Sri Lankan socio-economic crisis, its causes and possible ways-out - Part II | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan socio-economic crisis, its causes and possible ways-out - Part II

– Continued from last week

Role of the common people

Owing to this situation, the middle class (less privileged) in Sri Lanka and some other developing countries is engaged in a life-long struggle of educating their children, making them well-qualified for the high-profile job markets.

In this over-indulgence in getting through the educational hurdles, children are mentally exhausted and socially isolated, making them senseless and robotic when grown-up, missing the right spirit needed for leading a good personal life or a professional career. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of anticipated commitment and family/work-place harmony found in the young and energetic workforce (at the age range of 20 – 40 years) in Sri Lanka today.

Driven by the uncertainty of the career success or income security of their children in the future, the adult workforce sacrifices their private lives as well as the office time for their children’s education and well-being.

Hence, the workforce becomes indebted to their nation and the clients. It’s worthwhile to check what percentage of them at least feels guilty for this mischief of performing under-capacity. Moreover, there are instances when that part of this adult group resort to unethical and illegal ways of income generation as a short-term solution to ease the economic pressure pounding onthem through their children’s college/tuition fees. With the influence of some more additional factors, this group of adult employees becomes full-time ‘family animals’ rather than honest and responsible members of the national workforce.

Role of the ruling class

Meanwhile, the survival of politicians, the feudal lords of the contemporary ruling class, depends on their control over the decision making process, financial strength and the vote-base. Hence, to ensure the first two aspects, they fill the executive (decision making) positions in the ministries and state institutions with their allies/supporters and lavishly extend the support to their election campaigners and sponsors by offering much needed business advantages, illegally and unethically. Therefore, in a way, they are willingly or unwillingly trapped between these two fractions. Moreover, low to medium-profile vacancies in the institutional structure within respective ministries are filled with the family members of their election supporters. In this way more eligible institutional and individual candidates are sidelined.

These politically appointed low quality institutional heads and fellow workers usually do not have the charisma to make a significant change in the system or to increase the work efficiency of the institutional setup. And the so-called business community, well protected by their political allies, continues with their lucrative business, irrespective of the resultant long-term negative consequences on the socio-economic structure and the natural environment of the country.

Role of the bureaucrats

The topmost bureaucrats are the above mentioned politically appointed ministerial and institutional heads of the state. Since they are well-aware of their short tenure in the office (until the next general election), they use the full-pace of the spoon to serve themselves and their political masters, looking forward to attaining prosperity for several generations ahead.

There is another group of bureaucrats who closely follow the above group. They are the proprietors, chairpersons, directors, financial controllers and persons of similar positions in fully or partially private owned institutions. They somehow derive the necessary permission to enjoy enormous privileges, much more than the luxury of monarchs in the bygone eras. In this exercise they are very much ignorant on the institutional goals (ex. profit maximisation), which is the basis of their economic sustainability. That is why the financial profiles of private institutions often get plunged, and the executive officers change their jobs very often in Sri Lanka, unlike in the case of leading industrial giants in the world. Other than this, the motto of most of these limited liability companies is not “surviving the business competition” but out-competing the fellow businessmen through short-cuts (ex. seeking favours through political/bureaucratic contacts). Hence, rather than contributing to the national economy, they become an extra burden to the same by seizing tenders at comparatively lower bids, committing tax frauds and similar acts.

Meanwhile, the other classes of this bureaucratic structure who are either professionals or skilled technical cadres who have somehow got through the job competition, are engaged in a neck-breaking effort to safeguard their privileges for ever. They are very scared of the threats due to inflation and the fellow professional competitors (the groups outside knocking at the doors of their professional spheres). So-called “trade union actions” often found in Sri Lanka (i.e. in state universities, health sector, railways, ports, petroleum distribution, electricity supply and similar services ) are good examples to understand this situation. You may find such actions in less privileged masses, such as farmers, estate workers, factory workers and low-profile cadres within the institutional structure rarely as their bargaining power is low and there is nothing to safeguard (low living standards and lack of pressure from job seekers). Hence, in the attempt of safeguarding their privileges, the above mentioned so-called professionals have been able to blackmail the ministers and institutional heads, at the expense of innocent hopes of commons for a better life.


The consequences of this corrupted socio-political culture of Sri Lanka has divided its members (Sri Lankans) apparently into two major groups called powerful (privileged) and power seeking (less privileged ) as described above. Both these groups more or less contribute to the twelve issues raised earlier in this article to highlight the downfall of our socio-economic structure.

