Post COVID-19: Positive viewpoint through visionary leadership | Sunday Observer

Post COVID-19: Positive viewpoint through visionary leadership

19 April, 2020

Sri Lankans unanimously rallied round to combat the most damaging pandemic in recent history that propelled the world into chaos and the worst economic downturn in 90 years, since the great Depression. Although the spread of the virus is evil to the world and to Sri Lanka, there can be a silver lining in the dark cloud if the post disaster management is carried out properly. The unity of the nation is being displayed more than adequately by constellating to combat the pandemic, an act probably witnessed for the first time since independence. The citizenry as a whole has collectively risen to the occasion, leaving no room for criticism.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed the President and the Government with two serious issues. First, controlling the spreading of the virus and second, managing the daily lives of the entire nation. The Government, without doubt, has managed both issues efficiently and effectively despite the lame sporadic pessimistic political manoeuvres by interested parties. Sri Lanka, as a country has done much better than many developed and rich countries. The success is solely due to the solid leadership provided by the President and the unconditional support extended by all stakeholders.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, through his manifesto pledged a people centric economy covering almost every important domain. Obviously, he had not anticipated any hindrance in the magnitude of COVID-19. However, the President has a golden opportunity to successfully achieve his undertaking to the country if he continues to lead in a manner similar to the existing coronavirus combat. The Government, with the President’s skillful directions, has so far responded effectively to almost every public need while maintaining strict control of the health issues. The country has never seen such an efficient public sector engagement with unconditional commitment of this magnitude in recent history.

The most important aspect of the COVID-19 episode is that the President has clearly established the trust of the masses, irrespective of their personal political views. The public has had an opportunity to assess the efficiency of the current leader by comparing how the situation related to Easter Sunday massacre was managed by the then Government.

The World Bank, in a recent review, has predicted that the Asian region will be subjected to an extremely severe economic downturn triggered by global financial shock and recession. Despite the predictions and warnings of these external sources, right fiscal and monetary policy adjustments, suitable trade policy changes, revitalization of local industries and other indigenous trade and proper agricultural modernization would make a positive impact in Sri Lanka for a speedy recovery. Pointing in the right direction and effective leadership is the need of the hour to achieve the goal.

Covid-19 has set off a new era of creativity among the Sri Lankan youth. We have seen many new inventions such as special hospital beds, robots and ventilators, germ killing face masks and patient tracking devices are being introduced by Sri Lankans within just four week since the outbreak. Given adequate time, the youth will emerge with astonishing new inventions to make a contribution to the country. While most of the newly created machines and equipment were thus far imported from other countries at the expense of the tax payers’ money at several fold higher prices, some creations were done for the first time in the world. We can eagerly expect many more new inventions at lower costs in the near future, saving a colossal amount of foreign exchange.

The Government has already taken many timely decisions including restrictions on the import of non-essential items. The move has been overwhelmingly supported by local industrialists. Many of these local industry leaders have already pledged the ability to fulfil local demands of their respective products. They urge the Government to get back to the basics and encourage local industries. New thinking on novel local products that emerged during the past few weeks is an eye opener to the policy makers.

The all important agriculture sector contribution to the economy stood as low as 7.87% in 2018 according to statistics, mainly due to the negative impact generated by arbitrary imports of food and other linked items. Favourably performing agricultural segments such as rice, vegetables, fruits, minor export crops and marine fish industry which can be developed easily were not given due significance by the past Governments. However, the new President has extended support, including technological modernization for the development of the agriculture sector.

A positive trend that has emerged through Covid 19 is the limitation of the import of agricultural products which will provide an enormous improvement to the local agriculture sector. Agriculture is a key segment of the economy that can sustain without any external assistance as it does not require imported raw material or other alien substance. It is already established that Sri Lankan produce is in the highest level in the world by way of quality. Along with a correctly drawn plan and a marketing effort, Sri Lankan producers can find an enormous international market. According to Government sources, the import of food and related products account for an outflow of a staggering US$ 1.8 Billion. Therefore, when properly directed to develop agricultural produce, it will result in a substantial saving of foreign reserves while establishing export crops can bring in fresh earnings.

Many Sri Lankan industrialists have declared that they can produce local agricultural and industrial products to match international standards. They are willing to invest in their specific industrial segments if Government support is extended. If the imports are controlled properly, they declare that they can also develop export oriented agricultural products, accessories for the apparel industry, food and non-food items to the tourism industry and so forth. They express willingness to diversify business to find new markets if the Government provides them adequate assistance.

No doubt the coronavirus has disrupted the demand and supply chain across Si Lanka negatively affecting many commercial sectors. Nevertheless, if considered as a challenge by all stakeholders, Sri Lanka has the best chance of recovering faster than many other countries even amidst severe fiscal constraints. Throughout history, Sri Lanka as a nation has revealed its resilience in times of conflicts and disasters. Therefore, there is an urgent need to take prompt steps to address the key areas of the commercial activities in order to minimize the negative impact. It is necessary for both, the Government and the private sector to bond together for imminent solutions under the leadership of the President.