UPFA attracted highest foreign direct investment inflow - Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena
Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said
irrespective of the challenges in the international arena, the UPFA
government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa has attracted the highest
foreign investment inflow to the country. The Minister in an interview
with the Sunday Observer said the allegations against Sri Lanka in the
international fora would not be a major issue or affect the country’s
investments as the Government could face such challenges successfully.
Since UNHRC sessions are to be held in Geneva in March, it is obvious
that the European Union (EU) and certain Western countries have decided
to raise some issues against Sri Lanka.
The Minister said the main reason for these international forces to
make these allegations against Sri Lanka is that they have not been able
to browbeat the Government. The international community has realised
that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a full-fledged Leader who is
dedicated to defend his motherland without yielding to international
pressure. The President always makes decisions in keeping with the hopes
and aspirations of his people in safeguarding national identity. This is
a significant attribute of President Rajapaksa’s leadership.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: President Rajapaksa has in appreciation of your services
elevated you to the rank of a Cabinet Minister. How do you feel about
A: I hope the President had a very good assessment of work
performed by us during the past few years. The President would have
considered the fact that I had fulfilled the responsibility entrusted
upon me. I hope that this may be the reason which led the President to
give me this Cabinet portfolio.
Q: Investments are vital for our economy. There are
allegations that due to certain developments such as the impeachment of
the former Chief Justice foreign investments could be affected and new
investors may be reluctant to come. As the new Minister in charge, how
do you respond to this?
A: This kind of baseless allegations were also levelled
against the Government during the military operations against the
terrorists. The Government under the leadership of President Rajapaksa
could successfully face these challenges. Actually such attempts were
made by certain Western powers to coax us into their side or to
deliberately undermine us.
However, the Government faced these challenges meaningfully. Whatever
remarks made by certain sections on investments, the Mahinda Rajapaksa
Government from 2006 to 2012 has brought the highest foreign direct
investment inflow into the country. When we look at the past
performances, all former Governments which had ruled the country from
1978 to 1994 had brought foreign investment worth only US$ 1,026
million. In addition, the foreign direct investment from 1995 to 2005
amounted to US$ 1,752 million only. But the UPFA Government from 2006 up
to third quarter of 2012 has brought foreign direct investments worth
US$ 5,026 million to the country which is a 64 percent increase compared
to the past foreign investment inflow. Directive of the challenges at
the international fora, the Government has brought the highest foreign
direct investment inflow into the country.
The allegations made in the international fora would not be a major
issue or affect the country’s investments as the Government has the
ability and strength to face to such challenges. Since UNHRC sessions
are to be held in Geneva in March, the European Union (EU) and certain
Western countries have decided to raise some issues against Sri Lanka.
The main reason for certain international forces to make allegations
against Sri Lanka is that they have not been able to browbeat this
Government. If I further elaborate on this, the international community
has realised that President Rajapaksa is a full-fledged Leader who is
firmly dedicated to defend his motherland without yielding to any
international pressure. The President always takes decisions in keeping
with the hopes and aspirations of his people by safeguarding the
national identity. This is the significant attribute of President’s
Q: What will be your priorities to increase investments? Will
there be greater focus on the North and the East?
A: I am still studying this subject. I have focused on what
are the constraints on investments. I have decided to appoint an
advisory committee comprising high profile personalities of the private
sector. At present some large-scale private companies in Sri Lanka
invest in several foreign countries. We should look into what
constraints are there on investments and overcome them. In my
capacity as the Investment Promotion Minister, I hope to hold a progress
review meeting once a month and also set up ‘one-stop shop’.
This would help sort out the problems at my level. If there are
problems which cannot be resolved at my level it will be taken up with
the President at a discussion to be held once a month or two. All
existing problems could be discussed at this forum.
Q: You were earlier handling the subject of economic
development as Deputy Minister. How would you carry over that experience
to this new challenge, which is closely linked to economic development?
A: I have some experience on this subject. There are several
factors which are directly connected to the economy. The investments in
the tourism sector are vital for our country. I know certainly in what
areas the tourism sector investments should be increased. We should set
up a promotional campaign to increase the tourism sector investments. We
have eight Industrial Zones and four Industrial Parks.