The Way Forward

Although more than 80 per cent of the causes of common cancers have been identified by Western medicine, the medication has not reached at least its half-way mark. Percentage cure is very much dependent on its stage at the time of diagnosis. Similarly, “cancer in Sri Lankan socio-economy” probably dates back to pre-independent era. But according to most analysts, its spread got accelerated since the late 1970’s. When we move down the memory lane of political changes since then, according to some political analysts, the 1989 election could have been the best opportunity at least to diagnose the catastrophe in the Sri Lankan socio-economy. However, the unfortunate outcome and the misdirected socio-economic spearhead followed by, (that followed instead of followed by?) let it eat into the sovereign flesh of this nation.

The next occasion was the 1994 election where the vast majority was of the mind that the socio economic cancer in Sri Lanka needed a quick surgery, a timely change in the developmental plans and economic reforms. Unfortunately, the nation missed that bus too. In my estimate, when we stepped forward into the new Millennium, the cancer had been spread beyond cure. Hence, the only answer would have been impending death. But unlike in the case of an ailing human body, death is not the ultimate fate of a corrupted nation. Still, there will be a survival for a nation even after its socio-economy has been knelt down in-front of the wealthy and powerful nations and institutions abroad. Taking a chance from this situation, our fifth Executive President cured the secondary infections completely by eradicating terrorism from this country. It was life given back to a nation on its death-bed. But his government’s failure to continue with the treatment made the nation vulnerable once again to its root causes (as witnessed in the 2015 election).

Fresh hopes: However, now the nation has once again lighted the hopes in the minds of Sri Lankans for a full recovery, an economically prosperous, socially harmonised and environment-friendly nation. The surgeon is the most qualified and believed to be the much anticipated messiah to the deprived common people ‘Diyasena’ to the people. His well disciplined election campaign was an inspiration to whole South-Asian region. His first few moves regarding government appointments apparently answers the issues mentioned under the root causes of socio-economic crisis, committed by the ‘ruling class’. Hence, all Sri Lankans are anticipating his next moves towards handling the other major root causes committed by the common people as well as the bureaucrats. The ultimate expectation is a full coverage of twelve major issues which are characteristic to Sri Lankan socio-economic structure, described earlier in the article.

Sri Lanka has done well the first half of the drama, electing the honest and nation-loving leadership, amid all the adversities. Now the people (the work-force) need to wake up from its drowsiness and come forward to give the necessary support to their leader, irrespective of how the new reforms may affect them individually or as a group.

The new socio-economic reforms must bring about revolutionary changes that will touch all its corners and edges, despite the fact how badly the present generation would take it. All we need is to tolerate the impending hardships for a while, just like the hard times the adult and young generations underwent in the 1970 – 77 period in Sri Lanka, where the nation attained apparently a 100 per cent sovereignty in food, a positive trade balance and a zero budget deficit. The other examples in the recent history are countries like Iran, Cuba and North Korea for undergoing hardships due to trade embargoes.

From where to start with

Apart from the often mentioned short-term or quick solutions for burning issues in the socio-economic and administrative structures, well formulated long-term structural changes are essential for putting an unbreakable foundation for our nation.

(1) Educational reforms and personal resource management must be the first to come to a long-term solution. It is not just a conventional revision of curricula or building infrastructure but target-driven changes covering the entire personal resource development and utilisation.

The other sectors which partially determine the work efficiency of the human resources, such as nutrition, health, infrastructure, services and other aspects of social life will be a part and parcel of this step. (2) Next to come would be the policy changes in every aspect of the social, economic and cultural institutions of the country which would gear the nation towards the ‘sustainable development’ in every possible means while preserving the key socio-cultural values of our nation. (3) The last and final step must be the long awaiting economic reforms which would be launched on the red carpet laid through the policy changes, proposed under ‘(2)’ above.

Identification of priority sub-sectors and their bottle-necks, setting targets, giving institutional support in technical, credit and marketing facilities for them and finally regulating the progress would enable these sub-sectors to hit the production targets. For instance, promotion of agriculture and selected industries will bring about much needed exports and import substitution while development of all needs for a good tourism industry will be a steady foreign exchange source for the economy.

The plan of action which comes under each of the above mentioned three steps or stages must be drafted and implemented only with the consensus of all involved. Each action must be a result of a great exercise of brainstorming by the nation-loving professionals, experienced civil servants and a new breed of politicians. This must be followed by a very convincing propaganda campaign which would be the driving force behind the much needed commitment of the implementation process and the patience of the beneficiaries.