President Leads Inaugural Board of Investment Awards Ceremony

  • Driving Economic Growth through Competitive Investment Opportunities, a Priority Focus.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe affirmed his commitment to bolstering the nation’s economy through the establishment of competitive investment avenues. He commended the pivotal role played by companies under the purview of the Board of Investment in driving Sri Lanka’s economic growth.

Addressing attendees at the Investment Board Awards Ceremony held at the Presidential Secretariat  (02), President Ranil Wickremesinghe underscored the significance of such initiatives. This inaugural ceremony coincided with the 45th Anniversary of the Board of Investment, during which the President bestowed 30 awards upon deserving companies for their noteworthy contributions to foreign direct investment and export performance, as well as recognizing longstanding active participants. A rigorous evaluation process was undertaken to ensure merit.

Moreover, a new award category was introduced to honour individual contributions to the Sri Lankan economy. Notably, Brandix Group CEO Ashraf Omar, Mas Holdings Co-Founder and Chairman Deshamanya Mahesh Amalean, and Sail Lanka Yacht Group Chairman Pierre Pringiers were each presented with awards in this category. President Ranil Wickremesinghe personally conferred these accolades, acknowledging their significant impact on the nation’s economic landscape.

Mr. Dinesh Weerakkodi, the Chairman of the Board of Investment, presented a photograph capturing the inauguration of the Biyagama Investment Zone in 1981 to the President as a token of remembrance.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe joined the recipients of the awards for a group photograph. Reflecting on Sri Lanka’s pioneering role in establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in South Asia, he highlighted the success of investment zones such as Katunayake and Biyagama. He emphasized their achievement in attracting significant investors, fostering industrial development, and generating employment opportunities.

Expressing his views at this event President Ranil Wickremesinghe said;

“It has been 45 years since the establishment of the Board of Investment in our country. In 1977, President J.R. Jayawardena made the decision to liberalize a segment of our economy. Recognizing that a portion of the economy had been tightly regulated and controlled, he opted for a gradual approach to opening it up. Consequently, the Greater Colombo Economic Zone was formed under his initiative.

I distinctly recall advocating for the inclusion of Biyagama in this endeavour. Subsequently, in January 1978, the necessary legislation was enacted. This marked the genesis of the Katunayake Investment Zone, emerging from the transformation of a coconut estate in Katana.

The establishment of the Biyagama Investment Zone faced skepticism from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which deemed it unfeasible. However, the engineers at the Board of Investment persisted, demonstrating that it was indeed achievable. Thus, the Biyagama Investment Zone came into existence.

Prior to the creation of the Biyagama Zone, there was already a factory operating in Biyagama, namely Baganon Lanka. Mr. Pringiers, associated with this venture, used to frequent my office at that time, located nearby in Sapugaskanda.

The initiation of these zones marked the beginning of a journey fraught with challenges. From contending with the LTTE conflict to confronting the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgency, the security of these zones demanded rigorous measures, including thorough inspections of all individuals entering and exiting. Despite these adversities, we persevered, emerging unscathed from both the war and the economic turmoil of the past two years.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have been part of this journey, both longstanding contributors and newcomers alike.
Subsequently, President Premadasa embarked on a mission to establish 200 apparel factories, initially commencing with 100. Recognizing the need to expand beyond designated zones, this endeavour was entrusted to the Board of Investment, leading to the proliferation of garment factories across the nation. The establishment of these 200 apparel factories stands as a monumental achievement for us all.

This period of development was characterized by incremental progress,with factories being inaugurated week by week. Over the course of 15 years, we witnessed the transformation of our nation, marked by the creation of a new capital, the Mahaweli development project, housing schemes, and the establishment of 200 apparel factories, among other milestones.
We embarked on a journey of industrial expansion, inaugurating factories week after week. This was the cornerstone of our developmental efforts during that era. Alongside, we undertook ambitious projects such as the establishment of a new capital and the inception of the Mahaweli Movement. Housing schemes also took root, marking our commitment to nationwide development within a span of 15 years.

Recent times presented formidable challenges, yet collectively, we rose to the occasion admirably. Now, our focus must shift towards rebuilding economic confidence across all sectors.

Despite the turbulent period, we successfully stabilized the economy in under two years, a feat we continue to uphold. Notably, we have transitioned away from relying solely on the central bank for economic stability, opting instead to engage directly with the market.

Our next endeavour is to evolve into a highly competitive, export-oriented economy—a transformation projected to span a decade or more. Consequently, the role of the Investment Board will undergo a metamorphosis into a comprehensive Economic Commission.
Under this new paradigm, we envision a singular investment zone encompassing the entirety of Sri Lanka, with investors assuming the mantle of licensees. Within this framework, investors will have the autonomy to develop and manage their own zones.

Presently, we possess approximately a thousand acres in the Biyagama region, with plans to acquire three to four thousand acres in Trincomalee, complemented by similar ventures in the north and Hambantota. Infrastructure development is thus a top priority.
Our focus now lies in attracting competitive investments, fostering a business-friendly environment, and enhancing the nation’s economic competitiveness. Concurrently, we are revolutionizing the professional training landscape, phasing out vocational training centers in favor of vocational colleges.

This transition ensures that students receive due recognition as they progress from school to vocational college and beyond. Additionally, discussions are underway regarding the establishment of new junior technical cities, with plans in motion to create at least three or four such cities.

We are steadfast in our commitment to advancing the digital economy. To this end, we will establish a new digital exchange agency and allocate funding for Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiatives. Additionally, our agricultural modernization program aims to cultivate an additional 500,000 acres of land over the next decade, supplementing existing cropland and fostering highly productive agriculture.

Furthermore, plans are underway to position Sri Lanka as a prominent supply chain hub. However, the realization of these ambitions hinges upon your continued trust in Sri Lanka, as well as ongoing investment from both domestic and foreign stakeholders.”

Present at the gathering were Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, State Minister Dilum Amunugama, Presidential Senior Adviser on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, Eastern Province Governor Sendhil Thondaman, Chairman of the Board of Investment Dinesh Weerakkodi, along with representatives from international and local companies affiliated with the Board of Investment, among others.