“We all have dreams but, mine is composite of two visions mainly for my grand children. The visions are not new but yet are relevant to the context of today,” said Bradman Weerakoon delivering a lecture to the British Scholars Association of Sri Lanka (BSA) recently at the British Council in Colombo on the subject ‘2020 - Turning Dreams into realty’.
The retired, eminent civil servant re-called the speech made by former Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike during the ceremony when Sri Lanka was granted freedom by the British at the Independence Square and the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. “Mr. Bandaranaike said that the Primary Goals of Sri Lanka is to get freedom from Want, Freedom from disease, Freedom from Ignorance and Freedom from Fear,” said Mr. Weerakoon, adding: ‘Tagore said the same things ‘Where the mind is without Fear and head is held High”.
He said the economic dream for 2020 is prosperity which would be a composite of positive macro-economic fundamentals consisting of low inflation, high employment, favourable balance of payments and trade, at least 8% growth in GNP a fiscal balance, a budget deficit of 5% of GDP, equitable income distribution and an annual per capita income of US $5000 plus, all adding up to a prosperous country.
“The projected main ‘drivers’ of growth would be tourism with 2.5 million visitors by 2016, booming agricultural sector consisting of rice, tea, rubber and coconut a modernised export oriented industry comprising of made garments and others and infrastructure related construction of ports, roads (expressways and rural roads), railways, bridges to villages and many others,” he said.
Mr. Weerakoon emphasized that prosperity is freedom from ‘Want’ for all the people and not for a few, and pointed out that there are many challenges to overcome such as overall poverty at 14%, districts which are lagging behind and serious income inequality where the rich are becoming richer and poor poorer.
Discussing about threats to desired goals, Mr. Weerakoon said that relief to the poor through ‘Samurdhi‘ is not working as it is not targeted accurately and is politicised. In Uganda, 70% of money allocated by government for drugs and supplies are lost in ‘leakage’ and India’s Planning Commission found that only 16% of the resources earmarked for the poor under subsidized food schemes reached them .
Referring to corruption, he said that there is no independent Bribery Commission and stories are abound about rampant ‘use of public office for private gain’.
On goals to ‘Freedom from Ignorance’, Mr. Weerakoon said that the current literacy is not enough to realize this dream in 2020, as it’s anomalous in that ignorance about the world exists along with intelligence by ‘passing examinations’, books are bought but hardly read, media is read but little critical appraisal of it is done’.
He said the knowledge of foreign languages is poor and noted that not even 25% of the population is conversant in English after 210 years of British Colonisation and ‘we have a little or no knowledge of even Chinese or Hindi’.