Professor Jolly, previously, of the Institute of Development Studies @ Sussex delivered the GCF lecture @ the Orchid Room at the BMICH last evening, (28th September) on the Sustainable Development Goals, as it pertains to Sri Lanka.
On the high table! were the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Dr Nihal Sanderatne from Peradeniya University, Lloyd Fernando formerly of the CB, and Dr Harsha Athurupane of the World Bank.
The audience included, Godfrey Goonetilleke, Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, Mrs Sugandie Kadirgamar, among other academics, and was well attended.
The details of this lecture will no doubt appear shortly, and I wish only to pick on what I believed was the main message. Namely that Sri Lanka is 29 places above on the Human Development Index than its GDP would place it in world rankings, and when it chooses its strategy to achieve the SDGs, it would be advisable, NOT merely to look at pure Growth Rates, but how they affect rising up the ladder in the HDI and reducing the Inequality.
The way I see it, policy makers are faced with a myriad of tasks, and are unable to prioritize and structure a plan, that they can assert as policy, that leads to real growth of the Economy. I believe that in concentrating on going up the HDI along with reducing Inequality, which the Academics measure using the Genie Coefficient, would be the way to go, but with the proviso that we draw up our priority of SDGs that achieve the goals of improvement to the quality of life of our Citizens.
Needless to say that in my opinion, I would like to see a policy of “ensuring access to clean water, clean air and clean food. right at the top of this as a HUMAN RIGHT!”
In order to achieve this in the quickest time, we MUST have policies with regard to clean energy, and environmental conservation, along with the reversal of degradation to achieve say a goal of 30% reforestation of the Island by 2030, and demarcate land comprising that 30% now, with conscious policies to ensure that is achieved on time. Whatever is added to the New Constitution, this statement above if engraved in the opening paragraph, will ensure that all other provisions are secondary, and all laws will be predicated on this simple wish being STAMPED!
The Dearth of Young Economists at this lecture was apparent, along with new ideas. Unfortunately the fossils here present, meant not to belittle anyone, except to say that throughout their lifetime, their ability to influence political thinking has been limited, and shown to be ineffective. Therefore we need new thinking.
Shortage of labor was mentioned, but NO ONE was bold enough to make the obvious statement that I subscribe to namely, “SRI LANKA HAS NO UNEMPLOYMENT”. All those who withhold work choose to do so, as they either await a more lucrative, or satisfactory (in their eyes) job, and will not take the jobs that are available in the labor force today.
Of course there is a HUGE skills shortage too, that must be corrected, but for that to be adequately addressed, unless we improve the livability INDEX in Sri Lanka, all those who we train to international standards, to fill the vacancies IN SRI LANKA will choose to leave Sri Lanka for even greater remunerative employment overseas.
That Catch 22 or dilemma facing the Govt. in deciding effective policy to address the problems. We train 1,000 medical practitioners a year at NO expense to the student, but at HUGE expense to the State, only for the State to lose 50% within 5 years of their qualification to foreign lands, many as immigrants, never to return.
There was a lady at the event who was complaining about cramming type of A levels that we have in Sri Lanka, that don’t produce true geniuses, where her son with JUST ONE A at A levels, received a scholarship to MIT, and who now works at Google in the USA. I ask, do we have anything in Sri Lanka that he would even wish to take up, as a career now? I expect he would be a permanent loss!
I believe we must redefine affordable healthcare to have a nutritionally healthy population, reducing the incidence of NCDs, non communicable diseases, with a really Educated population, who are capable of making rational choices for their future, and the only other duty of the State would be to ensure an efficient PUBLIC transportation system, that will enable people to commute to work in the shortest possible time, in comfort.
These simple goals, will result in both the achievement of the main objective as I have laid out above, but also ensure that Sri Lanka, both rise up the HDI another 29 places in record time, while at the same time, reducing the inequality of income and wealth, and that we can fill vacancies, with competent people, will immediately ADD to growth. We have jobs, we have no people!
FOOD AND SHELTER are areas we MUST NOT worry too much, but permit the private sector more flexibility, by changing landownership laws, and PPPs for High Rise Housing schemes in Urban Areas to fill this dire urban need.