The crippling national debt problem which all recent governments of the post-independence era have been forced to face, has been a veritable eye-sore in the face of our dear motherland. Each successive government is guilty of having added to debt due to constant borrowing from funding agencies and entering into imprudent and hasty trade agreements based on borrowed capital. Sri Lanka is one of those unfortunate and karmic nations which has continuously been dependent on international monetary agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), condemned by all those who criminalise them as the twin-headed hydra that keeps capturing nations, drowning them in misery unbearable and indeed in almost unpayable debt traps.
The media recently quoted the national debt facing the country in 2020 as running into two trillion rupees. This bȇte-noire is bringing this curse on every newborn child, putting him or her in debt for over two hundred thousand rupees. This is frightening and staggering when recalling that same type of debt which stood only at Rs.13,000 in mid-1970s. The national debt which compounds both the domestic and international is truly a bee in the bonnet that has driven every successive government into a frenzy of deciding even on crazy deals and economic measures that entangled the country even further.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to be partners in any conflict and must strive for good international relations with foreign countries while working hard for political stability within, pursuing ethnic harmony and national reconciliation
Why is a country in debt? What are the main issues at bay in this quagmire? Who is responsible in putting a country in debt? How is it that a country, even after independence, continues to get plunged into agonising depths of debt? These are difficult questions that need convincing and satisfactory answers. We have had countries that were worse affected by the two world wars like Singapore, Japan and South Korea, but have gallantly risen over the ashes of destruction and defeat, bouncing back into economic giants of our Asian region which two decades ago were classed as part of the third-world within the southern hemisphere.
Today, Asia is exalted as the continent of world’s rising economy. It has apparently not been so verified in Sri Lanka despite the fact that, by now, seven decades has gone by since her political independence as a British colony. All of us are simply stunned to see Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia,Thailand and now Vietnam as strong Asian economies. Why has Sri Lanka stagnated or been rendered incapable of bracing for such a prosperous journey? Is it because we lack natural resources like fertile land, clean water and rivers, the ocean-depths or human resources that can always be weakening causes of a national economy? Or is it because we have not been working hard enough, creatively and innovatively, with resources in hand to boost up our national economy? Or is it because we have been guilty of colossal waste and irresponsibility in financial matters and thrown resources to the winds? Or else, is it solely due to bribery and corruption, abuse of resources, embezzlement of funds and lack of transparency and accountability? All these causes singly or cumulatively can harm and retard a national economy in any country and Sri Lanka in that sense had been, on several occasions, on the verge of being debunked as a “failed State.”
In the web of national life, many factors interact in the running and life of a country. Politics with a programme of good governance, a well-planned economic strategy both within short and long term, and above all, social peace and political stability are crucial conditions sine-qua-non that guarantee a state of progress and ongoing prosperity. International relations coupled concurrently with well-chartered economic agreements and trade treaties on a win-win basis are sure to ensure a stable and healthily working economy. In the meantime, together with foreign investments, manageable borrowings from funding agencies and propelling of local industries of various kinds will add to boost up and invigorate the economic situation.
In Sri Lanka, the apparel industry, textiles and similar ventures that tap ocean resources and earth’s endowments will add up to enrich and swell a growing economy. We live in a globalised culture and civilization with the entire human planet turning into a global village. Travel facilities, communication media and added to these the modern phenomenon of migration of entire hordes of populations bring people of all religions, languages, ethnicities, cultures, economic and political ideologies into an incredible scenario of human solidarity, inter-action and proximity. Urbanisation and technology are engineering the culture and tempo of modernity. In this context, it will be very imprudent on our part to alienate ourselves from other nations and people for whatever reason. It is a pity that the august institution, the United Nations, with its other branch institutions, finds arduous the task of becoming a source of reconciliation, understanding and goodwill. Despite its mighty efforts, there are nations in conflict in the southern hemisphere. In addition, there is military conflict and tension among western nations and countries in the Middle East and Korean peninsula. Sri Lanka cannot afford to be partners in any conflict and must strive for good international relations with foreign countries while working hard for political stability within, pursuing ethnic harmony and national reconciliation. When a country is politically-unstable and webbed in social unrest, economic growth is hardly possible.
