Be Lankan buy Lankan
If our giant neighbour and at times our big or bully brother India is booming into one of the world's biggest or fastest-growing economies, the foundations for this growth were laid through some hallowed Gandhian concepts.
One of these Mahathma Gandhi principles which Sri Lanka could have but did not follow over the past few decades was the priceless and economically empowering precept of, "be Indian and buy Indian". As in the case of all great values and virtues the principle has to be first practised and then preached. Only then will the people respect and follow it and only then will it be effective for the common good of all.
During the term of the United Front Government which took office after a landslide victory in 1970, a Gandhi-like policy of "be Lankan buy Lankan" was formulated and implemented for sometime in an abortive bid to make Sri Lanka economically independent and self-sufficient. The then Finance Minister, Dr. N.M. Perera, outlined the vision and goals of this national production policy and urged the people to be patient through the struggles and storms with their hopes focused on what he described as the "dim light of the distant dawn".
Essentially the policy encouraged national production and restricted imports, with the people being urged to enter into a simple and humble lifestyle. The people were urged and given incentives to eat locally-produced food, wear home-spun garments and buy locally-produced articles or equipment.
From 1977 Sri Lanka went some other way and we have ended up today in a mess and a muddle not knowing what to do or where to go. In these worst of times where we face crises within crises, confusion within confusion and contradictions within contradictions the dim light of a distant dawn is seen again with a group of prominent Lankan business people launching a "be Lankan buy Lankan" mission tomorrow.
Top corporate leaders are coming together with village entrepreneurs, the government and groups like the JVP in this "be Lankan buy Lankan" campaign.
It's a belated but yet well-timed and urgently needed effort to bring together various groups for a village economic revival, nurturing local industry, making quality products, saving foreign exchange and providing a vehicle for the sale of locally-made products.
A major part of the exercise is to popularise Sri Lankan goods and services amongst local consumers. It is being launched by the Maubima Lanka Foundation (MLF) and is aimed at reversing the mindset of those who believe that foreign products are the best. This mindset developed after Sri Lanka plunged wholesale into the crass capitalist globalized market economy and we have ended up today as the dumping ground or garbage bin for loads of Western junk ranging from fast foods to reconditioned vehicles which are turning us into a sick nation.
Despite all the advances in modern medicine, our hospitals are today packed and overflowing because most of us are sick most of the time. Socio-medical diagnosis shows this is largely because we are eating processed muck from abroad most of the time and breathing polluted air. MLF chairman Ariyaseela Wickremanayake, a well-known entrepreneur and promoter of Sri Lankan-made products and services, says another objective of their campaign is to reduce at least by half the country's massive import bill of around $1.9 billion. It is a new mission to rebuild Sri Lanka's economy with our own human and natural resources while saving billions in foreign exchange.
Another objective of the campaign is to create a demand for local products and services. This will be done initially through awareness programmes where students will be given lessons on the value and importance of eating nutritious home-grown food.
Discussions are being held with the Education Ministry on the modalities of this countrywide school programme. This process will hopefully lead to enhanced production and the development of our own indigenous industries which will in turn generate more employment opportunities locally.
A common trade mark - the Lion symbol -- and a common motto -- "Ganna - Ape De" (Buy Our Things) - have been devised in the campaign.
This trade mark may be associated with any local product known for its high quality and certified by a state agency to ensure its authenticity.
As an example to others the popular supermarket giant Cargills will set apart a separate section in its supermarkets to sell quality local products at affordable prices. The MLF will also present awards for small and medium producers who use local raw material for their products.
While the vision and goals are noble the success or failure of this mission will depend on how much is practised and how much is only preached. It is vital that the practice should begin at the top, with the President and his cabinet of more than hundred setting the example in this mission to "be Lankan and buy Lankan.