The Audacity Of Hope
After the war three years ago there was an amazing sense of euphoria in the country and the eyes of the world were on us. Various article appeared in the international press such as the New York Times, Conde Nast and many others outlining the amazing prospects of Sri Lanka. The country too soon after the war coined itself as the ‘Wonder of Asia’ and seemed to have envisioned a path of prosperity. Infrastructure was planned and achieved to large extent i.e. the Southern Highway and airports, etc.
The country geared for the first time to a hub economy from a traditional agriculture economy, a Ministry of Economic Development rose like a phoenix from the ashes with all the important ministries gloriously packed in a gift box of candies so that they could melt together and coordinate each other to be an effective efficient body, to spearhead development the country and people so rightly deserve after a 33-year-old bloody war!!!
Alas it was not meant to be, once again the bureaucratic quagmire won the day and with petty differences, bureaucratic apathy, egos the size of jumbos, arrogance and the frills accompanying failure lifted its massive head. Policy infrastructure turned towards attack mode with policies such as the private pension bill and appropriation bill designed with very little consultation took centre stage – much to the consternation of the Maha Janathawa.
The world’s best stock market was taken to the lowest depths by a group of highway robbers. At the end no one could make money; The wonder of Asia was taking the shape of a blunder of Asia!
As the saying goes people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan!
With all these came the view from the Treasury that uncoordinated efforts by institutions was one of the main reasons – among many – if not the principle reason for the delay in economic development. A seemingly good intention – of kick starting development – has been stymied by a collection of decisions and the scenario where we saw an apparent ‘difference of opinion’ between Chairmen and Ministerial officials in more than one body. One corner blames the economic ills at the Treasury Secretary, another at the governments’ policy and yet others blame what they term the ‘all pervading corruption’ and nepotism. Dr Jayasundera for his part maintains that Chairmen must work within the terms of their reference and that serving government is by ‘necessity governed by a set of rules’ so that transparency is established and maintained. In the meantime of course the people still await some gratitude for enduring the ills of war! This can only be given by economic prosperity. It is almost the raison d’etre for the people of Sri Lanka to carry on.
Where have all the Malls Gone?
After the first post war budget the citizens of this country expected massive shopping malls as promised in the budget as a Mall City to emerge with the rising tourist numbers. Three years and many tears and no malls has given rise to the possibility that dwarfs could have built a mall in Timbuktu! Sri Lanka appears to have slowed down considerably and appears to have lost sight of the way forward.
Everyone expected tourism to grow not only during the season but even off season to have a more sustainable and long lasting income base from the industry. However claims that CESS and the Tourism Development Levy (TDL) funds are not spent adequately to market the country have been making the rounds. In a change of questionable strategy tourism offices in Berlin, London and Paris have been closed down. The BOI appears toothless and despite the powers bestowed upon it, has no bite. An Acting Chairman does not bode well but Sri Lanka expects a far better and fast-tracked arrangement at the BOI – the principal place and overtly so – for foreign investors to get started. The role of the BOI is almost nullified and appears to serve a role that an Essex girl would know about.
Policy infrastructure is still being thought of when the examples are prevalent around us within the economies of countries we compete with. Hence it is important to note that though Sri Lanka has all the right to design our own unique policies it needs to design policies that it can compete with. Our resources do not extend to cheap labour, or industry factor costs, neither does the country have a large population with a high per capita income nor does Serendib have massive deposits of natural assets at present to attract FDI. Sri Lanka does have something unique: its geographical location and our closeness to India and its 1 billion people. Clearly therefore for Sri Lanka to have unique policies as opposed to the ‘copy paste’ method is rather limited.
The regional landscape changes regularly and opportunities emerge thereby ‘host’ economies must be on their toes. Myanmar and other economies will soon share the limited investments coming into the region making it even harder to ‘fight for the FDI pie’.
Should we just sit around a fire and sing freedom songs?
The title of The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (one time Senator now President, USA) was derived from a sermon delivered by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright
In his speech addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama said: “In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost wilful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it.
No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!”.