Invisible cost of the conflict


After independence in 1948 Sri Lanka developed and became a paradise island in the fifties. Regrettably rulers’ greed for power resulted in them adopting discriminatory policies, which created an ever increasing gap between the ruling majority and the ruled minorities. They were caused by ethnicity with interpretation of the past; politics of language, education, employment and land. Over the next fifty years conflict grew in intensity with periodic occurrence of violence on innocent minorities, prompted by the rulers to sustain power. The intensity of violence increased each time the worst being the riots of 1983. This caused the minority Tamil youth to rebel against the state and finally led the country to a bloody brutal civil war.

Economy running out of steam

Sri Lanka had a record of solid and consistent economic performance in the fifties, in recent decades however the economy has been slowly running out of steam due to the country’s disastrous civil war, which was brought to an end in 2009 through non-peaceful means. The thirty-year brutal war had a devastating effect on all ethnic groups, causing widespread misery including displacement, loss of property, injury, death and the fragmentation of communities. Each time there was violence in the country there were loss of life, people were disabled and damages were caused to properties and were quantified. The affected people of earlier violence were not all compensated and now there is a proposal plan to compensate the victims of the civil war. This does not include the invisible cost of the conflict. It was never considered, had the rulers done this at the time of the first violence in 1958, they could have prevented all subsequent violence and the country could have been saved from losing its paradise status.

Many lost their homes

Following the 1983 riots, thousands of minority Tamils fled to India. In the early 1990s, the Sri Lankan Army set up High Security Zones (HSZ) where access is controlled and occupied large parts of Tamil-dominated areas. Due to this conflict, many Tamils have fled from their homes and live in overcrowded refugee camps. Most Tamils have lost their homes as a result of the conflict and have to suffer in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions in refugee camps. Many families have also been broken up or separated during the fighting and many Tamils have suffered during the 20 years or so of endless conflict, robbing them of a bright future in their country.

Loss of jobs

The Sri Lankan riots of 1983 lead to massive unemployment following loss of jobs. With unemployment and the subsequent destruction of places of work resulted in suffering and economic hardship for its citizens. The Sri Lankan conflict has scared off potential investors to Sri Lanka. They were afraid that the instability in the country would cause them to lose their investments. To illustrate the point in 1983 there were two giant international chip manufacturing companies having signed agreement with the first Board of Investment of Sri Lanka had begun building their factories, when the pogrom of 1983 took place. Thereafter the companies cancelled their projects and left the country and moved to Malaysia. By 2012 over forty thousand were employed in the chip manufacturing industry alone in Malaysia. It is appropriate to mention that during a state visit to Malaysia shortly after it had gained its independence in the fifties, our then Prime Minister advised his counterpart not to rush with the implementation of Malay as official language. As the architect of the Sinhala only imposed virtually overnight and having faced all the protests, he had reservations about rushing it. To the benefit of all Malaysians, their Prime Minister did heed to the advice of our Premier and gave 16 years for the transition from English to Malay. This enable a non Malay child to learn Malay to learn the language, before seeking employment. Thus by the eighties Malaysia was a developed country ahead of Sri Lanka.

Not conducive for investment

During civil war the country could not attract any new investors and contributed to more unemployment. With a loss of foreign investment, Sri Lanka cannot get the funds needed to re-build infrastructure or to develop attractive amenities and facilities causing the country to be in a state of continuous financial hardship. With a loss of investment, Sri Lanka cannot grow its economy or create jobs. With the end of the civil war in 2009 potential investors again turned to Sri Lanka, but found the environment not conducive for investment. Mainly it was due to the bad governance and massive corruption practices of the power hungry rulers. They failed to address the reconciliation needs of the people in affected areas, instead concentrated their efforts on many infrastructure related projects to rebuild the damaged infrastructure. They failed to de-list the security forces, instead concentrated them in these areas to save the country from an imaginary unknown enemy. The state used the security forces to pursue a policy to change the demographic features of the population in the war damaged areas, where Tamil speaking minorities predominantly lived. People opposed the regime and were voted out of power at the elections.

Brain drain

Brain drain was started in 1960s has been consistency taking place until today, and the rate has been proportionately increased from considerable percentage at present. In the early years particularly before 1976 the tendency of the professionals was to migrate with their families for employment and to eventually settle down abroad permanently. This trend was controlled by the government through the travel restrictions in 1975. In 1983 political instability and ethnic disturbance caused large exodus of the intellectuals. During this period large number of Tamil intellectuals who resided in North and East Provinces left Sri Lanka and received refugee status especially in the countries like Canada and United Kingdom.

Annually government expends money for maintaining the university system and also provides facilities for the students free of charge. Therefore governments’ investment on higher education drains to foreign countries due to brain drain. Furthermore migration of the professionals affects the fields of health, education and development. Science and scientific research play a crucial role in country’s development process. The exodus of trained scientist has affected most research institutes. Impairment of their quality on account of brain drain would have been adversely affected the pace of Sri Lanka’s development since science and technology are the two arms of development. The civil war did accelerate the Brain Drain process and the social impacts caused have become a critical issue even after the end of the civil war. However not possible to put a value to this large invisible cost of Brain Drain.