What can be done to make Sri Lanka great again?

The government, instead of relying solely on exports and tourism to sustain our economy and repay our debt, can explore possibilities of selling our talented home labour, in particular, our nursing staff, on short-term contracts to the world market.

2 mins read
A lotus tower and a walking man's reflection can be seen from a waterway in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 23, 2023.

Our country has enormous potential but needs to exploit it. Who can we ask to do it for us but our own people? Failing to make what it needs to turn around our ailing economy and improve family finances is wanton neglect.

“In 2021, the estimated population of the UK-born in Sri Lanka was 131,000. Most Sri Lankans live in London, South East England, East England, and The Midlands. However, the number of people of Sri Lankan descent might be around 300,000-400,000. Somewhere around 20,000 or more elderly retirees are in need of care.

What can the diaspora do to help?

For starters, giving elderly Sri Lankans living abroad who want to return to their place of birth, spending some quality time of their lives, enjoying the country of their birth in their old age, is a clamoring need.

Many aged and infirm Sri Lankans wish to return to their homeland after years of toil abroad. Many elderly Sri Lankans abroad live lonely lives, with their children at work during the whole day, unable to fend for themselves without additional care services attending at home. The cost of care services is unaffordable for many, and they presently live agonizing lives and need urgent help. The government must set up homes for the aged diaspora all over the island to accommodate the elderly wanting and waiting to return home. It is a service clamouring for recent attention. They may be old, but many don’t need a handout from the government. They have saved money, and with their pensions paid abroad, they can manage to pay for their home care in their homeland. This is an urgent need that has to be met sooner rather than later.

The clamour of Sri Lankan youth and the trained individuals desperately wanting to migrate in their thousands, seeking work abroad and crowding outside the Passport Office daily in Colombo, paying Rs.30,000/- for a passport, cannot all necessarily find visas for work abroad. Visa facilitation agencies now charge Rs.80,000/- without a guarantee. Instead of cajoling them, many can be trained as care workers for the elderly at home, a cost ten times cheaper than such care service training given abroad.

Exploit outsourced work contracts from abroad carried out cheaper in Sri Lanka?

The government, instead of relying solely on exports and tourism to sustain our economy and repay our debt, can explore possibilities of selling our talented home labour, in particular, our nursing staff, on short-term contracts to the world market. Like what India and Britain are doing, importing Indian technocrats on short-term contracts for work in the UK. Outsourced work is becoming the order of the day worldwide. There is a shortage of trained care workers abroad, and the government can establish health care training centers in all parts of the country to cater to this demand. It’s no longer manual labour, such as masons, carpenters, and cooks, who are sought for work abroad.

Overcapacity in shipping and container traffic means diversity

Containerized shipping is less in demand due to world markets and trading conditions in the foreseeable future. Maersk Shipping, which controls about one-sixth of the global container trade, has reported a steep drop in third-quarter profit and revenue and is due to cut at least 10,000 jobs in the face of overcapacity, rising costs, and weaker prices. This indicates that the Port of Colombo and perhaps Hambantota will feel the pinch. The need to diversify by the government taking preemptive action seems necessary to avoid this downturn in container demand trade revenue through our ports.

Alternative revenue streams could mean out-of-the-box thinking and an impending shortage of containers for our exports. Import trade could also be affected.

Sri Lanka can be great again by giving inducements for trade investment by the government, which is not carried out at present. Whether this is possible in the near future given our circumstances is anybody’s guess.

Victor Cherubim

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

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