To be nationally poor is a public choice 7 1150

By Bradley Emerson MBA Sri Jayawardenepura

The inception of my career as a banker in the late 70s was about the same time that Sri Lanka acted on a revolutionizing move to become the first South Asian nation to liberalize its trading economy. Ever since I have been hearing Sri Lanka as a “developing” nation. Fast forward to four decades and several regimes later we are still a “developing nation”. What is it to be a developing nation; What is to be a rich nation and what is it to be a poor nation. The Department of Census and Statistics records Sri Lankans per capita GDP for the year 2019 at $ 3,852 per annum whilst Singapore, who’s open trade regime were developed much later recorded a thumping $65,977. Singapore’s benchmark strategies are spoken of at many forums to highlight its economic ascension from what was once a poor country with a GDP per capita of only $320 in par with Sri Lanka. The success story of Singapore’s economic and demographic development surpasses a single systematic exposition, however, it is crucial in this context to act as an expediential comparison and maybe give an insight or two for Sri Lankans.

Following an economic growth of just 5.3% after the civil war ended and low fiscal revenues combined with mountains of debt,Sri Lanka is classified as among the developing economies by the United Nations Secretariat (UN/ DESA). Comparatively, Singapore ranks sixth highest in the world for a country that possesses half the natural resources as Sri Lanka.

How do we allow this term to dominate us?

I have been hearing of Sri Lanka being trapped by this economic definition for as long as fifty years. Our present standard of living is at least ten times behind that of Singapore, and our drastically slow pace is only weighed down by our debt portfolio. Whilst searching for answers, numerous evidence pointed to the lack of persistence and political instability coupled with low demographic development with a relatively large population earning an income that is just enough to survive.

A radical change is required to overcome this crisis, but what will continue to be a barrier to growth is only ourselves, which arrives at the core lesson to be learned before we begin our mandate. To be nationally poor is a public choice; to navigate this crisis is dependent on our determination. Only we are stopping ourselves from capitalizing on our potential.

Mynt (1973) suggests the key indicators of economic development are the level of per capita income, rate of growth of per capita income, and the widening inequality in the distribution of income, but there is much debate on the contribution of economic production to the country’s prosperity. Sri Lanka’s current account deficit in 2018 amounted to $7.57 billion which was exacerbated by a challenging external environment with the Easter attacks and now the latest COVID-19 outbreak. The country’s export performance declined from a growth rate of 4.1% to 1.44% by the end of 2019, losing out on much-needed foreign exchange that can be utilized to pay off debts. With little to no reserves and a declining rate in the exports, a call for transformation in the policies is imperative to focus on export growth.

Performance into perspective:

In 1969 following the independence of Singapore from the Malaysian Federation, a Singaporean Dollar was exchanged at $0.35 against the Sterling Pound whilst the same could be purchased at SLRS 13.40 in Ceylon. Since 1981, the monetary policy in Singapore was centered on the control of the exchange rate, and today, their currency is equal to £0.57 whilst the SLRS is 237. How did we get here? Is it not by choice? Sri Lanka like any other developing nation is a political economy. What does it mean? It means that every economic policy has the flavour or influence of the political agenda of the incumbent regime. The result is that our direct debt to GDP is around 70% and nearly 90% of our national revenue is expended to service these debts. How do we survive? Just imagine if 90% of your family income is used to service debts, how could you sustain your family without sinking deeper into debt?

There is no doubt that our country is in dire need of an effective policy to reduce an approximate one billion trade deficit a month. The deficit stems from importing more than we export which impacts our reserves. The exchange rate against the dollar reached an alltime high of Rs. 191 in April 2020. The early 2000s experienced a 2.8% yearly depreciation and it was as high as 9.1% for the four year period of 2015-2018 alone. The public has failed to grasp the reason behind the depreciation over the rupee – but the Central Bank’s quick-fixes through injection of money contributed towards a further hindrance to the growth.

