Lawyers Go Global – Go Sri Lanka
The mission to Sri Lanka (“Mission”) was the third trip of LG2 which took place from 10 to 14 September 2018. Seventeen practising lawyers with varying seniority and expertise joined this four- day trip, led by the President of the Law Society (“Law Society”), Mr Gregory Vijayendran, SC.
This Mission aims to allow legal practitioners from Singapore to explore collaboration opportunities with legal practitioners from Sri Lanka, as well as to meet and establish contacts with members of the Sri Lanka’s legal profession and business communities.
Day 0, 10 September 2018
Upon arriving, we were welcomed by our local tour guide and a quiet ride to the hotel. Because of the timing of the flight, we arrived at the hotel just after midnight. After checking in, we all retired to our rooms to get some rest for a full day of programme the next day.
Day 1, 11 September 2018
Talk on Economic Overview & Sectorial Opportunities in Sri Lanka by Dr Rasitha Wickramasinghe, Head of Business Development of Stax
Dr Wickramasinghe shared that with a population of 20.9 million and 4.5 per cent unemployment rate, Sri Lanka is doing comparatively well amongst its South Asian neighbours. He also shared that the tourism industry is booming, with more than 80 per cent of inflow of tourists visiting Sri Lanka for leisure and there have been continuous accommodation developments. Amid the rapid growth, the industry faces challenges such as labour shortages and competition from countries with similar offerings.
With its strategic location and multiple trade agreements, he said that Sri Lanka is an ideal manufacturing hub in Asia as well as a regional maritime hub. Despite the increase of foreign investments, there are some restrictions set for certain types of business and lawn ownership for foreign companies. The retail industry and fast moving consumer good industry are currently experiencing slow growth. He also mentioned that partnering with local companies would be advantageous as they would have better idea of the local business landscape.
Sharing on Legal System in Sri Lanka by Mr Dushyantha Perera, Partner of Sudath Perera
Mr Perera shared with the delegation an overview of the legal framework in Sri Lanka. The legal system in Sri Lanka is a mix of statutes, personal laws (i.e. Syariah and Hindu laws), and common law. He shared that for one to set up a company in Sri Lanka, the company needs to be a limited liability company (“LLC”), an unlimited liability company, or a guaranteed company. He also shared on the various tiers of sectoral restrictions on foreign direct investments for LLCs and ROCs.
Mr Perera also shared on the role of the Board of Investment (“BOI”), the Sri Lanka investment promotion agency. Foreign companies can invest in almost all sectors but investment in certain sectors would require approval from BOI. In the event of a dispute and if the dispute exceeds a certain amount, the dispute will be heard by commercial High Court of Colombo. If the dispute relates to labour, the dispute will be heard by both Commission of Labour and Labour Tribunal. Arbitration is an alternative way to resolve disputes in Sri Lanka.
Sharing on Capital Markets in Sri Lanka by Representative from Sudath Perera
A representative from Sudath Perera shared on the requirements and regulation of capital markets in Sri Lanka, as well as the eligibility requirements of the various listed segments. She also shared on the regulatory landscape for licensees and registrations. Governance requirements, related party transactions, mandatory offer and voluntary/partial offer are required for listed companies. The changes in the regulatory landscape, such as regulation of all public offers and strengthening investor protection, were discussed as well.
Sharing on Doing Business in Sri Lanka/Regulatory Policies by Ms Hasna Hassan, Director of KPMG Sri Lanka
Ms Hasna shared with the delegation on the taxation system, trade agreements and regulatory policies when doing business in Sri Lanka. She also shared on the various types of taxes in Sri Lanka – direct, indirect, import duties, duties and levies – and the recently reformed acts in relation to revenue and tax, and the new system, Revenue Administration Management Information System (“RAMIS”). The details of the recently signed Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement was discussed as well.
Visit to Board of Investment of Sri Lanka
Established in 1978 and reconstituted in 1992, the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (“BOI”) is the Investment Promotion Agency of the Government of Sri Lanka. Its main objective is to attract domestic and Foreign Direct Investment, and provide assistance to investors. It has acted as an engine of growth creating a considerable impact on the country’s economic development.
Mr Duminda Ariyasinghe, Chairman of BOI, shared that the location of Sri Lanka is a comparative advantage to the markets, where it is strategically linked to Asia, Europe and Africa, and is a gateway to South Asia.
The potential areas for investments into Sri Lanka was also shared with the delegation. There are five potential areas – manufacturing (rubber based and ceramic based products), infrastructure (urban housing, healthcare), tourism and leisure, ICT/BPO (services area), and logistics hub operations.
Mr Ariyasinghe also shared that when considering investment proposals, BOI places priority and emphasis on quality of investments coming into the country. Agreement with BOI would be valid for lifetime i.e. regardless of political developments.
Networking Session with Members of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
Networking session is an essential feature of Lawyers Go Global Mission, and the Mission to Sri Lanka is no exception. A networking session with members of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce was organised.
Ms Dhara Wijayatilake, CEO of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Mr Rohitha Mendis, President of the Sri Lanka – Singapore Business Council, and Mr Gregory Vijayendran, SC welcomed the attendees with welcome addresses.
