Revisit the open economy | Page 2 | Daily News

Revisit the open economy

It was CBK who first coined it during the 1994 general election campaign. Now, nearly two and half decades later, the term has been brought to the fore by UNP Deputy Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa. Speaking as the Chief Guest at the Awards Ceremony of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing, Premadasa called for the adaption of the open economy in a way that would ensure social justice and remove the inequities that is a byproduct of the system. "It must be understood that full blown capitalism is not the order of the day. A just and free society can only be established through systems, structures and procedures that are based on benevolent capitalism. To use a more apt phrase a just society could be established through capitalism (read open economy) with a human face.”

He said; “it was a universal notion that the free market capitalism approach is the best mechanism to create wealth. However we need to be cognizant of extremities and social costs of this system. Therefore, the government and the corporate sector benevolence is of utmost importance in order to address the grievances of society, to correct the imperfections and anomalies which are sad by-products of this system.”

Sajith has a ready ally on this score in His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, though, unlike the minister, who was not opposed to the open economy per se but only wanted a reformed system, has expressed his unqualified opposition to the open economy based on the social cost wrought by the system. Speaking at the festive High Mass at the Holy Madhu Shrine, the Cardinal said the open economy has destroyed this country's cultural norms and values. His Eminence noted that in the past, children were given the foremost place in our country. However, the open economy has changed all this. Today, both parents have to work to support the family. Mothers go to work leaving children in the care of others. They have no alternative but go to work because the cost of living is so high.

True, there is an urgent need to take a closer look at the open economic system, as it is practiced in this country. There is no denying the fact that the market economy has wrought a massive transformation of this country both in progress and outlook. The country was in the abyss of economic isolation and zero growth as a result of the inward looking policies pursued by socialist governments. A radical change was called for in the economic front if the shortages and queues that marked the tenure of the United Front Government were to be successfully dealt with. Sri Lanka was the first South Asian country which took the plunge. To JRJ goes the credit of transforming the political and socio-economic landscape of this country by throwing its doors open to the outside world.

A nation that was in deep slumber wallowing in its own miseries suddenly awakened to a new dawn. There was activity all around. Skyscrapers were appearing in the capital city in double quick time precipitated by a construction boom. Free Trade Zones were established and foreign investors were swarming in to set up business. Employment opportunities were aplenty with barriers removed for commercial ventures. It appeared that the country was heading for prosperity and set to achieve the goal set by JRJ of making Sri Lanka another Singapore. The civil war put paid to all such dreams.

However, it must be said that the open economy also brought in its wake many-fold ills that went to negate the pluses. Sri Lanka became a dumping ground of sorts for shoddy imported goods. But what is worse, the liberalization opened the doors for narcotics to enter the country freely. It also created a climate that saw an unequal distribution of wealth, with the rich getting richer and the poor made poorer. The crony capitalism we speak of today, the greed, the unbridled consumerism that is widespread today were all spawned by the open economy.

Like His Eminence said, the open economy also changed the value system, bringing with it alien influences that corrupted and debased all cultural norms that were part and parcel of Sri Lankan life. But what was really starkly evident was the inequity engendered by the crass greed and blind worship of mammon. It was said that 80 percent of the country's wealth was concentrated in the hands of 10 percent of the super-rich.

No doubt, it is this injustice that the UNP Deputy Leader had in mind when he spoke about giving a human face to the open economy. This was doubly confirmed when he appealed to the gathering of leading businessmen on the virtue of corporate social responsibility.”When this function is concluded and the curtains drawn and when it is time to leave, please think about the poor and destitute in society, on those who have become permanent members of the abject poverty circle”.

Echoes of Premadasa senior no doubt, but words that should inspire the rulers to take a closer look at the whole system and its wide ramifications. It was also an appeal to the conscience of all those who thrived under the open economy.

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