Change does not come easy for anyone, yet it is the only permanent thing in this world. Perhaps that is why most people prefer to sail through the change process as fast as possible and the Board of Investment (BOI) is no different. Struggling through a complicated restructuring process at the moment, the BOI is in danger of becoming ever more inefficient – resulting in stakeholders becoming more disgruntled as days drag into months with no plans being finalised and inclusiveness ignored.
While it is understood that change is not easy, there are several actions that can be done to ensure that the change process happens smoothly and ruffles as few feathers as possible. While this may be unusual for the Sri Lankan psyche to accept, there are better ways to solve matters than taking to the streets. Yet that is exactly what the employees of the BOI were forced to do on Monday since top decision makers had refused to discuss plans with them in a transparent manner.
The employees charge that around 90 workers have been deprived of their duties, forcing them to wander aimlessly during office hours. While this may not strike the common man as being unusual given the general state of inefficiency in government offices, it does nonetheless symbolise the chaos into which the BOI has descended. If the aim of the restructuring is to make the BOI more efficient, then this is not the most auspicious start.
The first media reports of a BOI restructure spilled to the public last year and was confirmed during the Budget speech and the IMF Stand-By Agreement referred to it as well. Therefore, why haven’t the plans been told to the employees? Surely, the most practical solution would be to hold a meeting and explain in detail the measures planned and how it will affect them? Fears of job losses and resentment against high Government officials who give confusing messages would at least be lessened through such a measure.
It is accepted that the BOI must be revamped to attract much needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Yet, there is much confusion as to how and when this will happen. Businessmen, both local and foreign, are concerned that a prolonged restructuring process will deter investors from coming to Sri Lanka. Internal players will also be affected as they await clearance on details to invest in the north and east. These war-ravaged areas are still gravely in need of large scale investments as soon as possible so that living standards can improve. Rehabilitation cannot happen unless people are given jobs and better opportunities and billions worth of investment stagnating is a disappointing reality.
Officials need to come into the open about what changes they are making and the timeline so that a discussion forum with stakeholders will create better understanding about the adapted policies. The business community can give feedback about what changes would be constructive so that Sri Lanka can become competitive globally. Many have been disappointed about a range of BOI activities, including their communication mechanisms such as the website and advertising choices, as well as cumbersome approval processes demanding complicated documents.
Obviously, a complete restructuring process would be long term and will need to evolve depending on the local and global challenges faced by the world at large. As an institution the BOI will need to keep an open mind and a firm eye on the big picture playing out on a world stage if it is to help Sri Lanka attain its development goals. Nonetheless, in the short term there must be practical measures to not only finalise existing projects and attract new ones but also give confidence about the restructuring process so that global attention and interest does not drift away from our country.