The session also consisted of three short presentations by the following guests:
- Mr Shiran Fernando, Chief Economist of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce – on the current economic outlook of Sri Lanka and the potential areas for collaboration between Singapore and Sri Lanka
- Ms Anjali Fernando, Partner of F J & G de Saram – on the legal regime of Sri Lanka.
- Mr S. Suressh, Partner of Eversheds Harry Elias LLP – on the advantages of doing business in Singapore.
Networking Session with Varners
The delegation was also hosted to a networking session by Varners, one of the largest law firms in Sri Lanka. Varners, founded in early 1960s, offers a broad range of practice areas from banking to real estate and intellectual property.
Day 2, 12 September 2018
Visit to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka
Mr M.U.M Ali Sabry PC, Deputy President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (“BASL”), and Mr Kaushalya Nawaratne, the Secretary of the BASL, welcomed the Law Society’s delegation. Mr Sabry introduced the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and shared about the structure of the bar association.
Mr Gregory Vijayendran, SC thanked Mr Sabry for taking time to host the Law Society’s delegation. He mentioned that there is potential for both Law Society and BASL to collaborate and draw on each bar’s respective strengths and look forward to signing a Memorandum of Understanding should opportunity arises. He added that the collaboration should be a partnership where both bars reap benefits.
The question of the use of arbitration was raised. Mr Sabry explained that in the primary dispute resolution method is litigation. It will also take some time for members of BASL to accept arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution. Mr Sabry further elaborated that there is no separate infrastructure for arbitration and as a result this delays the arbitration process and people tend to lose faith in arbitration. Enforcement of an arbitration judgement could be lengthy. However, Mr Sabry noted that arbitration is gaining popularity, and he asked for assistance from Law Society to assist to train young lawyers in Colombo. Presently, BASL does not have any Continuing Professional Development department to administer courses for its members. Mr Vijayendran responded that it is possible to explore joint trainings and identify specific topics for mutual sharing. Currently, there is no restrictions on foreign arbitrators in Sri Lanka and likewise in Singapore, there is no restriction on lawyers from Sri Lanka coming to Singapore to arbitrate.
The session ended on a fruitful note, with many collaboration opportunities in mind for both Law Society and BASL.
Visit to John Keells Holdings PLC
John Keells Holdings PLC (“JKH”) is Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate in the Colombo Stock Exchange. They have presence in every major sector of the economy from managing hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka, and was the first Sri Lankan company to be listed overseas.
Ms Dilani Lagaratnam, President Group HR, Legal, Sustainability & ERM, and Ms Yolan Seimon, Vice President, Head of Corporate Finance & Strategy, welcomed the delegation to JKH. A short presentation on an overview of the 5 sectors JKH is in – transport, leisure, property, consumer foods and retails, financial services, as well as the projects and businesses they are currently working on was shared with the delegation. Ms Lagaratnam also shared their aspiration to take the Cinnamon brand overseas.
Visit to Hayleys PLC
Hayleys PLC is a leading conglomerate in Sri Lanka with a 140-year heritage and diversified subsidiaries in 16 sectors. Hayleys has a global footprint reaching across to business strongholds in 5 continents and 17 countries across the globe.
The Law Society’s delegation was hosted by Ms Manohari Abeyesekera, Head of Strategic Business Development. The benefits of the Singapore-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement was discussed. Ms Abeyesekera compared Sri Lanka with Singapore, where many companies use Sri Lanka as an entrance to South Asia, in the same way Singapore is an entrance to Southeast Asia. The adoption of Singapore law for international contracts and using Singapore as a seat for arbitration was also discussed.
After the sharing session, Ms Abeyesekera brought the delegation to a shop at the Hayleys office, which sells consumer products under Hayleys brand.
Visit to Abans PLC
Founded by Mrs Abans Pestonjee, Abans PLC, a vital trading arm of the Abans Group of Companies, with an extensive product portfolio of electronics and home appliances to security surveillance systems and sanitary ware.
The session began with a short presentation on Abans PLC’s structure, and the brands and products they offer. Abans comprises of 21 individually-operated businesses and more than 17,000 employees across Sri Lanka. They are categorised into five strategic business units – retail, services, manufacturing, logistics, and real estate. Brands, such as LG, Apple and McDonalds, are some exclusive brands that are currently operated by Abans in Sri Lanka.
Founder Mrs. Abans shared with the delegation the company’s and her journey from a garage to the current structure. She also explained that Abans’s expansion was largely attributed to her children as well as her employees who have followed her since the beginning.
Mr Sriyan, the newly appointed CEO of Abans, shared on the future of Abans. He explained that with technology, the dynamics of retail is changing. Thus Abans will have to brainstorm ways to move forward with the technology. Mr Sriyan shared that the group would also like to widen their footprint, and have the intention do partnerships in automobile, retail, technology and new ventures, and possibly property developments.
