Prageeth Mendis

Sri Lanka needs impartial leaders in the post-pandemic era

Q: As far as perceptions go, do you think Sri Lanka is capable of regaining its composure in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic? And what are the imperatives in this regard?
A: Absolutely! However, the government has to put forward a robust plan to support small businesses by means of subsidies and tax breaks in the short term so as to enable some momentum to be built.

We have to reduce our spending – and rationalise where we allocate resources. I believe that some of these policies should have been implemented even before the pandemic took root; but then again, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Q: How do you perceive Sri Lanka today – and what priorities should we focus on?
A: Sri Lanka is a gold mine, which everyone other than us can see. My only hope is that people will be sufficiently educated in the future to recognise that we need independent leadership.

Q:And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: Canada has mixed views on Sri Lanka because of the international media and diaspora activities. I take the time to put things in perspective if there’s a discrepancy in facts during any discussions that I’m a part of because I feel it’s my civic duty to do so.

However, we’re generally perceived by Canadians as being honest and hardworking people.

Q:Likewise, how do other Sri Lankans living in Canada view your country of birth?
A: There are many mixed views about what’s happening in the island; but what matters is that the government stays strong with international stakeholders and backs up its decisions with confidence.

I believe the government has done a good job so far.

Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit – and how much has it changed from the past?
A: I haven’t visited Sri Lanka since 2019 due to COVID-19.

Q: From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka and what media channels do you rely on to stay connected – especially in times of crisis?
A: I receive news mostly from my family and friends. But I also try to filter as much as possible from mainstream and social media.

Q: How do you view the brain drain – and why is there still no reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: I firmly believe that the ongoing brain drain is a consequence of a lack of opportunities. It’s frustrating when you work hard for your next job and someone else parachutes in.

In my assessment, the larger companies have yet to find equilibrium for middle and top management salaries; and as such, I believe that the disparity is large.

Q: And how about the composition of Sri Lanka’s workforce – what if anything needs to change, in your opinion?
A: In my view, we also need to minimise the number of expats being posted to Sri Lanka on overseas assignments so that there are opportunities for locals. Multinationals need to negotiate harder for local talent to be promoted.

Q:In your assessment, what should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: There should be a COVID-19 recovery plan – conduct catch up educational programmes for kids who have lost valuable learning time; engage in quick and cost-effective online meetings; reduce travel costs; and use these budgets to increase salaries and help people recover financially. In addition, implement a minimum wage system – this is badly needed.

There needs to be a robust taxation plan. For example, there are industries that have thrived in this environment so we have to rethink our taxation strategy to help drive the economy rather than relying only on high taxpayers. At the same time, certain industries will need tax concessions to rebuild in the post-COVID era.

Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: Proper and unbiased leadership – that’s all we need.