Part 7: Summary—Leadership Needed For Socio-Economic Success in Sri Lanka – A candid study and an action plan Economic and social development for Sri Lanka
Posted on May 30th, 2023

by Professor Sunil J.  Wimalawansa

Types of leadership Sri Lanka needs?

To advance the country, Sri Lanka needs a new generation of younger, educated, patriotic and self-sacrificing, honest, and intellectually mature people in leadership positions who understand the economy and how the country could develop sustainably.  An energetic, open-minded, honest, broadly educated, younger generation must replace the currently ailing politicians at each level of central and peripheral governments. Dedicated leaders must possess a long-term vision and are collectively willing to take firm decisions, work hard to overcome barriers and improve Sri Lanka for future generations.

 In addition to eradicating terrorism, the new leadership should replace ancient and outdated laws, take bold steps, and enact legislation to reverse the damage done via the adverse decisions made by the successive governments in Sri Lanka.  The latter is mainly derived from the influence of NGOs and foreign powers.  These measures must ensure the unitary status of Sri Lanka, the recreation of a righteous society—with the right ideas, speech, and effort (livelihoods), and the re-introduction of patriotism—genuine Sri Lankan history, Sri Lanka’s first attitude and valuing of local products.  Recently, the history of Sri Lanka was een intentionally fabricated by unscrupulous religious groups according to the instruction of whims and fantasies of foreign influentials: this must be stopped.

Real Sri Lankan history must be reintroduced and protected, and the artificial history that crept into the school curriculum over the past three decades must be eliminated.  In parallel, the reintroduction of patriotism and value systems needs to be added to the school curriculum, starting from primary school— Law and order must be restored and strictly maintained throughout the country.  Without these fundamental requisites, there is no hope for progress or success for Sri Lanka—it to continue as a developing country for generations to come.  

Effects of globalization and world trade on Sri Lanka

As per the World Trade Organization, domestic price support and subsidized production can squeeze out imports and may encourage the dumping of low-priced worthless stuff in developing countries.  According to the Uruguay Round agreement on agriculture under the World Trade Organization, new rules and commitments apply to market access (for agriculture products will be based on tariffs), domestic support, and export subsidies.  Before the Uruguay Round, quotas and other non-tariff measures restricted some agricultural imports.  The agreement does allow some domestic agricultural subsidies. 

 On the other hand, heavily subsidized agriculture in industrialized countries, like the USA, the European Union, and China, distorts world agricultural trade and adversely affects the selling of products from developing countries—blatantly unfair competition.  High subsidies and favourable tariffs in industrialized countries effectively and unfairly protect their domestic product prices and export markets from imports from the USA, China, and Europe.  For instance, cotton imports from the US to India have substantially increased due to US cotton subsidies, as the export of wheat/corn from Russia and Ukraine to the rest of the world.  The dumping of US cotton has virtually destroyed the Indian cotton plantation and corn industries in other smaller countries.  Other well-established self-protective practices exist in the US and the European Economic Community for protecting their farmers.  Navigating those needs skills and persuasion.

Within a long-term national economic development plan, it is essential not to alienate or neglect the countryside and two-thirds of over 25,000 struggling villages in Sri Lanka with their traditional culture and economic bases.  For example, the agricultural base and the tank-based irrigation systems for agriculture in Sri Lanka have existed for thousands of years: these must be reviewed and nurtured with some modernisation to improve productivity. 

Once the government subsidies and unprioritised projects are discontinued, those funds should be used for earmark investments to revamp ancient tanks and irrigation systems, so crops like paddy can be grown in both Yala and Maha seasons.  Preferably crop rotation with a third crop would make the arable land productive throughout the year, generating year-round income for farmers.  The following are key points that would lead to a prosperous Sri Lanka:

  • Eradication of terrorism and directing the savings to infrastructure development, education, and agriculture.  Poverty alleviation is crucial to achieving peace and law and order in the country.  When law and order are established, uncertainties, violence, and terrorism gradually wither away—a key to building sustainable peace.  Therefore, curbing terrorism, alleviating poverty, and bringing all religious, ethnic, and social sectors together as Sri Lankans” are the three crucial steps needed to achieve and maintain peace, prosperity, and economic growth in Sri Lanka. 
  • Skills training and creating job opportunities: Minimize adverse effects of globalization by educating, re-training, and empowering citizens, beginning in schools and universities.  Removing fallacies and unnecessary and distractive subjects from the curricula and replace with skills essential for the future is necessary to strengthen social measures and prepare for future development needs, including expansion of skills training and meaningful employment beyond the Samurdhi programs.  Enhancing small-scale (cottage) industries throughout the country, especially in rural areas.  The latter would minimize unnecessary migration of youth to cities and resist the penetration of negative frontiers and culture of globalization while enhancing employment and capturing the benefits of new technology for development.
  • Healthcare: Pause building larger hospital complexes and specialised centres (white elephants) like renal hospitals mistakenly—these are not what the country needs now.  Sri Lanka must divert the money to village-based health centres across the rural regions.  This would allow villagers to obtain preventative and curative care locally rather than spending the entire day travelling to city hospitals.  This public health-based approach provides the necessary infrastructure and trained workforce, markedly improves preventative healthcare and maternal and child health, eradicates infectious diseases and vector-borne diseases like Dengue, and reduces morbidities and mortalities.  It will reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.
  • Curricula and the education system: Out-of-date education system in Sri Lanka needs modernization urgently. While fiddling and maintaining the status quo is easy for entrenched bureaucrats, it does not justify what the country expects from next-generation of youth—honest and ethical businesspeople, transparent leaders, focused entrepreneurs, and unselfish politicians.  The current education system does not address any of these.  Thus, it is crucial to modernise the outdated education system and curricula in schools and universities in Sri Lanka. These are grossly outdated and do not provide the necessary learning, training, and examination systems our children deserve to make them great citizens and fulfil the county’s future needs.  It must be renewed to align with the changing country’s needs, global requirements, and future needs of Sri Lanka. 
  • Decentralization of economic activities: Sri Lanka should consider shifting its economic bases from main cities like Colombo to other districts.  For example, with the expansions of the Asian markets, it is logical to expand the Trincomalee harbour, which is one of the deepest and the best natural harbours in the world—converting it into a central shipping hub in Southeast Asia is warranted.  In conjunction with the nearby massive petroleum storage facility, it can easily accommodate any size ship and manoeuvre and provide direct access to Asian Tiger markets—Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, and Malaysian markets.
  • Focus on Ascian markets: Within three decades, the mentioned four markets, together with India, will be the leading markets in the world.  With the inevitable gradual decline of the formerly lucrative North American and European markets, Sri Lanka and the neighbouring South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries must focus on Asian trade.  In the interim, India is trying to dig an unsustainable deep canal (between Mandapam, Rameswaram and Talaimannar ports) in shallow waters—Sethu Samudram, disguised as for commercial shipping.  However, the primary goal of this project is for military purposes of the Indian navy—to prevent the detection of submarine traffic.  However, it will be a futile project, as there is no way to keep the patency of such a shallow canal on the seabed without getting covered with sand.  Nevertheless, in the unlikely event, India is successful in this project, it would benefit the expansion of the Trincomalee harbour with a significantly shorter route to Europe and the Middle Eastern region for commercial shipping.
  • Control of unscrupulous I-NGO activities: Sri Lanka must prevent inappropriate foreign countries and I-NGO influence in Sri Lankan affairs, domestic politics, and religious interferences.  Therefore, it must prioritise this for national security interests and to protect sovereignty.  Besides, these are essential for political stability, prosperity, and preventing another terrorist war. 
  • Restrict foreign company-based economic development to certain controlled areas: Such as the proposed new Sri Lanka Development Zones, as seen in the Shanghai model, such developments should be restricted to regions that can be regularly monitored.  This would enable Sri Lanka to close observer its activities while enjoying economic and commercial successes and minimizing the negative consequences of globalization spreading to the countryside and villages.
  • New larger projects: Open trade is supposed to improve Sri Lanka’s economy.  Nevertheless, globalization policies should not be rushed to implement without studying in-depth their long-term impacts.  There will be natural adjustments, significant displacements, geological and environmental effects, and harmful societal impacts.  These must be investigated, and appropriate firm action to mitigate harm, even before these projects commence. 
  • Attention to neglected sectors and rural regions: Neglected sectors, such as environment, education and skills training, infrastructure, preventive healthcare, proper coordinated transportation, shipping, and fisheries industries, must be attended to improve efficiencies with modernisation while curtailing unnecessary costs (including the elimination of non-value-added items, bribery, and corruption).  It is necessary to harmonize society leading to political stability and social and economic development.  Regarding the environment, the government must take firm steps to preserve protected nature reserves, forestry, and lakes, minimize pollution and toxic waste dumping, mandate local governments for regular garbage collections, prevent mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue, and use domestic waste products for compost and biogas development instead of landfill and incineration. 


