Development and ostentation
Sri Lanka is on the threshold of unprecedented
accelerated development. This is the news that is beamed from
the TV stations, broadcast over radio channels and displayed in
the print media. Politicians daily remind the people that the
development era has begun.
In fact, the talk is now about the development war. Having
triumphed in the war against separatism some politicians claim
that winning the development war is simply nothing. It’s
peanuts, they make the people understand.
This is not a good stand. It lulls people into complacency.
It assumes that development would come without any sacrifice,
dedication or hard work. There is no need to tighten belts.
Though circumstances may force the majority to tighten belts to
some extent there is ostentation and waste at the other pole.
The rich and the new rich do not seem understand the virtues of
thrift and saving.
Development is liked to a war and rightly so. But Sri Lankans
who have gone through a near three-decade war have seen both
ostentation and waste right through that war. The country was
never put on a war footing. Nor was conscription enforced. While
the poor bore the brunt of the war physically, economically and
psychologically the affluent made war a means of aggrandisement
and refrained from sending their sons and daughters to the
The country has set an ambitious target. The GDP is to be
doubled to US $ 4,000 in five years. The economists, of course
point out that we should at least raise our savings to 35
percent of the GDP to achieve such a feat.
The fact that the country has been able only to reach a
savings ratio of about 20 percent in 60 years of independence is
The target, however, is achievable at a cost. Nothing is
given free or obtained without effort. One has to labour even to
get what is a gift of nature. That includes the air we breathe
too, for it has lost its pristine state due to human action.
Therefore it comes at a cost to our health. Water has already
become a commodity in the market.
It is not only natural but also obligatory to limit
ostentation and waste, if we are to increase savings. The
current Christmas and New Year festivities do not show that we
have understood the need to do away with both. It is criminal
folly to waste State subsidized electricity for all night
illuminations and marketing purposes. It is true the individual
consumers pay for the electricity consumed. Yet there is a share
the public have to put in due to the subsidy. It is yet another
case of the poor paying for the affluence of the rich.
Both public and private sector will have to curb ostentation
and waste. The developmental tasks are far too immense. The cost
of Northern reconstruction and reviving the livelihood of the
war victims itself is a colossal task demanding much sacrifice.
Though the country was not put on a war footing during the
separatist war it has to be put on a development war footing. Of
course, part of it is already there by way of suppressed wage
increases. There are, however, no corresponding sacrifices by
the rich. Just like the unemployed demanding jobs from the State
the private sector too does not want a dent in their coffers and
demand concession after concession from the State. There is
nothing wrong in granting concessions if they spur investment
and growth. But if they are absorbed to fatten the profits as in
the case of vehicle importers the concessions become devoid of
Though it is not possible to eliminate waste in war, in
development it is absolutely necessary. Every rupee invested
should bring dividends unlike in war where much more than a
single bullet is necessary to take the life of a single enemy.
It is time to curtail wasteful expenditure, especially those
that are spent from the public purse on cutouts and egocentric
propaganda of politicians, tamashas and other forms of vulgar
ostentation. This also includes expensive foreign trips by
politicians and officials for functions that could be attended
by our representatives abroad with equal (if not better)
competence. Instances are numerous when such trips have brought
no advantage or gain to the country.
Development is war. War entails discipline, organization and
a chain of command. It is impossible to achieve development
without them. It is time for everybody including politicians and
bureaucrats to abandon the realm of fantasy and rhetoric and
enter the realm of action and work.