We should ascertain what are the abandoned factories in these
Industrial Zones and bring investors to recommence them. Attention
should also be focused to bring foreign investors to set up new
industries in bare lands. At present, the Southern Expressway has been
extended to Galle. This has helped develop Galle and Koggala. A new
harbour and a port have been constructed at Hambantota. Hambantota will
be gazetted as a new industrial zone in the near future. Even today it
functions as an industrial zone. We should
develop this zone further. The Ministry would also increase the
investments in the North and the East. Several garment factories have
already been opened in the Eastern province. Industries set up in the
North and the East will be further developed.
Q: There are allegations that the Government is borrowing
heavily for infrastructure projects that will in turn increase the
national debt. As Investment Promotion Minister what is your view on
A: Infrastructure is the major component for investment
promotion. During the regime of President J.R. Jayewardene, the debt
ratio exceeded hundred percent compared to the national income. At
present the Government has been able to maintain the debt ratio within
the range of 80 percent. The Government has also repaid loans on time.
If we have the ability to repay the loans on due dates and maintain
the debt ratio at this percentage, there is no problem of obtaining
loans. A massive transformation has taken place in the country during
the recent past due to the Government developing infrastructure
facilities. We can see the significant changes in Colombo city and its
suburbs. The Southern Expressway has immensely helped the people to save
time. People appreciate the efforts by the Government to construct this
new expressway. Therefore, this kind of infrastructure projects are
important. The Government should identify its priorities.
Q: Have you already drawn up a comprehensive program to
attract foreign investments?
A: Now I am formulating in collaboration with my advisory
committee a one year promotion plan to bring more investments to Sri
Lanka. Major part of its promotional aspect will be handled by my Deputy
Minister. I will help him with information relating to Middle East and
some other countries to carry out our investment promotion campaign.
This would help foreign investors to obtain a background knowledge about
our investment sector.
Q: It has been observed in the past that there are certain
obstacles and restrictions in promoting foreign investment since your
Ministry has to work in collaboration with other Ministries and state
institutions. How do you hope to tackle this problem?
A: In order to overcome this situation, we have decided to
establish a ‘one-stop shop’m with which ministries can directly deal.
The officials ought to submit to me a report on the constraints faced by
them so that I could sort them out.
Q: Do you plan to get the expertise and investments from
members of the Tamil diaspora especially for the North and the East?
A: We have to concentrate on the Indian factor. We also have
to strengthen our ties with India, China and other Asian countries to
get their assistance to develop the West and the East. In the near
future, a flagship project will be setup in Sampur. This would help
transform the Sampur area. As the first step it has been decided to sign
agreements for two key investments next week.
Q: Three US Deputy Assistant Secretaries who came to Sri Lanka
to look into the implementation of LLRC recommendations have clearly
stated that they are going to table a procedural resolution at the UNHRC
sessions in March. What is the Government’s stand on this?
A: This challenge is always before us. As I told you earlier,
the main reason for this challenge is that the Mahinda Rajapaksa
Government is entirely based on national identity and national agenda.
We would not allow any foreign country to interfere in our internal
affairs or take decisions on behalf of us. When a UNHRC session is going
to be held, this kind of alleged human rights issues are taken up by the
EU and certain Western countries.
The Government has already responded to certain issues mentioned in
the LLRC report. Any foreign delegate who comes to Sri Lanka can witness
the resettlement process in the North. Some Tamil political parties have
attempted to impress such delegations that our resettlement process has
The Government takes pride to show to foreign delegations the success
of our resettlement process compared to many other countries. While we
are responding to certain allegations against us, an opinion has to be
created against such allegations with the countries which are in favour
of Sri Lanka. This has become an annual ritual against Sri Lanka at
UNHRC sessions. As it has become a common spectacle we should get ready
Q: The so-called human rights violations in Sri Lanka are one
of the key issues according to some Western powers. How does the
Government hope to respond to these unfounded allegations?
A: These alleged human rights violations were levelled against
the Government during the war against terrorists and thereafter. Those
who had spoken against Sri Lanka have realised themselves that no severe
human rights violations had taken place to warrant allegations against
Sri Lanka at international fora. We have asked what are the human rights
violations committed by us? They don’t have enough evidence to prove any
human rights violations by us.
Q: Fears have been expressed that Sri Lanka may lose the
chance of hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)
due to human rights and other issues. What is your view on that?
A: Certain sections may attempt to create such an opinion. But
we are confident that we would be able to host the CHOGM in Sri Lanka.
Hosting the CHOGM in Sri Lanka will be decided in the near future.
Q: With several new Cabinet Ministers, other Deputy and
Project Ministers appointed, the Opposition says that a jumbo cabinet
has been created and that it takes billions of rupees to maintain it.
