For more than 35 years different Governments in Sri Lanka have been essentially following the globalised capitalist market economic system. Whatever its advocates may claim and whatever the apparently spin-doctored figures about growth rates, per capita income and low unemployment figures, the reality is that millions of people are struggling daily to find their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, healthcare and education and other factors such as the electricity rates which have now soared to be the highest in the region.
Even in western countries such as the United States whose then President Ronald Reagan was one of the masterminds of this system, the economies are in deep trouble with the US plunging into its worst recession since the 1930s and other European countries going bankrupt.
In such a scenario, Sri Lanka needs to find an alternative development model on the middle path. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge in her 1994 election manifesto promised to give a ‘Human Face’ to the free market policy.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his manifestos for 2005 and 2010 also proposed major changes in the economic policy to give priority to national industrial production and agricultural growth. But there has been a huge gap between the promises and reality, bringing about a monstrous gap between the rich and the poor with 85 per cent of the wealth and resources known to be in the hands of 15 per cent of the population, comprising mainly the rich and the ruling elite.
Senior Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana, a veteran of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, recently proposed that Sri Lanka should use nano-technology and other modern marvels to tap the full potential of our resources and to do this by giving opportunities and privileges to Sri Lankan experts in various fields.
He pointed out that, at present, Sri Lanka to a larger extent, was exporting the raw materials such as phosphate and earning only a fraction of what it could earn through Value Addition and by exporting the phosphate and other minerals developed through nano-technology and other processes.
The minister pointed out that by depending too much on Foreign Direct Investments to develop our industries and agriculture, Sri Lanka was on the losing side, because most Foreign Direct Investors generally took back at least ten times as much as they brought in.
Sarath Fernando,a national agriculture veteran and founder of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms (MONLAR) in a document says discussions have begun about setting up a post-2015 development agenda.
The year 2015 is important, since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were to be achieved by 2015. We have almost completed this period now.
The results of the MDGs are evident. It is clear that the most important of the MDGs- reducing world hunger by half and poverty by half by 2015-have not been achieved. Instead world hunger has increased compared to the level at which this commitment was made. It was 840 million then in 2000 and now it has reached 1.2 billion. The disparities have also increased.
In working out a post-2015 development agenda, it is important to asses why the earlier agenda failed. If those who were responsible for fulfilling the previous agenda failed, can they work out a new agenda that is likely to succeed, Mr. Fernando asks. Is it not too risky to give them this responsibility again?
Let us now look at a process that can be adopted in Sri Lanka. Firstly, it has to be a mass movement. The ordinary people have to play a lead role. People have to meet their immediate needs first.
As the Government has proposed we have to grow our own food to the maximum and depend on external supplies to the minimum. The idea of four million home gardens is a sound starting point. In doing these home gardens we have to depend to the least on external capital and external inputs.