National Prosperity: Ongoing Economic Crisis
By Ananda Ariyarathne
What we go through now are the consequences of past developments which definitely paved the way for benefits. During the pre-independent era, colonial masters knew what was expected and after Independence there was no need for any drastic changes as what was happening could be continued. In the meantime, nature simply took charge and the population increased creating ripples in the economy indicating the need for additional resources.
During the latter parts of the post-independent era, especially after 1956, the need to be economically independent became realistic and that trend is reflected well in the efforts made by the Government towards gaining more confidence. The national purchasing power was converted to import substitutions to conserve foreign exchange and export promotions to earn foreign exchange.
The support given by the socialist block resulted in some impressive investments in certain industrial projects. Our main problem was the total disregard for accepting reality. No matter which direction we turned to, we always saw enough problems. The attempts made to solve them were either superficial or inadequate. All the problems related to the population.
We provide free health facilities and we can be proud that we have developed our health services but the fact remains that the recurrent expenditure of health services is a gigantic drain on the economy. As a result, we know the effectiveness of Public Health Services is not that impressive. The prosperity level is not something we can accept as only the privileged are best benefited and it is a struggle for the low income earners while it is a nightmare for the people who come under the poverty line.
We need more capacity but we cannot afford it as there is no way the earned benefits can drift down to those needy sections. The present systems are like pain-killer balms or ointments which is effective only to a very thin and limited sector among the needy. When only some of the sections get benefited, there is no guarantee that all the needy people are benefited.
Those below the poverty line shall not have any openings, except in sectors where they become compelled to get involved in illicit business opportunities ranging from contraband sales, drug peddling thereby creating never ending problems for law enforcers. Starting with the daily food requirements and other social needs, it is a very favourable breeding ground for illicit activities.
The rising cost of living does not spare them and it is a bite first or get bitten environment. Moral values are decided by rupees and cents while thugs and goons can decide how law and order can be maintained. The same people need housing and there is no proper housing policy when it comes to increasing and expanding the capacity. Housing made possible is not planned. Rich or poor, any human needs a decent extent of living space. The houses that are livable are only for midget sized people who will have to be outside most of the day.
The house with sufficient space for a new couple will be alright as long as they don’t have children. If they have children the space available is insufficient for the family and maid included. Like other things, even housing has got out of control as of housing estates and schemes which try to provide answers. One thing is clear and that is the ability of the Government to take total responsibility in providing houses for all is limited. Creeping through the free economic practices the private sector house builders have a ‘gala’ time. In the absence of a real control over land-use, free economic principles are quietly choking the economy ruthlessly. The significance of paddy lands has lost its character already regarding its role to support food security.
For the paddy land owners, selling their land for the expansion of urbanisation is more important and the same trend has taken over the traditional coconut lands and it is identified honourably as real estate business and numerous land rackets have become a normal and a natural development. The well to do land owners with better income buying property in the towns shall not solve the national housing problem. Up to now, we have no logically balanced housing schemes that can prepare the required environment. The result is the unending cutthroat competition that reaches everywhere imaginable. Then comes the need to have a sound education system.
The British who took over our country paved the way for creating a literate class from among the local human resources, and that was how the base was set for our system of education that could provide skilled people to run the responsibilities at the lowest levels and to evolve into a system that could provide opportunities for the natives to join the Government Service which became an aspiration for the people who started getting alienated slowly from the land. With the slow migration that started a trend for villagers to move into urban centres as well as settlements that started developing with the improvements made in the plantation sector and in transportation.
While a brighter and a wealthy child could go beyond that last grade in school to enter a university in England, a less educated one could become a clerk in a big or a small office. A school dropout could end up getting engaged in an activity that did not demand for higher level in literacy. The bottom level had placed for drivers for cars while some found openings in driving buses and lorries.
The system was fine and all could find some kind of employment. With the growth in activities, the British rulers noted that it was more sensible to provide facilities for education rather than providing opportunities for higher studies in the United Kingdom. With the opening of opportunities for higher education and the first university college that started became the beginning of the trend in the future for the local youth.
The compliment of high schools that started in the country according to the Christian standards, well spread all over the country and managed by the Christian Missionaries developed into highly reputed schools which could produce good numbers of higher education and positions of responsibility in the Government departments as well as the law enforcement. When we could produce lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, managers and accountants , what else did we want as a Nation? It was that education that was continued right along, and those who got benefited became evident everywhere, even after we got Independence. Then came the developments that showed the fact that the Governments were not ready.
Although the actual meaning and the spirit of education should have been to prepare the human resources of the Nation to be ready for the needs, the developments that took place gave different signals. Those signals were more political than sensible. To please the Buddhist clergy, two Buddhist centres for learning were declared Universities that started giving arts degrees freely and those who competed for positions were looked down as a kind of inferior. It took a very long time before the prejudices started disappearing.
The need for the universities was there and under one system different campuses could have been established and that way the standards could have been achieved. The point raised here is that the intentions were not genuine. Then even in the University of Ceylon also developments took place ridiculing the image.
In 1962 university entrance examinations, a batch was selected for 1963/64 academic year. An important person was not successful and to accommodate him a large number had to be taken and that caused the university authorities to recommence the arts faculty. It was well known and the faculty was named by the critics by the name of the person who was benefited.
And that person did not attend lecture in Colombo. Politics decided. Those who were not in power criticised the Government but when they came into power Colombo Arts Faculty was expanded by thousands and the university was branded as the stable because the administration acquired the abandoned Race Course to provide facilities. All those proved the simple truth that the inevitable problems were not seen. It is a fact that it is the education that has to serve the base for consolidating knowledge needed for development. As we already have functional infrastructure, what we have changed will be limited to strategic policies and action plans.
What is happening now?
Although there is an activity identified as planning, it has become just a ritual that can be seen more as incidental. Most of the objectives are impressive but not anchored and synchronised well. The main reason for that is the fact that the origins had originated elsewhere to make use of the opportunities for investment for the development organisations which have identified such and have vigorously marketed.
It has become a case for outsiders to come with proposals that would create very positive investment opportunities in the long run. China is the best example for aggressive international marketing that can be linked to all the productive forces of that country. They can see that we Sri Lankans are sitting on a Gold Mine.
They identify the best areas where they can be benefited. They identify the best opportunities and tell us. We have a problem of funding and that aspect also is solved by them. Then things start happening here. They have invested and we are making use of the development which could never have come up if we tried to find the funds. For them they have earned outside their country while finding markets for their products as well as technology.
It is a win-win situation for all. And some of the wise guys cry foul. If we were really smart, we could have identified our needs before an outsider showing us. Then we could have negotiated the best terms. All the problems we have now grew undetected because we did not take the subjects seriously in a well orchestrated manner. Even now, what we are trying to do have become more or less reflex actions and not really with the ‘objective framework oriented’ discipline.