Dear Sri Lanka,

By Shani Asokan | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2021

By Shani Asokan 

Recently, news reports showed people queuing up outside the passport office. The lines were so long that they continued outside the office and down the street. Now, you’ll know that this is highly unusual, considering the passport office is housed in a very spacious building, with plenty of seating – on a normal day. 

What these news reports were showing was an unusual increase in the numbers of people applying for passports, shortly after the most recent lockdown was lifted. According to these reports, the passport office and its branches around the country have received over 30,000 applications over a 10-day period. 

This number breaks down to around 3000 applications a day, when the average number of applications received on a regular day is 1000. So, why the sudden rush to get new passports? As a general assumption, I would say, people are searching for greener pastures. Our island home hasn’t quite bounced back from the multiple hits it took from the pandemic, and things only seem to get worse by the day. 

As lockdowns and travel restrictions forced the closure of several businesses, and put others on hold, several people found themselves out of work. Either they lost their jobs, or were unable to go about their jobs as they normally would, resulting in the loss of wages or a significant decline in income. To make matters worse, in the wake of our most recent spike in cases, several measures were introduced with economic revival in mind. 

A wide reaching ban on imports was introduced, along with an increase in taxes levied on international transactions. In effect, though these measures were meant to aid economic recovery, they have put several small and medium scale businesses in jeopardy. Why? Because these businesses relied on importing the goods they sold and now with the ban, and the increase in taxes, they are no longer able to import at the same price they used to. Locally, they cannot afford to increase their retail prices as people simply to not have the money to justify buying the same things they used to buy before the pandemic. 

This import ban has also made the prices of locally produced goods skyrocket; the prices of rice, powdered milk and several other goods saw massive price hikes. Add this to the massive rise in gas cylinder prices and cooking a meal becomes a rather expensive affair, not to mention one’s morning milk tea habit – that becomes a luxury. And while we’re on the subject of locally grown produce, there’s not much of that happening right now either. In recent months hundreds of farmers have taken a break from the fields to protest a shortage in fertiliser. 

Their claim is justified; without the fertiliser they quite literally cannot do their jobs, and under the import regulations, the import of fertilisers and agrochemicals have been restricted, or in some cases banned entirely. So you can see why one would assume that there are greener pastures outside our island. 

With little to no opportunities within Sri Lanka, especially for young people looking to just get started, emigrating or looking for jobs abroad are not simply opportunities to escape economic strife, but an investment in a better future. While no one can really blame them for feeling this way, especially after the last two years, it is also a wakeup call to the leaders of our country. If enough of our young people are able to find opportunities elsewhere, Sri Lanka is likely to experience a brain drain, which will further worsen our prospects as a developing country. 

Young people are the very bedrock of our future development. They are our future leaders, in every aspect of the term. They are the best chance we have at securing a place on the global stage. Without our young people, we have no future. And if we don’t give them a reason to stay now, we will lose them, and that future. 

Sincerely, A jaded young person

By Shani Asokan | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2021

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