Interview + Commerce Expert:
No Political Stability, No Financial Policies Hurting Sri Lanka’s Economy
The former Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Chandra Jayaratne, talks to The Catamaran about why Sri Lanka’s economic development is going nowhere.
The Catamaran: The Sri Lankan government often talks about eradicating poverty in the country. What steps do you believe the government should be taking?
Chandra Jayaratne: The government should look at this from two perspectives. Investments should be made in development. Through that, jobs would be created, productivity increased and eventually the standard of living would be improved. On the other hand, the state also needs to meet the basic needs of the people. There’s no use in developing a megalopolis if there is no water to drink, no roads to the hospital or if there are wild elephants rampaging around.
The Catamaran: In your opinion, what are some of the things the government is doing wrong?
Jayaratne: One example is a tax concession, given to a company to move its premises from one place to another, However this concession doesn’t improve productivity, increase jobs or add value to exports. The government has lost tax, and that is tax that could have been invested in development.
We need to increase leadership and creativity. About half a million of our people go abroad to add value to other countries.
Also, it is wrong to import cars for ministers at a high cost without doing anything for those less fortunate. There are also plans to buy MiG planes again. If we don’t have any enemies to use the planes against, then we should reconsider whether to buy these planes or whether to invest that money in helping the poor.
The Catamaran: What should the Sri Lankan government do to develop our economy, that is specific to this country?
Jayaratne: Our country is not hugely resource rich. We have a few things we can use: Human resources, weather and we are strategically located. Although it is fertile in some places the land cannot be used to cultivate everything.
We can exploit our resources further in several ways. We need human resources and further technological knowledge. But our education system is not aimed at better technology and better creativity. It is only about theory and rote learning.
We need to further develop skills, knowledge, attitudes and values. We need to increase leadership and creativity. About half a million of our people go abroad to add value to other countries.
The Catamaran: What do you believe to be the main obstacle for the development of the Sri Lankan economy?
Jayaratne: Why doesn’t this country benefit from further international investment, even though some time has passed since the new government was elected? Because there is no political stability and no firm, ongoing economic policy. It is difficult for us to attract investment in the absence of those qualities. Although the war is over, the country’s ethnic problem is far from resolved.
The Catamaran: The previous government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to build up the Sri Lankan middle class. Do you think they would have succeeded if they had been re-elected?
Jayaratne: Although that was often repeated, I personally do not think they were working for the middle class. In fact, they tricked the middle classes. They took commissions and exploited the country’s resources for their own ends. They created an illusion. And the same thing is happening again now.
The Catamaran: What do you mean by this?
Jayaratne: At the moment, I think we are lost. The opportunities to take another path are not being properly examined. New agencies are being created at the moment. But I feel that if the people in the existing organisations don’t work properly, they should be replaced. These people are just setting up new development agencies and pocketing the money. There is nothing gained. We need to watch out for bad governance.