Sri Lanka has ambitious plans for development and we see many infrastructure projects either completed or nearing completion or planned for the near future.
So why do I say that we will not be a developed nation in the 1st world? Simply because it is not only the infrastructure that makes a country and her people developed, but the attitudes and actions of them as well.
Let’s examine the factors against us.
We have well constructed roads for the most part when you consider the major highways, but the way we use them leaves a lot to be desired.
Even the first expressway to be opened has seen more than a 1000 accidents since it opened little more than a year ago, and many have died. Most are due to use of non-roadworthy vehicles and also excessive speeding. Only a few travel at the stipulated speed of 100 KPH, and most go at 120 to 150.
On the highways, we don’t stick to the lanes, we regularly run the red lights when the cops are not watching, the infernal three wheelers and other slow movers are always on the right lane or on the middle of both lanes and will unhappily move out of your way and give you a dirty glare after we blast our horns. Most of these three wheelers do not have working lamps at the rear and even if they did, they do not use the turn signals. Motorcyclists also do not believe in lighting at the rear, and they don’t believe in helmets for their passengers either. Mom and Dad are often seen with helmets but their kids have nothing. Can this be explained in any sensible way? Safety of your loved ones should be the supreme requirement. Then we have the private buses that go on their races. Horns blaring, swerving from side to side, cutting into traffic all of a sudden, or suddenly stopping in the middle of the road when they see a passenger.
India also has a public and private transport mechanism which has lead to very unsafe roads. Countries like Singapore and Malaysia on the other hand, do not have this. Having private bus operators creates unnecessary competition which ultimately results in unsafe conditions. Lease the buses from their owners and take them into state control. This will definitely improve the standards and the people’s confidence in them as well.
The non-roadworthy three wheelers should also be removed from the roads and shipped off to Africa where there is still a heavy demand for them. They can be replaced with small cars which are equally economical.
Use of the roads should then be policed according to the law. An article I wrote previously would be applicable here, and the Police department could have a good revenue generation as well.
Rule of Law
A pick-pocket or drug dealer or other criminal that is caught is swiftly taken in to custody and swiftly prosecuted with the heavy hand of the Law thrown at them and they either pay fines or land in jail, or both. Those with connections either avoid arrest all together, or end up in the hospital without going to Jail. There are several notable incidents that most will remember.
What about the drug lords that supply the dealers? Why can’t we go after them, the big killer whales rather than going after the small-fry? What about all of the corruption that we see all around us? Public Money being wasted on unnecessary and frivolous things which could have been used in a much more productive manner? Why does this happen? Simply because we do not have accountability and they enjoy immunity and selective prosecution.
Politics & Accountability
The political system we have here is a right royal farce which gives us some entertaining moments but sadly at what cost? Each party that comes into power plays the blame game for all the problems, and takes the credit for all the achievements. Notable countries have minimum requirements for politicians such as a basic Graduate qualification and Post-graduate qualifications in your specialisation area. I’ve heard, but not verified, that most of our politicians are just O/L or A/L qualified.
In the UK, some MP’s travel via the bus and train and walk among the common man. They have the finger on the pulse. In our country, how easy is it for you to meet your local political representative? In the UK, the Government appoints the Ministers, and the Opposition appoints Shadow Ministers. The Shadow Minister’s job is to monitor all the activities of the Minister and report and point out via parliament if there are any issues. If any serious issues are uncovered, the Minister takes responsibility and resigns. If not, the oversight committee of the parliament will impeach you.
In the UK Parliament, they still boo and jeer once in a while but everyone talks with respect. When answering a question, they refer to each other as “As my Right Honourable Member of Parliament pointed out, …” whereas here in Sri Lanka we avoid answering the question and say something else and make sure to call the other person MODAYA (Fool), GONA / HARAKA (Bull, Cow), THAKATHEERUWA (Imbecile), and other colourful words not uttered by civilised people. If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube and search for “Sri Lanka Parliament”.
Over Taxation & Waste
Government coffers are supplemented with taxation on pretty much everything, and the people have a massive burden on them. Basic commodities are also taxed heavily resulting in a high cost of living. Vehicles are taxed anywhere from 100% to 300% on their value making a vehicle just a dream for many. A basic Toyota Corolla starts at $12,500 in the US which is approx 1.6 million rupees. The selling price in Sri Lanka is over 7 million due to taxation, which is more than $50,000 – for that price I could buy a pretty good Mercedes or BMW or Audi. The cheapest car in the world is the Tata Nano which is approx $1000 or 125,000 Indian Rupees. It costs 1.2 Million here (more than $9000).
