The meaning of freedom

Seven decades of independence is a special moment to evaluate the path Sri Lanka has taken since 1948 and consider its future prospects. However, encapsulating the myriad of things that need to be done for Sri Lanka to become a better country is never easy, partly because so much remains to be done.

Perhaps the best way is to break it down on two fronts: unity among Sri Lanka’s diverse communities and economic growth. It is hard to put one first because obviously both are intrinsic to sustaining the other but there can be little doubt that both are essential for the nation’s future. In terms of unity, reconciliation policies undertaken by the Government have been disappointing and are likely to remain so as national attention is reverted towards local government elections. 

Shortly after 10 February, the Government is likely to make some concessions ahead of yet another round of sessions at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva but the optimism that engendered the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at the Independence Day in 2016 is unlikely to return unless the Government is brave enough to take strong steps in a short period of time.

Formulation of a new Constitution remains as far away as ever, as do measures to introduce new legislation including replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Unfortunately, the Government’s track record has dimmed confidence and could spell yet another opportunity Sri Lanka allowed to slip by instead of protecting the rights and freedoms of all its people.   

Before the 71st Independence Day, Sri Lanka will have to tackle significant economic problems based on stronger fiscal consolidation, debt management, liberalising the economy, improving exports and implementing the law. 

Progress on the economic front has been better than the reconciliation one with Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic markers growing stronger but they also face strong challenges. Sri Lanka, with its unique characteristics of being a developing country with an aging population, will have to work harder in the short term, especially as debt payments will virtually double from 2019 onwards. 

With so many balls in the air, the Government is struggling to communicate clearly with the public and prioritise its agenda. Change is hard to achieve for any Government but it is particularly so for one that is tasked with putting right decades of wrong. For Sri Lanka, keeping open the window of opportunity created by political change in 2015 and moving forward towards a sustainable peace may prove harder than winning the war. 

With three years done, Sri Lanka is awaiting a new direction from its fractious leaders. Fighting corruption is a good rallying cry but it is just one in a long list of tasks that Sri Lanka must deal with if it is to grow its democratic credentials and give all citizens the dignity and liberty aspired to when Sri Lanka first gained its independence after centuries of colonial rule. Sri Lanka has dreamed big and achieved some of its goals but no one would say the journey is even half done.  

 - Daily FT

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