Christmas is just two days away and it’s the time of the year when everyone is wishing each other a joyful festive season and happy New Year to follow. Nobel Prize laureate in economics Joe Stiglitz, Professor at Columbia University, has a wish list for the United States. It includes a jobs bill, a better [...]


A Christmas wish list for Sri Lanka: Prerequisites for development


Christmas is just two days away and it’s the time of the year when everyone is wishing each other a joyful festive season and happy New Year to follow. Nobel Prize laureate in economics Joe Stiglitz, Professor at Columbia University, has a wish list for the United States. It includes a jobs bill, a better energy policy and financial system reform. What is the wish list for Sri Lanka?

A wish list for Sri Lanka may have to be much longer as we have to fix so many aspects of our national life and change attitudes that would enable us to realise our full economic potential. The list being too long, I have selected just five wishes for the country — national unity, social harmony, the rule of law, education reforms, and pragmatism in economic policies.

My wish list for the economy is mostly of non-economic factors that determine our economic growth and key economic variables. Cultural factors that are a whole spectrum of conditions from attitudinal changes to social, political, educational, administrative, legal and institutional are important determinants of rapid economic growth.

Economic variables such as higher savings, increased investment and the efficiency of capital are dependent on non-economic or cultural factors. Economic development requires a transformation in individual and societal values and attitudes. The non-economic factors that must be put in place to achieve development are many. And that is what makes economic development difficult to achieve. Notwithstanding this complexity, here are five simple wishes.

Durable peace 

It is in the spirit of Christmas to hope for peace and harmony in the country. Peaceful conditions are a prerequisite for economic development and the wellbeing of people. The most debilitating factor in our recent economic history has been the ethnic conflict, terrorism and the civil war. It not only absorbed considerable funds and was a burden on the public finances, but also created an inhospitable climate for investment, tourism and the establishment of hi-tech industry. Peaceful conditions could contribute considerably towards a much higher rate of economic growth but, it is a mistaken view that peace alone would usher in economic development.

Although the government ended the three-decade-old war and eliminated terrorist activities, the country has failed to develop a polity in which the minorities are content and have a sense of security and inclusiveness and feel an integral part of the nation. The underlying communal or ethnic discontent remains. The recent events in Jaffna in particular suggest that the reasons for terrorism may be simmering once again.

We must wish for new and fresh efforts at ensuring a durable peace and settlement of the issues that led to the conflict. We must wish that the country enters an era of ethnic, communal and religious harmony.

Social harmony

Peace is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. It is indeed disconcerting that fresh violence against religions has erupted this year. Such social unrest could be an important factor in not ensuring a peaceful environment conducive to economic development.

A new wave of religious violence would harm the polity deeply and hinder economic progress. Let us wish that all communities in the country take meaningful steps to ensure ethnic and religious harmony and respect each other’s religions, ethnicity, language and culture.

Let us wish for a harmonious society that respects different traditions. We must wish that we evolve into a society that celebrates cultural and religious diversity rather than one where such differences evoke violence.

Rule of law

Law and order are prerequisites for rapid economic growth. Unfortunately, recent years have witnessed a deterioration in the law and order situation.

A vital need for economic growth is a society where the rule of law is firmly established and law enforcement agencies act without fear or favour in the implementation of the country’s laws. Considerable delays in obtaining justice through the courts, a weakened judiciary and an erosion of property rights require to be remedied in order to support economic growth.

Let us wish for a society based on law where there would be an effective enforcement of the laws of the country.


The year that is ending has been characterised as a year when the need for much higher investment in education was highlighted and debated. There can be no doubt that future economic growth would be much dependent on the improvement of education. A much higher investment in education coupled with institutional educational reforms is needed to improve the quality of education. While the country can boast of a high level of literacy and school enrolment, the quality of education requires to be improved.
Scientific and technological education has to be expanded considerably.

There is also a need to develop technical and vocational schools and change the curricula of universities to meet the practical needs of a modern industrial state. They must train adequate numbers of persons with applied scientific, technical and managerial skills. Educational reforms must ensure the development of attitudes and aptitudes required for productive employment.

Let us wish that there are serious efforts to improve the country’s primary, secondary and tertiary and technical education.


Let us wish that we as a people and the government adopt a pragmatic approach to national issues. We are burdened by history, preoccupied with debate and discussion, divided by a host of ideological and political positions and consequently unable to act in a pragmatic manner. We discuss and debate when we should decide and implement.

We look back on our historical experiences rather than act according to the present situation. We forego potential gains because of ideological or other values. We are possessed by the past and live on our glorious records of the past rather than learn the lessons of our recent history. Even in the face of grave national crises and economic challenges, we are unable to act pragmatically in our future interest.
Let us wish for pragmatic economic policies that bring results rather than adopt impractical ideological policies that hinder the attainment of our potential.

Summing up

The road to higher rates of economic growth is not a simple one of increasing investment. It requires the creation of a social, political and economic milieu that could attract and enable investment.
The development of such a milieu requires peace, social harmony, the rule of law, a significant thrust in reforming the country’s education and developing a system of values conducive to economic growth and good governance that makes all branches of government activity far more efficient than at present. A wide spectrum of other prerequisites is needed to sustain and support higher levels of economic growth. These prerequisites include both economic and non-economic factors. Our Christmas wish list is confined to a few of these that could make a vital difference to national life and the economy.

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