Sri Lankan socio-economic crisis, its causes and possible way-outs - Part 1 | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan socio-economic crisis, its causes and possible way-outs - Part 1

If you have been living in Sri Lanka for the last 30 years, you may understand the degree of deterioration that our society and economy has undergone during this time. Many senior citizens may visualise this in a better manner. This deterioration may slightly vary with the area, ethnic group, socio-economic level, educational level and personality group. However, the comparative assessment of well accepted socio-economic indicators of other countries reveal that the average rate of degradation is very rapid in Sri Lanka. Some claim that it is an effect of the general global modernisation trend while others cite the 30-year civil war and its consequences for this situation.

The situation is well exemplified by fast diminishing personal qualities which ultimately cause the reduction of the efficiency of work, rate of knowledge gain and the resultant slow rate of development. Instead, there is a growing disrespect over the fellow society, the surrounding environment and sometimes a kind of ignorance on their own. This could have given good breeding grounds for a series of abuses, anti-socialism, inefficiency, corruption and lethargy which would cripple even a strong economy of a prosperous nation and ruin the centuries long socio-cultural values of its people, as we witness today in ‘the Pearl of the Indian Ocean’. In order to safeguard someone’s homestead and career from the vulnerability and uncertainty reigning in this problem nation, the majority is used to giving the least priority to their duties and responsibilities at work, neighborhood and sometimes even at their own homestead while trying to be protectionist, outmoded or individualistic.

Is the nation out-of-track?

The direct and indirect influences of the situation described above are the reasons for whatever the difficulties that all of us encounter at present. For the benefit of the readers, I have given some examples to comprehend the situation of your own motherland.

* Extreme desperation of the young as well as the adult generations on the career prospects due to huge competition for education (caused by lack of economic expansion, disparity of salaries and highly biased recruitment schemes).

* Highly corrupted governance by politicians and bureaucrats.

* Extremely poor infrastructure and services (ex: education, public health, transport,, waste management, regulatory processes, public defense, upholding justice, counseling services and other factors).

* Huge problems in the unskilled labour market especially in agriculture, plantation and some construction and manufacturing sectors (due to occupation of the young and middle-aged in foreign employment and as three wheeler drivers), frequent breach of trust, mismanagement, bribery, fraud, theft, anti-social behaviour, drug/alcoholic abuse, family violence, divorces, suicides, criminal acts, road accidents, environmental pollution , and a few other indicators which denotes a great loss of personal qualities and social values.

* Fast diminishing personal faith and respect towards the established religious and cultural institutions and replacement of these faiths and respects with recently introduced blind-faiths and mental abuses (i.e. facebook culture and gossip web sites).

* Massive increase in the rate of foreign employment (skills-drain), skilled migration (brain-drain) and illegal migration attempts, estranging the valuable service of the wise and skillful countrymen to the national economy and without significant compensation for the investments made on their education and training by the nation.

* Growing off-balance among ethnic or social groups due to purposeful accumulation of resources, organised imperfect trade, regulation of family size, spoiling young minds with separatist ideas and the indirect influence of minority politics

* Massive increase of hospital cases on contingent (ex. dengu epidemic) as well as non-contingent (ex. CKDu and cancers) health issues due to growing consumption of unhealthy food and behavioural habits and ignorance of the surrounding environment.

* Weak policy implementations regarding control or at least monitoring of the demographic trends (towards city-living), land filling/clearance for urbanisation or business proliferation, exploitation eco-systems through various means, environmental pollution through modern agriculture, irregular and unplanned township developments (ex. along roadsides) and other relevant factors

* A vast devastation in the agricultural systems endangering rural income generation, food sovereignty and the export earnings of the nation.

* Fast diminishing foreign reserves and ever-increasing budget deficit in the national economy because of the improper trade balance, over-dependency on foreign loans, ailing tax collection procedures, massive government expenditure, lack of timely economic reforms etc., leading to escalating rates of inflation, unemployment (and under-employment) and cost of living.

The root causes, their origin and the momentum

All living beings, no matter if they are human, animal or plant in nature, like to lead a comfortable life, a better living, compared to their colleagues. May be animals with their additional advantage over the plants such as brain capacity, ability of reacting suddenly and the capacity for locomotion, would be in a better position, seeking more comfort.

The comfort can be simply described as the access for resources. Hence the human, the leading intelligent species within the animal kingdom, are engaged in a generation-long struggle of acquiring more resources. As a percentage, more than 90 per cent of the historical stories were based on the attempts of acquiring more resources by the powerful groups, depriving the rights of the relatively weak groups around. A simple analysis of monarchical rulings in different parts of the world clarifies how they used the military power to retain a greater share of the available resources for the nobles, confining the commons into worker or slavery classes/castes). The none military strategies such as establishing religious/cultural faiths and taboos among people also played a huge role in implementing these divisive ruling strategies in the past.

New world of politics

However with the liberal concepts and social reforms that replaced the centuries long conservative/capitalist governance liberalised worker groups from their slavery from the beginning of the 20th century, giving them equal choices for education and livelihoods.

This can be identified as the turning point of higher education towards completion among them and ending up with a life-long struggle towards high-profile employment opportunities especially in the resource-poor countries like ours. Since 1950s rapid population growth, advancements in education, development of ICT and demographic trends strengthened this competition. As a result, all traditionally oppressed social factions tried to out compete the traditionally privileged class for prospective opportunities within the socio-economic structure in all parts of the world.

Side-effects of economic reforms

Since the ‘industrial revolution’ (in the late 19th Century) and the results of the ‘green revolution’ (in mid 20th Century), most countries in the developed world managed this situation by capacity-building within them, and thus leading into rapid expansions in their job markets and introducing attractive wage structures.

However, the resource-poor nations in tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America were not instrumental in making appropriate reforms in their national economies for catering to the increasing demand for jobs over time. As a result, today the unemployment and under-employment rates among well educated and skillful youths who seek high-profile jobs categories are seriously high in these countries. Meanwhile, unlike the situation in the developed world, the economies of the developing countries are not strong enough to provide comparable remunerations for low-profile jobs, causing the low-profile jobs to be unattractive for the skill-full and educated youths.

The writer is Professor of Crop Science , Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya.

To be continued