It is a year since the LTTE was militarily defeated, that ended 30+ years of bloodshed. As it was an internal conflict all the casualties were Sri Lankan Citizens and whatever the death toll varying from 100,000 to 260,000 on all sides both combatants and non-combatants it was a heavy price to pay. The injured and disabled will carry the scars to the end of their days, the parents, spouses and children will carry bereavement for that long too. The relatives of the missing will similarly suffer, not knowing the fate of their loved ones. There really is no end to the suffering of these people, and it is the degree to which each of us individually copes with that memory that will define our future peace of mind. WE DO NOT WANT A REPEAT either for ourselves or for our children of this legacy.
The displaced have had to re build their lives, with over 1.5Million having permanently settled outside these shores during this period, and a further number awaiting to go back to their former homes, from refugee camps in India or within, known as IDPs. There is an immense amount of work still to be done for these people, and as assistance is slow to come from overseas as promised, the GOSL(government of Sri Lanka) must do what is necessary to perform this duty. There are huge swathes of land that require be cleared of mines, prior to settlement and homes and livelihoods have to rebuilt from scratch. It is no easy task and will take years and cost a large amount.
The progress in the last 12 months has been painfully slow, even though the govt. will point to the number of people no longer in the IDP camps. That’s just it they are no longer in camps, but do they have lives? It is a question of getting the infrastructure basics in order so that they can make a start. The elections, first the provincial that dragged on from 2008 all the way to the end of 2009, then the Presidential in early 2010 and then finally the General Elections this last April took all the energy of the government and the bureaucracy from the issues at hand and are mercifully over, and so we celebrate the first anniversary of a colossal waste of resources in fighting elections, a sum that has cost the country more than the cost of resettlement of the IDPs. Not one of the elections was fought on a specific agenda, but on the record of wiping out terror. So we have no idea what to expect as nothing has been promised, except that we would have a GNP per capita of $4000 in 4 years.
There is nothing we can now do about the wasted year, but we can surely make up for it by speeding up and doubling up on the work that is needed to be done urgently. So lets let us use this anniversary to give thanks to all those who made it possible for us to start with a terror free state, and with an expected lifting of the state of emergency, we can truly be free to begin a new decade of growth, backed by the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, so that we are free from fear.
It is an opportunity to gather all the resources including international goodwill to lay the foundation of a decade of growth, which should easily see a tripling of real GNP per capita. There is no excuse for a country of this size with a huge human resource potential that is not tapped, to take off productively under good management and governance, which could remove the obstacles to development, bearing in mind the immense resources we have.
More specifically, removal of archaic barriers and outdated land ownership rules for land will release agricultural land for increased mechanized and productive agricultural methods. Unreasonable labor laws with regard to termination of employees will ensure more ready hiring of staff on permanent payroll, which is currently not being done due to these barriers to employment. Giving the same benefits that are given to BOI companies, to all companies that are investing in growing their businesses will help local companies to grow their employment base, currently given to new investment primarily from tax concessions only given to these foreign dominated FDI’s foreign direct investments.
The most important barrier to growth in Sri Lanka is the stifling bureaucracy which discourages anyone from investing, especially the delay and procrastination on the part of the government departments, who do not see the economic benefits of speeding up investment, as their culture is one of graft and slowing down authorizations in order to justify their existence.
Let us take this unique opportunity to put Sri Lanka on the map and not just talk about it as the politicians are good at, and instead act on all the words. We must walk the talk, as none of the ideas that are expounded, ever come to fruition.
Lets not forget the private sector is the real engine of growth, and their path needs to be smoothed over, and the government’s responsibility should not be to compete with them, but to prepare the groundwork in infrastructure to oil the wheels that turn, so as to make the ride more smooth, and if that is done more wheels will want to ride the roads and railways, which is the objective in order to achieve the growth targets.
It is a good sign that captains of industry have been appointed to head state boards, but they should also be given the powers to exercise direction without hindrance to stamp their seal, and their performance constantly evaluated. If India can grow at 10% why cant we get 15%, 7% is just not good enough.