People should now get down to work- Ajith Nivard Cabraal | Sunday Observer
Thank you for the mandate:

People should now get down to work- Ajith Nivard Cabraal

“Citizens of the country have given the mandate that the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) asked for. The Government, led by the President and the Prime Minister is ready to implement what we promised in our National Policy Framework (NPF). People should be ready to get down to work,” said Ajith Nivard Cabraal who is to be a National List MP of the SLPP. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Cabraal highlighted the importance of understanding the meaning of the old adage “There is no free lunch”. Irrespective of whether it is infrastructure, healthcare, education or government subsidies in stimulus packages, the cost of implementing them will have to be borne by someone.

For a government to spend money on its citizens it has to earn that money first and it is the citizen who would facilitate that mainly through direct and indirect taxes. He said citizens should be focused, productive and goal oriented as their next responsibility and that he is confident they will shoulder that the same way they facilitated the mandate the President and the Prime Minister asked for.

Excerpts:

Q. You have been the Governor of the Central Bank, a professional accountant and a business leader. But, this time you are going to be a Member of Parliament representing the citizens of the country. How did you prepare for this transition?

A: As Governor of Central Bank and an economic advisor to the Prime Minister I had the opportunity to deal with many different issues involving the economy of the country. Although I was not a politician in the traditional sense, I had the chance to participate in analysing and solving various problems faced by the people. Besides, I have an opportunity to bring different perspectives to the legislative discussions which I think will be appreciated by the people.

Q. The SLPP has outlined in its Policy Framework, that they will achieve an economic growth at an average rate of 6.5% or higher. But with the current situation where even the strongest economies of the world are struggling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, do you think you can still achieve the same targets?

A: Yes, I agree that the whole world is struggling with the negative effects of the pandemic on their economies and we will also have to face the consequences of that. There are always local and international obstacles that we have to face in achieving our goals. But still we have to keep our targets as planned and strive to achieve the best possible outcome. Otherwise the motivation level could go down. We have already proved that by achieving a 6.4% economic growth overcoming all the obstacles that we had to face during the nine years from 2006 to 2015. As you know, that was the time, amid several other hardships, we were going through the battle against LTTE terrorism, and the global financial crisis of 2007/2008.

Q. The SLPP Policy Framework has also outlined that you will increase the per capita income to reach US$ 6,500 by 2025. Is the per capita income a good indicator of the economy? Do you think you can still achieve that target?

A: Of course we made all these plans before the world was hit by this pandemic. But as I said earlier we will still keep the same targets and try our best to achieve that. To answer your first question, whether per capita income is a good indicator, I would say that all indicators are good. Indicators are there to show us the symptoms and not necessarily the cause of those symptoms.

For example when one’s blood pressure is not in the normal range it is an indicator that there is something wrong with him that had changed the blood pressure. Then you can search for the cause and treat it. Similarly, indicators are there to tell you whether you are going in the right direction. I think we can achieve the targets we have set, irrespective of the hardships caused by the pandemic.

Q. Since you brought in the example of measuring blood pressure, please let me step out of the topic and ask you about your decision to become an accountant. Were you not pressured to study Bioscience,, especially, since your father was a medical doctor?

A: Not at all. My parents provided us a liberal and democratic environment where we could decide what we wanted to continue our studies in. I was to do engineering, but started doing accounting at the Institute of Chartered Accountants during the period that we had to wait before the universities took in the new students, and the rest as they say, is history.

Q. Getting back to the topic, would you consider introducing different indicators, such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) to measure the economic growth?

A: Well, introducing new indicators would depend on how much information we get from the existing ones at the moment. Irrespective of the way we like to measure, if the economy is growing at a healthy rate where each eligible adult is employed and or being able to earn a decent living then the part of the happiness that depends on the level of income will automatically be satisfied.

We will introduce new strategies to help small and medium business establishments while holding the interest rate to a minimum.

Q. Can you elaborate on the ‘Agricultural Crop Management System’ mentioned in the SLPP Policy Framework?

A: About 35% of the employment is found in the agricultural sector. Therefore, we will implement programs to improve soft skills of the farmer to help them to be able to use the latest and sophisticated technology. We will also bring technological solutions to address the seasonal glut in supply so that the livelihood of the famer is not affected.

Q. Do you need to amend the Constitution to achieve the things you mentioned here?

A: We may not need to amend the Constitution specifically for that. But to give you an example, the IGP was arrested and remanded but cannot be fired under the current Constitution. Those types of weaknesses have to be ironed out.

We basically asked for a mandate of a 2/3 of the seats to have the ability to bring amendments to the Constitution if and when needed. It is a weapon any government would like to have in its arsenal.

Q. What is your message to the country?

A: I thank the people for giving us this unprecedented mandate. We will serve all the people in the country equally irrespective of their political preference, gender, race and religion. The people of the country must get down to work with a renewed energy. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Every benefit the people get will have a cost attached to it, and if not the beneficiary, someone else would have to pay for it.

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