Here’s to awakening and revival
During the last decade, our neighbour Bangladesh has made huge economic strides, addressing critical issues like poverty, dramatically improving infrastructure, and harnessing the power of its young, digital-ready workforce to register annual gross profit growth rates of 8%; the same is forecast for 2020, compared to the 3.5% forecasted for Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has surged ahead to become the world’s second largest apparel manufacturer – an industry worth $ 30 billion – and the country is making inroads into establishing itself as a tech hub. The Government of Bangladesh expects technology exports to grow from $ 1 billion to $ 5 billion in just two years. The improved economic parameters have led to spectacular gains in human development indicators.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has led the economic charge since assuming office in 2009, has won grudging respect for the country’s advancement, but her authoritarian style has also won her plenty of critics. Under her rule, independent institutions stand accused of rapidly becoming anything but, while she continues to wage war on multiple fronts like radicalisation, corruption, and the incessant barrage of climate-related crises that continue to batter her nation. She has over the last decade displayed the strong politics necessary for radical change and has chosen to make the private sector her partner in driving that growth.
Going by the performance of our new President over his first few weeks in office, we now have an implementer-in-chief; one that sets targets, pushes for performance, and most importantly operates on a can-do mindset. In setting the tone of his presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has chosen to carve a fresher identity for himself, emerging from his military past into a presidential style that seems to seek a more approachable, benevolent, and convivial definition balanced with his known traits of discipline, determination, and the ability to see big-picture solutions. Time will tell if that indeed becomes his reality. We are, after all, in the very early days of his tenure.
He has followed through on his pledge to draw in professionals; key positions are now occupied by corporate leaders and professionals who have proven themselves far outside of the realm of politics. They now have the task of professionalising their public sector charges and creating the conditions conducive to achieving accelerated growth. As professionals, these key appointments also serve as effective conduits between the State and the private sector, speaking the same language as the important engine of growth.
Politicians, as this column has harped on many a time, are those vested with the responsibility of setting policy and managing the nation’s geostrategic interests. It is a failure of the electorate that the role of politicians has mutated to the all-powerful, often-corrupt, far-from-accountable form of the present day. But here too, we the polity must stop whining and create that change. In a few short months, we wield the power of electing 225 new representatives; it is in our own interests that we should demand we have the opportunity to choose the right candidate from the right list of nominees.
But leaving all else aside, as Sri Lankans we must use this moment to better ourselves; the benefits of political stability, renewed vigour, multiple subsidies and tax breaks, and advantages of social welfare will all amount to nought if each of us makes no effort to get to work and get things done. Efficiency and productivity cannot happen in a vacuum – only human effort will trump all else. If we don’t do our part, no president or government can do magic on our behalf.
May 2020 be a year of awakening, revival, and the crafting of a new chapter for Sri Lanka and its people.