plan for whole country
this week steps out of the eternal cycle of violence and goes into
peace talks with the LTTE for the fourth time since 1983 with a
marginal difference - overwhelming support from the business community.
sector, which has stayed aloof of the peace process for years, last
year came into the picture with the creation of SriLankaFirst, a
business-peace initiative driven by personalities like Ranjit Fernando,
then Director/General Manager at NDB, John Keells Holdings' Deputy
Chairman Jagath Fernando and Neela Marikkar of Grant McCann Ltd.
the media for not responding earlier to the ethnic conflict, SriLankaFirst
conceded that the business community was late in coming in but notes
that "its better late than never" to show its support
for the peace process.
the peace talks which most corporate leaders believe will take months
to show some ground results, Sri Lanka is buzzing with activity
with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe leading a top government
cum business delegation to New York for a series of pro-business
meetings starting on Monday.
It is by far
the biggest joint tour undertaken by the government and the private
sector and is coordinated by UNDP after the premier appealed to
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in March for help to move the international
community into investing in Sri Lanka. The "Invest in Peace"
tour brings together Wickremesinghe, other government leaders and
Sri Lankan corporate leaders with world leaders and US corporate
leaders in a series of high profile meetings.
Add to that
the cricket carnival that's taking place in Colombo with the ICC
Champion's trophy on, and its one of those rare occasions when Sri
Lanka has been thrown into the global limelight for the right, positive
reasons. All this while - at least during the warring years since
1983 - Sri Lanka got a lot of publicity because of the bombs, mayhem
While all this
is nice for a country trying to end a 19-year-old conflict and rebuild
its ravaged economy, experts warn that one shouldn't expect too
much in terms of investment from the New York exercise and also
that any major development effort should include the drought-battered
south apart from the north and the east. The New York exposure will
put Sri Lanka back on the map and tell the world the country is
ready for business but investors are unlikely to rush in.
No one is going
to put money into a country where the future is still uncertain
particularly since peace talks have failed in the past. Though there
is more optimism now that this process would succeed given the global
fight against terrorism, no one is sure whether the war would end
- once and for all.
the north and the east have been devastated by the effects of the
conflict one must not lose sight of the fact that the south has
for long been short of development funds in addition to the shortage
Take the drought
in the south last year. This drew a lot of public sympathy with
private groups including private television channels joining the
bandwagon to provide support to affected families in Hambantota
and nearby districts.
agencies got together with non-governmental organisations and discussed
ways of fighting any future drought. But what has happened since
then? A proposed cabinet paper listing out the problems and providing
some short and long-term solutions has been held up as the government
has other priorities. Meanwhile, there are reports that the people
in Hambantota are facing another drought, though not as serious
as last year. No one is talking about it now because the government's
and the people's priorities have shifted.
The need of
the hour - while peace talks are on - is to prepare a development
plan that would encompass the entire country - not only the north
and the east.
Marshall-type plan driven by Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda
is very clear on this issue. "We must not ignore the south
or other areas outside the north and the east in the development
phase that is planned. The entire country has to be developed as
the whole of Sri Lanka has suffered in terms of war, development
and a whole range of war-related issues," says Moragoda.
way to go in meeting the aspirations of youth across the country.
If we ignore this reality, we would be staring in the face of another