SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
Niranjan Selvadurai is anxious about the state of his motherland
Q: Do you think Sri Lanka is capable of regaining its composure in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: After a commendable first lap, Sri Lanka seems to have dropped the baton with the emergence of a second wave. It appears that the initial ‘control and conform’ model alone in managing COVID-19 can’t save the day.
Composure and public confidence can be regained if the country’s leadership is fully accountable for the complex situation, which involves medical services, logistics, economic viability and social services.
Q: So how do you perceive Sri Lanka today?
A: Sri Lanka is on the threshold of a financial crisis. The country’s economy was already under acute stress due to its mega foreign debt when the pandemic was declared and key income sources have since dried up.
Q: And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: Australians view Sri Lanka through several lenses – viz. cricket, Sri Lankan cuisine and their association with persons of Sri Lankan origin. Overall, Australians appear to have a warm and positive image of Sri Lanka, and recognise it as a favourable tourist destination.
A: There is deep concern over the decline in democracy, state of the economy and lack of transparency in the management of the pandemic. The optimism seen a year ago appears to have faded.
Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit and how much has it changed from the past?
A: My last visit was in March 2020 and with the curfew, the social mood swung from buoyancy to fear and suspicion.
Over the past decade, I have witnessed development in the form of highways and building construction, the evolution of a materialistic culture and the emergence of an education system that’s dependent on private tuition.
The gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened, and the standing of women in society has declined markedly since the 1970s.
Q: From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka – and what mediums do you rely on to stay connected especially during times of crisis?
A: It is easy to keep abreast of the situation in Sri Lanka through online sources such as news websites, YouTube and social media.
In times of crisis such as the Easter Sunday attacks, the major TV channels in Australia provided detailed and factual coverage of events. After the coronavirus outbreak, group communication through Zoom chats became popular.
Q: How do you view the brain drain – and in your opinion, why is there still no reversal of it?
A: A good education is often touted as the stepping stone to a successful livelihood. However, Sri Lanka doesn’t offer enough opportunities to talented and capable individuals to reach their full potential in their chosen fields.
In addition to limited prospects, there are political and social barriers that may impede their progress. I see this as the main reason for the brain drain; and the situation is worse now than it was three decades ago.
When a young family establishes itself in another country, parents soon realise that their children will face less challenges in their country of adoption. So there’s no turning back – and reversing the trend can’t happen overnight.
However, Sri Lanka may have some success in enticing senior professionals to return on project centric assignments.
Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: It’s vital that Sri Lanka focusses on rebuilding its economy and societal values. Success will depend not only on the political leadership but also the commitment of each and every citizen.
On the economic front, promoting tourism, and investing in natural energy sources such as solar and wind power, should produce dividends. Furthermore, business prospects arising from the strategic positioning of the country must be explored.
In the journey towards a free and fair society, legal and education reforms must be given priority.
Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: My hope is for a country where its citizens live in harmony, think independently and shed false perceptions, conduct themselves ethically, respect diversity and speak up for those who are left behind. I hope for a prosperous and content nation that can hold its head high in the world community.