Chandra Jayaratne, an eminent business leader and former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, said that the July 1983 riots and the consequential terrorism and war were probably the turning point leading to the present state of affairs of the nation.
“However, the failure of successive governments and leaders to foresee the essential need to resolve the ethnic issue ensuring peaceful co-existence, equality, human dignity, meritocracy and develop a political structure and constitutional framework for sustainable growth and effective governance were issues that prevented Sri Lanka from being the shining star and an economic and travel hub of South Asia,” he said. He also said failure to ensure law, order and good governance ensure effective international foreign and trade relations especially integrating with closer ties with India and also to place the interests of the nation and its people first in governance contributed to this issue. “Failure to garner acceptable societal values and norms were the primary reasons that prevented Sri Lanka from being where it should be in South Asia,” he noted.
He added that economic growth measures should not be limited to recognising a mere annual/average number but encapsulated within the framework questioning what it could have been if the lost opportunities had been exploited and inappropriate resource allocations avoided. “Also it should be questioned in the economic growth measures on the long term sustainability and expected long term returns from investments while avoiding inequalities in its spread amongst the population and regions across the nation,” he said.
He also said that unless an enlightened leadership (in politics, governance, business, and civil society) placing the interests of the nation and its people emerges and commits to the task of nation building within the framework of a commonly accepted naional vision that delivers sustainable growth and prosperity, Sri Lanka will remain in the bottom two quartiles of global indices and league tables, well below its true potential.
Rienzie Wijetilleke, Chairman Hatton National Bank, was of the view that Sri Lanka would not have come up the way it was meant to even without the 1983 riots. "1983 July 23rd was the darkest day since independence for this country. However, with the type of political leadership, corruption, inefficiency, mismanagement, misuse of power and the irresponsible governing we have had during the past few decades, Sri Lanka would not be anywhere 'better', let alone Singapore or Hong Kong, " he said.
When asked how Sri Lanka has achieved five percent growth despite the crisis that followed over the past 25 years, he said all over the world the growth rate is the same. Worldwide economic activity is high despite the oil shocks and energy crisis. "Our growth is (in line) with the same scenario, but comparatively we are way behind in growth and way up in inflation, which is not a healthy sign in the short to medium term." When asked whether this problem will persist, he said, "Unless the country is able to produce some statesmen overnight instead of 'politicians' Sri Lanka will trudge on like this."
He noted that there are success stories of individuals and group investors after 1983. "That is due to their prudent actions, making use of environmental conditions and their own luck. But in my mind, this is only a temporary phenomenon. It cannot go on forever."