Quo Vadis – Whither goes thou Sri Lanka?
By Captain Elmo Jayawardena (Daily Mirror)
The most current local newspapers carried articles covering a Sri Lankan economy analysis by Professor Razeen Sally. I too was there to listen to him speaking his piece and want to add my mite congratulating him for the well-analysed sense he spoke and to state my appreciation to the organisers for presenting such an event.
What facts I heard from the podium I understood and to those of us Sri Lankans, who are the lost sheep of the economically-bewildered category, this certainly was a wide and clear eye opener as to where the country is heading. We wonder eternally what inexplicable wrong we have collectively committed against the gods, for them to give Sri Lanka this perpetual step-motherly treatment for being glued to the political dumps.
We are the inheritors of this beautiful land, so blessed and filled to the brim with every natural phenomenon one can wish for. Yet, as a country, we are struggling constantly, swimming upstream, not against the vast blue ocean that wraps around the island or the rivers that flow majestically from the hills, but against the incurable swirling currents of Diyawanna Oya. I am glad I was present at the Excel World Auditorium on the 20th to hear a professional diagnosing our economic woes and even at this late stage of suffering, prescribing some badly-needed medication for at least a partial recovery.
We are almost rudderless
The event was organised by Advocata Institute and sponsored by the Echelon business magazine. Professor Razeen was the ‘man of the hour’ who had been invited to talk on the ‘kiriyen paniyen piruna’ (filled with milk and honey) promises the Yahapalanaya made at the ‘change of guards’ two years ago and how they have fared in the planning and delivery of rupees and cents in Sri Lanka. That was the essence.
Of course, full marks to Advocata Institute (I don’t know what they do for a living) for organising the event. The venue was well chosen; everything was professionally business-like and the snacks and tea served prior to the event was a well thought of welcome to everyone and a good icebreaker among the would-be audience. The young compere blasted off the evening on the dot at 6:00 p.m. and that gave a positive punctuality plus to all those who had come early respecting the start time. The rest was all Professor Sally who spoke a ‘middle path’ with non-aligned political affinity, giving sensibilities on Sri Lanka’s current economics and foreign policy.
His theory when simplified spelt out a three scenario status quo for Sri Lanka – currently drifting, possible take off or if that fails, a sad ending of a relapse to where we began in 2015. The first phase is where we are at present, drifting, according to Professor Sally’s expert opinion. The boast and pomp of power are there but not much else except for a Christmas tree. And he said a lot about those economically minted words like IMF, World Bank, growth rates and such, which when converted to simple terms meant that we are almost rudderless, aimless and on a clueless drift without knowing where we are heading. He spoke too of foreign policy and the pros and cons of who we should be friendly with and who would be the possible and lavish contributors to our hat collection for survival. All in all, Professor Sally did win this round.
Maybe the engines failed
Next came the possible take off. That did interest me a lot as there’s a thing or two I know about ‘take off’. Sri Lanka needs an economically boosted take-off and we have pleaded and prayed for it as long as I can remember. We sure lined up for a take-off in 2009 after Nandikadal. But we not only rejected the ‘take-off’, we rejected the leadership too. We certainly did not soar.
The feat was repeated with vigour and with new faces in 2015 when Polonnaruwa Royal College won the big match. But we are still on the ground, growling away at the absurdity of it all. The aeroplane is ready, the passengers are anxiously waiting to be airborne, the fuel tanks are full, flaps are extended to give extra lift, the rudder is there to steer us on the take-off run, but Sri Lanka has not taken off. Why? Maybe the engines failed, that is the only possible answer. The fact that struck me was there was no point in having a ‘land like no other’ if we do not have well-manned engines to drive it. That was Professor Sally’s call, of course, lucidly expressed in professional economic argot. My call on that is quite simple. How can you depend on engines that are maintained at Diyawanna Oya? There I rest my case.
Then it came to the third phase, the relapse. That is a sad and miserable ending where hopes are lost and we crawl back to where we started from with visions blurred and expectations in smithereens. Of course, a chosen few would have benefitted, that is the norm of changing brooms. But what about the majority? To this I do not have to add any elaboration as it is a day-to-day drudgery we face of corruption, nepotism and poor planning. As a country, we are doing nothing else but crawling back to the same hole we made attempts to come out of. A constable got nabbed for taking a bribe of Rs.7,000, so say the newspapers. Another report says a man was sentenced to death in Monaragala for killing his sister-in-law with a plank. Yes, that is justice; I wonder what happens to those who steal millions? Arrested, remanded, then have a party in jail and go free as heroes of a nation. No wonder we are looking at a possible rejected take-off again. If so, the chances are very good for a relapse to where we began in 2015.
That was the gist of what Professor Sally said. It is sad when you hear a man who knows what he is talking about explains in simple language how our beloved country squanders opportunities for progress. It is not that we miss the bus here and there; it is a lot more, what we miss is the cruise ship. Not just once, but repeatedly. So ended the economic explanation of the three scenarios of Sri Lanka’s future by Professor Sally. The audience I noticed was mainly young. There were a few like me too, of the old brigade, and among them I did see some stalwarts of the business community. It mattered not what vintage we belonged to, the truth did stare at us in stark nakedness clearly displaying the political foibles that drifted from Diyawanna Oya.
What can we do? Heads we lost and tails we are losing too. That is the sum total of it all as there is no third side to the political coin that we are tossing. Of course, there is hope, there is always hope. Hope is the word, where would we be without it? Thank you Advocata, thank you Echelon and thank you Professor Sally. As much as it hurts to hear the truth and its many political contradictions, it is still better to face the reality than continue to live blindly in a fool’s paradise.
(Capt. Elmo Jayawardena can be contacted via email@example.com)