The saying ‘once in a blue moon’, is derived from the phenomenon which occurs after a volcanic eruption, like that 1883 eruption of Krakatoa a volcanic island situated in the Indonesian province of Lampung. Because larger volcanic dust particles diffract red light, making the moon appear bluish, whereas the dust particles in the atmosphere are normally of a size to diffract blue light, making the moon appear reddish at sunset. Tempting as it is to suppose that something that happens very rarely and which is mentioned by name in a phrase that means ‘very rarely’. Senior Sri Lankans may recall how in the eighties, the country let slip-up an opportunity that comes ‘once in a blue moon’ to develop the economy at the eleventh hour due to the July 1983 riots. The 1500 days programme now proposed by the government gives another ‘once in a blue moon’ opportunity to navigate the nation amidst changing economic dynamics and allowing all Sri Lankans, including those living overseas to participate in the development of their motherland. Though there are few petty minded past leaders as legislators who care less about it; there are many young legislators in all the political parties in Parliament who feel the political culture must change to resolve the ethnic issue once to avoid history repeating itself; for the little island nation cannot fumble yet again on this rare opportunity that comes once in a blue moon.
When the new coalition government took control of the country in 2015, there were among other things such as introducing reforms and fighting corruptions the urgent need to win the hearts and minds of the affected people of the North and East provinces. Many complaints from the people that stemmed from the conflict of many decades were left untouched by the previous regime. Last but not least the impact on the locals caused by the accelerated programme to change the demography of the provinces by the previous regime. Then the complex question not fully answered was the resettling the several hundred thousand internally and externally displaced communities, which included unjustifiably evicted Muslims and Sinhalese voluntarily moved out for their own safety who were all displaced from North nearly two and a half decades ago. The new coalition government accepting the necessity to address all these grievances of provoked communities and the knock on effect objections of the majority community; has begun work with the aim to resolve them to ensure the rights of all communities inhabiting in the island nation. At the same time the government is preparing the nation for an economic take off with the 1500 days development programme amidst changing economic dynamics intended to navigate this little nation forward to a position of economic respectability. This plan would empower Sri Lankans world over to unleash their talents, skills and initiative to create wealth and generate prosperity for their motherland.
Economic Development transforms a country into a modern society, but Sri Lanka has remained underdeveloped, mainly due to the civil war of almost three decades which raged in north and east kept these regions’ contribution to the national economy to a minimum. In addition it created pressure on the economic activities in other parts of the island, which put the overall economic development back by five decades. The end of civil war in 2009 did open up two-thirds of the island’s coastal belt and 27% of its total land area for economic and development activities, yet the Eastern and Northern provinces with 14% of the total population was after the war had ended contributed only just 7.6% to the nation’s economy. Because during the five negative peace years under the past regime the situation did not improve to an acceptable level in both provinces; as the civil administration was under the control of former army commanders as Governors, assisted by a large presence of security personnel in the ratio of one for every 10 civilians. That made normal life difficult for the people and created a climate unsuitable for any economic activities. The state should have reduced and demobilized the security forces after the war ended, instead were retained and received the largest share of budget allocation each year, refer to earlier posting on the subject in Northern Breeze.
On the economic front for Sri Lanka, the year 2009 ended on a very optimistic note with inflation down to 3.4 % a 25 year low, only one occasion during this period the inflation rate came down to a comparable level, as in all the other years after 1977 when the liberalized economy was introduced, the inflation rate was higher. With the end of war foreign investments in the country showed an upward trend and despite the global economic downturn the economy had grown at a commendable 4.5 %. Impressive gains were recorded in many sectors including construction and engineering, diversified holdings and banking among others. The tourism sector which was adversely affected by the civil conflict that raged in the island has shown signs of recovery with the opening of new areas for the tourist industry. But the North-East region remained static, mainly because large land area was still kept by the battle free security forces; they used the land for their own economic activities, thus depriving any benefits to the people who were the owners of the land.
