Phew what a year it was! As we turn the page to January 1, 2021, every Sri Lankan, and for that matter, every citizen in the world would be hoping for a better year than 2020. Peering into the crystal ball, what can we expect? Observance of social distancing, limited contact with crowds, washing the [...]

Business Times

Living dangerously


Phew what a year it was! As we turn the page to January 1, 2021, every Sri Lankan, and for that matter, every citizen in the world would be hoping for a better year than 2020.

Peering into the crystal ball, what can we expect? Observance of social distancing, limited contact with crowds, washing the hands and using hand sanitizers and most important of all, wearing a mask when in a public space will continue to be the norm unless the vaccine is proven to be an effective deterrent against contracting COVID-19.

While these were the thoughts that went through my head this Thursday morning, the trio in heated conversation under the margosa tree had similar ideas. “Ena avurudda meita wediya honda wei kiyala mama balaporoththu wenawa (I hope next year would be a better year),” said Serapina.

“Ennatha eida nethnam apita Dhammika-ge paniya matha vishwase thabanna weida (Will the vaccine come or would we have to rely on Dhammika’s paniya),” asked Mabel Rastiyadu.

Not to be outdone, Kussi Amma Sera interjected: “Paniya deshapalagnayanta deela baluwata passe, minusanta dunnoth hondai (They should try out the paniya on the politicians before giving it to the people).”

At that moment, Aldoris, the choon-paan kaaraya with his lively tune, came down the lane, resulting in the three friends rushing to the gate most probably to annoy him with their incessant complaints that his bakery products are too costly.

I then paused to look back on the happenings of 2020.

The year started on a positive note with a pick-up expected in tourism, which was recovering after the disastrous events surrounding the Easter Sunday bombings in April.

The tourism industry was looking for a better year when COVID-19 broke out in Sri Lanka, initially with a lone Chinese tourist contracting the disease. A few weeks of euphoria that Sri Lanka had managed the case well prompted sections of the tourism industry to proclaim that we had beaten off the pandemic with just one case and was the only country to achieve this. They spoke too soon because more cases started emerging with three to four clusters of infections over the months and as at December 22 there were over 38,000 infections and more than 180 deaths. Lockdowns, isolated areas and limited curfews were the order of the day for most of 2020.

According to multilateral agencies, Sri Lanka’s economy – due to the multiple crises – is seen contracting by 5.5 per cent in 2020, compared to shrinking by 1.7 per cent growth – a forecast by the Central Bank.

While the economy contracted in the first and second quarters, it recovered in the third quarter and is likely to show marginal growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 with an uptick in economic and business activities, according to government sources.

However, there are some doubts cast on the 3rdQ growth and a similar positive growth expectation in the 4thQ with economists saying it’s hard to believe there would be positive growth in the last two quarters of the year. Questions were also raised as to the delay in releasing the second quarter economic growth figures.

Upcoming challenges to the country include the servicing of foreign debt payments which the government confidently says won’t be an issue in 2021. Sri Lanka has never defaulted on its debt payments and is unlikely to do so in the future. However, the Business Times poll conducted this week to assess the prospects of 2021, showed that while people are confident that the economy will grow, there is less confidence in servicing foreign debt and on whether business will improve to 2019 levels.

On vaccines, there is hope (if people are not fooled by the various concoctions offered in the market claiming to be miracle cures) that this would be available to Sri Lanka by the first half of 2021. Representatives of international agencies – UNDP, WHO and UNICEF – met the Prime Minister on Tuesday and promised support in the procurement and distribution of the vaccine.

The Central Bank moratorium on the repayment of loans has been extended on two occasions, while billions of rupees have been given mainly to SMEs as low-cost loans to overcome the crisis. The moratoriums have been extended but the longer it takes to repay, the ‘repayments’ pain increases in intensity.

Sri Lanka is yet to open up for tourism while a group of Russian tourists landed at the BIA on Saturday as a charter group in a pilot project by the authorities to ascertain whether the country is ready with the health guidelines to welcome tourists. The country is likely to open to tourism in mid-January 2021.

On the positive side, the LOLC group, one of Sri Lanka’s fastest growing conglomerates, entered into a US$1 billion investment deal with the Colombo Port City, while a few other foreign investments will also boost FDI this year.

As I was planning to call a friend and ask for his views on the future, in 2021, the phone rang. It was know-all neighbour Haramanis of broken-English fame on the line.

“I say… we should meet for a drink before the year ends,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Good, good…let’s meet,” I replied, adding: “I am writing about what would happen in 2021. What do you think will happen?”

“Well…what for the talking, COVID-19 will be over,” he said. “Are you sure? I don’t think so,” I said. “Why not… there is a vaccine, noh?” was his rejoinder.

“That’s a solution but the COVID-19 pandemic will remain for a long time and we need to learn to live in the new normal with face masks, washing hands and social distancing,” I said. “Is that so… I made a mistake …. I thought the vaccine would stop the virus,” he said.

Saying goodbye, with a promise to meet next week, I ended the conversation.

Now it was time to get my second mug of tea with the column almost over. As Kussi Amma Sera walked in with the tea, she smiled and said: “Bohoma amaru avuruddak (It has been a very difficult year),” to which I nodded.

So, its’ goodbye 2020, a year in which we lived dangerously, often forced to stay indoors, while hoping that the situation would improve at least by the end of the second quarter of 2021. Meanwhile here’s wishing all our readers a blessed 2021!

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.