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Doing change right


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 1 January 2020 00:00


The beginning of a new year is special, but the beginning of a new decade is even more important. Sri Lanka is on the threshold of a time that can change it forever, making it supremely important to get priorities right and to ensure they are achieved. 

Certainly Sri Lanka’s flawed but surviving democracy is at the top of the list. As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society Sri Lanka has a richness of diversity and heritage that should not be lost. The rights of every Sri Lankan should be protected under the law and their freedoms should not be limited. Preserving and promoting the space for impartial justice, transparency, institutional independence, freedom of speech, and all the inalienable rights that come with being a citizen should be the priority of everyone. 

Tolerance is fast becoming scarce in Sri Lanka. Deepening divisions between different communities, mostly intentionally fanned and escalated, have shattered the peace Sri Lanka so hopefully gained a decade ago. The Easter Sunday attacks were horrifying but they cannot be used to eradicate the rights of people and communities. Religious extremism is a cancer that has to be fought by all communities while safeguarding the freedom to practice a person’s beliefs. 

Reconciliation also continues to elude Sri Lanka with unresolved issues of the Tamil community still needing to be addressed. True peace and prosperity cannot be achieved unless all communities feel they are equal and have the rights of a Sri Lankan. The diversity of different communities need to be unified under a Sri Lankan identity, but that is only possible if tolerance is actively practiced. In such a situation, allowing the national anthem to be sung only in Sinhala at the Independence Day celebrations undermines the reconciliation hopes that moderate Sri Lankans held in their hearts for decades and even laid down their lives for. As the Government moves forward with plans to introduce a new resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March, minority communities will be watching for signals on how the State perceives their role as Sri Lankans and whether their rights are being upheld. 

Without genuine peace, and law and order meaningful development will be hard to come by for Sri Lanka. Economic stimulus, higher pay for public servants, and reducing interest rates will spark a turnaround in growth, but this cannot be sustained unless long-delayed reforms are rolled out over the next few years. Gains in productivity and competitiveness is necessary for Sri Lanka to attract investment and increase exports. For this, major changes in almost every segment of the economy are necessary. As a rapidly aging country, Sri Lanka’s demographic window to move beyond a middle income country is diminishing, and major investments in education, healthcare, technology, skills development and infrastructure will be needed to achieve sustainable growth. 

The spectre of debt will also continue to hang over Sri Lanka for most of the next decade. For at least the next two years, the country faces large repayments with $4.8 billion expected for next year, which comes on top of $5.6 billion repaid in 2019. There will be a respite in the middle of the decade but is expected to spike again from 2026 onwards. It is therefore essential that macroeconomic fundamentals be preserved so that borrowing costs do not escalate. 

Overall, Sri Lanka has major challenges to contend with but these will do little to dim the hopefulness most people feel today. Change is a constant in this world. Let us hope that Sri Lanka can finally do change right.

 


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