Making Sri Lanka Great
Posted on December 27th, 2009

Aloysius Hettiarachchi Brunei

I watched the CNN program “ƒ”¹…”Keeping America Great’ at lunch time on Christmas day during a recent visit to Singapore. It featured Bill Gates and Warren Buffet taking a range questions from students of varying backgrounds. It was a great affair with many students, including top business school students from different parts of the world, taking on two of the richest men of the world.

Both Gates and Buffet were in agreement that the capitalist system the US has created will be responsible for keeping United States great and that their country will continue to dominate the world scene for years to come. Bill Gate’s approach to the questions was more pragmatic in that he realized the need for the US to integrate their economy with other developing major powers like China and India, while Warren Buffet was confident that the capitalist business system could ride it alone. I am sure our viewers who had the opportunity to watch this program would have found it inspiring. It is worthwhile if our local channels could telecast this program for the benefit of our viewers who could not watch it.

Are there any lessons for Sri Lanka in what these two highly accomplished individuals said? These two men had the advantage of being in the right country at the right time and they were able to take advantage of the opportunities presented.

We all know that existing systems in our country was created by imperialistic nations of Europe. They always looked down on countries such as ours and in those times, we never had a chance to rise up. To them we were just a group of people with outdated philosophies and no chance of prospering. Sadly, this was the mentality of even some of our own people, especially the affluent few from Colombo who migrated to western countries immediately after graduating.

I am reminded of a book I came across three decades ago in a book shop in London entitled “ƒ”¹…”Time and Man’ written by two PhD. holders from Australia. The book starts with a quotation from a letter written by a British governor in Ceylon in 1805 to the colonial office in London. It goes thus “There is not a single soul in this country who would not like to sit under a tree and while away the time rather than engage in some productive work and earn an income”. Since Ceylon was mentioned I decided to buy the book. The book was actually about a scientific treatment of time. It went on to explain the dilation of time by Einstein’s theory and the perception of time by man from the point of view of different people. The authors ended the book by praising the eastern people’s philosophy of impermanence and not caring about time.

However what the two authors did not know was that Sri Lanka was once a great country whose ships ruled the waves long before their ancestors reached Australia. According to the Mahavamsa, during king Parakramabahu’s time (11th century), the whole of east coast of Sri Lanka was once a big shipyard which prepared fleet to invade a south eastern country. However they lacked navigation techniques and only a few reached the destination, eventually defeating the enemy. It was an eccentric Portuguese prince who established the world’s first naval school and the Portugese immediately started conquering the world. The Spanish, Dutch and English followed and establish colonies all over the world.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet today speak from that advantage point built by their European forefathers.

Is our nation too not able to reach great heights? We have the human resources and our geographical location is ideal to create a booming economy. We have the likes of Tony Weerasinghe who built the fastest trading system in the world for London stock exchange. Our apparel industry created by free enterprise are among the best in the world. Soon Sri Lanka will be a top tourist destination. There is no government control in these sectors.

I put forward to the reader that our government should let the private sector build our economy. It should keep law and order and provide good governance and ensure that our resources are not squandered under the pretext of building mega infrastructure projects. It should not allow the foreigners to dictate terms to us in order for us to take big loans. We should allow our local engineers, architects and other specialist to dominate the scene, similar to what countries like Singapore and Malaysia have done. The infrastructure will develop as our businesses flourish and the economy will naturally grow along with this.

According to a universal law of thermodynamics the disorder (entropy) in any given system tend to increase. This is a natural phenomenon that applies to human systems as well. Our government should not allow disorder to set in, in our society. It should apply external pressure and keep order and allow the private sector to make our country great again.

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