In attempts to achieve the government’s export target or rather reduce the trade deficit, stringent measures and banning mechanisms have come into play. However, the effectiveness of these proposals are far from favourable along with strong opposition from the public. From an accountant’s point of view, where we are today as a nation with political interventions on the implementation of policies, fiscal account deterioration and racks of debt; we will easily be written off as ‘bankrupt’. Sri Lanka is in a fight for survival and it is our responsibility to help the nation get back on its feet.

An appeal for long-term change:

The late Prime Minister Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike took oath in 1960 as the world’s first female Prime Minister, yet another disruption against the conventional norms in the political economy. Her regime prioritized incentivizing the local industries and capitalizing on domestic knowledge for production. It is agreeable that the lack of an open economy failed to drive economic opportunities, however, the brutal “produce or perish” notion encourages self-sufficiency that which we lack today due to our dependency on international trade.

‘Tea, rubber, cocoa and coconut is a common man’s answer to what our main drivers of export revenue were, yet it is shameful that during 2018, our imports consisted of 5.13% of rubber and 1.89% of tea. We even import coconuts.

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Modern Singapore implemented systems based upon the development of the country’s resources to improve trade and the quality of life. A notable example being the revival of the Singapore River around which businesses and factories developed. The project which took up to 10 years created a foundation for innovation, improvements in transportation, tourism, and water supply.

We possess abundant resources for our island to thrive; the agriculture industry, tea destinations and massive potential to become a global tourism hub. Known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, our island is at a prominent location which is of the essence to create a competitive advantage. Yet, it is ironic that we import salt and fish when the sea surrounds us. In 1978 when I embarked on my first trip to India, we carried bags full of spices to be locally sold to a country where the demand for our spices was unaccountable but now we are importing spices from India. The largest contributor to export revenue of spices in 2018 was Cinnamon, which totaled at only 11.1% traded to India. The great voyager Vasco da Gama referred to then Ceylon as the land of spices and we chose to lose out on that status.

Paddy cultivation in Sri Lanka traces its roots back to 161 B.C. when Sri Lankans were skilled at making a living out of this industry. Rice crops occupy 34% of total cultivation with over 1.8 million of our population engaged in producing around 2.7 million metric tons of rice annually. The trading of cheaper and quality rice from other nations exerts pressure on Sri Lanka to improve on production. Sri Lanka has the capacity to gain international recognition as the primary rice exporter as well as create a source of employment to improve the livelihoods of many.

However, the policymakers must prioritize their earnings to invest in equipment for pre-harvest operations and marketing of the produce. According to research done by TB Adhikarinayake, the majority of the problems farmers face are related to high losses in the production chain and lack of skilled workers.

The Choice –
a change in direction:

Where are we heading? We are importing what we can produce, increasing the trade deficit, increasing the pressure on the exchange rates, and depriving our children of foreign education. In such a competitive world, the need to solve the Balance of Payment crisis is pivotal to managing the country’s finances in order to avoid a disastrous downfall. The government’s attempt to reduce the deficit by imposing import controls will only create inflationary pressures in the country if we don’t optimize the encouragement given by the government to grow.

Science and technology have given us “formula one” seeds for rice, chilies, and potatoes which can treble the output per acre. Are we making a choice to optimize these opportunities to be self-sufficient?

We have a choice, to change our destiny. Can we, yes, we can! We are poor because we chose to be so. Likewise, we can make the choice to be rich as a nation. Let’s look at a change in direction by seizing opportunities to make exports competitive, using innovative methods of technology, and by utilizing our human resources. It is about time we make use of our knowledge in agriculture, natural resources, land, diverse cultures, and our climate to attract foreign investors.

Every generation has a responsibility towards creating a sustainable nation. It is our choice to change directions to reach the destination we intend. It is our obligation to ensure that majority of our children do not experience a poor quality of life, rather a high standard of living and not to be referred to as people of a poor nation.

