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How safe in Sri Lanka for Diaspora Investors?

"Here is a golden opportunity for the government to win the confidence of the Tamil diaspora, facilitate the rebuilding process of the NEP and also usher in reconciliation and unity that will surely follow with growing economic prosperity."

by Luxman-Arvind

(July 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Colombo English daily “The Island” (20/7/2010) reports Police have taken into custody a Canadian Tamil investor engaged in the building of costly Condos in the Wellawatta area in Colombo . The accusation is he is a front using illegal Tiger funds – an easily marketable “theory” in the psyche of the majority in the country - that includes the Police and sources within the government. This single project alone involves a reported 78 units - many of which already sold at Rs.15 million each. The total value is in the region of Rs.1,170 million – a very high and welcome investment by Lankan standards. Why the Police did not move in the many years that has taken to complete the project to occupation stage - is puzzling. Predictably, any investor sinking in such a large investment places himself in a vulnerable position if he is to engage trouble with the Police when his venture is about to reap the expected benefits - in a country where the law and order machinery is under censure. The same article reports the Police are investigating around 11 such projects.

Recently, the Sunday Leader carried feature articles where instances of several “absentee” high costly bungalows and properties in upper-class residential areas were mentioned as having “changed” hands under questionable circumstances. The value of these properties at Pedris Road in the vicinity of Royal College; Ward Place – where is also situated the home of the late President Jayawardena; the exclusive Independence Avenue range in value from Rs.200 million to over a billion each. Some of them appear to have changed hands fraudulently involving dubious sources in the Land Registry, the Police, lawyers and even the judiciary. In almost all of these the role and name of a controversial government politician - widely believed to be in cohorts with criminal elements in the drug-infested underworld - is mentioned repeatedly.

Curiously, there is reference to a former high Police official – now retired and running several Security outfits – whose services appear to be used by several of these absentee property owners. That a senior Police officer from whom the citizen expects protection later on becoming a private eye at a substantial fee itself is something extra-ordinary. In that expensive real estate at Ward Place reported, it appears the resident Christian priest-owner has been locked in by the false claimants. His frantic telephone calls to the Police does not appear to have brought him the relief and the protection he is entitled to. That such a thing happening in the heart of residential Colombo is shocking.

It may be recalled 2 years ago GoSL using the facilities of its diplomatic missions in Canada , the UK , Australia , EU unleashed a propaganda blitzkreig welcoming Tamils from the diaspora to invest in the “Motherland” both as a means of uniting the war-torn land and for the country to fall in line with urban development of other modern cities of the world. The post-May 2009 events and the call of the government for Tamils who fled overseas to return assuring safety, normalcy and rebuilding of their war-torn areas has simultaneously triggered much interest by the well-do-to Tamils in the diaspora to help the rebuilding process in various ways. The more commercially-inclined among them are planning to invest in the hospitality services (3-4 star hotels, restaurants) guest-houses, hospitals, modern apartment blocks being some areas. Some of them have made several visits for the purpose while others have already begun work in their projects. If the government, on its part, keeps to its promises to come out with substantial infra-structure development (roads, bridges, railway, air-services, water, power-electricity, sanitation, transport, State and private industries) the chance of gradual but large deposit investment from the diaspora is assured. A diaspora economist calculated if 300,000 among them invest at a minimum US$10,000 annually for "patriotic" reasons and are assured an interest in the region of 6% (against much lower rates in the West) in guilt-edged foreign banks in their North-East branches this capital can greatly facilitate development activities. Rapid return to normalcy in the NEP and a garrison-free environment also can ensure tourist traffic from the diaspora of a minimum quarter million half-yearly with a minimum 14-day stay.

But for all this the government must ensure unambiguously their investments, repatriation of funds when needed and their personal safety and freedom of movement will be the responsibility of the State. Events such as the frauds in expensive Colombo homes mentioned above tend to discourage these potential investors. While actual funds and assets owned and accumulated by LTTE interests should be thoroughly investigated bad eggs in the Police and other sections of the government using this as a ruse not only to deny genuine investors but also subject them to untold hardship must cease forthwith. Here is a golden opportunity for the government to win the confidence of the Tamil diaspora, facilitate the rebuilding process of the NEP and also usher in reconciliation and unity that will surely follow with growing economic prosperity.

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