ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ticket to success lies in the graphite layer under the island’s surface, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Colombo district candidate Dr Harsha De Silva said.
“I personally believe that in a few years, everything will be battery-driven: batteries made of graphene sourced from graphite. The world’s purest graphite comes from Sri Lanka. Something I will do, if I’m elected, is to bring in a bill to protect the supply of critical material,” the Former State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs told EconomyNext.
Asked what the most important thing our political leaders should work towards improving, De Silva stated that the country’s economy should be the prime focus. “Every time we campaign I see the appalling living conditions. People are so desperate,” he said.
Noting that countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, have moved ahead with the times, the former minister said: “We’re still stagnant. In our country, the textile industry brings in the most income which isn’t sufficient. Other countries have gone ahead to the production of computers and automation, which we should follow as an example.”
To improve the status quo, De Silva said it’s imperative for one to have a vision.
“I’m against the current government’s rhetoric that we need to build walls around the country. I think the best way to move forward is to build bridges and expand our market place. If you look at our economic history, we economically prospered everytime we expanded our markets overseas. In order to do that, we need political vision, will and large-scale reform. If we don’t proceed to the production of complex materials, the country will fall behind the rest of the world,” he said.
In response to whether it is advisable to change the country’s economic strategy to suit the needs of the moment in light of COVID-19, De Silva said it would be unwise to do so.
“This will eventually fade out and things will get back to normal. When the tsunami came, folks initially didn’t go fishing but they eventually did,” he said, adding that long term economic policies should remain in place in order to achieve Sri Lanka’s long term goals.
The SJB candidate further said that even though the Rajapaksa-led government initially underestimated the impact of COVID-19, he was satisfied with the way President Gotabhaya Rajapakse handled the situation.
“If you start looking at the initial reaction, they underestimated the calamity. In fact, the efforts made by [SJB Leader and former leader of the opposition] Sajith Premadasa to bring the issue into light in parliament were brushed aside. Then the president wanted to make sure the country was not in lockdown until the nominations happened. However, I think it was managed well. I give credit to everyone who was involved,” he said.
He thanked the uniformed forces and front-line healthcare workers while highlighting the part the 199 Suwaseriya ambulance service played in managing the pandemic, which was implemented by De Silva’s government. “We need more random testing, and I firmly believe that testing should be available for anyone who wants to get tested,” he said.
The former minister also shed light on an alleged unlawful practice that’s been carried out by the current government with relation to the distribution of Samurdi benefits.
“If you analyse the list of the Samurdi receivers, you will realise that many of them shouldn’t be on that list. Now, the distribution of Rs 5,000 was handed over by Basil Rajapakse to local politicians. Never in our history has this nonsense happened. During the pandemic, people were obliged to go to the Municipal councillors who were wearing Pohottuwa merchandise and handed them the monetary benefit. This goes on to show how local politics have fallen in Sri Lanka. The reforms we did in our time was to make sure there was an independent entity that was handing our benefits. When the floods occurred, the benefits were distributed by the divisional secretariat, not municipal councillors,” he said.
Asked why the previous government failed to implement the campaign finance act despite being pressured by social justice groups and organisations and why they were expressing their support in favour of it now, De Silva said the leaders at the time didn’t come through.
The former minister further said an alliance between the SJB and UNP could still be possible depending on the individuals. “I personally think if we come close [in election results], we could get together in order to make a grand opposition coalition. That would be the best way to go about it.”
De Silva clarified that the SJB and the UNP stand for the same policies with different leadership. “I am UNP as UNP can be,” he said. Both factions were in support of both the 19th amendment and 13th amendment to the constitution, he added.
Ridding away systematic racism in the country is of utmost importance, said De Silva.
“There must be equality and the belief that whatever your religion, race or background may be, we are all Sri Lankans”. He also condemned the verdict taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to revoke the decision made to not address race and religion in birth certificates.
“Go beyond petty politics,” he added. (Colombo/Aug1/2020)