 

 

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Political Leadership-A Matter of Age 0 872

Political Leaders a Matter of Age

By: Dr. Kenneth De Zilwa

Perspective

Age has become an increasingly discussed topic when it comes to our political leaders (i.e. Parliamentarians), the arguments have been that we are unduly saddled with older politicians that make the parliament system meaningless as it prevents the infusing of young energetic and more progressive leaders in to governing the country. Well, yes this is definitely one aspect that is on the table and it seems to be the dominant view shared by many of whom are frustrated about the responsibility and accountability of these members albeit their ability to comprehend the demands of the younger generations. Therefore the proposers of this debate are eager for changing the status quo. On the other hand there are those who contend that age is just a number and the ability of the person irrespective of one’s age is what matters in a participatory democracy, for people have many routes to representation and redress.

In order to really get to the bottom of this debate we need to analyse and understanding the dynamics of the global public office and the trends in life expectancy.

Scrutiny of Public Office

The evolution of democracies has meant that parliaments are indispensable and now are deemed to be an integral part of the institutional framework that represents the people’s democratic choice. The choice of selection (be it liberal or conservative or its varying compositions) is of course based on their own perceptions of what the future should be transformed into considering the stage of its economy, social and environmental concerns and the overbearing global geopolitical trends. Irrespective of country-specific rules, the role of parliamentarians, (of both men and women), remains the same: to represent the people and ensure that public policy is informed by the citizens on whose lives they impact. If we look at the political context of each country we find a unique disposition in their selection process, however, parliaments and Parliamentarians do face a common challenge, that is, how best to consult citizens and keep them informed about parliamentary deliberations and how such deliberations would eventually shape the people’s lives (for better or worse, as public policy cuts both ways). What is important here is that the relative maturity of parliamentarians is called into focus, as the people are now looking for responsibility, accountability and also the bottom-line, of delivery.

The UNDP Global parliamentary study undertaken in 2012 indicated that there are 46,552 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the world. Of which there are 8,716 women parliamentarians, or 19.25 pct.  of the total number of MPs. While the global average number of parliamentarians per country is 245.China has the largest parliament with 3,000 members in the Chinese National People’s Congress. The world’s smallest parliament is in Micronesia, with just 14 MPs.  While the global average age of a male MPs is 53 the average age a woman MP is 50. Sub-Saharan African MPs have the lowest regional average age at 49 with Arab countries the highest at 55.

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The slide of the rupee is an inevitable fact 0 963

By : Kenneth De Zilwa

The trend still remains soft and lower based on technical analysis. Thus Econsult thinks Soya meal would be continue to trade lower over the next three-four months of 2019.

China has slashed its forecast for 2018/19 soybean imports as farmer reduced their use of the bean in animal feed because of the Sino-U.S. trade conflict, which lead the government to raise its supply deficit estimate. Imports of soybeans in the crop year that starts on Oct. 1 will be 83.65 million tonnes, down 10.2 million tonnes from last month’s estimate of 93.85 million tonnes, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in its crop report.

The ministry said the lower forecast for soybean imports was due to the promotion of lower-protein feed for livestock and poultry. Additionally, falling profits at pig farms should reduce demand for soymeal feed for the herds in China, which will keep demand subdued.

The slide of the rupee is an inevitable fact - 01

Source :Thmosonreuters

While the size of the soybean import cuts are largely inline with broader industry forecasts, the report marks the first official assessment by the Chinese government on the impact of the trade war. The outlook highlighted that China’s vast pig farming sector is rapidly adjusting for a prolonged trade dispute with USA. In July 2018, Beijing levied an additional 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans, threatening supplies from the second-largest exporter of the oilseed to China.

The uncertain import outlook has  pushed the 2018/19 soybean deficit forecast to 3.57 million tonnes from 250,000 tonnes in August, according to the Chinese government report. The ministry also raised its 2018/19 domestic soybean output forecast to 15.83 million tonnes from 15.37 million tonnes in August. (Reuters)