‘Sustainable (Economic) Development: Key to the National Development’ is a timely, thoughtful and very impressive idea of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. To achieve this, the President has appointed a very capable Minister of Economic Development, none other than his brother Basil Rajapakse. He is supported by Dr. P.B.Jayasundera, who is the Treasury Secretary and a development economist. In 2007, I met Mr. Basil Rajapakse when he was the Senior Advisor to the President at various meetings at the Presidential Secretariat and he impressed me as a very good leader.
The theory of Sustainable (Economic) Development touched on many issues, but the preceding governments have neglected most. Sustainable (Economic) Development, as explained by many, is not necessarily limited to sustaining and protecting the environment alone. It is generally agreed by many economists that Sustainable (Economic) Development lies in optimizing and achieving the goals set across the three systems identified as basic development: the economic system, social system and biophysical resources system. For sustainable development the goals of these three systems should be captured and sustained. Economic growth of a country depends on its human, education, industries, employment and environmental resources. Environment falls into two categories –protecting the environment and the sustainable use of the environment.
Environmental economics has always, in principle, been a central part of economics. There is a propound implication on the way economists think about environmental issues since it goes to the heart of economic growth. In essence it is necessary to have strong economic growth to sustain our development and secure the environment.
Sri Lanka is gifted with two major resources -- human and environmental. We have lost our will to look after the human resources in a fair and decent manner. We do not pursue human resources and economic policies with Sustainable (Economic) Development in mind. Why? Most of our policies run on an electoral basis and politicians with no understanding of the future, direct these policies for their benefits and to their own advantage.
Our education system is not a liberal education system. Most of our educators are not educated enough to understand and direct it in the right way. If we need to develop a sustainable society we need to develop our younger generations, as they are the future leaders in our country. Most of our educators are busy running their own private businesses rather that providing enough time to their students. For Sustainable (Economic) Development in Sri Lanka, we need sustainable education policies, directed by proper educators, and not by failed academics, politicians and retired Army Generals.
Our education system is a theory based education system which does not include any practical training components into the syllabi, as we shun the inclusion of practical studies. Our University education as well as the Technical and Vocational education system should be based on a platform of theory and practical studies if we are looking to achieve Sustainable(Economic) Development programs to look after our future generations, but most our education advisers are ill-equipped to plan.
Energy sector measures, which simultaneously improve economic efficiency, energy efficiency and conservation together with environmental protection, are particularly effective in ensuring sustainable economic growth. On the demand side, better management will include efficient electricity end use, proper load management, and proper pricing. Our energy policies may be similar to these requirements but indifferent application of policies and waiting till the last movement and buckling under political and other pressures hinder the sustainable development of energy sector for the future use.
The philosophy of sustainable (economic) development borrows freely from the science of environmental economics in several major respects. A basic component of environmental economics concerns the way in which economics and the environment interacts. Those who are opposing the Upper Kotmale hydropower project should have recognized the fact that the economy is not separate from the environment; this is fundamental to any understanding of sustainable development.
Sustainable (Economic) Development is closely related to the two major problems faced by most developing countries if not by the whole planet earth. These problems are widespread and increasing poverty and the continuing and dramatic degradation of the natural environment.
The solution to the first problem requires the restructuring of domestic economics to restore balance in external payments. Our enthusiastic politicians can solve this problem with harnessing their collective wisdom by increasing economic development, commonly identified as the Gross National Product.
The solution to the second problem requires a reversal in the deterioration of natural resources such as degradation of land by approving haphazard development projects. Major conflicts between both solutions emerge as soon as the politicians plan projects to improve the welfare of the people and reduce the poverty levels by exploiting the natural resources, a major source of environmental decay.
A country like Sri Lanka with a weak economy is far worse off than a country with a very prosperous economy in addressing the environmental issues and trying to increase the economic growth to look after the population. This creates a “dead end” situation for Sri Lanka, until basic concepts of development started to be challenged by such basic questions as: What is development? and develop a new ‘development philosophy’ with the help of environmental groups.