CRUCIAL ISSUES OF THE DAY
The recent demands from the north to the south in the context of the presidential election and invariably to be echoed in the face of upcoming parliamentary elections will certainly create serious obstacles to national unity. The merger of the northern and eastern provinces, the request for land and police powers under the cover of their desire for self-determination is a dangerous step in the destabilisation of the country once again. The thirty-year war that brought in such enormous destruction to life and property, and the economic slag that followed, do not seem to have taught the political leaders of the north about the disaster they are re-inviting by making these sectarian demands. Why can’t all provinces be equally treated and development efforts devolved equitably among all? It may be a spiral of speedy development over devolution after all.
What people need in the north is what we in the south enjoy: resources for economic prosperity, growth in industry, healthcare, transport, sound education and of course employment. Above all, one must be assured by relevant authorities that in the north, no trend to violence or terrorism bordering on ethnicity and language be tolerated.
This is a precondition for a good development drive to take on its stride in these parts of our motherland. No discrimination based on language, ethnicity, race or religion is to be tolerated at any cost. This had been the bane of Sri Lanka from the very first days of independence – a condition that had been aggravated by short-term policies and election gimmicks of succeeding governments. It is time that this political game grinds to a halt making way for national politics becoming a genuine and committed service to the whole country and its people. If fundamental human rights are respected, the situation would certainly ease. This country is neither a theocracy nor religio-cracy but a democracy: a government of, by and for the people and not for their religions, languages or race. Politics need to be neutral vis-a-vis these issues while safeguarding and promoting religious freedom and liberty of worship and cult. Religion and freedom of worship are fundamental human rights. No State has power to dictate terms regarding these matters. In a multi-racial, religious and cultural land like ours, it will augur well too, if the voice of religious leadership is given due hearing and consulted in important national issues.
Religious leadership can come in handy especially when there are moments when issues of a controversial nature prop up, or when on the national level there is a sharp division of opinion in the pursuit of certain policies of programming and action on the part of the State. Religious leadership is the moral voice of a country and certainly must intervene since politics contain issues that are highly ethical and moral including social justice, human dignity, human rights, fundamental human freedom and security. That people live and work in harmony with mutual trust and respect, forms the moral fabric of any decent and healthy society.
Economic prosperity is not only a result of good financial enterprise and monetary security, but thrives within the ambit of political stability and social peace. In the pursuit of this ideal, there are many factors and actors that enter the stage of national growth. While divisive issues have to be carefully averted, values that unite and harmonise various groups into a well-blended whole have to be fostered and explored. At the moment, national unity is such a priority and resurrecting the economy is another. There is no doubt that questions like vocational education of the youth with emphasis on skills-training, a type of education that is ordained to the job market, creation of jobs, trade with foreign countries, inviting foreign investments and wooing tourism, improving traditional exports such as tea, rubber and coconut together with apparel and textile sector emoluments will embellish our great national assets and vital resources for growth.
Apt measures have to be adopted to gradually lessen borrowing from international funding agencies. The outstanding debts have to be quickly minimised and in due time totally resolved. A debt-free nation can breathe freely and live in peace on her own resources and fruits of hard work and creative enterprise. Both government and private sectors must join hands to work towards common economic goals so that Sri Lanka can soon become a country that is productive and self-sufficient. We must earn the respect and confidence of other nations that are willing to enter into international agreements, both of geo-political and economic nature. These are the pathways, though difficult and time-consuming, that will help us to patiently achieve our dreams of stability and progress in the coming decades. Let the bête-noire, the black demon of our national and international debt, be seriously dealt with every possible mean at our command so that the nation can truly enter the threshold of self-reliance and economic security.