Sri Lankans should cast their vote wisely to choose the next President!
Today the Sri Lankan people are getting ready for the Presidential Election to be held in November. A country where there is one rule for the protected privileged people and another for the rest – the deprived group, where the majority of the population belongs. It is this deprived group, who are expected to vote out from power the rulers – the protected powerful minority. Among the many presidential candidates there are three worth considering to cast their vote. Leading the pack first on the list is a democrat, closely behind is an autocratic and third is a liberal while the rest could be categorised as ‘also ran’ candidates. People have the power to decide to whom they should vote and therefore needs to use their vote wisely as it matters who becomes the Head of State at this critical juncture. The whole nation accept that the people are divided into many tens of groups with each having own grievances and requiring special solutions; but all share a common problem of having to live with a corrupt system of rule. Bitter Truth is all Sri Lankans as the people who elect their rulers have to take the major share of the blame for this scenario and if people vote right they could end up with a corruption free leader to resolve their issues to unite the divided nation.
In seven decades the country has slipped from being the top nation in Asia due to misrule had to face many uprisings and a civil-war that lasted three decades to push the nation to the bottom of the pack and Sri Lanka continues to struggle with a huge debt. Today with the Treasury having to inject billions for the upkeep of the strategically state-owned enterprises. Srilankan Airlines, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) are key enterprises that continue to run at loses. So far political constraints have muted the process to restructure these enterprises. In particular the opposition and many independent parties have strongly opposed it; they claim that certain essential industries like the CEB and the CPC should be under the control of the state for strategic and other reasons. To reduce the financial burden possible solution is privatization of these state owned enterprises ; alternate is to manage these large organisations and many other government utilities by an umbrella organisation owned by the state and operated by highly skilled professionals appointed to boards of various organisation and responsible to the government. So far either the rulers lacked vision or are not bold enough to take drastic steps to overcome the corrupt operating machinery to make the change to prevent these enterprises run at loses.
The strong growth in export earnings could be achieved by expansion and development of export-related industries, increase commodity prices in the international market, introduce conducive external trade policies, together with strong institutional support and maintain a flexible exchange rate policy. Importantly there is the need to study various market slots globally to introduce and service a diversity of new innovative export products. This could include many value addition activities on agricultural produce from the time it leaves the farm to shipment. Further the import expenditure keeps increasing and the export economy is unable to keep pace with the demand for ever-increasing imports, some of which are being re-used in the export industry. Proper study is needed to check the effectiveness of this arrangement and so far no proper action taken to control many corrupt activities that have come to surface in this re-export business.
Total paddy production of the country grew significantly and rice imports witnessed a considerable decline in 2018 due to the availability of sufficient stocks in the domestic paddy market. A declining trend in Tea prices continued till the end of the year. Rubber production recorded a decrease in 2018. The performance of minor export crops continued to weaken in 2018 and the slowdown was witnessed in sugar production. The fisheries sector with total fish production declining witnessed a marginal set back during 2018. The value-added of industrial and manufacturing activities grew marginally in 2018. The tourism industry has the potential to become the highest foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. The average daily spending by tourists has increased substantially while the average duration of stay has also increased. However, it has to be supported by addressing the barriers to which future growth is exposed.
The unemployment rate keeps increasing, with highest unemployment being reported among females, youth and educationally qualified categories. Further there is a labour shortage due to skill mismatches that have resulted in importing labour for selected industries. There is a need for efficient utilization of the large untapped talent in the country. Foreign employment plays a significant role in reducing the unemployment and the income generated reduces poverty has a great impact on the economy due to private worker remittance is one of the main sources of foreign exchange earnings. However, the social problems and social costs associated with migration of females and human rights violations such as exploitation, non-payment or underpayment and physical abuse. Poverty levels in the country have continued to decline, but with a considerable portion of the population just above the poverty line had a high risk of falling below the poverty threshold due to national disasters and price hikes of basic commodities.
The country is in a serious debt trap with new debts been created to amortize existing debts and the debt liability continuously increasing. Unfortunately, it will be very difficult and almost impossible for Sri Lanka to get out of this Debt Trap. It should be noted that when global institutions lend money for large scale projects, they normally asses the feasibility of the project and the ability to repay the loan. Unfortunately, this procedure was not strictly followed in many of the large projects. A good example is the uncalled-for bid to build an Airport in Mattala in the middle of the jungle in a traditionally elephant homeland, was not effectively assessed by the Exim Bank of China; very often lends money not on the feasibility of the project but for other strategic reasons. Further the investment in the Hambantota Harbour development too was not based on a detailed feasibility study and it was again an unsolicited contract and both projects have become white elephants for Sri Lanka. The Government has managed to literally sell the Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease together with 15,000 acres of land and thereby managed to liquidate the loan. The Mattala Airport is an airport with hardly any planes landing or taking off is a failure and the Government is negotiating to enter into a joint venture with the Indian Air Ports Authority to operate this airport.
There were lot of corruption in the country that goes unabated and no leader has so far been able to clean up their administration of corruption for it needs to start from top. The best way achieve it is by setting an example to others. The government has a larger cabinet than necessary for small nation and the government service is overstaffed and should reduce unnecessary expenditures, for example too many expensive vehicles are imported into the country for the politicians and administrators, this expenditure could be drastically reduced. It is now necessary to have a clean administration at all levels of power; only then there will be a solution to all the grievances of the people.
At present in a corrupt environment and an inefficient administration the country is unable to overcome its fundamental imbalance in the economy; although export income has increased substantially so have the imports. A dramatic increase of the Export Economy is needed whilst controlling Imports. With everyone’s attention now focused on the Presidential Election, it is unlikely that anyone in the government service will give serious thought to the debt trap the country is now engulfed. The Presidential Elections will probably be followed by Provincial Elections and then by the General Elections during which period no serious effort will be made in overcoming the debt burden. The government may only exacerbate the debt trap by giving more handouts to increase its vote base; such handouts if any would only make it more difficult for any successful government to handle these fundamental economic issues of the country.
People are given the power to use their vote wisely to select able and clean corruption free candidates at each said elections to govern them to enable them to get over all their serious problems resolved for a better country. This Presidential Election and the other elections to follow thus gives them the chance to get it right this time; for once the Elections are over, the people will have no chance to change the President for another five years, so vote wisely, to do that you need to understand the ground situation.