Optimistic, pessimistic, no a REALISTIC 2017! Taking a cue from my Kussi Amma Sera’s …“Aney Mahatthayo, mokade wenne; ape dannawa nede”, who has often been proved right than wrong, we take a look at what will happen (or not happen) this year. In Sri Lanka, whatever people may say and believe….you don’t need a soothsayer, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

What will NOT happen in 2017!


Optimistic, pessimistic, no a REALISTIC 2017! Taking a cue from my Kussi Amma Sera’s …“Aney Mahatthayo, mokade wenne; ape dannawa nede”, who has often been proved right than wrong, we take a look at what will happen (or not happen) this year.

In Sri Lanka, whatever people may say and believe….you don’t need a soothsayer, an astrologer or a Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena (former President’s Mahinda Rajapaksa’s fortune-teller) to gaze into the future. All you need is some common sense, a little intelligence and a bit of singer Sunil Perera’s ‘Koththamalli’, not only to soothe the nerves but also predict with unnerving accuracy what would happen.

For example, you don’t need an expensive soothsayer to predict that the two governing parties – the UNP and the SLFP – would be at sixes and sevens this year.

In the same breath, you don’t need witchcraft to be told that constitutional reforms (plus a referendum) are unlikely to happen this year (maybe next year but not 2017) given deep divisions in the government which for that matter would, most likely, put many of the plans for 2017 including tough economic reforms, on hold.

Then with the paranoid West imposing more curbs on visitor entry for fear of ISIS, terrorism or simply those who may want to remain without leaving, fewer Sri Lankans would be travelling to Europe, the US and Canada. At least 4-5 genuine travellers who applied to visit these countries in the last two months found their visas turned down.

The reduced number of Sri Lankans travelling to these countries won’t make a dent in world tourism or in those countries for that matter. However, the World Tourism Organisation’s sustained campaign of (more than) ‘One billion tourists: One billion opportunities’ (the milestone one billion was achieved in 2012) will be under strain as borders become increasingly vigilant and entry guidelines are tightened.

It’s also not difficult to hazard a guess and expect more visitors from West Asia and Europe to Sri Lanka as travel to Europe and within that continent becomes challenging. Who wants to go on a holiday if you have to check first whether the country of destination is safe?

While Sri Lanka has become one of the safest destinations in the world today, three months from now (January–end March) will be challenging with the airport closed during the day as crucial renovations to the runway get underway.

Passengers being advised to report to the airport five hours ahead against the normal 2-3 hours may not be to the liking of many tourists. The reality, however, is that these renovations must happen otherwise Sri Lanka risks losing the compulsory airworthiness international certification. Are Sri Lanka’s airport authorities up to the challenge of ensuring a streamlined process of on-time departures and arrivals despite many flights happening at the same time? Time will tell. Time will tell!

With 2017 being a crunch year with uncertain political developments, foreign investment is unlikely to pick up from 2016 (another slow year for FDI). The government’s promise of ‘more transparency, governance and accountability’ in all what it does will not happen again as political pressure and the challenge of keeping the UNP-SLFP coalition regime intact becomes the order of the day.

With such power play and ‘bending to accommodate’ on many fronts including tenders, civil society activists will continue to be unhappy and make all kinds of ‘protests’, however short of calling it a day as their bigger nemesis is Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The cost of living, despite Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s faithful pronouncements, won’t come down as much-needed tax revenue takes pride of place to trim budget deficits and the country’s burgeoning debt. Already there seems to be two schools of thought on the size of the debt position with different sets of figures being discussed in highly-placed government circles.

Both the President and the Prime Minister will continue to draw mixed reviews from the people, more on the negative side as the government faces huge challenges on rising debt which would pave the way for tough and unpopular tax measures or risk losing further support from the IMF, while cracks between the UNP and the SLFP will widen but still, precariously, keep the unity intact.

With consumerism on the trot, consumer resistance to the increasing lack of food quality and dubious products will remain as it was. Consumer resistance has always been an issue and in today’s ‘lack-of-ethical-values’ marketing, protests against substandard food and products are subdued.

In similar vein, the corporate sector will not stop seeking glory from dubious awards as more and more paid-for-awards (which dupe consumers into believing that these companies or individuals are the best-of-the-best) come into the marketplace. The competition – particularly in the marketing fraternity – to acquire awards comes from a plethora of for-profit organisations originating from Asia using labels like ‘World’ or ‘International’ to lend it more credibility. And in the process, the consumer will continue to be suckered in the ‘we-are-the-best’ process.

Don’t believe anyone if they say there would be less corruption and cleaner government. Tenders will continue to ‘bend’ and deal-making will form the core of the mega projects this year. With thousands of Chinese companies coming into the fray at Hambantota, as predicted by the Minister of Development Strategies and International  Trade Malik Samarawickrama, it’s anybody’s guess as to what would happen in terms of the landscape and economy in that region. Another Hong Kong, perhaps?

Also don’t expect flashy but vote-catching projects like mega highways, carpeted village roads and nice parks – a hallmark of the former regime. Instead, make way for more short-term, eye-catching projects like the tourism fest in Colombo or the record-breaking Christmas tree at Galle Face as the government struggles to fulfil the rural voter’s need for visible development.

Finally, on a more personal note people will get more impersonal – not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. This year there were greeting cards that came with the name and address printed on the envelope but inside the card just the name/institution of the sender while in some cases it went to the wrong recipient! Letter-writing has become a tedious process and email or text messages will get more impersonal. Oh for those days when letters were sent with nice flowing handwriting in a time-spent exercise. In fact, the only letters (or most) sent by snail mail to this newspaper are by retirees or those who not only enjoy writing but also have the time to walk to the nearest post office and mail them.

Here’s hoping that I am proved wrong in most of the ‘negative’ bucket list of what will NOT happen. Anyway, look forward to an enjoyable 2017 with the Business Times (hopefully) getting brighter and continuing to dazzle and amaze its readers with a weekly diet of breaking news stories, interesting columns, adventurous BT-RCB  opinion polls and innovative ideas. And not forgetting Kussi Amma Sera‘stirring the pot’ in the kitchen!

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