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Politics of economic development
By Kanishka Ratnapriya
An axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true, taken for granted and accepted amongst a large number of people to become the ‘truth’. All governments in modern state history base their actions upon axiomatic principles. The present government works according to three dominant axiomatic principles. The first of these is a belief that this government, its structures and supporters are best suited to guide Sri Lanka to a new epoch of development. The second principle is the belief that an accelerated program of economic development will address a majority of socio economic issues faced by Sri Lankans. Last but not least is a belief that the Mahinda Chinthanaya policy will prevail as an overall policy framework for all government activity.
By finishing the war and winning all elections from 2005 to now this government can openly state that it’s free to implement its actions based on its own axioms. The truth is very clear. This government pursues economic development as the bedrock of a sustainable solution in this post war period based on a popular mandate. However, this government should not rely on one strategy alone and it should take into account that there are multiple dynamics at work needing alternative strategies to ensure the sustainability of their strategy.

The first of these dynamics involves healing the psycho social trauma experienced by our people during the war. You could argue that psycho social issues could be addressed by uplifting socio economic standards, but there’s more to it than just that. The key to this strategy is the Pancha Skhanda or five aggregates of Buddhism. An economic development drive will focus on addressing vedana (feeling), sanya (perception), sankhara (formation) and vinyana (consciousness) through the manipulation of rupa (4 elements) or material. Instead, what is needed is a strategy that addresses all 5 aggregates equally and simultaneously. This will entail an identification of psycho social grievances throughout our entire country. Our entire country suffers from multiple memories of emotional trauma from the last 30 years of war. Images of carnage from violence have traumatized the human psyche of our society. We need to be given the space and opportunity to understand why such violence took place and express our sense of loss collectively. For this purpose it is essential for the government to have a media and health services strategy that will help heal the war trauma experienced by our society. This would be the best way for us to help ourselves understand that our socio economic conditions and our psycho social grievances are anicca or impermanent by addressing our tanha or craving for psycho social healing. This would help us move towards a more stable post war society.

The second of these dynamics involves learning from failure. From the rise of CBK in 1992, a majority of our country’s polity and society believed that a sustainable solution to the conflict will have to involve an inclusive political solution which could only be achieved through the devolution of power. We failed in achieving this for a bevy of reasons and the important lesson to learn here is why we failed. One of the main reasons for failure was that we could not balance a political solution involving the devolution of power with a concrete economic development program that would address the socio economic root causes of conflict. However, this failure does not mean that an inclusive political solution must be ignored in the light of economic development. This government has a golden opportunity to amalgamate a ‘twin strategy’ of economic development and a political solution which will address socio economic grievances and the aspirations of all people to govern their own affairs.

The third dynamic strategy is the most crucial. We must practice inclusivity in our economic development drive. At the grass roots level, all people must be given the right to take part in the development process and benefit from it. They deserve a stake in improving the quality of their lives and contributing to the development of a robust national economy. Any mega development or infrastructure improvement project must benefit the local economy and local labor market.
The technical knowledge, materials and administration can come from outside but the people must be an integral part of any economic development in their area. This will create a broad sense of inclusivity and ownership in our country’s development progress. At the national level it is essential that this government engages all parliamentary and provincial council political parties in a consultative process on economic development.
In a normal Democratic set up not affected by 30 years of war this would be unnecessary, because different political parties are supposed to have different visions for economic development appealing to different sections of society. However, in Sri Lanka’s post war context there are some critical factors that can only be addressed through inclusive political cooperation.

The main factor here is the post war period. No one party should be given the brunt or think of rebuilding this country alone. Politically, all sides will have to come together for at least a 5 year period to rebuild our country from war. Another major aspect involves the economic policies of the two main political parties in the country, the SLFP and UNP in the present context. Ever since the 1990’s the SLFP went through a transition period which brought its economic policy closer to that of the UNP. Although the SLFP traditionally emphasized a closed market economy, its last budget was closer to an open market UNP budget. If these two parties are moving closer together ideologically on economic policy, then working together on economic development would ensure that Sri Lanka becomes a South Asian economic trade hub.

The other critical factor involves engaging all Tamil and Muslim political parties on their views in relation to developing the North and East. Leaving out critical minority political segments from the economic development process is a recipe for disaster on the long term. 30 years of war bear testament to this. The final factor in this regard involves political solidarity in relation to facing any external influence on Sri Lanka. Ultimately, geo politics and geo political maneuvering boil down to economics. The USA, the EU, India and China all have different types of economic interests in Sri Lanka. To be able to maneuver between these powers in their attempts to influence Sri Lanka, all political parties will need to work together. At the least, cooperation between parties on specific state policy issues of national interest will be needed while the most ideal outcome of inter party understanding would be a national government.
Hence, economic development alone will not solve our problems. It will have to come in tandem with alternative dynamic strategies with envisage a political solution, a strategy to address the psycho social issues of all our people and the inclusive involvement of our people and polity in economic development.