Sri Lanka can bounce back with the right people taking the right positions at the right time - Pic by Ruwan Walpola
Sri Lanka is going through a bad patch with various issues and public unrest all over due to the shortages of essential food, commodities and political grievances. The Government is trying its best to win the hearts of the public but the success ratio is very low. Today the whole world is talking about our country situation because we are strategically located – and top-notch countries always keep a close eye on Sri Lanka.
The issues are at very critical and crucial points such as economic downturn, food shortages, domestic gas shortages, and the list goes on. Fuel and medicinal drug shortages add fuel to fire, beside the unstable political environment. Global financial agencies have downgraded Sri Lanka to restructuring level due to non-payment of loans. Youth-led organisations and the general public are rejecting all parliamentary representatives and demanding a complete change in the system.
In this context, Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) re-launched its proposal due to many requests by the associations and individuals cross the country, which was originally launched in 2019 just prior to elections. Almost all political parties were aware of the CAG proposals and knew that it will be the solution but none of them were willing to sign up for the accountability aspect of CAG documentation.
It is a fact that, youth at ‘Aragalaya’ and the general public’s demand for economic stability for reasonably comfortable living, will not be a pipe dream with proper implementation of CAG principles/proposals with ‘Legal framework, and a ‘Long-term master plan’.
Existing political and economic system has failed Sri Lanka
It is the naked truth that living standards have declined gradually since Independence. We Sri Lankans are always speaking about our rich culture, heritage and capabilities but not addressing the bold facts, rather root cause with a truthful evaluation of comparing Sri Lanka against the countries in the Asia Pacific and Asian region. We were, almost on top of the list in the region during the good old days, but due to mismanagement, today we are almost bottom in the list.
This is the time that all citizens must be truthful to their own hearts. Please ask, yourself, ‘Where are we today’ since the Independence? We were not second to any country in the region and some of those countries want to be like Sri Lanka. These commonly used examples clearly express the past and present situation of Sri Lanka very clearly. Let me place on record, in macro perspective some of the main reasons for today’s plight.
1.We as a country failed because we do not practice ‘accountability’ among the political class and public sector.
2.Ethnic tension is used as a tool to gain political power and so-called politicians never wanted to sort out the existing issues completely.
3.Widespread corruption has been deep-rooted with support of political patronage.
4.Country debts surpasses the gross domestic production due to mismanagement and present debt cannot be sustained.
5.Authorities have not taken proper measures to strengthen the currency and therefore, currency depreciation is at the highest degree.
6.All foreign currency reserves have gone down to unbelievable status again due to bad management.
7. Basic commodities are in shortage creating public outcry for reasonable living standards.
This complicated situation has downgraded the living conditions of all citizens and day by day standards are declining faster than ever. All baby boomers to next-gen people are feeling the difficulties due to the high rising cost of living. On the other hand, poor and underprivileged people are compelled to resort to rob each other to survive and feed their families.
Sri Lanka Constitution and people
It is the belief of many people that the existing Constitution has allowed this situation to develop even though constitution has been amended 20 times during last seven decades. Ultimately, it has not safeguarded anyone’s basic rights. The 19th Amendment to 20th has created an acrimonious taste to most of the citizens and presently people are demanding the transformation of the 20th Amendment with value additions to the 19th Amendment by introducing the 21st Amendment.
CAG has foreseen the current situation and introduced a complete legal framework and 30-year master plan in 2019 prior to elections. However, authorities/decision-makers have given a blind eye and already wasted over 30 months. As a result, majority of the people in the country are suffering for no fault of theirs. On the other hand the affluent community and political class are still enjoying all their respective perks as parliamentarians and similarly the tax fraudsters. In the case of politicians, they have completely forgotten the fact that they are servants of the people who voted them to Parliament.
We are of the opinion that non-existence of a long-term master plan, independent of politics, has hindered the sustainable development of the country for over seven decades. This situation very clearly indicates that none of the rulers have interest towards development of the motherland or they don’t have such knowledge and skills to develop a master plan for the country. The master plan which we are talking about, should not change with the change of governments. Therefore, a master plan should be embedded to a new constitution, preventing ad hoc changes as per vested interest of the members of parliament. One should not misinterpret this explanation as the master plan is written on stone. It will be a public document created by a group of technocrats having enough and more room to add value additions as per the market dynamics.
We believe that over seven decades, Sri Lankan citizens have gone behind so-called rulers but did not build leaders to properly manage the country. We need leaders with a vision to prosper our motherland and surely we can do that, leaving aside present-day party politics. This is one of the key demands by the youth who have started the struggle, now reaching almost 60 days.
Economic goals of new Sri Lanka and the purpose of a master plan
All successive governments were talking about national plans but regret to place on record that our country does not have such national policies/plans, even though these so-called politicians ruled the country for the last seven decades. Every party comes into power by giving various promises and change plans, as per their personal agendas to benefit them, completely ignoring the general public who voted them to represent people in parliament. The absence of sustainable, long-term national policies was the main cause of deterioration of Sri Lankan economy, social wellbeing, ignorance of agriculture, non-existence of industrialisation and the list can go on.
