Gilly, as he was affectionately known by his friends and contemporaries, passed away recently. He played a very important role in putting Sri Lanka on the world map as a safe and profitable place for investment at a very critical juncture in the economic development of the country. Just after the 1977 elections the country was opened to foreign investment under a very liberal and outward looking regime. However, attracting investments to Sri Lanka at that stage was indeed a herculean task. Many of the industrialised countries had followed closely. Sri Lankas past history of nationalisation, socialism and extreme forms of anti- foreign sentiment, that it took a very hard sell to convince investors to take a new look at Sri Lanka. Gilbert Jayasuriya worked very closely with the Foreign Investment Advisory Committee (FIAC) which came under the purview of the Ministry of Finance. The FIAC was the Government agency, in the 1970s and 1980s, responsible for the promotion and approval of foreign investments to the country other than in the free trade zones. He strongly believed in working closely with the public sector and always joined in our common endeavours to develop the country.
He was elected as President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka and from that point onwards he devoted most of his time working closely with the FIAC to attract investments to Sri Lanka. His mission was a great success. At that time we organised joint private-public sector missions to practically all the industrialised countries and with the cooperation of private sector chambers in these countries, investors were gradually getting interested in looking at Sri Lanka as a safe and profitable place for investment. During this time we also encouraged many foreign investment missions to visit Sri Lanka. Gilly, in his own inimitable style, was able to convince many of the investors who visited us of the advantageous of investing in Sri Lanka.
Very few people were aware of the fact that Gilly participated in some of the investment promotion missions spending his own funds. In some missions we were able to secure special funding sources to enable the private sector to join in the missions. But at other times, when funds were not available, he did not ever hesitate to join the missions using his own private funds. In all of these missions he also did not wish to promote his own businesses. His aim was to bring the investors to Sri Lanka and for them to choose any partners they wished. This was an extremely unique feature of Gillys participation in the missions we organised from the Ministry of Finance.
Another notable contribution he made was to encourage joint venture investments so that the local private sector could benefit from the flow of foreign investment. At that time we were able to encourage a large number of local investors to register with the FIAC and seek foreign collaborators. This was indeed a very unique contribution made for the industrial development of Sri Lanka. Since then of course we have seen a greater desire to encourage hundred per cent foreign investment to the country. However, such policies, in the long run, are not in the best interest of the country.
Gillys contribution to the opening up of the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s was extremely significant. He played the most important role in the break-through we were able to achieve in making Sri Lanka a safe and profitable place for investment. Subsequent actions by other organisations, with greater power, financial resources and very attractive special packages of incentives, like the GCEC and the BOI, were able to capitalise on the initial ground work done by the likes of Gilly.
With the passing away of Gilly the country has lost a very patriotic and sincere person who always put the country before self.
May his journey through Sansara be short.
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