones of some officials who are either ignorance
of the benefit of change or deliberately oppose it. The majority
are supportive and many segments have contributed to this restructure.
need to go ahead and do it. Those who oppose it for the sake of
preserving their current autonomy will lose this status. We are
re-defining governance and responsibility. In fact 95 percent of
BOI operations and decisions would be tackled by the DDGs leaving
only 5 percent of the day-to-day operations to the chairman.
process empowers these officials and removes them from political
interference or uncertainty when governments change. Nobody passes
the buck anymore. In fact they have begun taking decisions. We are
neither inducting new people - except for about five - nor getting
rid of anyone.