Economic growth is the buzzword that has come to epitomize post-war Sri Lanka. It should correctly be so for a country coming out of a 30-year war that saw the large scale destruction of human resources and property. So the focus should no doubt be on economic growth. But whether such economic growth is spread out in an equal manner across all social classes is a question that is being raised. Many would say that only a few, amounting to about five per cent of the population, appear to have benefited from such growth.
Against this backdrop, is Sri Lanka too heading in a way where growth is increasingly benefitting only a selected few—a phenomenon which is identified as ‘exclusive growth’? In simple words, the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the disparity is widening. In India it has already happened and in Sri Lanka too it seems to have begun to happen. One can argue that this is an unavoidable reality in a world that is promoting the western models of liberal open market economic policies. But such policies should be followed with the necessary safety nets to safeguard the vulnerable sections of society.
Although the government has quite correctly identified infrastructure as a key to economic growth and is building new airports, ports, highways, etc. the problem is how much of these infrastructure development projects had contributed to the enhancement of living standards of the masses of this country? In other words do these mega infrastructure projects create ‘inclusive growth’? Even though the large scale development of rural road network has positively contributed to the enhancement of the quality of life and in expanding trade and other economic activities grass roots level, some of the mega projects have become white elephants.
Some of the valid questions that are being asked by many are whether the traffic congestion has really reduced because of the expressways that have been built? Has the public transportation improved because of them? Has the stress levels gone down? Yes, it has but only for a few who own motorcars and can afford to pump gas for their daily commute to work. But what about the majority of Sri Lankans, have their lives become any better?
If the authorities are thinking about inclusive growth, the investments made on the development of infrastructure also need to be inclusive in nature. While developing highways, it is also necessary that investments are made on a quality and efficient transportation system.
Although expressways and other mega infrastructure projects are shown as harbingers of economic growth, have they really enhanced the quality of life of the general public is a question that is being asked by some. For instance, the million dollar investments on power stations have not contributed in reducing the electricity bill of the general public.
In the coming few years, the signs are that the gap between the haves and have nots is going to further widen. Therefore the government should not blindly follow an exclusive economic growth model but move towards a more inclusive growth model. The decision makers should not be blinded by the glitter of newly built parks and recreation facilities but create avenues for all in the country to be a part and parcel of it.