Doesn’t the average Sri Lankan family deserve the opportunity to have a better quality of life rather than risking life and limb trying to balance a family of four on a motor cycle, simply because that is all you can afford? The high taxation is justified by the people that control it, saying that it helps curb the outflow of foreign currency, and reduces the stress on the roads due to congestion. In that case, why give Permits to government officials to import these vehicles at a lower cost? Why should government officials travel in better and safer vehicles whilst the common man is condemned to hardship? Our mindset is also manipulated by calling the classier vehicles as “Super Luxury” whereas in Europe even the taxis and police cars are Mercedes E Class and BMW 5 series.
Mihin Air has been a financial disaster from day one, and the time is right to admit we made a mistake. It should be scrapped and merged with SriLankan. If the requirement is to offer budget air travel to the average Sri Lankan traveler, they could be given subsidised tickets on the national carrier. It could be a CSR project of SriLankan Airlines and it would still not cost as much as having another airline. Tickets to pilgrims could be allocated on a quota basis much like the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which is based on quotas.
A point that is unfortunately exploited when attention needs to be diverted away from more pressing issues, much like the Grease Yaka which appeared when necessary and then disappeared with a simple explanation when not required anymore. People of Sri Lanka have lived as a mix of religions for generations and although we have had a few hiccups along the way, in general we live peacefully. Unfortunately, we have some “buttons” that are masterfully pressed by a few. Unverified statements are enough for us to go on a rampage and destroy everything. We hire people for picketing campaigns and agitations by paying a daily fee and giving food and drink, and they know not what they are shouting for.
Now for the factors in our favour.
Literacy and Skills
Sri Lanka has enjoyed a high literacy rate over the years and our labour force has the ability to learn and adapt quickly. However, we should minimise focus on domestic workers and machine operators, and instead focus on knowledge based workers who are capable of generating greater inflows of cash. We cannot and should not stop the other fields, but we should throttle it down. Sri Lanka should not be known as a nation of servants and maids.
Sri Lankans are a strong nation with the capability to bear a lot of hurt and discomfort and persevere. Surely we can use this to our advantage and shift the direction and speed of our country’s development.
Sri Lanka is ideally situated a midst major shipping lines and the new Harbour and Airport should help convert us into a major trans-shipment hub in the future. Expanding the Colombo port to be able to cater for Class E Ships was a major step in the right direction, and hats off to the government for having got that implemented.
Practice has shown us that simply having the new ports does not work and there needs to be better policy and fiscal management to attract major players. Emirates is a major player in the airline industry and we should try and get them to setup a base of operations at Mattala. They have A380 aircraft that could use this facility. If they are unwilling, due to the bad experience they had with the SriLankan (Air Lanka) partnership, we could invite Lufthansa which is the largest airline in Europe. They recently placed the largest single order for new aircraft and said that their emphasis is to break into more of the long haul Asian routes. Air Asia is one of the best budget airlines in the world and operates from Malaysia. Mattala in Sri Lanka could be a regional hub for them as well.
One thing that the Government has properly identified is that Tourism is a key income earner for Sri Lanka. More will come, but we have to ensure that we encourage the proper type of visitor to come. Most of our numbers are now Indian and Chinese, but these are not the big spenders. They come mostly for business, and a few come as tourists. Then there are those westerners who come and stay in small joints at Negombo and Hikkaduwa. They are also not spenders. What we need are high spending tourists. They have certain requirements that we need to fulfill.
- They require daytime activities such as sightseeing and shopping. There are plenty of sights to see, but the shopping centres need improvement. More shops and more choices and less prices are needed. Theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Studio, and etc are required. Just putting a park will not attract customers. The big brands have the ability to draw visitors. Set it up outside of Colombo on cheap land and setup a high speed rail network to link it to the major cities, like Sentosa in Singapore or Genting in Malaysia
- They require nightlife activities such as Casinos and Clubs, which should be regulated and safely maintained.
- Transport – Have a monorail network in and around Colombo which can act as a sightseeing tour by itself, or which lets the people access the main places of interest and shopping areas. A subway is too costly and time consuming to construct. A monorail suspended above the roads would be attractive and efficient. Again, we can learn and borrow technology from Singapore and Malaysia.
A Friendly Nation
We are known world over as a hospitable nation with a friendly personality. If someone comes to your home we always offer a drink and a bite to eat. if you come during a meal time, we would offer you lunch or dinner, even if we have only a little for ourselves.
We will go out of our way to help someone, you ask us about a place, we might take you there. You stop us on the road and ask for money or food, and we will oblige. If you ask us something and we don’t know, we will ask someone else and tell you.
Can we develop as a nation? – I see the potential. Do you?