Taking the Wrong Turn


Our country is in a crisis and it is not the first time that we experience such a situation. Since Independence, the British maintained Ceylon as a first world economy second only to Japan. Ceylon was a Model for Commonwealth countries ranked as the icon of South Asia with a high profile administrative service, top quality public transport bus and rail. Model 4 floor walk-up housing complexes first in South Asia. We had electric busses the first once again for this part of the world managed by the Colombo Municipal Council removed after a Labour Dispute

The former Prime Minister of Singapore wrote in his memories “Singapore being a third World Country in the late 1940s, took Ceylon as an Example for a Growth Model since Ceylon had better resources and infrastructure.” He pays tribute to Lord Mountbatten and wished Singapore had the same facilities and infrastructure in Singapore at that time. He was impressed by the British architecture buildings in Colombo.  His first visit to Ceylon was in 1956.  His second visit was in 1966 and his third in 1970. When he arrived in Sri Lanka in 1978, Singapore was far more superior to Sri Lanka

He was sad and tears came to his eyes when Jayawardene in 1978 requested him to help Sri Lanka in Development. He was puzzled how a first World Ceylon, a model for Singapore has been converted by numerous political leaders since 1947 to a third World Sri Lanka: whereas he made Singapore a first world country. He quotes “Decisions taken by Bandaranaike to make Sinhala the National Language was the start of the Unravelling of Ceylon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was focused but had a left oriented coalition to deal with, that brought further destruction of private enterprises. Thanks to the nationalisation of foreign enterprises here, most of them left and established themselves in Singapore, to my great pride on the trust they had in my policies.”

How we failed

Now let’s get back to our subject. How Sri Lanka failed was that leaders did not have country specific development plans. Other than I, they had no we grow together, their  political agendas were about how to win the next Election

A good example is the Current Protest of the youth who have an agenda to remove destructive, corrupt politicians with 66 per cent success but have no country specific growth plans in focus

Action needed is a short term road to progress. A person watching a debate in Parliament will wonder what they say. Only around 10-15 per cent of the 225 MP’s have the country in focus. There are 7.5 million families in this country. Do we really need 225 MP’s in Parliament?  Another 500 members are in defunct Provincial Councils. We have 1.6 million public servants. Do we need 2.5 million paid by the public to manage a population of 7.5 m families? Are we that rich a country that efficiency is of no concern. The number of seats in Parliament must be reduced to 100 who can manage 75,000 families each.

Forget the Electorates. Hand them 75,000 Families to look after their Needs. Have only 20 Ministers. No we need of Deputy or State Ministers? The Minister and his secretary can be responsible for all actions. The savings will be in the billions per year. Stop Parliament meetings and put all MP’s in their Electorates. Stop them coming to Parliament at the expense of the public.  Of the 20 Ministers only 4 or 5 have productive ideas. The rest are of no use. Have only Cabinet Meetings to solve current major issues such as power / energy, agriculture, tourism.

All Government Departments, State owned enterprises must have an efficiency measurement. Good examples are state transport vs private transport, Indian Oil Vs Petroleum Corporation, State Managed Ports vs Private Managed Ports, Sri Lankan Air vs Private Managed Airlines. LECO vs CEB. All Private Managed Organisations are efficient, make a profit and pay Government taxes. Whereas, State organisations have to be supported by the people.  

Over staffed and utterly useless

Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia are developing fast as Newly Developing Countries (NDC). Tourism is helping in a big way in the development of Vietnam and Cambodia. In 2019, they had 18M & 6M visitors respectively a year. What do they do right and we do wrong?   The Ministry of Tourism is an overstaffed tourism authority, who undertakes overseas trips bringing no results. An ideal slogan was developed by Renton De Alwis when he was Chair of the SLTB. He helped Singapore to be a Tourist Destination. We did not have a slogan for many years and spent may be USD 2M to come up with “So Sri Lanka”. This is a country that has a Potential for 10M Tourists a year if the Private Sector and Government collaborate than being at loggerheads with each other,we can set a target for tourism to be about 10 per cent of the GDP or USD 8.5Billion a year by 2024

A visit to the past

 If I remember correct in 1970, crude oil was USD 1 a barrel and a gallon of petrol was Rs 1.50 in Ceylon. In 1972 a barrel was USD 2. 1 USD was worth Rs 7 and a UK Pound was Rs 13. 1n 1974 a barrel went to USD 4 and a gallon of petrol was increased to Rs 5. Ceylon could not afford to import fuel at this price. Sunday / Holiday travel was banned other than for Red Number Plate Taxis. 1967–77. We had a shortage of locally grown rice although politicians promised rise from the moon. Ceylon converted to a third world Sri Lanka and had to import rice. The rubber rice pact with China came in to effect. There was a shortage of wheat flour. USA came to the rescue with a  public liability PL 480. No imported foods such as red lentil or sugar.

Rice consumption was banned on Tuesday and Thursday in hotels. Transport of Rice was banned. People had to eat substitutes such as sweet potato, manioc and green gram for lunch and dinner. Rice was on ration at Rs 0.25 a Kg per week per person. A loaf of bread was 0.25 Cents and we had to wait in line at the bakery. Tea was sugarless with a Date. No powdered milk. Had to wait in line to buy dress material and under ware was unheard of. Those were the good old days when lining up for everything in the country was a Norm under a Blue and Red Government.

If we are to develop

We have to move from a total welfare state having only free education and subsidised health care system for the deserving. All State Organisations Should be peopolised and listed in the stock exchange as done between 1990–1994 to remove the burden to state and people of the country to improve efficiency and competitiveness.

It has been proved recently the corruption and inefficiency taking place in Essential State owned enterprises such as petroleum, electricity, health / pharmaceuticals, water to name a few. If an audit is done on all State Organisations startling revelations will be made. The Prime Minister and Cabinet must focus on the Country First and correct all this. The first action taken by the Prime Minister of Singapore was to get rid of corruption when he took over. Corrupt politicians proved guilty in courts as well as Politicians thrown out of power are still in Parliament in this country.

On the Dematagoda Flyover have any Politicians observed the wanton destruction of idle rail engines and carriages. All of them can be put back to use. Rail transport must be improved in the country with sensible time tables. There are many trains leaving Colombo at 1600. The Railway Management is incapable of making them move between 1700-1900, with trains full of passengers. They are incapable of increasing the capacity of Trains during Peak Hour which is a burning issue of the Traveling Public, but our experts introduce long distance trains which is a waste of Rolling Stock time. This is a country that Imports Generators that do not work and Rail Engines/Carriages that cannot be made to operate when landed.

There was a Secretary of Finance B C Perera who objected to import of alstom engines not suitable for country. Did not sign document and retired premature. These Engines are now scrapped. Engines from Canada on Colombo Plan are still moving over 50 years. There are only two Major Issues in the country. LPG can be resolved by Importing 6 Loads of LPG within the next 30 days on a bid and supply basis. Not on a spot market price.

Cost of which will be USD 24 Million which will solve a crisis for a majority of People.  Import 2 shiploads of diesel USD 70M to be supplied to diesel power suppliers that supply power under USD 0.60. Issue the balance to railway, Public busses and trucks transporting goods. Do not issue to other vehicles which have an engine capacity over 3000 cc. All public transport and essential transport services can be brought back to normal. Petrol can be imported and supplied to public transport 3 wheelers and essential service personal. Encourage all others to use public transport.  With only 50 per cent of state employees traveling Public Transport will have extra capacity. Encourage carpooling especially for State employees

By Tissa Jayaweera