The Government says it is necessary given the development and
post-conflict challenges. What is your response?
A: During the UNP regime, a Paddy Research and Development
Minister was appointed. The UNP told the country that this Minister was
appointed as the country’s paddy cultivation had deteriorated. But the
UNP could not achieve the desired goal through the new Ministry. With
the provision of fertiliser subsidy, the UPFA Government had
successfully increased the paddy production.
At present only 25 percent of sugar requirement is produced locally
and 75 percent is imported. That is why steps were taken to appoint a
Sugar Industries Minister.
If our local sugar production can be increased, the salaries and
other expenditure of that Ministry would be even less than one percent.
If the Ministers are dedicated to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted
to them, the people would decide whether the Government has done
something right or wrong by increasing the number of its Cabinet. If the
Government could deliver goods to the people the increase of the number
of Ministers or Deputy Ministers would not be a big issue in the
country. At present the Government through the increase of paddy and
maize production has passed the benefit to the people. The coconut
production has gone up due to a new Coconut Development Minister being
appointed. A new Ministry needs at least two years to show its results.
The elections are scheduled to be held in 2015 or 2016. By that time,
the people would decide on these Ministers on the results shown by them.
Q: The President and the Speaker have advocated the need to
change the Constitution especially to strengthen the role of Parliament.
What are the key changes as far as you know? Has the Government decided
to repeal the 13th Amendment? Will there be a widespread dialogue on
these constitutional changes or will it be rushed through in the coming
A: Amendments have to be made to the Constitution as there are
certain complicated clauses in it.
Before amendments are made, it should be discussed with all political
parties and at the Government Parliamentary Group meeting as well. Then
the Government in consultation with other political parties can make
amendments only suitable to the country. It is entirely up to the
President and the Cabinet to discuss such matters. Various people can
express different views by highlighting what sections of the
Constitution should be amended. The final decision has to be taken by
Parliament. Before it comes to Parliament, the Government would hold
discussions with legal luminaries and other intellectuals. The
Government has not taken any decision to repeal the 13th Amendment. If
the 13th Amendment is abolished, we should be able to give a more
meaningful solution to the 13th Amendment and it should be passed by two
thirds majority in Parliament. Its a long procedure. This 13th Amendment
was introduced following discussions with India.
As a result of the 13th Amendment, the Provincial Council system was
established in Sri Lanka. If a new system is to be introduced to replace
the Provincial Councils, the people should be educated on the grounds
which led to introduce the new system. The Government will not take any
decision to repeal the 13th Amendment haphazardly. The President will do
the most appropriate thing in the interest of the country.
Q: There is a talk about an early election and some sections
of the Opposition are already talking about a regime change in 2014 ? Is
there any such possibility?
A: This is a joke. To make a regime change, first the main
Opposition UNP should properly organise itself. There should be a strong
Opposition in the country. At present there is no such Opposition and
the present Opposition has been split into various factions. In this
situation, how could they effect a regime change? Even when the Leader
and the Deputy Leader of the UNP do not work together to promote their
party, it would be only a dream to talk about a regime change. This is
just only an attempt by the UNP to embrace their partymen. This is not a
Q: Some have also called for a people’s uprising similar to
the Arab Spring in Sri Lanka to topple this democratically elected
Government. Given the fate of countries which have undergone this
process like Egypt, Libya and even Syria, do you think there is an
external involvement in such moves to topple the Government?
A: We have to act with circumspection as some international
forces are attempting to destabilise the Government. At present peace
has been restored in the country. Under these circumstances, some
international conspirators may try to create various divisions among the
people based on religion and ethnicity. Some INGOs and their funds may
be active behind these conspiracies.
Therefore, our people should look at these issues intelligently. It
is the responsibility of the people not to be a party to these
conspiracies hatched by the extremist forces. The Government alone
cannot prevent this through laws. It is solely the responsibility of the
people to safeguard the hard-earned peace.
Q: The Opposition and certain sections attempt to highlight
that there is no media freedom in the country. How do you respond to
A: I categorically deny it. Today there is no restriction on
the media. Any person who look at with an open mind can see that no
difficulty has been faced by the media personnel in performing their
duties. During the past few months, no restrictions have been imposed on
journalists or on any media institution.
The media has the full freedom to report. When we look at the
newspapers, we can clearly see this. How many newspapers, television and
radio channels carry various news items against the Government? What
more media freedom could be expected?