It isn’t Ranil’s budget, people should work towards 2048 – By Prof. Samitha Hettige

November, 14, 2022

SL is in an economic crisis due to the mismanaged welfare system. With no focus on state income generation and trade promotion, Sri Lankans opted for free meals, tax cuts and subsidies. It’s simply the public immaturity to understand the theory of how tax money comes back to the people. As technology is easily accessible, European states with strong welfare systems should be studied by concerned citizens. USA and its camp talk about repression in China but China managed to develop worlds 2nd economy being a welfare state. That proves the repression story is a myth. Sri Lankans rarely attempted to raise awareness since chaos and conflicts allowed personal gains. As we all know tax collection in SL is weak and public attitude towards paying tax is negative. It may be due to the visible misuse of tax money. This may be the missing corner stone. As of now global demand is high, supply is low and inflation is rising. Steps should be taken to address that locally. The best way is to generate employment through FDIs. SL has the human resource and the show piece Port City. It should become the principal focus and all human resources for the full functioning of it should be the priority as step one along the recovery path.

Smart men build smart lands

PM Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore once said that Sri Lankans should execute activities including charitable acts with a sense of business management, accountability and transparency. When he visited SL in the late 1970s, he had stayed at the Lanka Oberoi (where Cinnamon Grand stands). The moment he entered the Oberoi atrium he had reportedly said “you must be spending a fortune to keep this place cool” referring to the cost of air conditioning (Ref. media). That was the analysis of a smart leader who developed a smart nation. One might say he was fortunate to have smart followers. In addition he used few extra-ordinary Sri Lankans such as Lyn De Alwis who dawned the golden era of the Dehiwala zoo to develop the Singapore zoo. To date it attracts millions of tourists and USD to keep the economy strong. Apart from Lyn professionals such as Renton De Alwis and Sam Samarasinghe were among other smart Sri Lankans selected to build the smart nation. Visionary SL leaders also used foreign expertise at times. Parakramabahu the great using foreign seafarers to build SL’s first blue navy, Sir D.B. Jayatilleka hiring foreign educationists to develop SL schools are examples. Decades later some are worried about getting foreign experts to increase the quality of SL in the world stage. The will to learn is a must for crisis recovery.

Should SL make the rich poor?

The country has to move forward backed by a financially efficient system with state, private and multinational players. President John F. Kennedy once said that the poor can’t be made rich by making the rich poor. President Premadasa had similar views when Janasaviya and 200 Apparel factories were initiated. Unfortunately Sri Lankans confused in a welfare system misunderstood the concept and increased the number of Janasaviya beneficiaries whereas they should have worked hard to reduce the number by eradicating poverty in a systemic approach (Ref Susil Siriwardena first Janasaviya commissioner).

Is there a way out?

The Chinese expect harmful insects when they open doors and windows to get fresh air and light. President JRJ liberalizing the economy said “let the robber barons come in”. It attracted FDIs to SL but if trade focused policies, social security systems and civic education were upgraded as in China the socioeconomic impact would have been more. China liberalized its economy just after SL in 1979. Thus they got fresh air and light but managed to control unwanted entry. If properly managed SL can follow and attract FDIs in a short time to get the country out of the Crisis. For that established businesses should be invited and protected with possible tax benefits and disciplined workforces. It will create much needed employment and stability. President CBK’s choice billionaire Harry Jayawardena managed to change the Sri Lankan airlines UL (usually late) image with his style. SL has the talent to manage growth. At the same time it has more than enough elements to pull the country back misguiding the less exposed population. Those should be severely suppressed with education.

Lessons from USA’s 19th century Gilded age (Ref. Mark Twain) which created personalities and corporates such as John Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie is one example. Analysts believe that the wealth they accumulated is far greater than the wealth possessed by personalities such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos etc. at present. Though there is criticism on the management styles of those years, many can’t deny the economic progress USA achieved during this period (Ref. US sources). Sri Lankans have more success stories to learn from which are much shorter than their 2500 year story.

(The writer is an academic and a broadcaster. Views expressed are personal and may not be the views of his affiliations).