Let saner counsel prevail

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When questioned recently, the Central Bank Governor had categorically stated that it is not possible to provide incentives to migrant employees at the cost of taxpayers’ money.

We live in a country which provided duty-free vehicles to an umpteen number of politicians, while the public service had been filled up with numbers beyond imagination, most probably terming Sri Lanka as a country with a very high percentage of almost 20 of the working population in public service. The question to be asked is who bore the cost of such extravagance?

There are a number of such follies committed in the past of many white elephants that could be listed such as the Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport, Lotus Tower etc., etc., to name a few, and the list, if generated, could be endless. Did anyone raise their voices to counter such idiotic endeavours?

Further, taxpayer money guzzlers such as SriLankan Airlines, Railways, CTB, Petroleum and many other SOEs had survived with absolute nonchalance over the years. Whereas, the migrant employees have toiled not only to keep their home fires burning, but also provided the highest contribution to the national economy over many years.

Suddenly, the taxpayers’ contributions had paled the contributions made by the migrant employees into insignificance. Saving taxpayer money is good, but it has to be from a level playing field. It could be said that compared to the contributions made to the national economy by migrant employees living away from their loved ones for many moons, going through untold hardships, cannot be matched with the taxpayer contribution based on the available statistics.

The contributions made by the migrant employees to the national economy for the last ten years are more than the debt to foreign countries. The loans had been sought to cover the government annual loss and extravagant enterprises that could aptly be called ‘tamashas’ at the cost of taxpayer money.

A sympathetic outlook towards the migrant employees’ contribution will melt the hearts of the decision-makers, irrespective of the need to ensure that a bigger issue of recovering the millions of US dollars lost to the ‘Undial’ system.

Now, let us look at the crux of the problem and the need for incentives. It is a most unfortunate situation that the migrant employees have not been provided any incentives to date, other than a few options, including the duty-free allowance not increased for a number of years.

The delayed decision to float the dollar opened the avenue for the other systems to garner more than 50% of the usual remittances on which imports to Sri Lanka and balance of payments-based parity rates have been maintained over many long years.

 The rot commenced in July last year and the deterioration is visible in no uncertain terms from the chart above.

If saner counsel prevails, the country’s foreign currency woes will be somewhat relaxed through positive intervention. In addition, the process will ensure that the hitherto forgotten, but most deserving migrant employees will receive due recognition for the tremendous contribution made.

No appeals will serve any purpose, as most of the migrant employees will not know how balance of payments issues affect the parity rate of exchange. Further, the Central Bank Governor may not be within their knowledge horizons, including the role of the Central Bank as well.

If an evaluation is made as to the number of US dollars lost due to surcharges etc., on delays of clearing shipments due to non-availability of foreign currency and the number of man hours lost due to people standing at queues, the answer is loud and clear.

We have suffered hugely as a Nation due to this exchange calamity and it is the best time to clear the slate and start afresh for the sake of the country.

(The writer is a management consultant)

By G. Ruwan