Skilled labour importation to be streamlined
By Ishara Gamage
Sri Lanka will soon introduce a fast and flexible labour import process to fulfil urgent skilled labour shortages in the private sector, State Minister of Finance and Mass Media Eran Wickramaratne said yesterday.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the Advocata Economic Freedom Summit in Colombo, Wickramaratne said that the Government had proposed the authority be given to the controller of immigration and emigration.
Advocata Institute is an independent think tank working to promote sound public policy ideas for a free and more prosperous Sri Lanka.
"Currently, there are lengthy approval processes for importing labour. But according to the proposed arrangement, the controller of immigration and emigration will have ultimate authority to approve requests without having to refer to relevant line ministries," he said.
State Minister Eran Wickremeratne also mentioned that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is to propose repeals to a controversial expropriation law and some changes to land ownership laws.
"The present Government does not agree on what happened and if it moves to acquire private property, bad signals go out; it will not attract FDI," he said.
The Minister also urged the country's 'economic freedom fighters' to come up with their economic reforms implementation strategies rather than reports.
The Minister also insisted that though there were inconsistencies in policies, the country is moving towards liberalized trading and a capital flow system.
"For every act of liberalization, there is an immediate impact and that has to be managed," he said.
The Minister also said that the Government is ready to implement labour market reforms, but downsizing of the extremely larger State sector is a difficult task.
"We are in a coalition government and we have a shared mandate. Within this scenario, we have to deal with a different kind of economic and business knowledge levels.
Therefore, expecting a 1977-type United National Party-led economic policy reform model is not a reality," the Minister said.
Eran Wickramaratne said that there was clearly a problem in some national assets and state-owned enterprises such as Sri Lankan Airlines.
"My question is what we should do with Sri Lankan Airlines. It doesn't matter who is in charge of it, or who the management team is. My personal view is that there isn't an economic proposition in the current context of the airline industry. So how much are we willing to pay? It will bring some kind of national pride to fly the Sri Lankan flag in the air; that is the question. That is a political question, neither economic nor financial; political questions demand political answers. A few years ago, France Airbus Company sold 8 long-flying A350-900 aircrafts to Sri Lankan Airlines. This didn't fit their strategy for a small country like us. So which party is responsible for this dummy deal? My opinion is that both buyer and seller share equal responsibility," he added.
He said, however, that within this post-war reconciliation and democracy-building era, the Government is slowly but steadily achieving their targets.
Speaking at the occasion, Chief Economist of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Anushka Wijesinha said that reducing over 1.6 million state sector employees is a challenge in a short time.
He also said the Government can reduce its negative impacts by avoiding military involvement in businesses and introducing a citizen participatory budget process for state sector organizations.
Anushka also mentioned that some professional bodies remain reluctant to open their profession to international markets, but the upcoming Colombo International Financial City (CIFC) should prove helpful to attract international talent to the country.
Fraser Institute, Canada Resident Fellow Fred McMahon and Research Chair in Economic Freedom Dr. Michael A. Walker, said that the overcrowded state sector is a major curse to the country and military involvement in it is a disaster.
He said that Sri Lanka could gain economic prosperity and poverty reduction in freeing the economy.
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