The prognosis for 2010 was still better, but the past regime botched the golden opportunity with four long years of negative peace; mainly by not liberating the grieved people in the North-East from a forced military rule even though on paper it was made to look like civilian rule. Though the merged province was demerged and each province had elected a Chief Minister and a council of ministers, the Governors of each province retained control over the administration of the provinces. In many instances the security personnel, whose labour was available in the absence of war were utilized on reconstruction works. Large percentage of the economic activities was on rebuilding roads and the destroyed infrastructures were completed utilizing labour imported into the regions, without any effort made to rebuild the depleted workforce of the region. The people of the region, who were suckled up for five negative peace years voted positively to get rid of the old regime at the 2015 General Elections. Majority of the population elsewhere, who were themselves sick of the prevailing corrupt practices in the country joined in and a new coalition government was formed. Since then the political climate has changed considerably and the new government is at present working on constitutional reforms to redraft the constitution that would incorporate some major changes to give a win-win situation to all communities and is taking necessary steps to bring back normal life to the most effected people of North and East, where although progress is visible, situation is yet to reach normalcy, refer to the last posting in Northern Breeze.
Sri Lanka was transformed from an agrarian to a low-industry based economy in the last few decades and its industrial exports have grown to become the major export category by the turn of the century. Many times in the second half of last century opportunities existed to develop Sri Lanka; but were all fumbled up by the “frog in the well” mind-set past leaders, who were pretending to be busy protecting Buddhism and the Sinhalese Language and in the process made the people who voted them duds; in fact these leaders efforts were only to secure their leading positions in the country. If only they had picked some of the opportunities made available to them, would have developed the country Malaysia or Singapore and by now would have been a leading nation in the region if not in the world. Instead the people pushed to the wall caused three rebellions and the country was dragged into a bloody civil-war that pulled development efforts back by five decades, all due to those petty minded past leaders and some remnants are still in Parliament as legislators.
The population in the country are wiser today and view that both Buddhism – a universal religion that preaches Dharma and Sinhalese Language – spoken by the majority community would flourish if democracy is charted properly in the country without anyone bolstering them up, let alone the self-interested politicians. Only the minority communities want and need protection as past events proved at a heavy cost. People expect the new constitution to reflect the findings from the nationwide consultations to usher in a win-win situation for all the communities in the land.
Today industrial exports account for 78 % of the total exports. However, given its high concentration on low tech garment and apparel exports the country’s economy will become vulnerable to the adverse impact generated by unfavourable domestic or external developments. Sri Lanka could move into a high tech industry base by 2020 by attracting global high tech companies to the country, having met a number of pre-requisites to create an environment for such companies to operate in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is necessary to move into a high-tech industry base as countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong had done. By attracting high tech global companies, Sri Lanka could produce a number of high tech products such as microchips, communication equipment drugs, computer peripherals, boat building.
With global warming increasing every year and at the same time climate change is coming to light thus pointing the need to increase energy efficiency. This is an area yet to be exploited by the designers and developers in Sri Lanka. When saving energy, it not only save money but also reduce the demand for such fossil fuels as coal, gas and oil. Going solar is one of the great options available to increase energy efficiency. Wind energy may be a more preferable option depending on the location in the island. Need to expedite oil and gas exploration and development of alternate forms of energy such as power from solar, wind already in progress and tidal power yet to be exploited. For energy is an important component next to manpower to sustain any development programme. In this context there is also a need to reverse the brain drain trend in the country, refer to an earlier posting on Northern Breeze.
The state has reconstructed most of the destroyed infrastructures to bring North and East regions in par with the rest of the country. This reconstruction work was done mainly by imported workforce, which included the security forces. Perhaps it was understandable then due to urgency prevailing at that time and therefore unavoidable. But lot more still needs to be done at district level to enable people to part take in the development process. The new coalition government is working to secure a decent living for all displaced or oppressed people by the thirty years old war, but with the prevailing circumstances in the region the task is not easy. To enable the inherent potential of the North and East Provinces to be fully realised for the benefit of all its inhabitants more needs to be done. The elected Provincial Council in both provinces is active now than it was under the previous regime. It would help the present government more if the two councils could facilitate the development process. With the emphasis on four major areas of economic activity – agriculture, fisheries, small and medium sector industries and the service sector the available manpower lacks skill and importing them would not sustain any long term development. The workforce used to subsistence living must be facilitated to handle larger holistic economic activities. To this end the brain drain of the region should be reversed and the Non Resident Sri Lankans in particular should be induced by the two Provincial Councils to take this as an opportunity that comes ‘once in a blue moon’ to participate either directly or indirectly in the development of their motherland.