25th March  2001
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Home and away….

President Chandrika Kumarantunga may be doing the international circuit, basking in the warmth of the fond adulation of Western leaders who seem to be chivalrous and polite almost to the point of being unctuous. 

But, the cosy foreign 'photo ops' are not going to take away the real issues. Sri Lanka, even with its social fabric torn and tattered by conflict, still seemed to retain an image of an economic model of sorts in this South Asian region. High literacy rates, and an enviable quality of life contributed towards this sanguine picture.

Now, despite the fairy tale voyages of a charming President (and the wire service pictures that follow of course…) that image is definitely in tatters. An Asian Development Bank report just released says that almost 40% of Sri Lanka's population is either "poor or vulnerable to poverty''. The dire warning of the ADB is that "poverty is inevitable, unless a stable and competitive macro economy is established.'' 

These remarks come in the backdrop of a statement by World Bank Research Manager David Dollar. Mr Dollar said last week, that Sri Lanka, with Pakistan, are the "only non-globalising countries'' in the South Asian region. He said "the two countries are lagging behind in assimilating with the outside-world'' in terms of economic policy. As reasons he cited the "volatile political situation prevalent in the country'' and "the fact that the country's macro economic conditions have not been the best despite policy changes.''

The verdict is that the war expenditure is keeping the brakes on the economy, and that whatever policy that has been restored to as a means of circumventing this situation, has not been adequate.

This despite the fact that if there are any negative implications in climbing "globalization'' bandwagon, Sri Lanka is feeling all these negative repercussions, such as the increasing hegemony over infrastructure and enterprise by foreign multinational capital. Gas prices, for instance, have been determined by a foreign company in an anarchic manner, and with impunity and disregard for the terms of contract between the state and the said multi national concern. But, despite being forced to bite the bullet in this way, the Sri Lankan masses or the investors have not felt that there is any palpable movement of the economy. To this extent, the comment (by the appropriately named Mr Dollar) seems to be spot-on accurate. He says that there is a "a clear 'disconnect' between what the authorities were saying and what the people at large were feeling.'' 

This seems to be discernible, not just from the economic indicators, but also from the general attitude and behavior on display by the PA power cabal. We may be saying this for the n'th time, but that doesn't make the facts any less bald. The size of the Cabinet, the ostentatious campaigns to build a Presidential complex (though there may be a need, does the complex have to come up in this same extravagant way as planned and at this time?) and the general proclivity of the government to be heavy on the rhetoric while pushing economic imperatives to the back-burner, all seem to underline the fact that this government has anything but efficient economic management on its mind. 

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