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Harsha breathes fire on culture of entitlement


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By Himal Kotelawala

Economist-turned Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva last week called for a change in attitude from the people of Sri Lanka in order to overcome the challenges facing the nation, arguing for a shift in thinking from a culture of entitlement to one of innovation and entrepreneurship.

2Policy Planning and Economic Development Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva (left). Sri Lanka  Seafood Exporters Association Spokesperson Col. Channa Weerathunga, MP Harshana Rajakaruna, Ministry of Finance Economic Advisor Deshal De Mel and Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Secretary General Tuli Cooray are also present - Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

Delivering a passionate monologue in response to a question at a panel discussion on the benefits of the GSP Plus trade concessions, Dr. De Silva said that Sri Lankan youths were predisposed to a sense of entitlement from the state sector with regard to employment. “We need to create entrepreneurs in this country. We can’t always find a job in a government office and get paid a lowly amount. But that’s all right because we don’t have to work, we don’t have to take risks - because taking risks necessarily means you’re going to lose or fail. We don’t want to fail in this country. Everybody wants to succeed,” he said.

“If you don’t fail, you cannot succeed. If you don’t take risks, you’re never going to succeed. We have to change that culture,” he added.

Acknowledging that Sri Lanka has dropped in the ease-of-doing-business rankings, Dr. De Silva complained that the country has made little progress in industry-creation since former President Ranasinghe Premadasa kick-started the apparel sector.

“What have we done since then? We had a mini boom in BPO type industries in 2003. What did the governments do for the last 20 years? We just got here. What was the industry that got created since President Premadasa’s [apparel drive]?”

“People are very quick to point fingers and ask what is the Government doing. Where are the exports? Exports were 34% of GDP in 2000. When we came into office it was 14%. Where did the growth come from? Government jobs. Construction of various things we don’t require. That’s how this so-called growth happened. It was never sustainable. It’s not sustainable to go down that road,” said Dr. De Silva. Recalling that since ancient times, Sri Lanka has been trading luxury items, the Deputy Minister said that the country must look at technology-based industry in the future.

“Every Friday, parents come with their kids [to the Ministry] - they’re 22, 23 years old - saying “please find a job for my son/daughter in the state sector. If that is the attitude of 22-year-old kids, where is our future? How can I change that? This is the entitlement culture that we have created. We need 600,000 or 800,000 people working for the Government but we have 1.5 million people working for the Government. Where is this going to end up?” Dr. De Silva was also critical of ongoing protests against liberalisation. “Nobody wants to ever contribute anything. They want the pension also to be contributed to by people who work in the private sector and pay taxes. 

“This whole thing has to change. Every time we try to change, what happens? 5,000 people go to the streets, and they go to court and they get injunctions,” he charged. “We try to liberalise X, 100 people go and complain to all kinds of people and religious and others dignitaries also get involved. We try to liberalise education. What is happening now? Every person has a view, and everybody is getting involved. How the hell are we going to do this?” he queried. The Deputy Minister went on to say that the need for a change goes right to the people’s DNA. “As long as we keep this ‘diyawu diyawu’ (give, give) culture going, we’re finished,” he said, in a lighter vein. “If we don’t liberalise, if we don’t create a culture of entrepreneurship, a culture of leadership, a culture of risk taking, we’re never going to become that great country we’re destined to be,” he added.

Touching on export development, Dr. De Silva said that there was a need for a change from consumer-driven export to producer-driven export. Instead of carrying out a contract to ‘stitch it and give’ when an order is placed for apparel, for example, ways in which it can be improved upon needs to be looked at.

“Where is our ingenuity, where is our innovation? Where is our production? Where are our brands?” he said, pointing out that 40% of fixed capital in the SME apparel sector is under-utlised, with some 20,000 jobs available that nobody wants. “We have to think Sri Lanka. We have to become innovative. We have to think, we have to take risks. We can do it. This whole thing about nationalism has become political. I’m as nationalist as Wimal Weerawansa - about doing things here. We can do it, we should do it. We must create the culture for us to think that,” he said. Pix by Shehan Gunasekara

 


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