SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
DOES OPPORTUNITY KNOCK?
Shehan Thambimuttu is disgruntled by political mismanagement
Q: As far as perceptions go, do you think Sri Lanka is regaining its composure in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks?
A: It depends on whom you talk to. Certain segments would rather cover up the facts and pretend that everything is back to normal. However, those of us living overseas witness the effect it’s had amid the fear psychosis that has been created through the media or hearsay.
Having been in Colombo when the attacks took place, I encountered the security situation and fear mongering that took place. But yes, things look to have settled for the most part – on the surface, at least.
The impact on trade and the country’s image may take much longer to recover, and instil confidence, given what took place in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks.
Q: So what are your perceptions of Sri Lanka today?
A: It is heartening to witness the development taking place in some areas such as infrastructure in Colombo. On the other hand, development has been achieved through extravagant international loans.
I’m happy to note a more open society with people having a voice to stand up and be able to make a change. Nevertheless, progress has been slow – and we can only remain positive that these are the initial steps to a more progressive nation.
Q: How do Australians view Sri Lanka, in your assessment?
A: Many people talk to me about the beauty of the island and I always do my best to share images of Sri Lanka each time I travel back home. Some of them are awed and surprised at the diversity of such a small country. But sadly, they also worry about the prevailing political instability.
Q: And how do other Sri Lankans living in your country of domicile view their island?
A: Many of us love the country of our birth but choose to live overseas due to the opportunities that Sri Lanka sadly lacks, and gross mishandling and mismanagement by successive political parties.
Q: What were your impressions of the island when you were in Sri Lanka not long ago? Has it changed from the past, in your view?
A: Honestly, it’s not as bad as it’s often made out to be by the media. Thankfully, I have family living in Sri Lanka and am lucky to be able to gauge the ground realities through them.
Q: From afar, what media do you rely on to stay connected with news about Sri Lanka?
A: As far as possible, I try to gain firsthand information from family and friends who live in Sri Lanka. In this digital era, that has become easier and faster than relying on news media, which could be biased or prone to publish distorted information.
Q: How do you view the brain drain – and why isn’t there a reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: It’s really sad that so many professionals such as myself leave due to a lack of prospects and exposure in our own country of birth. Although there could be opportunities, they are stifled by political influence – so most career minded professionals seek a better life elsewhere.
Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: It must convince the world that the country is a safe place in which to invest. Sri Lanka must attract multinational corporations and more foreign governments, to invest in its infrastructure and social development rather than depending on high-risk loans that cripple the economy.
As much as it is great to drive on highways and see the changing skyline, if these developments undermine a country’s true growth and sovereignty, it may be time to step back and reconsider the core needs of the nation.
None of these initiatives will enrich Sri Lanka if only one segment of the country can partake in its development.
Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: That it can grow into a united nation, moving away from religious and ethnic division, and view Sri Lanka through the lens of others who recognise the potential of this beautiful country.