Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Gota shifts from defence and urban development to economics

Viyath Maga at the Shangri-La Colombo:

By C. A. Chandraprema-May 14, 2018, 9:25 pm

At five o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday, long lines of vehicles two abreast were seen on both sides of Galle face, to enter the driveway to the Shangri- La hotel. Alighting from a taxi this writer walked to the hotel. That was quicker. Months after opening, the Shangri-La is the most sought-after hotel in Colombo with its restaurants still fully booked days or weeks in advance. Inside the rugby field sized ballroom was probably the largest gathering of professionals ever seen in this country in one place. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived at around 5.20 pm and the proceedings began soon afterwards. The first to speak was Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He spoke not a word about his previous subjects, national defence and urban development, but solely on economics, spelling out a vision for Sri Lanka for the year 2030 with economic growth being the primary focus.

In the run up to this event, the government and their allies provided it with a great deal of publicity saying this was really the commencement of Gota’s presidential election campaign. They had said the same thing about last year’s Viyath Maga annual general meeting and about the inaugural meeting of the Eliya organization as well. However for those looking for clues relating to intent, this event was replete with what looked like tell tale signs of what was on the cards. The most obvious sign was Gota’s complete shift to economics, and the focus of the entire proceedings being on development and economic affairs alone. Today, it’s the economy that most worries the constituency that was in attendance at that meeting – the business and professional elite. Indeed it’s a major source or worry for the ordinary man on the street as well and in that sense the pitch was timely and relevant.

But to those trying to look for clues, Gota’s concentration on the economy could be seen as a move to prove that he was a one dimensional military man but someone who could shift from fighting a war, to urban development and to economic policy with ease. He said that by 2030, the prognosis was that the Chinese economy was projected to become twice the size of the American economy. India was to come third, Japan fourth and Indonesia will become the fifth. He posed the question whether Sri Lanka was ready for this transformation of the global economy and said that Viyath Maga was engaged in studying how Sri Lanka should be positioned by 2030. Economic growth was posited as the top priority for Sri Lanka. He said that other Asian countries had demonstrated that it is possible to achieve our economic goals and open the country to the world while yet safeguarding our culture and our sovereignty.

He said that structural and policy change would have to be carried out in today’s economy and that if we hesitate in this or delay, we may lose the window of opportunity that is before us. Most of our exports are traditional and low tech and we are lacking in high value added products. As Sri Lanka’s per capita income reaches 4000 USD, the advantage we had in labour intensive industries, no longer exists and we have to make the transition to the use of skilled labour and knowledge based products. At the same time, this is an agricultural country and agriculture cannot be neglected. Therefore agriculture has to be modernized. Scientific and technological research and innovation should be encouraged. The significant fact was that some of the speakers at this event were individuals like Dr. Bandula Wijeratne and Mano Sekaram who had actually achieved in their private lives what was being discussed at this seminar.

The meeting was attended by the cream de la cream of the private sector including the top business magnates and no doubt what they heard from all the speakers, would have been music to their ears. If the private sector was looking for a way out of the morass the country finds itself in today, the Viyath Maga AGM seminar seemed to show the way.

This writer was seated on the last row of the furthest from the entrance and from that distance everything on the stage appeared to be in miniature but when the proceedings were shown on the large screen it could be clearly seen that the usual floral arrangement on the lectern was made up entirely of the ‘Nelum pohottuwa’ the symbol of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. The symbolism spoke a thousand words. Speaker after speaker addressed the audience on an economic vision for the future. All the correct chords were struck at this event. Mano Sekaram, an IT expert who addressed the audience said that the fact that he was invited to speak indicates an appreciation of diversity and inclusiveness and he thanked the organisers for that.

The panel of speakers included members of all communities and the highlight of the evening was a rehabilitated LTTE cadre turned musician singing two songs in Tamil and Sinhala. If anyone was looking for clues that this was Gota’s pitch for the presidency, the whole event seemed replete with evidence that it may indeed be that.