6 December, 2022

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Olcott Oration 2022 Keynote Speech Ten Years Too Late!

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

Recently I listened to the Olcott Oration 2022 organised by the Old Anandians. The keynote speech was delivered by Old Anandian Mr. Thilan Wijesinghe. He is a well-known entrepreneur and Management Consultant in Sri Lanka. Since his return to Sri Lanka in 1985 after completing his studies in America, he has held high positions in private and public sector organisations. He has also served as Chairman and Director General of the Board of Investment (BOI) under CBK’s government and Chairman and acting CEO of the National Agency for Public Private Partnership of the Finance Ministry from 2017 to 2019 under the “Yahapalanaya” government. 

It was an exceptionally good “Post-Mortem” speech, delivered eloquently by Mr. Wijesinghe. His chosen theme was: “Bridging the Ideological Divide that Caused Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis.” Mr Wijesinghe exhibited numerous graphs and plenty of statistics to highlight the fact of what had happened from 2010 to 2022 to the Sri Lankan economy, as well as a few other countries in the world, that have gone through a similar economic crisis. It appears that he has spent quite a lot of time gathering data from other parts of the world to compare them with the economic crisis in Sri Lanka. According to Mr. Wijesinghe, and I quote “We could have avoided this crisis if timely action was taken in early 2020”. Mr. Wijesinghe further stated that in early 2020, he and his team, which included the “best financial brains” in the country, made representation to the Governor of the Central Bank making organised debt restructuring proposals to avoid this economic catastrophe. According to Mr. Wijesinghe, the impact of SL’s economic crisis would not have been so severe if the government had adopted his proposals in early 2020. He has also said that virtually every economic indicator of SL was trending downwards for more than 10 years. 

There is no doubt about Mr. Wijesinghe and his team’s knowledge and expertise to advice the government to restructure our bankrupt economy. The “post-mortem” exercise which has been carried out by Mr. Wijesinghe and his team is highly commendable, but clearly his intervention is 10 years too late. If the rapid decline in the country’s economic health started more than 10 years ago, why did not Mr. Wijesinghe and his “best financial brains” in Sri Lanka publicly oppose the policies adopted by the two different types of regimes which governed our country from 2010 to 2020? Mr. Wijesinghe would appear to be stating that most economists and educated people who were in the top government positions, including himself, at the time, kept their expert views to themselves without highlighting the country’s economic problems in the public domain, because of the fear of persecution or losing their privileged positions especially during 2010 to 2015.

But then what about the period between 2015 to 2019 when the “Yahapalanaya” regime was carelessly and recklessly following the same “old” policies which continued down that doomed path dragging our country’s economy towards bankruptcy? Did they fear persecutions and losing their privileged positions during the “Yahapalanaya” regime too, and if not, what were the reasons for the best “Financial Brains” and the top economists keeping their mouths closely shut during the “Yahapalanaya” regime too? Mr. Wijesinghe also talks about the cultural changes in our workforce which are necessary to have a system change. 

When Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR), an old Anandian, became the President in 2019, the country was heading towards economic disaster. It is true that GR also did not change the old policies, nor were there any signs of changing the culture of the workforce to deliver the goods and services in a most economic and effective manner. Regrettably, GR and his economic and policy advisers made some fundamental errors in a few crucial decisions which accelerated the ‘rough and predictable journey’ towards the bankruptcy of Sri Lanka, while ignoring the advice and proposals offered by Mr. Wijesinghe and his team.

As I have stated earlier the intervention by Mr. Wijesinghe and his “Best Brains” was too late because in December 2014, just before the 2015 January Presidential election, in one of my articles titled Use and Abuse of the Trust of the Nation published in the Colombo Telegraph, I did highlight the problems which Sri Lanka will face if the incoming government (either Rajapakse or Yahapalanaya) follow these disastrous economic policies under a sub-heading of “Booming Economy” amongst other relevant sub-headings. I am neither an economist nor a ‘best brain’ but have some common sense to understand that the country was heading for economic disaster since 2012, based on the basic economic criteria.

Here is an extract from my article which was published in the Colombo Telegraph on 25 December 2014, highlighting some of those issues which have been raised by Mr.Thilan Wijesinghe recently.

 “Booming Economy”

I am not an economist, but it appears that currently, Sri Lankans are enjoying a good “economic boom” compared to the previous administrations. Most of the ruling party politicians, their relatives & friends, some business leaders, and drug dealers are having a “jolly good time.” It also appears, that the people are confident that they could spend today with borrowed money and pay tomorrow because the “boom” is going to last forever. The government, and some private sector organisations are borrowing because they believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. Banks and lending institutions are lending money to friends and relatives of politicians without sufficient, or with no, security for their debts. Some business leaders are happy as they are making substantial profits and bonuses. 