Networking Session with F J & G de Saram
F J & G de Saram, the oldest law firm in Sri Lanka, hosted a networking cocktail for the Law Society’s delegations. F J & G de Saram has been in practice since 1841 and have played a major role in the development of the law in Sri Lanka, as well as the development of the economy of Sri Lanka.
Day 3, 13 September 2018
Visit to Sanken Constructions
Sanken Constructions is under the Sanken Group, which has over 12 subsidiaries and associate companies dealing primarily with the construction trade.
Ms Thabrew shared briefly on the hisory of Sri Lanka and its economy, and the strategic advantages of Sri Lanka that will bring to the companies investing in Sri Lanka. She also shared about the infrastructure developments and the key projects in Sri Lanka, i.e. major expressway and wing roads connectivity, Lotus Tower, and Colombo Port City. Mr Stephen Meyes, Managing Director of Jones Lang LaSalle Lanka (Private) Limited, shared on the growth rate of the Sri Lanka economy in terms of real estate and the current projects.
Visit to MTD Walkers PLC
Mr O D N Lal Perera, Executive Vice President, Head of Group Business Development, Mr Alex Duckworth, Vice President, Head of Group Project Development, and the delegation had an extensive discussion on Singapore law and arbitration. They wanted some insights on Singapore law, as it would be a fall back if the contractor does not want to use Sri Lanka law. President Vijayendran shared the reasons behind the adoption of Singapore law for many companies. The delegation joined in the discussions by sharing on their work and their experience in this area.
The various alternative disputes resolution methods were also shared in the session. The delegation explained, with a substantial amount of details, on ICC and SIAC with past cases that they have encountered. The use of mediation as an alternate dispute resolution was also shared with Mr Perera and Mr Duckworth.
Visit to CHEC Port City
The delegation visited CHEC Port City, a new city development built as an extension of the Central Business District of Sri Lanka, with the aim to develop the area around the port as the most livable city in South Asia. Mr Liang Thow Ming, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, presented on the Port City, Colombo and the development of the project. He shared that Port City, Colombo has been designed with five unique precincts – Central Park Living, Financial District, International Island, The Marina, and Island Living – each with its own significance.
Mr Liang shared that upon completion in 2041, Port City, Colombo will be a world class city, with international medical centre, top international schools, international financial centre, world class hospitality, and international and local brands all located in one location.
Visit to the National Agency for Public Private Partnership
The delegation visited National Agency for Public Private Partnership, the single facilitation point for all stateholders in designing and implementing private public partnership. Ms Rushika Paulas, Manager Risk & Stakeholer Engagement of NAPPP, and her team shared on the past and current projects in various sectors. The projects ranges from transport sector to water, and power & energy sector.
As part of the legal team at NAPPP, Ms Paulas discussed the various of legal work they do, which includes advising on the projects and reviewing of contracts. She stated that they are looking for lawyers with international background who have done big projects, and to look to work with international law firms. NAPPP also informed the delegation that they use Singapore law for neutrality and planning to empanel a panel of Singapore lawyers for dispute resolution.
Networking Session and Dinner Hosted by Mr Upul Jayasuriya
Mr Upul Jayasuriya, the former Chairman of BOI and former President of Bar Association of Sri Lanka, hosted a networking and dinner session for the Law Society’s delegation.
Day 4, 14 September 2018
Visit to John Wilson Partners
Founded in 1920 by the late Senator Johan Wilson, John Wilson Partners is an established legal practice in Sri Lanka. They offer a broad range of legal services to national and international organisations, institutions, businesses and private individuals.
Mr John Wilson, managing partner, did a presentation on Sri Lanka’s history in relation to its impact on the Sri Lankan legal system and economy, and the systems of law in Sri Lanka. He also shared about foreign direct investment and doing business in Sri Lanka.
Following Mr Wilson’s presentation, his team shared on their work and experience as a lawyer in Sri Lanka. They also shared about some unique cases that they came across practising lawyers.
The Mission not only open doors to knowledge and potential opportunities in Sri Lanka but it also provided an encouraging platform for Law Society’s participants to know one another and build camaraderie in a different setting. The Law Society would like to take this opportunity to express its appreciation to the Mission participants, Enterprise Singapore, and Singapore Business Federation.
Comments from Participants
“Stamina, an open enquiring mind and good walking shoes. I learnt these are necessary, from my first mission trip with the Law Soc, to Sri Lanka. It was an eye opener of a trip as well as a cohesive one, as new acquaintances and friendships were made. Thank you Law Soc for the hard work, planning and logistical support!”
– Peggy Yee, Director, PY Legal LLC
“My trip to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean was especially delightful as I not only made business connections but also found a friend I last met 30 years ago. The trip was well organised by the law Society with meetings arranged with many stakeholders in Sri Lanka which gave abundant opportunities to all. I would strongly urge Lawyers to join the go global trips.“
– P E Ashokan, Partner, Withers KhattarWong LLP
“Previous to this trip, I had only very little exposure to the legal landscape in Sri Lanka. The trip has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities in Sri Lanka and doors to potential opportunities.” – S Suressh, Partner, Eversheds Harry Elias LLP