A futuristic vision | Daily News

A futuristic vision

Politicians, they say, think of the next election but statesmen think of the next generation. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe have spoken about the Government’s plans for the next generation, knowing very well that a country should have a vision for the future to prosper.

This is indeed the basis for the Government’s Vision 2025 programme. The target is only seven years away. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with which many of our development plans are also aligned, calls for a 2030 deadline, just 12 years away. But most developed countries think even further ahead. Most countries have already announced long-term plans for 2040 and 2050. For example, many countries plan to phase out all fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040, paving the way for electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Sri Lanka too announced such a policy last year, giving a sign that our leadership is thinking in, and for, the long term.

Now Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has upped the ante, outlining bold plans to make Sri Lanka a fully developed country by 2050, around 32 years away. According to the Prime Minister, plans have already been formulated and the foundation laid to transform Sri Lanka into a fully developed country by 2050. “Undoubtedly this is a challenging task which ought to be carried forward with patience and prudence by working with a group of people with divergent views,” the Prime Minister said in Singapore, participating in a Question and Answer session of the Sri Lanka-Singapore Business Conference organised by the Trade and Industry Ministry of Singapore.

This is indeed a paradigm shift in our thinking patterns and a departure from the usual political slogans. As Prime Minister Wickremesinghe pointed out, since Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean has been clearly understood the longtime target is to develop the country into an Economic, Financial and Social Centre. Indeed, we have made very little use of the strategic geographic location over the years. We must exploit this strategic location in the Indian Ocean to ensure economic development in a region which will be pivotal for global economic growth.

The upcoming Colombo International Financial Centre (Port City, which will be fully complete by 2040) and further developments in the Colombo Port will add impetus to these efforts. The Premier noted that Sri Lanka is taking dedicated efforts to create a society based on the export economy by inheriting new technology. Earlier, addressing the World Cities Summit in Singapore, the Prime Minister explained how two Urban Corridors will be developed soon, one along the 134 km-long Central Expressway leading to Kandy, and the other along the 241 km-long Southern Highway leading to the Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport, which will eventually benefit around nine million people. This is a commendable move undertaken with an eye on the future.

The mega infrastructure project envisions the Western Province, which includes Colombo and the capital Sri Jayewardenepura as a Megapolis of interconnected metropolitan areas. This would include a Light Rail Transit system with elevated railways, elevated highways, a multi-modal transport hub, the development of old waterways, and three LNG plants. It will encompass a Logistics City, a Forest City, and an Aero City. These projects have the potential to take Sri Lanka to 2050 and beyond. There should be a bigger push for investments relating to the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Port, inherited from the previous regime.

But all these plans must be seen in the context of a national development drive, encapsulated as a policy document that should not change when Governments change. This has unfortunately been the bane of local politics where policies change every five years or so. If these development projects are viewed from a national angle, not a political one, no future government will be able to curtail them. We must take a cue from developed countries where national policies are cherished by every Government, regardless of their political alignment. Corruption must also be eliminated completely from the social fabric.

No country can develop without helping the youth to prosper. “The youth are tomorrow’s leaders” may be a popular slogan, but this rhetoric must be translated into action. There is a large group of youth entrepreneurs in the country who should be provided assistance to rise and shine. If they are provided assistance for self-employment and SME projects, the grassroots communities will benefit. This should be part of any poverty alleviation strategy that looks to 2050. Sri Lanka already has very good education and health indices, but these sectors too should get more attention in the 2050 development plans.

We are generally used to thinking of a goods and services economy, but the “knowledge economy” factor is even more important as the world embraces Information Technology. We must lead the region in IT facilities and infrastructure, which is vital to attract more investments to the country. It is appropriate that the Prime Minister made these remarks in Singapore, whose success story is worthy of emulation. It is a winning formula that can be applied anywhere with positive results.


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