It’s a general belief and understanding that the post-independent Sri Lanka until 1977 had a better economy in many ways compared to its neighboring countries and a country even the other nations like Singapore and Malaysia emulated in order to uplift their economies. Although the economy was not liberalized before 1977, living standards of the nation’s economy and the share of the nation’s economy in the global economic output were higher than those of in today’s context.
All of these were not miraculous, but the results of stable planning and the strategies adopted by the regimes at that time.
The year 1977 was marked as a crucial one for the country for not just being the change of the political ideologies and regimes but also as a year which completely turned around the country from a closed socialist economy to an open capitalist economy. This marked an important event as Sri Lanka became the first nation in the south Asian region to liberalize the economy and even in Asia only few countries had opened up their economies to the world.
Although luxurious goods, services and other comforts lavishly enjoyed by Western economies made quick en-routes to the Sri Lankan society, other elements which were of paramount importance to sustain a smooth functioning capitalist society were either unknown by the elite at that time or were miserably ignored.
It’s a generally accepted fact by the global economists that a country should formulate sound economic policies which are best suited for the country and should ensure a consistency in the policy direction for a foreseeable future.
In the Sri Lankan context, overnight policy changes have become a ground reality, a malpractice adopted by almost all regimes, especially the rulers elected after 1977. Further, the most economic policies were formulated for mere appeasing the masses of the country, blatantly ignoring the economic viability of such decisions.
It’s true that Sri Lanka, compared to some of its neighboring countries and the other least developed countries of the world, have attained a laudable progress in development. Although the credit of these positive achievements is eagerly reserved by the political parties for enhancing their political careers, the hidden tragic story behind so-called “development” is deliberately disregarded.
As a country, Sri Lanka has paid an overwhelmingly massive price to attain the current level of economic prosperity primarily because of the failure of the visionary impoverished rulers to establish prudent economic policies and to ensure the stability of those. The cost of Sri Lanka’s 30 years of brutal civil war would be amounted to billions of dollars, but this amount would be easily dwarfed by the economic costs attributed to the instability of the economic policies adopted by successive regimes who ruled after 1977.
It’s not a rare phenomenon in the country that setting ambitious national economic targets and policies is the norm whenever a new government is elected which sometimes goes beyond the country’s ability to realize such targets. However, chauvinistic politics which have been prevailing in the country over the decades had never allowed the smooth functioning of those policies and on many occasions political hatred and the petty party politics superseded national objectives.
Even though the country is blessed not only with a vast amount of natural resources but also other natural endowments like rare minerals which are hard to find elsewhere in the world and a skilled labour force, Sri Lanka is still regrettably in a less developed state and in the global context this is surprising since European nations like Belgium and the Netherlands do not even have the level of natural resources Sri Lanka is bestowed with.
Although many reasons can be attributed to this state, fundamental reason lies in the absence of clearly defined national policies for every pillar and sector of the economy and the continuity of such policies.
The business community should also take their share of blame in this situation for being overly concerned only regarding the service-industrial sectors they operate in without focusing on the macro-economic factors. It is not very uncommon that business communities are being vociferous whenever their business sectors are affected by government policy decisions. However, an equal level of reaction is hardly forthcoming from them in the event any issue which is of national importance takes centre-stage.
As this dangerous game of power struggles between political parties persists, the country is engulfed with a host of economic problems which are needless to explain and the most tragic story is that the adoption of lethargy and the negative mindset of the general public would never allow Sri Lanka to be a developed country.
As a nation we have miserably lost golden opportunities in the past to turn around the country into a blissful country. The responsibility of the incumbent and the future rulers is to review the austere memories associated with the past and not to perpetuate the same mistakes.
Realizing the nation’s dream of becoming a developed nation is not an elusive goal or a day dream as many people think and this tiny island nation once again would be the “wonder of Asia” and the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” if the rulers frankly establish national agendas for the economic sectors setting aside their political ideologies and limit their party politics to avoid the prevailing of political hatred and letting such political hatred to jeopardize the economy.