What are some ways Sri Lanka can capitalise on its wealth opportunities?

Most of all we need not only mobilise private investment in “Sri Lanka Inc” but ensure these resources are aligned to the country’s development objectives.

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Sri Lankan youth during the in-famous 'Aragalaya' [Photo: Special Arrangement]

One of the easiest ways is to cut expenditure. It is within the power of Sri Lanka’s status as an island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Put simply, it must capitalise on wealth opportunities given our geography, our knowledge and our experience.

Researchers maintain we have not effectively used the pristine culture and traditions of our island in the most vital need of recovery from debt. Development efforts they complain are not mindful of our heritage. We need to ensure engagement in specialist focus areas.

Have we missed the boat or is it that we want to imitate the West, in living beyond our means? What are some ways that we can focus in areas to help us propel economic development in order to reduce our debt?

Here I list some of the focus areas in our attempt at resource mobilisation.

  1. First and foremost, we need to mobilise our tax revenue.
  2. Facilitate access to concessional finance for new investment.
  3. Direct more attention to private investment.
  4. Reduce remittance cost of migrant Sri Lankan labour.
  5. Effectively train people to manage our debt.
  6. Curb illicit financial flows.
  7. Capacity building.
  8. Promote digitalisation.

Can we immediately address our needs before resource mobilisation?

We have not addressed the importance of “Risk Management”.

We are prone to nature’s risks like flooding, landslides, disruption to coastal flooding,

availability of fresh and drinking water, agricultural production and biodiversity. Need,

I say more, about man’s share of the environment with the animal kingdom, or the less spoken about accidents on roads and highways, due to negligence of man.

Having a Disaster Management Ministry or Department is not sufficient? We have an urgent need to plot the path of large scale disasters of the future and have plan A ,B and C. These large scale disasters lead to serious loss of life, to damage to infrastructure that sets back our incremental developmental process and our way out of debt?

Natural disasters cannot be prevented but an advance plan or programme of risk management has to be effectively managed. Investment in the present will ensure fewer resources are required in the future to respond to such unplanned disasters? In short, we need risk reduction measures as part of strategy of development.

We need more than risk management, we need to bolster our resilience to economic shocks, like what we have recently economically experienced? This is particularly significant on our utter dependence on imports of many essentials, of food and materials which we have grown accustomed. Our disproportionate reliance on tourism and exports of our planation commodities is well known. However, what is not well known is the captive market of women workers.

Women form part and parcel of casual or seasonal jobs in the tourist trade and migrant work.  They are left without safety nets given the informal nature of work and especially without any or much social protection.

The high cost of sending remittances from abroad limits their potential to contribute to sustainable development. The Government must have a plan, a commitment to reduce transaction costs for migrant remittances to less than 3%. It is prohibitive as the market is trading at 10% at present? Need I say, technological advancements can reduce transaction costs? Setting up “Fintech” businesses will greatly facilitate transfer operations and reduce costs?

Most of all we need not only mobilise private investment in “Sri Lanka Inc” but ensure these resources are aligned to the country’s development objectives.

I would suggest we need to levy a “Special tax for compensatory claims for Women undergoing poverty”. This is gender equality in a sense.

Further, our greatest asset is the use of our geographical location in the Indian Ocean. The strength of the maritime transportation system, such as maritime tourism, fisheries and maritime piracy prevention has just been realised, as a wealth opportunity. We need to promote sustainable coastal shipping, rather than overcrowded roads and railways. This service has the benefit of the development of low carbon, cost effective and cheaper coastal transport systems.

A feature that has been ignored up to now is the “exploration” of the untapped reserves of deep seabed minerals, offshore oil/or gas platforms, fish stocks, marine algae. We have not explored our large coastal shelf in the Indian Ocean. This is our opportunity for economic expansion.

It must be noted that these opportunities must be exploited responsibly in a way that protects the environment and man and promotes inclusion and sustainable growth, not greedy exploitation?  It not only requires significant financing but responsible use of the ocean surround. There is investment potential, but it has not been researched?

 Last but no way the least, public expenditure management has been lacking and now is vital. Strong public expenditure management goes beyond conventional government budgeting. Primarily forecasting future needs, a research based budgetary alignment of finances to Sri Lanka development Goals is paramount.

What are our national development priorities? “We desperately need Capital Building, Knowledge Exchange and Technological Transfer, if we are to manage our debt burden within a reasonable time frame for the benefit of our people, our future generation.  

We need all the resources available to us at present to clear our inability to resolve our dependence on hand outs? Resilience involves the ability to recover and rebound from challenges and setbacks. Can we bounce back! Yes we can?

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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