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Economic freedom


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 21 August 2018 00:00


The proposal to limit the age of three-wheeler drivers to 35 or above is a serious breach of economic freedom and could actually adversely affect the economy of average people and the standard of life of poorer classes that would be detrimental to sustainable growth.  

The proposal already before the Government is extremely interventionist and leaves fewer opportunities for less-educated youth who used three-wheelers to become self-employed and financially independent. The Government should not back policies that take away the economic freedom of people and restrict their rights to be employed as they wish.     

Above 1.5 million people are estimated to be employed as drivers for three-wheelers, which is about the same as the number of people working in the public sector. Now the public sector is famous for its low productivity, mismanagement, wastage and corruption but governments are notoriously wary of attempting to reform the public sector and instead set their sights on enterprising youth who are not looking for government handouts and are willing to work in the open market for a living.

Even the current Government is busy putting together plans to increase the number of public employees with little consideration to how useful they would be or what practical service they would provide to the public. In fact as many as 20,000 new graduates are to be employed as development officers with little value addition to the public service. Yet, the three-wheeler drivers are criticised, one might argue disproportionately, because they are seen to be underproductive.

But are three-wheeler taxies in Sri Lanka really as unproductive as pundits would have us believe? For years three-wheelers have kept mobility fluid and affordable in Sri Lanka. So much so that when companies like Uber entered Sri Lanka, they found that they could not undercut prices as they were already low. This is especially essential to Sri Lankans as our public transport system is a nightmare, especially if you are a woman travelling alone, and having affordable transport via three-wheelers not only increases mobility but also allows women to be a larger part of the workforce. 

In a country that suffers from large chronic trade deficits, it is extremely cost-prohibitive for a family to own more than one car. In such a situation without three-wheelers to provide mobility it would be extremely difficult for many people to carry out their everyday tasks. In many parts of the country it is three-wheeler drivers who step up at times of emergency and even take people to hospital. How is it that these services are overlooked? In rural areas where there are few attractive jobs three-wheelers provide employment and labour should be allowed to move up the value chain.

Pundits driving their glinting cars in Colombo would do well to look outside their air-conditioned boxes and reconsider the definition of productivity. Of course there are safety and other issues but these need to be addressed at policy and legal levels. But the humble three-wheeler provides a tangible improvement in the lives of millions every day and that too is productivity. The fact that they are willing to do a business by themselves should be looked at positively and policies should be geared to link them to other sectors. For example recently a program was started to train tuk drivers as tour guides and to register them. Tuks also work in food, logistics and other services that should not be discounted by the economic elite. A government’s duty is to stand by the common man.


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