When I was responsible for the management of technical assistance funds made available by the World Bank for telecom and infrastructure reforms, I heard many complaints about the money all going to foreign consultants and nothing remaining in Sri Lanka. I responded to this criticism in a substantive manner a few years back in LBO.
But here is another relevant element. How much money do you waste by not mobilizing technical expertise at the right time?
Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva pointed out that the then government has spent just one million rupees before wasting 350 million US dollars for setting up the emptiest international airport in the world.
“We actually wanted to find out who actually did the feasibility study for the Mattala Airport. I wanted to know whether such a person exists,” de Silva told a gathering.
“So there were some Aviation officials and I asked them who carried out the feasibility study.”
“One person said Sir, I did it. I didn’t know how to react and I asked how much is the consultancy or feasibility study cost before you putting USD350mn in this project.”
“He said only one million and then I asked one million; that’s all; one million dollars that you put.”
“He said No sir (laughing), one million rupees.”
De Silva said unfortunately in the end now we have the dubious record of having the emptiest international airport in the world.
“We want to be clear about what we do; we should have a vision; but in implementing or achieving it we have to use our brain,” he said.
“So we don’t dump a quarter billion dollars in some airport; we must ensure that what is the right place to put the airport.”