Wijay Kanagasundaram

Why distance makes the heart of our expatriates grow fonder!

Q: How do you perceive Sri Lanka today?

A: The situation that Sri Lanka is facing today is unfortunate and saddening, to say the least. And people are facing tremendous hardships due to high inflation and the rising cost of living.

Q: Do you think Sri Lanka is capable of regaining its composure in the aftermath of multiple crises including the most recent economic crisis?

A: Absolutely! I have no doubt that Sri Lanka will bounce back from the current crisis. We are resilient by nature and stay united even when the odds are against us.

But we urgently need to rid the country of corruption and address the root causes of many problems in the island. After that, Sri Lanka will be able to scale new heights.

Q: From afar, what advice would you offer Sri Lankans in the context of crisis management and finding solutions to the problems they face?

A: President John F. Kennedy’s words come to mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Be the change you want to see in the country, work hard to put Sri Lanka on the global map and stop falling for the same political gimmicks.

We have free healthcare and education in Sri Lanka but taxation is a key to improving the standard of these public services.

I urge you to understand that resisting taxes is not the solution – pay your taxes; but also know your rights, and demand transparency from politicians and public servants to ensure that your money is being put to good use.

Q: How do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?

A: The British have a high regard for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans in general, and are also quite empathetic towards the prevailing economic crisis.

They view Sri Lanka as one of the best tourist destinations in the world and enjoy a shared love of cricket.

Q: Likewise, how do other Sri Lankans living in the UK view the island?

A: Even though we live thousands of miles away, our hearts are still in our motherland. Most Sri Lankans residing in the UK follow the local news diligently.

Our social gatherings are also dominated by discussions about the state of affairs in the country and what we can do to help. Distance definitely makes the heart grow fonder!

Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit and how much has it changed from the past?

A: I usually visit Sri Lanka at least twice a year – my last visits were in April and September 2022.

What I saw in April were turbulent times with long power cuts, fuel queues, picketing and curfews. But when I visited in September, the situation had stabilised to some extent.

Q: How do you view the brain drain – and why is there still no reversal of it, in your opinion?

A: I migrated from Sri Lanka 20 years ago so I can relate to people wanting to leave the island for better opportunities. The world has become an open economy due to globalisation and people are making the most of it.

My organisation operates an office in Sri Lanka to give back in our own way. I’m sure there are many Sri Lankans who live abroad and continue to contribute to the local economy.

But there needs to be a long-term vision and better investment options to increase these contributions, and provide the current generation with more reasons to stay in Sri Lanka.

Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?

A: Sri Lanka should modernise its tax policies to fit the needs of today. Tax administrators and policy makers must facilitate digitalisation and innovative business models to support the island’s economic needs in the long term.

Startups and entrepreneurship should be encouraged because Sri Lanka certainly has the talent for it.

Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?

A: This is the wake-up call that Sri Lankans needed and I’m looking forward to a country that’s more conscious of its choices going forward.

Better policy makers should be elected and citizens must demand more from their elected representatives.