Prosperity for the masses

Thursday, 3 February 2011 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

2011 is a much-burdened year. Even before the stroke of midnight heralding the end of 2010, daunting aspirations were cast on the next 12 months. However, a new survey reveals that the people might not share in these high expectations as wholeheartedly as the politicians might wish to believe.

This was going to be the ‘IT’ year. The first phase of the war recovery had been completed last year, according to most experts.

A large number of internally displaced had been resettled, massive infrastructure projects were started and more money was found for others, foreign reserves were at an all time high, exports picked up and interest for investment spilled into Sri Lanka from all quarters.

The Central Bank and Census and Statistics Department spewed out reports of record-breaking economic growth and on the surface everything seemed perfect to convert 2011 into the “take off year,” especially after the landmark Budget that was presented in November as a harbinger to growth. Recapturing lost opportunities and taking advantage of this window of opportunity was on everyone’s lips it seemed – at least from people oft quoted in the media. However, a perusal of what the common people might believe leaves the stars of expectation considerably dimmed.

A poll jointly conducted by the Daily FT and PepperCube Consultants (as reported on Pages 1 and 9) show that most people have no interest in taking advantage of the new economic vistas presented with the ending of the war; nor are they hopeful that living conditions will improve significantly in the short term. When questioned as to what their personal expectations are for 2011, the majority of 26% replied “nothing new”. Perhaps the most surprising point is that 60% stated that they did not believe the economy would improve and would remain the same.

The cost of living was proved yet again to be the biggest millstone for people, with only 12% expressing optimism that it would ease in 2011. People also feel that law and order had an opening to improve with 40% expressing hope to this effect. Yet 23% think that lawlessness will increase and 25% predict that it will continue in the same unsatisfactory state.  The only silver lining in this cloud is the expectation that healthcare, education and transport will be upgraded, possibly through Government intervention.

Positive sentiment has also buoyed those between 46-55 years to consider starting up their own business – the highest in that category. Younger people in their 20s are focused on finding new jobs in Sri Lanka, getting married and doing exams. However, it is clear that many are forced to wait till their late 30s to attempt heavy investments such as buying a house or a car and are often not willing to take too many risks, such as engaging in entrepreneurship — all signs that savings are still a challenge for average people with many struggling to achieve security.

Interestingly, when rating personal expectations, 29% of those surveyed in the “finding a new job in Sri Lanka” category turned out to be from the Tamil community. Tamil people were also rated the highest in wanting to buy household appliances, vehicles and furniture, showing a strong interest in consumer spending. Muslims were rated as the most enthusiastic in wanting to enter a child into a good school, start new businesses and find employment overseas.

At first glance these may seem obvious observations, but it underscores the fact that economic growth needs to filter through to average people more so that they can be made part of the development process, which would actively increase the standard of living.