Sri Lanka professionals say rules not ready to liberalise services

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lankan professionals say regulations are still not in place to allow liberalization of professional services but trade experts maintain these changes will come only if talks on opening up the economy are allowed to proceed.

Talks on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with India, one of Sri Lanka’s most important trading partners, have been stalled owing to resistance from professionals bodies and protectionist local businesses.

They have said they fear losing business if the opening up of the economy results in a flood of imported goods and skilled workers at lower prices.

One issue holding up liberalization of professional services as proposed in the CEPA is the lack of regulations and accreditation procedures required to govern foreign skilled workers, a forum on ‘Liberalization of Professional Services’ organised by CA Sri Lanka was told.

Reyaz Mihular, Managing Partner of KPMG, said they faced significant risks from liberalisation of professional services.

“We don’t have a proper framework for regulation,” he told the forum.

“It is important when we open the door to ensure that the quality of people who come in are of the same standard or, ideally, of a higher standard as ours.”

One risk is opening up without proper accreditation processes which accredits foreign qualifications.

When negotiating trade agreements councils representing professionals have to decide on what are known as MRAs – Mutual Recognition Agreements – under which the negotiating partners recognise each other’s qualifications.

The medical profession had a similar concern, saying laws were obsolete.

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 “The main concern is that the Medical Ordinance has not been upgraded to facilitate CEPA-like situations,” said Ruvaiz Haniffa, former Secretary of Sri Lanka Medical Association.

“That should be corrected. Until then (liberalising professional services) is a huge risk to the provision of health care in Sri Lanka.”

He gave an example of how a patient on whom surgery was done by a foreign doctor at a private hospital had to be shifted to a state hospital owing to post-operative complications as the specialist who had done the operation had left the country.

“We had cases where the surgeon left the country. There was no body to follow up and provide continuity of care.”

But trade expert Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, said the compulsion to update the regulations to keep up with changing times would arise only if trade talks are allowed to proceed.

“It is only when talks to liberalise services happen that amendments to the Medical Odinance or other outdated laws get triggered.

”If we are not going to liberalise we might as well stay with the status quo.”

He said the need arose given the worsening shortages of skilled workers in Sri Lanka which was hampering growth prospects.

Shortages were apparent across the economy from health care to industry and construction.

Ranel Wijesinha, former president of CA Sri Lanka, and the Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants, noted that the shortage of doctors was  more pronounced because of the reluctance of consultants to go to the outstations because of lucrative private practice in Colombo.
 

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