SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
WEALTH OF THE NATION
Bernard Sinniah envisions greater equality for every citizen
Q: As far as perceptions go, do you think Sri Lanka is regaining its composure in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks?
A: I think so. The world recognises that the 21 April attacks could have happened anywhere, not only in Sri Lanka, and the country will pick up.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka can do a better job of marketing itself abroad and be in everyone’s face so to speak. It can engage in more theme based marketing (history, beaches, golf etc.), and cities such as Jaffna and Kandy can be highlighted. There are many historical places that need to be showcased differently.
Q: So how do you perceive Sri Lanka today?
A: As an awesome country with wonderful people! Significant progress has been achieved since the war ended. It’s great to witness infrastructure development accompanied by wealth creation. This needs to be complemented by political stability and respect for individuals, regardless of their race, religion, physical ability or sexual orientation.
The island has a long way to go in signalling to the world that it has truly moved forward. Wealth creation has been mostly centred on Colombo whereas it needs to be distributed to other parts of Sri Lanka as well.
Q: And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: Foreigners who visit Sri Lanka simply love it. There’s no question about the Sri Lankan hospitality and attitude.
Sri Lankans in the UK are somewhat cynical. Yes, they want Sri Lanka to progress but have serious concerns as to whether it can prosper as there’s a lot of hurt due to the race riots, insurrections and economic hardships. In the 1950s, people of different races left Sri Lanka due to the Sinhala Only Act.
Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit – and how much has it changed from the past?
A: There’s a massive difference in infrastructure and people seem to be living reasonably well. Startups and entrepreneurs are emerging across the land, and technology is being embraced.
Most major companies and banks have a presence across Sri Lanka. This is a welcome sign but one must ensure that wealth is evenly distributed or at the very least that opportunities to create wealth exist islandwide. Otherwise, the nation may encounter an economic revolution – and that’s the last thing Sri Lanka needs.
Q: From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka?
A: Similar to the highlights of a cricket match, we only see the fours, sixes and wickets. And sadly, we tend to hear more about the wickets than the runs scored. Sri Lanka can do a better job of highlighting some of its positives.
Q: How do you view the brain drain and why isn’t there a reversal of it?
A: This is an important issue as many Sri Lankans have ventured overseas. There are several well documented reasons for this. The key is to figure out what should be done.
How does Sri Lanka attract citizens to return and foreigners as expats to come back? For that to happen, the government must offer appropriate working conditions that are comparable with those in developed countries. Until these are in place, the traffic is going to be unfortunately unidirectional.
Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: The most important factor is political stability and this must be accompanied by a focussed strategy for growth. This should be communicated to the public in simple language. And political parties need to be held accountable.
Sri Lanka has to deliver a harmonious religious, communal and racial society. People ought to feel and not fear it. Bold decisions need to be taken and appropriate legislation must be passed to ensure that such an environment is established. Singapore has been successful in this regard over the years.
Q: And finally, what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: Once the above has been established, one should consider long-term economic stability and growth. Citizens seek higher disposable incomes, good infrastructure and affordable services but most importantly, they want respect.
The public sector – including village and provincial councils – and parliament needs to be reformed. There seems to be many people trying to govern the country! Drastic reforms are needed.