Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons?

A: The response coordinated by the president from the start has been proactive. The appointed task force has operated swiftly with the required structures and personnel. And the curfew was imposed relatively early and adequate quarantine centres were established to curb the spread of the virus. As such, compared to global efforts, Sri Lanka has done commendably.

However, as of late there have been some slight setbacks including the lack of testing patients or high risk persons.

While the government has performed admirably in containing the number of confirmed patients and deaths, these diligent efforts have not been accurately reflected in global COVID-19 risk country ratings such as the Deep Knowledge Group’s COVID-19 Rankings and Analytics study carried out and published by Forbes. Agencies use deep analysis to gain insights, and rate countries on infection spread risk, government management, healthcare efficiency and regional specific risks.

Therefore, all Sri Lanka needs is to provide the available information in a manner that these agencies look for in order to gain the highest possible rating.

Sri Lanka’s ratings could have been much higher – we can say this with some degree of certainty, considering that JAT’s IT subsidiary Bileeta provides state-of-the-art technology support to the State Intelligence Service (SIS) via intelligence dashboards. This is one of the most important factors for a better rating although the authorities haven’t promoted this information.


Q: In your view, how should the authorities balance the twin imperatives of safety and the economy? 

A: The majority of Sri Lanka’s work force consists of daily wage earners and small-scale business owners. For a sustained economy therefore, one needs a healthy workforce. As such, controlling the spread of this virus is paramount to safeguard the workforce being infected, which in turn will impact the economy.

As the government is not in a position to offer a stimulus package like in developed countries, it is important to establish a mechanism where the economy is opened and people work while being informed of the required safety measures. The private sector will play a major role in this; and to this end, the government should encourage the private sector to curtail unemployment.

Q: As for state finances, should we print money despite the obvious repercussions and/or seek more funding from global lending institutions and other channels? 

A: Printing money is inevitable in order to maintain liquidity in the financial system of the country – repercussions will certainly arise but they to be managed with other tools at the disposal of the Central Bank.

Local industries must be encouraged in order to prevent foreign exchange from flowing out of the country. In addition, we could discuss the possibility of converting some loans to grants with global lending institutions. Sri Lanka has been hit twice within a span of 12 months, considering the Easter Sunder disaster; it needs all the assistance it can get.

The open invitation by the government to all Sri Lankans living abroad or locally to deposit foreign currency in a local bank under the guarantee of secrecy and convertibility before 2 July 2020 is a welcome step. This cabinet decision was an unprecedented joint initiative with the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance.

Meanwhile, the country has welcomed remittance inflows from charitable organisations, funds and well-wishers worldwide. I expect this to lead to an increase in our foreign currency reserves and a stabilisation of the Sri Lankan Rupee.

RESILIENCE AMID TURBULENT TIMES

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: From a pro-perspective, I admire the quick decision making and immediate lockdown measures, which saved many lives and put us on the right track. Moreover, the involvement of the military in this process provided additional validation for the…

SECURITY WILL BECOME MAINSTREAM

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: Compared to other nations, Sri Lanka, has undoubtedly made great progress. Among the positives are that people are confident, safe and more settled in facing the pandemic. If the situation had gone out of control at the early…

TOUGH DECISIONS ON EMPLOYMENT

Q: What is the outlook for jobs and employment in the medium term? And how should the authorities address the prospect of rising unemployment? A: The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected Sri Lankan businesses across all sectors except perhaps agriculture, which has faced a minimal impact. Export oriented industries (many of which survive on revenue earned…

FOCUS ON ‘GLOBAL ORIENTATION’

Q: What is the outlook for jobs and employment in the medium term? And how should the authorities address the prospect of rising unemployment? A: While Sri Lanka has a low number of social safety nets for permanently vulnerable people such as the poor, disabled and elderly, COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a social net…

ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES MUST GO ON

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: At this juncture, COVID-19 seems invincible. However, while the global pandemic is unprecedented, Sri Lanka’s response has been a great success especially in managing the prevalence of infections. The positive factors are the synergy between important stakeholders in driving…

TRAVEL BUBBLES MAY BE A BOON

Q: How do you see the ‘new normal’ for business panning out? A: The new (hopefully temporary) normal is all about uncertainty given that we are in uncharted territory. There are two phases: the pre-vaccine phase supported by increasingly effective cures like remdesivir and the post-vaccine era. The post-vaccine era should mean that we return to…

PRINTING MONEY IS A NECESSARY EVIL

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic has been commendable. While we can all say what could have been done better with the benefit of hindsight, what’s important is that Sri Lanka has placed a greater value on lives…

LESSONS IN CRISIS PREPAREDNESS

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: I for one am of the opinion that our initial response to the islandwide lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19 was admirable. Timely action enabled the authorities to properly quarantine overseas returnees and infected persons adequately. Apart…

PUBLIC HEALTH IS A PRIORITY

Q: In your view, how should the authorities balance the twin imperatives of safety and the economy? A: The COVID-19 pandemic has put us in a situation where we have to either prioritise public health and in turn sacrifice economic output, or prioritise the economy and sacrifice public health. Although this is unprecedented, public health…

THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: I think we have responded very well to the crisis as the lockdown has been effective from mid-March. In an unprecedented  situation like this, there is no blueprint for safeguarding the health of the nation while simultaneously keeping…

A COMMENDABLE PERFORMANCE

Q: How do you view Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response so far? What are the pros and cons? A: The response from the government has been strong and consistent. Hard decisions were taken at certain junctures; and these decisions were consistently and swiftly implemented. As the crisis is unprecedented globally, there has been no blueprint or tried…

PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE BIZ MINDSET

Q: What is the outlook for jobs and employment in the medium term? And how should the authorities address the prospect of rising unemployment? A: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, several key industrial sectors including tourism, travel, hospitality, manufacturing and exports have been affected. This is not withstanding the numerous SMEs and micro-enterprise segments, as…
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