The other fundamental problem is most of our ruling party Politicians, Top Business Leaders and Bankers who support the governing party are turning a blind eye or ignorant to an extremely basic principle of Capitalism which is “Bigger the Boom, Greater the Bust.” To make things worse, in our case the “Boom” is built on huge amount of borrowed money with a very weak industrial base. Are there any strategies or contingency plans in place for a possible “economic bust” in the near future that may drag our country into “bankruptcy?”  

It appears that during last few years, most of our politicians, and some business leaders have behaved in a greedy and irrational way to create the state which we are currently in. We are paying an extremely high price for having a “jolly good time” by these politicians, their friends & relatives, drug dealers, and some business leaders. All indicators are that we have created huge debts which cannot be paid in the foreseeable future. We are leaving huge debts to be paid by our children and grandchildren for the “jolly good time” which some of our politicians, their relatives & friends, drug dealers, and some business leaders are enjoying with the borrowed money. Why should our children and grandchildren take this huge responsibility of repaying these debts which have been created by these corrupt administrators?

The current government has already borrowed vast amount of money for “maintaining the public services” which are being run by inefficient & corrupt politicians and administrators by creating an exceptionally large deficit in the government borrowing requirements. On 8 January 2015, the newly elected President and his Government should be pro-actively involved in delivering the public services in the most economic and efficient manner. They should challenge the “status quo” in many government departments to ensure that the services are delivered in the most innovative and cost-effective ways to save public money. 

The new Government must recognise that “lip service” is not acceptable. Quarterly progress reports on each government department on their saving targets and what they have actually achieved must be in the public domain. Educate the public sector workforce to change their mind-sets and the culture of the public sector organisations. Send a strong message to the managers of these institutions to say that they must run their departments efficiently within the allocated budgets. Make sure that these managers are replaced immediately if they failed to deliver their services efficiently within the allocated budget targets.

(End of the sub-heading)

The readers may like to also refer to one of my other articles titled Delivering An Outstanding Public Service published in the Colombo Telegraph on 2 May 2022. The article highlights the very points Mr. Wijesinghe is advocating about the change of culture in our public sector organisations for delivering the goods and services in an economic and efficient manner to be successful in a competitive global environment.

Bribery and Corruption

It is worth noting that Mr. Wijesinghe in his speech has not given a prominent voice against the rampant bribery and corruption that is embedded in Sri Lanka that is patently obvious to most Sri Lankans, and which is a major obstacle for implementing the competence Governance and Management for which he is advocating. To emphasise the importance of this very point I would like to tell a little story from a Sunday Dhamma Talk given by the Abbot of Amaravati Temple in UK, Ajhan Amaro in July 2022. 

Ajhan Amaro was invited to give a talk entitled, “The Buddha’s Teachings and the Modern Concept of Good Governance and Management” at The National Institute of Development Administration of Thailand. After the talk, during the Q&A session, one very significant point that was raised was, in effect, “This is all well and good BUT, on a practical level, all these fine principles and skilful structures are undermined in this country by the overwhelming presence of corruption in the system. We are struggling to address this in a meaningful and effective way. What is your advice?”

Ajhan Amaro said that this had led to a lively discussion, the most striking point of which was the comment that, with respect to Thailand, “We have pretty much given up on the adult population – the bad habits are too deeply ingrained – so we are now principally aiming at the children. We are trying to school a new generation that sees corruption in a very different way”. So, a book had been written with just this aim in mind, to educate the next generation in attitudes and practices that would prevent the seeds of corruption being allowed to sprout in the first place. Is there a similarity between Sri Lanka and Thailand?

Regrettably, today bribery and corruption have become a part of everyday life in Sri Lanka. This has become a ‘silent cancer’ which is killing our society on an unprecedented scale. I wonder whether we, Sir Lankans have a “magic wand” to find a lasting cure or to stem the insidious growth of this cancer in order to implement the proposals highlighted by Mr.Wijesinghe to develop our country?    

Conclusion

From the above extracts of my article published in 2014, it is evident that some of us were brave enough to highlight the wrong policies adopted by the previous regimes during 2010 to 2019. If the incredibly talented economists, financiers, and advisers to the government had taken brave and timely action to highlight in the public domain the wrong, as well as mismanagement of economic policies by our rulers and their henchmen, I would say that we could have avoided this crisis well before 2015 and not early 2020, as stated by Mr. Wijesinghe.

