Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sri Lanka – Progress Towards Peace and Prosperity

By Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona

(February 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)Talking about peace, economic development and prosperity after a heavy meal might be a serious imposition on all of us. But peace and economic development is a priority for Sri Lanka at the moment. Prosperity has beckoned us for a long time and has evaded our grasp repeatedly.

Many a time, we have had our hopes raised, only to be disappointed. So let us now see what we can do as a country to reach prosperity through peace and economic development. Of course, and I shall underline this, many people would not necessarily consider economic development to be a pre-condition for prosperity. We have known societies in history, and even in the contemporary world, which have not reached economic development as it is understood in the West, but which are prosperous in their own way, where people are content, tend to live for a long time and do not yearn for many worldly goods. An example comes to mind, the country of Bhutan - a member of SAARC, nestled in the high Himalayas, which is a dream destination for many of us. It enjoys this reputation as the modern-day Shangri-La because it is considered to be the ideal place to live and the people seem to lead very satisfied lives there, they are happy with their economic conditions, they are happy with their religion, they are happy with their rulers, so much so that the last King of Bhutan abdicated at the ripe old age of 51 years and handed over the throne to his son. In addition, he also conducted free elections despite the express reluctance of his people to be involved in elections. They were so content with the old king and his benevolent rule. The king actually forced an election on his people so that the people could elect their own representatives to govern them.

I am not sure whether Sri Lanka which has been exposed to a range of influences from around the world, and which has entrenched itself in an open economy, would be able to emulate this dream- world situation that we find in Bhutan. We are a people driven by normal ambitions and greed. Besides, our aspirations appear to be very similar to those of industrialized countries whether in the East or the West. As we reach out to become more developed in the traditional sense, there are some factors that are in our favour. Sri Lanka has succeeded in bringing down absolute poverty to about 15 percent. This is the best performance in South Asia with regard to lowering poverty. We can be justly proud of this achievement. Sri Lanka also succeeded in attracting over USD 800 million in foreign direct investments in 2008. Again, a very creditable performance given all the factors that seem to militate against us. Our exports continue to grow, especially in the non-traditional area, and on top of it, many of our imports have become cheaper. Oil which was selling at $ 147 a barrel earlier in 2008, has now dropped to roughly around to $ 36 a barrel. We import large quantities of steel and cement, they have also come down in price. Our food imports are much cheaper now than they were at this time last year. Our citizens abroad continue to repatriate around $ 3 billion annually. These are all positive factors which suggest the potential to progress towards prosperity. But, we have to remember that there is one factor which is militating seriously against us.

Read More: Sri Lanka Guardian