Benefits of development lost due to lack of communication
by Brian Tissera
The process of regaining Sri Lanka is on track. The economic indicators are good. The economic fundamentals are right. We have converted a minus growth rate of 1.4 percent in 2001 to a positive rate of 5.5 percent so far this year. The strategy and policy implementation is effective said Price Water House Coopers Partner and Vice Chairman Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Deva Rodrigo in an interview with The Island on Thursday.
With all this development, why are large crowds attracted to protests spearheaded by opposition parties, particularly the JVP? Responding to this situation, Rodrigo said that it takes time for the benefits of the economic upturn to trickle down to the people. The profit and loss accounts of listed companies show vast improvements. An area of concern is unemployment, especially of graduates, he said.
However, there are many achievements which have gone unnoticed due to a total lack of communication on the part of the government, the trade chambers, professionals, politicians and community leaders in the private and public sector. The people at grass-root level are not aware that inflation has been brought down to 7% and it is falling further. Prices of essential food items like rice, vegetables, coconut and fish have declined. In addition there have been no price increases of essential items over the last six months or so, he said.
The spiralling rise of the cost of living has been broken. The rupee is of more value than six months ago in foreign markets. Those who demand higher wages should realize that government budget deficits are aggravated by inflation and neutralise the purchasing power of any wage increase. Government and private sector leaders should show that it is the purchasing power of the rupee that matters most. The present economic management has, for over six months, preserved the purchasing power of the rupee. But the people have not been educated about these achievements, he said.
If wages are increased, the budget deficit will go up, so will inflation and all the benefits derived during the last few months will evaporate into thin air.
The need today is for the government to initiate a huge media campaign making use of ministers who are articulate in Sinhala and Tamil to educate the people on macro economic issues and the gains and benefits that will ensue from sound economic management, he said.
It is also important that the chambers get involved in spreading the right message as it will be beneficial to ministers and other political leaders, he added.
Do the chambers speak of the prevailing low interest rates and the growth of business that would result? The masses dont realize the positive features of the present state of the economy.
There must be more talk shows in Sinhala and Tamil. The people must be told when a reduction (even small) in electricity rates is possible, with a shifting from expensive thermal power to coal generated power projects which is cheaper, Rodrigo said .
They must also be told that all this has been possible due to the ceasefire holding for over 1 1/2 years and that the support of the masses is essential to hold on to the gains achieved.
The arguments brought up by the JVP must be met head on. Ministers must be able to tackle problems that arise in their areas of responsibility, he said .
New innovative strategies must be used to solve new problems. The strategy used by the former Minister of Telecommunications Mangala Samaraweera is worthy of emulation. Despite heavy opposition he privatised the SLT having sent the Trade Union leaders to study successful privatisation programmes overseas, he added.
The way Margaret Thatcher overcame the mines union through special legislation making the union responsible for losses caused by unlawful strikes as determined by a legislative tribunal could also be implemented here. Whether it be medical personnel, railwayworkers or anybody else they cannot be allowed to hold the nation to ransom through industrial action. If such unions are made to pay for the national losses incurred, they will be careful not to fall victims to political puppetry, Rodrigo added.
Business enterprises have been excellent role models in Sri Lanka. The MAS Group led by Mahesh Amalean and the Hemas Group, which had outstanding success in its IPO are classic examples Rodrigo said. Everyone making a profit is not worthy of emulation but some companies like MAS Holdings and Hemas Group and other established conglomerates create economic value and derive profit. Those are the business practices we should follow, he concluded.
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