SLTDA Chairman outlines ‘one stop shop’ success

Wednesday, 4 April 2012 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Following are excerpts of an interview with Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Dr. Nalaka Godahewa on tourism investment facilitation

Q: Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has set up a ‘one stop shop’ for investment facilitation since late 2010. How does this fit into the role of tourism?

A: When the five-year Master Plan for tourism development in Sri Lanka was prepared under the guidance of the Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, one of the five focus areas identified was development of infrastructure.

We had a requirement for capacity for accommodation and also other tourism activities such as golf courses, light aircraft services, taxi services, shopping malls, marinas, adventure sports facilities, exhibition centres, education centres, etc., all of which fall under tourism infrastructure.

Of course the burning requirement at initial stages was creating additional 22,500 hotel rooms by 2016 increasing the total capacity to 45,000 hotel rooms. We felt that there was a need for facilitating the approval process of projects which was usually time consuming due to the large number of line agencies that an investor had to deal with. Obtaining approval for a project was quite cumbersome at that time. The one stop shop for tourism related investments was set up to assist investors in this regard.

Q: Isn’t it the role of the BOI to promote investment and facilitate the process?

A: Actually we are not involved in investment promotion, which is the function of BOI. However, when it comes to investment facilitation we have gone out of the way to assist investors in our industry to get their approvals expedited.

What we have basically set up at Sri Lanka Tourism is an informal unit which carries the burden of the investors and coordinates with the line agencies on their behalf. For example, it is difficult for a private investor to get all relevant line agencies to one place to present his proposals. It is difficult for him to get all line agencies to come for a site inspection on a single day. He has to go through the hassle of filling application forms for more than seven different line agencies if he approaches them direct.

An investor, particularly a foreign investor, would not know whom to talk to at different line agencies or ministries when there is a specific issue. What we have done at the one stop shop for tourism related investment is simplify this whole process by introducing a common application form and providing support of a team of officials who act on behalf of the investor coordinating all these line agency requirements.

Q: Why can’t the BOI give a single approval rather than have investors go through different line agencies?

A:  That is a question that should be directed at the BOI and not us. But I can explain their position to some extent. Originally when the BOI was set up almost 30 years ago it had a very strong Act which superseded much other legislation so the BOI had the power to be a one stop shop by all means.

However, over the years various other ministries have passed legislations diluting the power of the BOI. So today, to get an approval for a project the investor has no choice but to approach so many different ministries and line agencies. This situation can only be corrected through fresh legislation which will empower a single entity to make investment related decisions. Until such time we have found an informal solution. We have a target so we cannot wait. We require results fast. Therefore, we have found our own solution for our industry through one stop shop.

Q: What are the current achievements of the one stop shop since it was set up?

A:  From the beginning to January 2012, the one stop shop has received 189 project proposals of which 99 projects have already been approved; 33 of these approved projects are currently going through the compulsory environmental assessment process and the rest have already started moving; 90 applications are being processed with the coordination of line agencies.

I must say that almost 90% of these are hotel projects whereas the balance involves other tourism infrastructure. The total number of rooms for which approval has been granted stands at 7,931 as at end February 2012. The total number of rooms awaiting approval is 2,244. If at least 80% of these are completed as per schedule, then we are fairly okay with our capacity development plans.

Q: Do you find responses from the investors positive or are there any complaints?

A:  It is actually the investors who can comment best on this aspect. According to our observations so far, the responses have been quite positive. For example, at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Shangri-La hotels in both Colombo and Hambantota, the investors made it a point to make special mention of the speedy investment process of the Government, which was led by the Ministry of Economic Development in which one stop shop also played a key role. There had been several public forums where tourism investors have specifically mentioned one stop shop and appreciated the support in getting their approvals fast.

We in turn must also thank the other line agencies involved in this process such as the BOI, Coast Conservation, UDA, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Wildlife, Colombo Municipality, Coconut Cultivation Board, Department of Archaeology, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Irrigation Department, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, Land Commissioners Department, National Water Supply and Drainage Board, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, Sri Lanka Railways, CEA, Irrigation Department, Ministry of Land, Airport and Aviation Services SL Ltd., Ministry of Defence, Nation Building Research Organisation and Mahaweli Authority for their commitment and support, without which we could not have facilitated these investments.

We have come across one or two rare incidents where investors found fault with us for not getting approvals fast enough. But it is important for people to understand that one cannot break the law of the country to get approval for the tourism investment projects. We can only expedite the approval provided the project is within the acceptable guidelines. For example, we have so far rejected four projects on the ground of environmental impact something which we will not compromise.

Q: Can you list down the services which are offered by the one stop shop?

A:  Prior to the investment we offer the following services:

  • Providing information on potential areas for tourism investments
  • Providing a directory of lands available
  • Helping out in locating similar entrepreneurs for investors interested in joint ventures
  • Assisting in completing the common application form
  • Conducting meetings with the investors
  • Fast- tracking the project clearance permit
  • During the investment process we offer the following services:
  • Arranging common site inspections involving all line agencies.
  • Handling payments for different line agencies through one unit
  • Fast-tracking the approval from line agencies and ministries
  • Coordinating the building plan approvals required for the investment
  • Coordinating BOI incentive schemes granting final approval
  • After the final clearance for construction we offer the following services:
  • Helping out to set up an office and filling the human resources requirements
  • Granting recommendations for Visas
  • Monitoring the construction progress and facilitating on construction
  • Providing solutions should operational issues arise

Q: So what is the

way forward?

A: We are currently in the process of automating the processes of the one stop shop unit and we hope to complete this exercise by June this year. This will enable the investors track the status of their applications and interact with one stop shop staff on line. Applications can also be lodged online and this will further fast track the facilitation process.

The one stop shop unit progress is regularly reviewed by Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera. The Minister has been also chairing some of the key meetings and has advised us to organise an open day as early as possible for him to meet the investors who may still have issues left.

We request anyone currently engaged in tourism related development and needing our assistance to contact the one stop shop at the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. We will try to solve their problems and where necessary the issues will be escalated to Ministerial level for assistance.