Time to separate economic growth from development - university don | Sunday Observer

Time to separate economic growth from development - university don

Prof. Nihal Perera
Prof. Nihal Perera

This is a time for national unity, precisely what is missing in Sri Lanka. When the (9/11) attacks on USA took place, the Opposition did not ask the government to resign. Neither did anyone ask the government to step down when IS attacked France, nor did anyone launch a campaign for its Presidency. The ‘national-ness’ was missing after the Easter attacks, said Prof. Nihal Perera of the Ball State University, USA.

He said the country was plunged into disarray by the Easter Sunday attacks. More devastating and distressing was the second attack launched by politicians. The victims looked up to the stars, gods, and leaders for help. In no time politicians sprung into action to claim ability to rule better and how others couldn’t, leaving not hope, but uncertainty in people, and the heavily beaten business community.

“We ought to be realistic. This is not a separatist war. Identified as an IS attack, it neither spared foreigners, nor businesses, nor luxury hotels. Sri Lanka has not seen this threat before; only the politicians and some analysts see the old in this new, all for their own advantage,” Prof. Perera said.

He said on the part of the authorities on several fronts. Different factions had blocked crucial intelligence information flows. The nation was lucky to see a unifier rise to the occasion. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith spoke for the Catholics, the Muslims, and the Buddhists alike - most importantly, he brought the nation together. Some Muslim leaders and Buddhist monks such as Galkande Dhammananda continue this discourse. Many local communities keep trying hard.

“The economy has been sluggish, especially since 2013 and businesses have been under stress. The bombings were a huge blow to the sectors that were keeping the economy alive. Although it depends on foreigners traveling to and spending money in this country, tourism is crucial because the previous government paid little attention to production. The economy relied on infrastructure building at exorbitant costs (by foreign contractors) - it made the politicians rich and the country indebted,” the don said.

Corruption has gone out of control. In the mid-1970s, giving a small concession to a couple of businessmen was corruption. As a result, the country is caught in a debt trap; Sri Lanka is one of the most indebted countries to China, the debt servicing is beyond an affordable proportion of the national budget.The bombings simply made the situation worse and the politicians have not shown any interest in bringing stability to the economy.

However, he said bad times bring great opportunities. This is the time to rethink about governance, businesses, and development. Capitalism is believed to provide the best business environment but not based on looting. Even for Karl Marx it is a system of investment and exploitation. It provides profits, generate wealth, and jobs.

Development does not consist of borrowing money, building infrastructure and robbing on a large scale. As Chinese money began to flow in, (and a part of it disappeared), the growth of the GDP fell. Much of this is due to construction. These projects support China’s economic growth similar to how building infrastructure in other countries enabled economic growth in the USA and Europe. If Sri Lanka wants to see economic growth, it should build infrastructure in other countries.

It is time to separate economic growth from development - the enhancement of people’s quality of life. There is no direct connection between the two, but growth can help if the benefits are not robbed by middle-men politicians, channeled to enhance their own lives. Infrastructure building goes back to 1977, especially the Mahaweli Projects. Roads, for example, support travel.

Yet, on the roads, if the bus does not stop for passengers to get on or off, if you are bombarded with unwelcome blaring ‘music’, if the driver constantly slams the brakes and toots the raucous horn, and you, the passenger, are worried that you may not get the balance on your fare, that is not development.

Sri Lanka is one of the worst places in the world with regard to travel. Women can’t travel in peace without being groped, molested, or harassed. Neither the politicians nor religious leaders are concerned about this state of affairs.

This may be the time to help the people build an honest country where they can live with honesty and dignity. Business will flourish in an honest society - it was the first thing Lee Kwan Yew established when he developed Singapore. 

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