Business Times

BOI restructuring comes under fire; unions to protest on Tuesday

By Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera

A restructuring programme by the Board of Investment (BOI) scheduled to kick off tomorrow by shrinking its floor space at the World Trade Centre (WTC) has come under fire from staff who are launching an organised protest on Tuesday, according to BOI sources, but officials say all this is done in ‘good’ faith.
They said that as a first step of the restructuring, three major BOI departments – Promotions, Investments and Monitoring -- are to be amalgamated in a bid to focus on the nine thrust sectors that BOI has identified to give priority to, while these three departments and staff relating to the thrust sectors are to be shifted to the 24th floor of the WTC tomorrow.

“This floor has the capacity to hold less than 50 people, but tomorrow 90 people will be housed here,” one employee told the Business Times. He said that staff is planning a picketing on Tuesday at 12 noon to protest over the issue. They said that Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Treasury under whom the BOI’s jurisdiction is, had wanted the nine floors of BOI at the WTC to be reduced to five.

“Also the WTC floors were purchased outright some years ago and it’s not clear what they (Treasury) have in mind for the balance four floors,” he added. Another employee added that Treasury has plans to either sell the floors or rent them. “We will resort to trade union action if we don’t hear anything positive, after the protest on Tuesday,” he said.

Jayampathy Bandaranayake, Director General BOI in response to these issues told the Business Times that BOI’s restructuring is done in a bid to approach the present investment climate in a more ‘organised’ manner. “The BOI was set up as a segmented entity with many departments. We’re now restructuring it based on a sector based approach with the focus on nine thrust sectors. A sector team (after they are enlisted with a sector) will possess the intricate knowledge in that particular sector,” he said, explaining that the earlier structure of segmented, inefficiently organised investment promotion agency will be equipped to handle more sophisticated and upscale investors.

“The concept is to attract such investors to come to Sri Lanka and also to better compete with other destinations to attract major investments,” he added. Mr. Bandaranayake said that part of the BOI’s restructuring will be to style the existing 12 BOI zones as ‘model zones’. “They will be environmental friendly, be clean, etc. Also we will review and change each system and process to better attract investors,” he said. About the 24th floor and the 90 staff who are to start working there from tomorrow, Mr. Bandaranayake said that this is being discussed with them. He said that the BOI pays Rs 20 million annually to maintain each floor at WTC.

“We will find a useful purpose for the floors which we don’t need,” he said, but did not say how many will be made vacant. He reiterated that BOI hasn’t made a decision to either sell or rent these floors or how many will be made vacant. When asked whether the staff was aware of the change that is happening, Mr. Bandaranayake said that all this was explained to them.

“The staff is not happy with the way this is being handled,” the first employee said. He also said that about two months ago the BOI staff met with Mr. Bandaranayake to discuss these issues, but it didn’t bear any fruit. Mr. Bandaranayake said that in a changing backdrop it’s only natural to feel a sense of uncertainty. “None of this is aimed at forcing staff out from the BOI. There will not be any retrenchment.”

Other BOI employees also said that staff is not happy with the Restructuring Committee (RC) manned by six senior BOI officials, but Mr. Bandaranayake said that the BOI has to make do with what it has. “Those who are in the RC are not experts of BOI operations. They are a team of executive directors who are being directed by a foreign consultant appointed by the Treasury. There’s no proper 'coordination’ to this restructuring exercise,” the employee said.

But the BOI says it has faith in the RC. “There will be many opinions, but I’m confident of the committee who are entrusted with this project,” Mr. Bandaranayake said.

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