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Diaspora invited to international investor forum to develop rural SME sector
BizPact: Creating direct investment links minimizing corruption, red-tape

Efforts are being made to link the Sri Lankan Diaspora directly with small and medium enterprises in regions outside Colombo in a bid to counter regional disparities and minimize the effects of corruption when an intermediary is involved.

BizPact, is a symposium organized by the Business of Peace Alliance together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace process, Board of Investments of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Tourism, National Chamber of Exporters, the American Chamber of Commerce and European Chamber of Commerce.

"The two main important things of this symposium, firstly is that the Diaspora is being engaged to take part in the country’s development activities. The second is, the linkages between investors and the SMEs will be direct which negates any third party intermediation and therefore corruption and bureaucratic red tape will not be contentious issues," Government Peace Secretariat Economic Affairs Director Rohantha Athukorala said.

He said the SME sector accounted for about 80 percent of the country’s GDP. Any attempts to really push for development and equitable growth should focus on this sector.

BizPact is scheduled to take place from 25 to 29 June and is expected to draw in investors from Australia, Canada, UK and the US. The BPA says the response from the Diaspora around the world has been encouraging as well.

The BPA has identified and screened 20 SME projects from around the island, including three from Trincomalee, to be presented to the investors. There could be more added leading up to the event.

Ms. Manique Mendis, BPA Secretary General/CEO, said the aim of the investor forum was to rebuild Sri Lanka and ‘not Colombo’.

"There are dynamic individuals with lots of ideas in regions outside Colombo. Through BizPact we hope to attract investments with a heart. We are not looking for BOI type investments but small investments which will help the country’s rural SME sector which will help build capacities and skills," she said.

Another objective BizPact hopes to achieve is to create strong linkages with government and Colombo’s big companies. Top government officials and businesses will be invited to the forum as well.

The mandate of the BPA, made up entirely of regional business chambers based outside Colombo, is to build a strong close knit network amongst its members, and together lobby their interests with government.

Previously working in isolation, BPA members, mostly SMEs, also hope to strengthen ties with the economic hub in Colombo.

"This is a unique project and the first investor forum to engage the Diaspora. The BPA should do the same thing for the North, maybe towards the end of the year, because there is vast potential to develop the area if the Diaspora can be engaged," Athukorala suggested.

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