SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
ARMED WITH AN EDUCATION
Trilan Perera cites education as being the cornerstone of national development
Q: How do you perceive Sri Lanka today in the context of the progress it’s making in the postwar era?
A: I see growth in Sri Lanka. But there appears to be unnecessary or unwanted decisions being made for the sake of – or under the guise of – development but in reality merely for personal growth and popularity.
The island or its appointed leaders must identify potential areas through feasibility studies, pick the right people for the right positions, meet deadlines and KPIs for new projects, and ensure that results are delivered as planned and in a focussed manner.
These key factors will help ensure that we as a country tread the right path, and are on a par with what we’re able to do and is feasible. Much development work is being undertaken from the right angle – and from a bird’s-eye perspective, I’d give two thumbs-up for the seaport projects.
Q: And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: I have lived overseas since 1998 and my job has offered me opportunities to travel to every continent in the world, and meet people of many nationalities, ethnicities and religions. There are people who do not know where Sri Lanka is or whether such a country exists.
It’s not their ignorance; it’s our ignorance in not ensuring the world knows us and what we are about. People know Sri Lanka for its tea and as a tiny sunny island – little do they know how much potential the country has.
So I don’t always try to understand their views but rather focus on providing them with a better idea or focus on improving their views of Sri Lanka.
Q: What were your impressions of the country on your last visit?
A: I visit home quite often. And every time I have been here, I’ve seen both positive and negative changes.
There are more positive changes in terms of physical infrastructure, and they’re necessary for a country that is moving along the development path. The negatives are aspects like religion-based differences or disharmony in the name of patriotism, wastage and the destruction of natural resources. These are the extreme negative changes I’ve come across during my visits to Sri Lanka.
Q: How do you view the brain drain and why is there still no reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: We must improve the country through proper education, development, and safety and security – these are the three factors anyone would consider before deciding to leave the country or return home.
We should focus on preventing future brains from leaving the country rather than try to lure older generations to return. And we should be realistic rather than merely assume or be too optimistic in thinking that all the brains that left the country for the above-mentioned reasons will return.
Q: But can anything be done to entice those living overseas to contribute or return to their country of birth?
A: Broadly speaking, there are two categories of Sri Lankans living abroad – viz. permanent residents in the West, and the labour force or migrant workers living and working in the Middle East.
As far as the first category is concerned, they tend to be more interested in visiting Sri Lanka as a holiday destination, and to see their kith and kin. But this only applies to the first generation that left the country.
The second generation will gradually lose interest in returning as often as before or completely stop doing so. Therefore, it’s our duty to ensure that future generations of Sri Lankans living overseas are aware of their country of origin. This must be done at the household level by parents living overseas.
The second category is different. They’re mainly short-term contract workers and of course the approximately 30 percent of Sri Lankan expats who opt for the long haul in Middle Eastern countries.
People in this category make a greater contribution to the country through their monthly savings or the funds they send home for family expenses. To entice these communities to contribute more, the government must reconsider its policies on taxes on imported items, interest rates on deposits from overseas and tax concessions for foreign currency remittances.
Q: On what should Sri Lanka focus most in the coming decade?
A: The future generations and education are of utmost importance – Sri Lanka should think about various education options and not ‘inside the box’ curricula.
For example, there aren’t any higher education options for someone who opts to take the path of a land-based shipping job. We learn about basic shipping terms at the O and A-Levels, but there needs to be a system for youngsters to learn and move into the trade as professionals.
We must also diversify away from traditional export commodities, and encourage foreign investors to the country to establish businesses and create new opportunities.
Q: What are your hopes for the country in the post-conflict era?
A: A more united Sri Lanka – we’ve experienced nearly 30 years of war and don’t need to see that again. We must ensure that future generations do not ever see or experience such violence and destruction.
If we as Sri Lankans are able to achieve this goal, prosperity and success will follow.
It is a thought provoking article and Trilan Perera has made some candid comments.
It’s true that Sri Lanka is unheard of, even by some Asians. Therefore, improving the image of our country through publicity can yield benefits for decades. Sri Lanka can move forward in terms of image building by exploiting our potential, seizing the opportunities and positioning our message in an appealing manner.
Diversifying from the narrow range of traditional exports can make the local economy grow, withstand external shocks, empower people and generate more lines of jobs to uplift living standards of this country. The facilitation of a secure environment to work and live with stability could be a solution to the brain drain.
Being aware of our roots will prove to be a strength, if we are to deal well with diverse personalities of this global village.