06 Apr Dr. Asanga Gunawansa spoke on ‘Existing Mega Development Projects and Future Opporatunities’
The Sri Lanka Economic and Investment Conclave (SEIC 2017), hosted by HAIRONG Investments International Ltd. and TRIVE International, concluded successfully at the Kingsbury Hotel with the participation of foreign delegates from China, the US, Netherlands, Switzerland, Dubai, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Dr. Asanga Gunawansa presented the session whilst laying out his thoughts on the ground realities of the Sri Lankan investment environment.
Financial and infrastructure metropolis
A session which was well-received dealt with whether Sri Lanka has what it takes to achieve the ambitious goal of being a financial and infrastructure metropolis. The session was presented by Dr. Asanga Gunawansa, who was applauded for his candid interpretation of the existing ground realities of the Sri Lankan investment environment.
Under the topic Existing Mega Development Projects and Future Opportunities, he brought to light public sector-driven megaprojects with private sector participation and private sector-driven Megaprojects, including the Airport Expressway, Sothern Highway, Hambantota Sea Port and Airport Development Project, Port City of Colombo, Colombo South Port and Queen Elizabeth Quay Development Projects, Hill Country High Way and Light Rail Way Project, Havelock City Development Project, Waterfront (Keells City) Development Project and Colombo City Centre Development Project.
At the commencement of his address there was an analysis of similar models of mega development models across the world, including in Dubai and Singapore. By analysing the rapid development trajectory of both ideological destinations, Dr. Gunewansa presented his case to substantiate the success factors unique to both destinations.
He highlighted that as for Dubai, the success factors included its vision and political stability, policy commitment by government institutions, public-private sector partnerships, participatory knowledge creation and excellence in creating experiences. Whereas the takeaways from Singapore, also commonly known as the little Red Dot, were highlighted as political stability and predictability, commitment to sustainable development, business-friendly laws appealing to international investors, advantageous relative location and an established port system, the ‘Whole of Government’ approach, the public sector providing true leadership and taking active partnership in PPPs and openness for foreign talent whilst encouraging locals to compete.
The speaker was quick to infer that both regimes had one common thread in their tapestry of success – stable leadership and an autocratic nature. Saying that he was by no means calling for an autocratic regime, he drove home the point of establishing the need for strong and stable government policy which would not waiver upon an election outcome which erodes investor confidence – a poignant reality of Sri Lanka.
In selecting resource personnel who were the custodians of imparting up-to-date, relevant information and analytical input which would become a key takeaway for participants of the event, the organisers had made a great effort in selecting academics, elite professionals and thought leaders in their industry.
Dr. Gunawansa holds a PhD in law from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an LL.M in International Economic Law from the University of Warwick and is an Attorney-at- Law. He was a Professor at NUS, Singapore from 2007-2013 and prior to that was attached to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) as a Legal Officer. Dr. Gunawansa is currently heading the Colombo Law Alliance, a law chamber specialising in investment law and commercial law. He is also the Chairman of the Sri Lanka International Arbitration Centre and an Advisor to the Green Climate Fund in Songdo, Korea and a consultant to the ADB on Public-Private Partnerships.
Recommendations for sustainable mega development
His penultimate remarks included six concrete recommendations for sustainable mega development in Sri Lanka:
- A stable political regime and commitment to development policy. Depoliticisation of all policies and actions related to the project should be strongly ensured.
- Supervision by a highly professional and business-like team which is willing to consider out-of-the-box solutions.
- Local and foreign investment, technology and expertise must be promoted and facilitated.
- Future paced development: permit considerations of mega project’s long-term impact on financial, environmental and social sustainability.
- Considering public-private partnerships as the first option
- Introduction of a state-of-the-art PPP law to encourage the private sector to participate in development and to generally increase investment, mitigating the financing burdens placed on the general Budget in connection with project costs and to generally reduce the financial risk to the Government of such projects, increasing productivity and improving the quality of public services and facilitating the transfer of knowledge and experience from the private to the public sectors and to train and qualify governmental personnel to manage and operate the projects in the future.
In closing, Dr. Gunewansa assured the foreign delegates and participants that they were at the right place at the right time and encouraged them to tap into the treasure trove of opportunities Sri Lanka had to offer.
(The author is an Attorney-at-Law qualified in Marketing and Human Resource Management and an independent economic commentator.)