It is essential that the Sri Lankan government embraces meaningful and effective regional partnerships and alliances with emerging new regional economies (SAARC) and learn and adopt development strategies from the economic models of other emerging economies such as China and India.  It also adapted from the Singaporean model, like Sri Lanka’s, Colombo-Plan model implemented by Lee Kuan Yu in Singapore.  As a patriotic leader, he had the wisdom and insight and had no regret in borrowing the Colombo Plan from the Sri Lankan government to develop his country.  It is time to dump corruption, nepotism and other prevailing irregularities and prioritise all appointments to meritocracy, honesty, and the ability to do the job.  In parallel, it must eliminate unnecessary and unfair regulations and influences by foreign NGOs and countries and focus on its economic development.

A vision for economic success and social development of developing countries like Sri Lanka should incorporate sensible, practical, and cost-effective approaches.  To attract FDIC investment in Sri Lanka needs to incentivize potential investors, eliminate corruption, optimize the use of natural resources, upgrade the infrastructure, and cut the red tape.  It has comparatively low-cost skilled labour, a favourable climate, predictable rain pattern, and salubrious beaches all around the Island.  It also has an educated and trainable population who could benefit from experienced and motivated expatriates to gain expertise in technology and technology transfer, advice, and new ideas for developing and progressing in most fields.  These resources can assist in developing recognizable brand names and high-quality finished products for export, capable of competing with goods from China, Taiwan, and South Korea.  Unfortunately, it does not have a stable, trustworthy, and transparent government.

In the long term, Sri Lanka must eliminate loan traps set by IMF, World Bank, and countries like China.  Taking additional loans when the government struggles to service the current loans is suicidal.  Reduce and eventually remove subsidies and utilize those funds for proper development projects that provide high returns to the country.  It must adopt long-term, viable, sustainable national policies to develop the country while protecting sovereignty and unitary status.  This should begin with eradicating terrorism and maintaining security, law, and order.

The country must identify unique resources and invest in cost-efficient alternative energy sources to eliminate dependence on imported fossil fuels (oil and coal).  Environmental protection, use of least polluting and renewable sources for power generation (e.g., hydroelectric, capturing sea-wave energy), stopping dumping waste and polluting the environment, preservation of flora and fauna, protect national and natural reserves and conservation of forests.  These developments should preserve and strengthen the unique culture and heritage in Sri Lanka and the values of Sri Lankans for generations to come.  These can be achieved via well-planned urban and semi-urban development to support rural industries and provide long-term sustainable employment, growth, and prosperity.

Sri Lanka’s internal economy was and will be agriculture-based for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, it is vital to nurture farmers and the needs of their families.  In parallel, most employment in developing countries is provided by small businesses, not larger manufacturing factories, and should not be by the government.  The government must facilitate them by identifying and promoting the selling and exporting of their products.  The country needs to focus on new innovative ways to achieve economic and social growth without destroying the culture and environment and over-exploiting natural resources.  Maintaining a market–driven economic approach would facilitate international trade, which does not compete or scavenge local produce, cultural heritage, multi-cultural and religious values, and personal freedom (of individuals and the press).

To achieve vigorous economic and social development, the Sri Lankan government must reverse ongoing negative constraints that increased over the past three decades, created by politicians, conflicted unscrupulous I-NGOs and businesspersons.  Despite these difficulties, an appropriately planned and focused program can achieve the desired goals and prosperity for the country.  Politicians must set aside petty party politics for all national issues: economy, education, agriculture, law and order, national policies, long-term development projects, social development, etc.  The commitment, support, and courage of the politicians, the business community, and the entire nation are needed to achieve this goal leading to the country’s prosperity.  We need to put the country first, not politics.

Regardless of the political ideologies and desire for power, fair, innovative, and clean governance is in everybody’s interest.  A nation that does not look for novel and innovative ways to grow will not progress and will be stuck as a developing country forever.  Policies and laws of the county must be updated and forward-looking and not get stuck in the past.  Boasting and living the past by politicians and bureaucrats would not provide a better future for Sri Lankans. Achieving prosperity depends on honesty, transparency, solid leadership, collective political will, strategic long-range vision, planning, and implementation.  Irrespective of their petty ethnic and party politic differences, the nation must be united as Sri Lankans to develop the country for future generations.  Together, as SRI LANKANS, we can achieve these goals.

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