Dr. Shalini Wickremesooriya calls for greater respect for the laws of the land

Q: What were your impressions of the country on your last visit?
A: I visit Sri Lanka often so I see gradual changes. Since I did not travel much around the country this time, the changes I observed were in Colombo and its suburbs. The most impressive changes I witnessed around Colombo were in real estate development.

Traffic congestion in Colombo is similar to many cities in the world. But the lack of road discipline always stands out. I also witnessed a rise in the number of boutique shops for clothing and accessories, showcasing goods that are designed and made in Sri Lanka. There also appears to be a surge in activity surrounding the arts.

And the tourism industry seems to be booming. This was visible in the city as well as on my inward and outward-bound flights.

When purchasing air tickets, I was told that airlines that had not operated out of Colombo for decades were returning along with new airlines as they recognised the recent flow of air traffic to Sri Lanka.

Opportunities for higher education in various spheres within the island seem to have also increased – this will reduce the burden of financing education in foreign countries.

Q: How do your compatriots in Canada view Sri Lanka?
A: To most people, the island is an affordable and exotic destination. Some believe it is part of India – and therefore associate Sri Lanka with the colours, sounds and spices of India. But people who have had the opportunity to explore the local culture through food, music and hospitality are aware that Sri Lanka is a unique country with its own identity.

For Sri Lankans living in Canada, like those living in other parts of the world, the attachment to the country never diminishes. They live in hope while also despairing at the pace of development, political wrangling and corruption.

Q: And how do you perceive Sri Lanka today, in the context of the progress it’s making in the post-war era?
A: It is heartening to witness progress in some parts of the island. But there are areas in the country that have been forgotten in the post-war efforts.

According to the World Bank, although extreme poverty remains low, moderate poverty continues to be a challenge in certain areas. This needs to be addressed to prevent dissatisfaction in communities that live in particular areas by ensuring that development efforts are directed to these parts of the country too.

Q: How do you view the brain drain?
A: There is much talent in the country. Although some people who seek opportunities may have migrated and continue to migrate, there are many talented people who choose to remain in Sri Lanka. The opportunities for these individuals to excel seem to be available as ideas from developed economies are incorporated into the nation’s education and corporate systems.

Moreover, the younger generation, which has had the opportunity to study overseas, is instilling new thinking and contributing towards improving Sri Lanka’s economic climate.

What we seem to be lacking is consistency in direction and policy, which leads to uncertainty. In turn, this brings forth a lack of stability. Wholesome, unidirectional, and consistent policy and action will bring greater success in all aspects of development.

Q: What must be done to entice Sri Lankans living overseas to contribute or return to their country of birth?
A: This is a decision that individuals will make for various reasons. Some reasons will be very personal while for others, it will depend on the situation in the country.

My experiences suggest that cultivating a disciplined society – where law and order is respected, irrespective of one’s status or connections; everyone is treated with respect; bribery and corruption is non-existent; and extreme ideologies are put to rest – will make returning to the country attractive to more Sri Lankans living overseas.

Q: What are your hopes for the country in the post-conflict era?
A: My hope is that Sri Lankans will embrace the philosophy of inclusive communities and live in harmony.

Sri Lanka has been and is a multicultural, multi-religious and multiracial community. Most families are a blend of cultures and religions. So people are in an ideal position to practise tolerance, compassion, peace and love in their everyday lives. This will ensure that ‘war’ within the borders of the island will not be witnessed again.

I also hope that law and order will prevail at all times. Respect for law and order will discourage corruption and create a climate of certainty.

Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: If Sri Lankans can band together to inculcate communal values and reduce egocentricity, beginning from homes and educational establishments, it will be possible to cultivate a more disciplined society.

Corruption and a poor work ethic need to be addressed, and extremist views within races must be put to rest. A disciplined, law-abiding and non-extremist society can and will lead to development on a grander scale.