Business Times

What do you think?

People benefit from end of war

Sri Lankans have benefitted from the end of the conflict as they could now get on with their normal work without fear of terror. Whether they have got the fruits of lasting peace is a question that will be answered in due time, as the end of the war does not necessarily mean that we are all united through peace as one nation.

The government seems to be doing a lot in the case of infrastructure development which is, anyway good politically and economically. But as far as lasting peace is concerned, whether the government and all other civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations with the support of the government have embarked upon a programme of national integration is still not clear. In this context while some Tamil political factions in Sri Lanka as well as pro-LTTE Diaspora are trying hard to isolate the Tamils, what have we done to win the hearts of people in the North and East?

I think there should be something important in history for leaders like Prabhakaran to be able to mobilize 1000s of Tamil youth to take up arms. Since there are more than enough studies done on this issue, the causes are clear, but have we not taken them seriously and acted accordingly. It is necessary for the authorities to work with moderate Tamils who admire peace which I believe the majority will support for national integration.

The government contributed to economic growth through ending the war and infrastructure development and, not at all through policy reforms. What we will see in the near future in terms of a growth spurt is the combined effects of the post-1977 policy reforms and the post-2009 political victories. But the danger is that the government also has the capacity to undermine the forthcoming economic revival.

Dr. Sirimal Abeyratne, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, University of Colombo

Need for Sri Lankan identity sans racial bias

The most significantly gifted realm in the post war era is the ‘peace of mind’ for the nation as a whole. TV screens without the visuals of bleeding soldiers, print media pages sans the pictures of dead terrorists and the roads devoid of dreadful sirens of military ambulances present generous testimony to this effect.

Snap political reforms are more a hurried outcry of some politicians than the minority masses. What the masses earnestly require right now is for the state to tackle the instant basic living needs and enhance the quality of life of the minorities. They surely desire to feel tangible changes for betterment in their families.

It is common knowledge that the war theatre was facilitated on a gigantic budget for 30 stretched years. Although the end of active terrorism will not bring it to zero expenditure on the defence sphere, the state can now afford to offer a genuine breath of fresh air to people and commence by way of arresting COL.
The freedom of the people in the (formerly) war affected zones should be converted to normalcy at a swift phase.

Though this is an ‘easy said than done’ task, it still needs a concerted effort in the priority bracket. The real challenge for the state is to harmonize the communal variation and build a truly exclusive Sri Lankan identity sans racial characteristics. The future of the peace rests on how strongly we could create this identity of one nation.

Damith Kurunduhewa - Risk Management Specialist / CEO

Growth seen in some sectors

The end of the war has seen a growth in certain sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism and peace is a positive thing for all of us.

I believe political reforms are still on the agenda, but the focus, correctly, has been on resettlement and development which no doubt will eliminate some if not all of the root causes of the conflict.

The end of the war has provided an opportunity to re-visit the 13th Amendment. Have Provincial Councils delivered? Or are they white elephants that drain the Treasury and fatten politicians while doing little or nothing for the people? Over 60% of the budgets go to maintain the councils, officials and politicians. We have to think about these issues. Serious thought has to be given to proposals such as the one recommending a ‘Panchayat’ system, which would give a greater fillip to on-the-ground self-determination.

The government has recognized a lot of things that need to be done to get the economy back on track. The first signs are encouraging. Appointing professionals to man key areas is an important first step. Harry Jayawardena has been put in charge of the CPC. Cost-cutting, savings and reducing wastage have been his forte apart from his exceptional entrepreneurial and managerial skills.

This would be a good case study for the entire country should he succeed. Similarly, putting J.D. Bandaranayake in charge of the BOI, Nimal Welgama as Chairman-SLT, Ashroff Omar as Chairman-Sri Lanka Tourism and Susantha Ratnayake at the helm of the Tea Board bode well for the future of these important entities.

Important as these appointments are, the long-term sustainability of economic progress rests on getting the entire system revamped. Loss-making corporations like CEB need to be turned around and for this all possible options including restructuring of power generation, transmission, and distribution should be considered. Like in the case of executing the war, rebuilding the economy requires a clear-cut vision and the necessary political will.

The road to normalcy is long. As the nation moves along, some of the restrictions should be lifted. Indeed, lifting restrictions or phasing out the security measures also helps push things towards normalcy.

Irvin Weerackody, Advertising industry veteran

Progress: Unrealistic to expect immediate turnaround

While the expectations of the stakeholders have not been fully met, a gradual progressive economic recovery has been experienced over the past 12 months evidenced by the improved results achieved by a majority of business organizations and the optimism expressed both by existing and potential investors-locally and internationally.

Many industries have begun to show positive consumption growth providing signs of recovery. The process of recovery on all these aspects has its own 'regimental steps' and the 'time demands' to see the fruits of peace.

