As we all know foreign income is at a crisis, with the current pandemic situation. It is not only in Sri Lanka but most tourism based economies have come to a standstill in the world. On the other hand, we generate foreign income through the millions of Sri Lankans working abroad and sending money to [...]

Business Times

Dollar crisis and approval for development projects


Mr. Chaminda G. Pathirana

As we all know foreign income is at a crisis, with the current pandemic situation. It is not only in Sri Lanka but most tourism based economies have come to a standstill in the world.

On the other hand, we generate foreign income through the millions of Sri Lankans working abroad and sending money to their loved ones living in Sri Lanka.

These income generators can be domestic and skilled workers to professionals employed in countries like Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, Emirate, Europe, UK, Australia, Canada and USA etc.

Whatever the circumstances they are living or working abroad, their main dream is to build something in Sri Lanka. It could be building a house for the family, a holiday home, villa, hotel or other commercial building, as a kind of an investment.

At the same time there are a kind of small-scale investors who would decide to build here. They are the foreigners who prefer to spend their retirement life in a tropical country like Sri Lanka. Their choice may vary from a beach side location to peaceful river side, hill country or a place closer to nature with wild life etc. This is not only for their own use but as a kind of investment as well, to cater to their other seasonal tourists, from their mother countries, in the form of a holiday home or a small hotel.

So, are we welcoming them? If you ask this question from government officials they might reply saying: YES.

But what is the practical situation? Unfortunately the answer is: NO.

Even a Sri Lankan living here will not be able to get building approvals for a development on his own land without having to wait for one to two years after applying. Why does it take that long? Why is this process so complicated? These questions are never answered.

With this unfortunate situation how foreigners or Sri Lankans living abroad would resort to invest in Sri Lanka is a question needed to be answered. Who is really stopping this foreign currency inflow?

Knowing this unfortunate situation in Sri Lanka, the Tourist Board started a new approval process called “One Stop shop” by bringing in concerned government departments under one roof to make the approval process easy, especially in the case of foreign investment in building development sector.

I personally attended several presentations with foreign investors and we came out of the meeting quite satisfied as all the questions asked on the proposed development were well answered and all the information required was provided, and assuming that the construction could soon be started. We were further assured of the approval as the Chairperson from the Tourist Board got the confirmation from the representatives of authorities that the details required by them have been received and all doubts cleared.

But unfortunately, we did not get the required approval at the end.

We eventually came to know that, despite all those assurances, we still needed to apply for the routine process for approval from UDA or local council clearance, also need to get more clearance from individual department like Electricity Board, Water and Drainage Board, CEA, Coastal Conservation, Fire Department, local authorities etc. It is the same lethargic, inefficient and corrupt system that continues with incidents of losing or misplacing submitted documents, having to offer bribes and such other malpractices taking place.

Sites are never visited for inspections, unless the applicant personally pursues them several times.

The sad state is that most foreign investors stop halfway and leave for other tropical countries where quick efficient and user-friendly system are available, as they find no reason to go through this cumbersome corrupt system.

If all the authorities and departments work as a team, a lot of time could be saved. Though all authorities have systems, sadly they are not managed properly and hence not operative. New technology is not used. Ironically the government does not seem to monitor this closely and take action to rectify the system or take action to identify the culprits to take punitive action.

If the process is simplified, improved and made an online system, with a guaranteed approval for the correct proposals, no doubt there will be enough flow of investment in this sector, benefiting many in the construction industry, from skilled technicians to professionals such as Architects, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and also the small-time builders as well and thereby enhancing the state revenue as well.

With such a system in place permanent residency too can be provided to foreigners who invest a minimum amount of hard currency, in the sector.

It is important to realise in this context that there is a group of retirees in some countries whose pension payments are not sufficient enough for them to spend their retirement life in their countries but is quite adequate for them to spend their life here, in a reasonable standard, who should be attracted to our country. They do not hesitate to sell off their assets in the country and bring that money here to spend for a better life.

The government should give serious attention to this aspect of earning foreign exchange which will benefit both the state as well as the public, directly as well as indirectly.

(The writer is a qualified engineer and has a MSc (Env) SL, BEng (Hon) UK, MIET (UK), Green SL AP)


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