- Says SL “will not make it” if the current path followed
- Advises to shift towards producer-driven items for exports
- Says no genuine political will for educational reforms
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Economic Reforms and Public Distributions Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva lashed out at his own government last week for its lackluster efforts in getting the local talent pool up to mark, and stressed a more proactive approach is mandatory to bring the national economy on track, so that it can have the edge to compete on the world stage.
Asserting the island nation “will not make it” if it continues on the current path, the minister, who is an economist, opined Sri Lanka must look at moving on to produce complex products to survive. “In this world that we compete, we (Sri Lanka) are producing simple products. What we produce, 86 percent other countries can also produce.
When labour becomes expensive, and cost of energy becomes almost unaffordable and when employment laws are stringent, it becomes difficult to progress,” said the minister while addressing a seminar in Colombo on ‘Making Employment Law Conducive for Investment in Sri Lanka’.
He asserted that Sri Lanka must look to make products that are producer-driven as opposed to the current customer-driven items.
“We are not in a very good place. We need to make complex products. Less than 5 percent of our exports are technologically-advanced. This is the paradigm shift that we require. “We can talk about laws that will look at the national interest, all which is good. Politically these are things one should say. But we need to be realistic on how we need to get there,” noted Dr. de Silva.
The minister attributed the issue to the existing talent pool, which largely consists of individuals who have pursued education in fields that cannot add value to the economy.
Pointing out that majority of the students read for their undergraduate degree in subjects such as Buddhist Civilization, Sinhala, Dance, Media, and Political Science, the minister lashed out, “So am I talking nonsense of moving from simple to complex products. Are we living in some dream world and are we bunch of loonies?”
“We are never going to win this way. We are not going to make it at this level. Students are opting for easy subjects only to pass exams and then demand for jobs from the government simply because they have a degree. We can’t afford these people,” stressed Dr. de Silva.
“The skills that we require are not what we are getting. What we are getting is not going to cut it. With this talent we cannot compete with the Koreans, Japanese, Israelis or even the Bangladeshis,” added Dr. de Silva.
Post-war Sri Lanka has repeatedly witnessed the issue of the country’s State education sector failing to produce skills necessary to help progress the economy.
Despite the private sector, considered the engine of growth, having voiced the need to produce graduates with the relevant skills and education level that would help add value to respective industries, so far no changes have been made in the curricula, and no serious efforts have been observed to accommodate more students in the fields that would help fill the talent void.
Furthermore, the minister pointed out that over Rs.1 trillion will be spent on salaries and pensions next year, in addition to the Rs.850 billion for capital expenditure and Rs.2.1 trillion for debt servicing.
“This is mind boggling; we are going in the wrong direction. How ever much we try to reform, there is no political will for reform. I am a politician and I should not say these things. But there is no value in me if I don’t say these things to you. Whether you vote for me or not is immaterial.”