Strikers take the law into their hands, policymakers turn a deaf ear : Gross misuse of democratic rights - economists | Sunday Observer

Strikers take the law into their hands, policymakers turn a deaf ear : Gross misuse of democratic rights - economists

The unprecedented spate of street protests have dealt a severe blow to the economy tarnishing the image of the country, disrupting the business clime and aggravating poverty in the country.

The business community and think tanks expressing their views to the Sunday Observer, vehemently opposed the modus operandi of the strikers which is a gross misuse of democratic rights, to claim demands at the expense of the freedom of others to lead a normal and peaceful life.

The long term negative impact on the economy, for instance, attracting foreign investors and spearheading growth has been totally undermined by the strikers who take the law into their hands and the policymakers who turn a deaf ear to the needs of protestors.

Prof. Srimal Abeyratne says:

Professor of Economics, Department of Economics University of Colombo, Srimal Abeyratne says:

“The waste of resources in terms of labour hours and output, as well as disruptions to the normalcy of economic activities and public life - are all considerable short-term negative consequences of widespread strikes and street protests.

My major concern is their long-term negative consequences on the potential economic growth and prosperity, which are forgone. We have not done much in the area of policy and political environment to improve business confidence in Sri Lanka. Strikes and protests organized by the fractions of civil society - though trivial in terms of numbers, amplify our existing anti-business climate.

Investors today, do not have to worry about one country that is in trouble because there are many countries in the region. That is why, Sri Lanka has been failing to generate investment which would ultimately determine people’s income generation, job creation, and poverty reduction”.

Caltex Lubricants Lanka PLC Managing Director Kishu Gomes says:

Protests are carried out for political agendas and political parties oppose or support a good decision taken by the ruling party, for political gains. Those who protest unethically do not think of the bigger picture with regard to the inconvenience caused to others and the adverse consequences on the economy.

Around 90 percent who participate in these protests do not come willingly, but are forced by the leaders of these movements.

The media should give more publicity to the negative consequences of these protests and highlight the plight of the victims. Some people have had to spend 3 hours on the roads to travel 8 km, during a recent protest.

Protests on main roads and public areas should be banned and those who violate the law should be taken to task.

The Government should have one voice and make their choices, looking at it from the country’s perspective, make the right decisions and implement them at any cost, e.g – If private medical colleges are a good thing, say it in one voice as the government and deal with the opposition strictly within the prevailing law, without any exceptions. The country loses over Rs 20 billion as a result of SL students going abroad to study. We should introduce reforms to entertain more investments in private education to export professionals as opposed to exporting unskilled labour, as we do now, to generate income. As in Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, China and India, we should enter into partnerships with foreign universities and market them outside Sri Lanka to bring in foreign revenue to expand the capacity of public universities.”

National Chamber of Exporters President Ramal Jasinghe says:

“Although the government has granted democratic rights and the environment for people to protest it is causing serious damage to the economy and to the image of the country.

“Having successfully retrieved the peaceful atmosphere after the war, particularly, among visitors and investors who have told me they are relieved that there are no more check points as in the past, and the city is bubbling with hope for a bright future.

However, the frequency of strikes has driven fear among visitors, particularly investors, who have perceived a stable and strong investment environment. As strikes and demonstrations are conducted in the heart of the city and the commercial hub, they have a direct impact on investors who arrive in Colombo to seal prospective deals. The problem is even more compounded when business visitors who are on a circuit of visits and deals to the Region miss their flights, hence, seriously inconveniencing their business itinerary.

We fear that the immediate result would be that the much sought after foreign investors will skip Sri Lanka in their tour itinerary due to the resulting inconvenience and the perception of instability that would negatively reflect on our image as an investment friendly country. While the business community and the Government are making efforts to boost the economy through FDIs and attract visitors, including tourists, a sense of ‘things going out of control’ , and worse, ‘nothing is happening’ prevails! These are thoughts commonly discussed at business and cocktail circles.

On the other side of the coin, is the inconvenience caused to the public at large. Demonstrations are carried out with little or no consideration for public convenience. Schoolchildren get late for their activities, patients being rushed to hospital run the risk of death due to roadblocks, small and medium scale businesses are affected as they cannot carry out their day to day business activities. Almost everyday a message beeps on your phone informing, “ the Lotus Road junction is blocked due to a demonstration.’ This is the main artery to business flow in and out of Colombo.

Whatever the motives behind the demonstrations, the Chamber feels, enough is enough, and that the powers that be, should restore Law and Order which was the tide that brought about the present political change, and help us all to get on with life!

Shippers’ Academy CEO Rohan Masakorala said:

“The government must understand that everyone has the right to engage in their daily activities peacefully, and that freedom is not only for those protesting.

The policymakers have permitted unruly protests to violate the fundamental rights of the majority of people. Whoever organizes protests have realized that, the machinery of the government has failed to stop this disruption, and they are getting the publicity they want. The economy is affected, as business confidence among investors drop due to disruption to public life. Strikes are a waste of valuable man hours, money and resources. The damage to the economy due to strikes cannot be quantified.

City hotels indicate about 20% drop in banquet functions as there is uncertainty in holding the event in the city. Protests discourage visitors to the country and as a result the tourism industry is affected.

We hope policymakers put an end to public harassment and allow only orderly non disruptive protest.

Heladiv Group Chairman and former Tea Exporters’ Association President Rohan Fernando says:

“Watching the state of affairs in the media, it appears, a group of anti-establishment elements are making full use of the freedom of expression by taking the rest of the population hostage. As much as they have a right to engage in peaceful protests, sathyagraha and fast unto death campaigns, they have no moral or legal right to disrupt other civilians in their day to day activities. In most countries where democracy is practised, they have dedicated areas for such activities, like e. g. the Hyde Park corner, so that law abiding citizens can get about their daily business. The failure to control these unruly hooliganism will lead to trouble. The state must take control of the situation and obtain legal direction to stop the harassment of peace loving civilians by the disruptive elements. These are mainly manipulated by bankrupt politicians and student unions backed by such politicians, called the “Antare”.

Former Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Chandra Jayaratne says:

“While it is the fundamental right of any one or a group to protest, it is the responsibility of those exercising the right to be conscious of the rights of others.

On the other hand the government must be sensitive to the needs of the protestors and take speedy remedial measures to look into their grievances. At the same time it has to ensure that the fundamental rights of others to lead a peaceful life is not violated.

Policymakers must manage strikes without letting it go out of control. Measures should be taken to nip the issues in the bud.