It’s very important to clearly understand 'who is accountable for what' in terms of using the peaceful environment to perform the various tasks required to benefit the various stakeholders.

There is no doubt that reforms are needed in almost all aspects of economic, social, legal and politics to deliver the aspirations of not only the minorities but the majority too. But business leaders have an accountability to seize the opportunities brought forward by the peaceful environment and propel economic growth rather than waiting for the ideal operating environment to play.

It would be unrealistic to expect an immediate turnaround. However, what we need to understand is that with all these deterrents on top of the war, our economy has grown and the businesses survived and in fact some thrived. So with peace, there is already a big leap one can make and with the reforms a bigger leap. Inflation is likely to rise in the short term but in my view past tactics to fix it in the short term will leave the country with undesired long term negative implications.

The strategy therefore should be to increase the country's revenue and thereby wealth of the people. The government needs to take a stock of things and get the economic house in order with tough visionary decisions - it needs to be more selective on fiscal spending and keep things under control until such time real revenue growth is realized to offer more sweeter fruits in the right quantities for 'sustainable fruits of peace'. With this strong foundation achieving social equality will not be an issue.

Kishu Gomes, Past President – American Chamber of Commerce (Sri Lanka)

Absence of violence the greatest gain

In the year gone by people have benefited from the peace dividend. Absence of violence is the greatest gain. Peace dividends include absence of terror, growth in trade and to a lesser extent in investment, infrastructure development, earning opportunities for the people in the former war zones and return to normalcy.

But progress on certain fronts is slow. Rehabilitation of the IDPs (a gigantic task task), mending the wounds of mind, reconciliation and making all equal citizens need greater thrust and direction by the political leadership.

The government can do more to make the minorities feel secure and equal as citizens. It cannot be done in a year. Letting the people especially in the North and the East to manage their own affairs without political patronage but through civil society leadership, preserving their way of life and environment, removing their fears and promoting socio economic stability will help meet their aspirations.

For a variety of reasons inflation has been low. Economic reforms must be aimed at improving productivity and competitiveness, encouraging savings and investment, attracting investments and maintaining price stability. Individual freedom is better than what it was but much needs to be done.

Deva Rodrigo, Chartered Accountant / Company Director

People in greater fear now than before

What we should have achieved on the first day, we seem to have missed even after one year. i.e. a strong and clear reconciliatory message through word and action. Instead, we seem to have wasted this golden year, as a few individuals seized the opportunity to reinforce their position of power, at great cost.

We cannot expect miracles within a year in areas such as cost of living, although they may be urgent. However, we cannot be satisfied that at least the right measures are in place towards effectively addressing them. People, especially business leaders, social leaders, and journalists seem to be in greater fear now than they were ever before.

Apparel industry entrepreneur

Call for ‘Economic War Heroes’

Now that the war is behind us, we need to create an ‘Economic Army’ that will ‘battle’ the global markets to find opportunities that will bring economic prosperity to Sri Lanka.

All Ministries must be set ‘Economic Targets’ to capture and be held accountable for. The best performers should be recognized as the ‘Economic War Heroes’

Hilmy Cader, CEO – MTI Consulting

Peace is real, not so-called

Ranil Wickremasinghe formalized the territorial claims and status of the Tigers by the 'peace’ he signed with them; it was left to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to defeat the LTTE. There is no LTTE left to fight; the peace is real, not a "so-called" one.

To achieve solutions to the issues listed (political reforms, the economy, etc) in one year is unrealistic, if not impossible. Thirty years of disregard cannot be put right by solutions pulled out of a hat. But peace is the opportunity to find solutions to the many issues listed. Some are complex issues, made more complicated by decades of arrogant neglect.

President Rajapaksa had to fight on many fronts to secure the peace, including holding together a government by offering carrots to a motley band of crossover politicians.

Now that his government is in power, he can truly address the issues. The stopwatch starts ticking from now on.

Dr. D.B.Nihalsingha, TV and film industry professional

13 year-old daughter relishes peace

Last year saw a peaceful environment in the country. We should not underestimate the importance of this. My 13 year-old daughter has never seen Sri Lanka like this. I am happy that has changed and she can enjoy Sri Lanka the way I did in my childhood.

Apart from this there is very little positive to talk about. The most important thing that has happened is the consolidation of power of the ruling regime. Unfortunately there are signs that this power will be used continue a trend that began with the first indigenous constitution of 1972. The ruling classes have used constitutions in this country for two purposes - to construct a highly centralised state, and to prolong the power of the ruling regime.

At the level of society we are not even ready to take a critical look at ourselves after an event that took such a high social and human cost. After the end of an event like this, some societies have the intellectual honesty and capacity to ask some fundamental questions about themselves. Nothing of the sort has happened in Sri Lanka. I am afraid there is no sign of even beginning such a process.

Sunil Bastian, Independent Researcher

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