Therefore, we strongly recommend a 30-year-long master plan which encompasses a new constitution with holistic policy and law reforms. Constitutional reforms and law reforms need to be discussed separately, introducing total legal framework in another episode since due explanation should be given to both aspects namely, ‘Legal framework’ & ‘30-year master plan’ respectively. (www.caglk.org)
It is important to create a conducive environment where the country can have long-term sustainable growth strategy, enhancing the per capita in many folds and targeted gross domestic production to be achieved accordingly.
Pre-warning should be given to all Sri Lankans that we must never forget the current crisis as an individual and as a nation. We must determine that we are never ever again, going to be in the same position we are in today. It is the unpleasant lesson that people have learned in their lifespan and repetition of such should be avoided by all means. All Sri Lankans must understand, the primary reasons for such calamity were mismanagement, corruption, segregation, and unqualified personnel engaging in responsible positions without any accountability, to name a few.
Another classic example which is very pertinent to a master plan is Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service. It is disgraceful for the foreign diplomacy, when we constructively look at the appointments given by present regime and no benefits to the country at all, even at this crucial juncture. The irony is, SLRs. 11 billion (approximately) has been allocated for the year 2021 alone, from the taxpayer’s money. Changing the system is inevitable with present circumstances and it is the primary duty of people to engage in the dialogue to establish good governance. Then only, mother Lanka can move forward to tomorrow with optimism.
Statutory goals for new Sri Lanka
Needless to state that statutory goals for new Sri Lanka should be addressed in a positive manner considering the proposed new constitution with the master plan which should guarantee equal rights for all citizens. It must articulate four fundamental pillars.
1. A constitutional democracy of secular state
2. Accountable and transparent governance through strong, independent institutions. Judiciary, Press, Police, Penal, Accountable civil service
3. Regulate equality of opportunities – Level playing field to all business entities and no funding for political parties by private business entities.
4.Safeguards – Adequate checks and balances of Judiciary, Legislature and Executive, Introduction of direct democracy, Constitution cannot be change without a referendum
Under the new Constitution we must make sure to have transparent and accountable governance with genuine economic liberalisation. A master plan, concept to execution should be embedded in the constitution and elected people must ensure the economic goals to which Sri Lanka should aspire.
The collective goal should be to deliver an annual GDP per capita $ 40,000 by 2040 as per the master plan strategy execution. As a result Sri Lanka will rise to be among top 50 countries in relation to per capita. Today we are at 118th position having per capita $ 13,000.
The master plan will have its strategic directions to attract sufficient foreign direct investments (FDI) to ensure to achieve the said per capita by executing the following:
- Manufacturing sector rising to 25% of GDP by 2040
- Exports sector to grow by 25% of GDP by 2040
- Sri Lanka’s debt interest payments to be reduced to less than balance of payment (BOP)
- ‘Easy of Doing Business’ of World Bank should advance to top 10 positions from today’s 99th position
- Multi-faceted, strategic economic approach to ‘PEG’ the Sri Lankan rupee to US dollar by 2028 to ensure minimum fluctuation just like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai.
Another important facet of achieving the economic growth will be on export demand and local consumption. We need to make sure not to, solely depend on government expenditure. Therefore strategy should be three-pronged:
1. Attract multinationals to produce in Sri Lanka
- Scrutinise and select growth industries and players worldwide to set up operations
- Establish economic and political stability with transparency
- Educated and skilled workforce
2. Support SMEs and exports
- Introduce attractive incentives to export driven SME sector business houses
- Focused and priorities on globally growing high-tech industries such as robotics, energy storage, biogenetics kind of business to establish in Sri Lanka
- Encourage exporters to generate most wanted foreign exchange and intensify them accordingly
3. Develop the service economy
- Coordinated plan to re-position Sri Lanka as a regional hub in tourism attracting entire global community
- Explore the potential of medical and sports tourism
- Create and promote destination marketing in tourism like Thailand
- Position as a financial hub in the region including insurance giants to set up operations
- Enhance the hub status of global shipping and logistic using our seaports
- Explore and setup international arbitration centre to support all services
Can Sri Lanka rise from current crisis?
Sri Lanka can bounce back with the right people taking the right positions at the right time. This has never happened for the last seven decades and it is high time that we deviate from present-day politics. The current political class (majority) does not believe in ‘Good Governance, Transparency and Accountability’.
None of the political parties can perform the accountability aspect with their respective party manifestos. This is the biggest obstacle that has been in practice for long years. In order to overcome this grave problem, CAG has proposed the ‘Individual Service Plan’, where the respective individual is totally responsible for given promises/assurances in his or her electorate as a manifesto and not delivering/achieving the same will call for automatic resignation of the elected member (www.caglk.org).
‘Citizens for Accountable Governance’ (CAG), is a non-political, set of professionals who have developed the total plan embedded with ‘Good Governance, Transparency and Accountability’ towards the prosperity of Mother Lanka. It is a 360 degree holistic approach to solve Sri Lanka’s present crisis by execution of the master plan which includes appropriate legal framework (Please visit www.caglk.org). Therefore, Sri Lanka can rise like an eagle without any hesitation with the people really loving the nation.
(The writer is a Marketing and Management Consultant, and Executive Committee Member at CAG.)