Major parties set economic policy goals leaving people scratching their heads

by Sanath Nanayakkare

If you watched the TV show hosted by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) on Rupavahini last week with former MPs Dr. Harsha de Silva (UNF), Bandula Gunawardane (UPFA) and Sunil Handunnetti (JVP) on the panel, you would have spent a lot of time scratching your head and wondering what strategy options, what array of tools in the macro policy toolbox they would be using to achieve the lofty economic policy goals--each of these political parties has set-- for the next five years.

Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the United National Front for Good Governance would implement an economic policy designed to produce the macro outcome of a 'pro-social market economy.'

Former minister Bandula Gunawardane said the UPFA would be unveiling its policy intended for a 'humanitarian market economy', and former MP Sunil Handunnetti said that the JVP's economic policy would be based on a people-based production and services model.

When the mediators of the programme Udan Fernando and CCC CEO Mangala Yapa asked if the former MPs could show where their proposed economic models were working; Harsha de Silva cited Germany and Japan. Gunawardane cited China and Korea.

Pressed for more details on how the expected macro-outcome would be achieved by the UNF, Harsha de Silva said," Our policy levers will be pulled to create a knowledge-based workforce to deliver high competitiveness and productivity. We'll be gearing our workforce to compete with 'Tiger economies' such as Malaysia. We'll create equal opportunities for everyone allowing the broader sections of the masses to enjoy the dignity and rewards of work. The new policy will do its utmost to ensure social justice. Without social justice, there's no true meaning of growth. We'll not give priority to bricks and concrete, we'll give priority to human beings by up-scaling their employable skills. The main feature of our policy framework will be growth in an expanding economy with more output, more jobs and higher incomes for the households nearly every year. Despite much hailed economic growth between 7-8% in the recent past, the household income had risen only by 0.5%. How can one explain this unacceptable disparity?"

Bandula Gunawardane pointed out that the country's economy expanded in the post-war era with the North and East also integrating into the mainstream economy. "A lot of infrastructure projects were completed to support growth. However, for major infrastructure projects such as Hambantota sea port and the airport to generate expected income, other supplementary projects must also have come into operation around them. It didn't happen. That was the reason there was a down-time in obtaining returns on these investments. UPFA's economic programme for the next term in office will focus on upgrading both human and physical resources at the same time, striking the right balance, he said.

Sunil Handunnetti bringing the discussion to a climax of sorts said," We still have not figured out our transaction share in the world market. In a global point of view, the nation's output has declined along with its earnings over the last three and a half decades. In 1977, for every 200 USD of global transactions, Sri Lanka's share was one US dollar. In other words, it was USD 200:1. Today our global transaction share is 2000:1. Isn't this an alarming figure? Where did we go wrong? Where we went wrong was we couldn't identify the economic and service segments we could excel in. We totally missed out on utilizing the ocean-based resources around our island. Instead we became a hub for imports. Our pharmaceuticals come from India. Apples from Australia, milk from New Zealand. Toys from China. Even in our domestic market, our own products don't have a market share. This is the harsh reality, therefore, JVP's economic programme will stimulate a production and services based economy with the full participation of the people."

This TV show will go on air tomorrow from 10:30pm -12:30am on Rupavahini and the CCC will apparently strive to get the best message across to the people in an impartial manner to make voters aware what's in store for them after the new parliament is formed.

Hopefully, the viewers will hear in the coming shows how our economic policy makers are going to deal with the accumulated national debt which is both incomprehensible and frightening.

This is especially relevant as Handunnetti noted that each citizen of this country currently owes Rs. 390,000.

According to what Handunnetti said, if the average citizen got a statement this year based on the current national debt, your statement would read something like this.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sri Lanka,

You two's share of the national debt is currently Rs. 780,000. Would you like that amount to be deferred to your grandchildren?


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