By Tharanga Thilakasiri
Today, Sri Lanka is heading for a rapid development process almost in every aspect. Be it educational, financial, tourism, health, transport, etc., we can observe an unprecedented change in development process when compared to the past.
However, when developing our country, we as responsible citizens should be able to clearly identify our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). For the time being this article does not intend to discuss our weaknesses, opportunities and threats but will focus more on our strengths that can be used as a developing nation to a developed nation.
Sri Lanka, the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean,’ has so many strengths but so far she has failed to make use of those strengths to make this island nation stand proud in the world. This country has a number of strengths and some of them are:
- Human capital
- Natural resources
- Rich history
- Location of the country (in world map), etc.
However, if we can use above advantages in a wise manner, it is not a difficult task to achieve the expected target of becoming the ‘Miracle of Asia’/‘Wonder of Asia’ soon.
Though there are number of strengths to be discussed, my prime intention is to pay more attention to the human capital and in particular on senior citizens and their role towards development.
Human capital of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is well known for its rich history and for being a country with a highly diversified culture for centuries. Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims have been living together peacefully for centuries. Hence, Sri Lanka has a unique advantage of deriving benefits of cultural diversification. Sri Lanka also has the reputation of being a highly literate nation with a high literacy level amongst Asian countries.
Nevertheless, the significant figure among the age distribution list is that number of people belonging to the age group of 65 years and over. The figure stands at 1,288 (’000 persons) in 2009. This figure is about 6.3 % of the total population of Sri Lanka, while 67.40% of populations are between 15-64 years age group. Hence, our child population is about 26.29% of the total population.
On the other hand, according to the statistics of Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka, the total labour force (’000 persons) was 8,074 in 2009 and 7,602 (’000 persons) were employed, while only 471 (’000 persons) were categorised as unemployed and thus the unemployment rate stands at 5.8% in 2009, which is a reasonable figure considering the prevailing world economic situation.
Though the population of 65 years and over (let’s call them senior citizens henceforth) is about 6.3 % of our total population, this figure has more hidden values than we ever thought. Because this population had done so much for this country during their working life and they have extended their utmost support in building Sri Lanka to what it is today. Therefore, we should not forget their valuable contribution towards our country’s development and we should be ready to respect their view points and experience while we progress further.
Who are senior citizens?
Before we proceed further, I thought it’s better to identify and define the term ‘senior citizens’. However, there is no such a clear and universally accepted definition for senior citizens. In most developed countries, it has been accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of ‘elderly’ or older person. But the United Nations (UN) agreed cut-off is 60+ years to refer to the older population (source: www.who.int).
Also, senior citizen is a common polite designation for an elderly person in both United Kingdom and United States of America and it implies or means that the person is retired (source: www.wikipedia.com). Consequently, we too have to accept 60+ years as an ideal age limit to define ‘senior citizens’.
Role of senior citizens in Sri Lanka
Today, whether we like it or not we have to accept the fact that we Sri Lanka lack professionals in almost every area. Most of our finest professionals have either migrated (brain drain) to various Western countries or to developed countries due to various reasons or most of them have retired. Hence, we find it difficult to find suitable persons to execute various development programmes/projects successfully.
Consequently, we have no any other option left but to bring in the required knowledgeable persons from the other countries as consultants, managers, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, experts, etc., at a much higher cost, thus this country loses considerable amount of our foreign income annually.
Naturally, when a person retires, he/she becomes isolated from the society, some of them are still keen to work and in fact some of them are rendering their services for both Government sector organisations and private sector organisations at different capacities.
However, the majority remains not doing any work and tends to depend on their monthly pension income alone. As far as national productivity is concerned, this is a severe waste of knowledge, experience, time, etc.
Therefore, as a developing nation, Sri Lanka should think of how to make use of knowledge, experience, etc., of our senior citizens seriously. Hence, we should take every step to encourage our senior citizens to take an active part in our nation building process as serious and valuable partners. Certainly, this will enable to bring an economic value to the country as well. Perhaps we can learn a lot from other countries (particularly from the developed countries and from emerging countries like India, China, and Brazil) in this regard.
Therefore, I believe that both the Government of Sri Lanka and senior citizens of this country have a great responsibility towards making Sri Lanka a developed nation in the years to come. To achieve that status, the Government should develop a proper mechanism or a national policy to make use of the leadership skills, experiences, expertise knowledge and talents of our senior citizens while drafting future development projects.
Similarly, senior citizens of this isle too have to act with great inspiration and should extend their utmost support to build the nation into a solid nation in the future.
As we live in a crucial juncture of our country’s history, it is the greatest responsibility of all of us, irrespective of various age groups to make Mother Sri Lanka a much better county for our future generation.
Therefore, we cannot label our senior citizens as an economic burden any longer but have to consider them as a concealed power in Sri Lanka’s overall economy. Hence, we too are compelled to work hard on achieving our targets and our senior citizens both locally and especially those who have lived overseas for years should come forward to educate or to groom us on how to reach that goal as they possess enough talent, knowledge and experience to do so.
(Tharanga Thilakasiri M.B.A. International, AIMM, AIM – SL, ACPM, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org)