However, some of Mr. Wijesinghe’s proposals for restructuring society, implementation of competence governance, the evidence-based policy making using data analysis, introduction of competition, and agreement of common economic vision by all political parties setting aside their ideological differences to achieve economic freedom for the sake of our country’s political, social, and economic revival are credible and will be achievable only if we can persuade our political leaders to work together. And this is so vital to also promote religious and ethnic harmony among all our people living in this beautiful Island paradise. 

In addition to those proposals, I passionately believe that unless we have honest and law-abiding public servants who are brave enough to speak out at the right time against the cruel, but predictable death of the Sri Lankan Economy and exercise their authority against illegal, unethical, and ill-advised policies of the rulers, Sri Lanka may not prosper politically, economically, and socially for a very long time. No doubting that the Nation must go through exceedingly difficult and painful times for a few years more before we see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” 

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    Why did Chandrika ask Tilan Wiesinghe to resign from the post of CEO of the BOI ?

    Why did not any government after that touch him , until the utterly confused yahapalanaya government which did not know who was doing what !

    What dose Wijesinghe think of the concept of conflict of interests ?

    • 2
      0

      deepthi silva,
      .
      Who are you? Many wonder.

      .
      However, you may be on to something. Go here:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/unmasking-the-likes-of-cabraals-a-national-imperative/
      .
      There’s nothing secret about my identity! I have proved myself an ass!
      .
      Thilan Wijesinghe’s speech has blown many of us off our feet.
      .
      The link first appeared here:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/midterm-us-politics-postterm-post-rajapaksa-politics/
      .
      I listened, and I was greatly impressed.
      .

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPtfu70Nkko
      .

      I was soon deflated (and so was honest Simon) by a devastating comment by nimal fernando.
      .
      See the video. It’s brilliantly produced – easy on both eye and ear. Significantly, very few have seen it, and there are only five comments, including two by me. I know that I can now delete them, since I’ve been embarrassingly rapturous. I won’t delete!
      .
      I know little Economics, although I know English. Examining how a man labelled a crook can still get away with everybody now on their guard is amazing. Discussing this will be an educative experience.
      .
      See also, where the link first appeared three days ago, below the Rajan Philps’ article.
      .
      All of you may, after all, tell me that I was not an ass! Please check and tell me.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

    • 4
      0

      Dear sensitive readers,
      .
      This is another good example of MELCCHA rajapakshe media mafia always slandering them and their politicians branding the CBK administration as “doing nothing in these 11 long years”. That was the begining on an end – almost everyone attacked her, but what is revealing today is, all what gains by millitary claimed under her govt rather than under MR regime.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb8YuMNXMqE

      I happened to listen to me then milliatory man who was compelled to leave the country after MR et al started attacking himi for some hidden gaims. He revealed, all what was kept away by srilanken main stream media about the plast phases of the war.
      .
      Needless to say, she appointed the best people to the State Department and the Department of Education. Late Mr Kadirgamar was the key person to have got LTTErs banned on rich soils by blocking their mobilizing in that soils.
      . SRILANKEN Airlines merged with Emirates and brought trillions in profits to the country, but the Medamulana-born pariah seeded “Sri Lanka” for his power grab tactics. What SriLankan Airlines had to do was become a growing liability to the statistics. Today it is like a deadly disease for Sri Lanka’s shrinking economy.

  • 6
    1

    The oration referred to by Mr Gamini Jayaweera, is in excellent English.
    .
    Listen to it:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPtfu70Nkko
    .
    One hour; good for those who want to improve their English!
    .
    I submitted a much longer comment yesterday. I see it still on my computer, but I don’t think that it has been approved yet. Nobody has disliked it!

  • 4
    1

    I find that what I submitted yesterday was 203 words. Now reduced to 197.

    deepthi silva,
    .

    Look at this:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPtfu70Nkko
    .
    I listened, and I was greatly impressed.
    .
    I have proved myself an ass!
    .
    Thilan Wijesinghe’s speech has blown many of us off our feet.
    .
    The link first appeared here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/midterm-us-politics-postterm-post-rajapaksa-politics/
    .
    I was soon deflated (and so was honest Simon) by a devastating comment by nimal fernando.
    .
    See the video.
    It’s brilliantly produced – easy on both eye and ear. Significantly, very few have seen it, and there are only five comments, including two by me. I know that I can now delete them, since I’ve been embarrassingly rapturous. I won’t delete!
    .
    I know little Economics,
    although I know English. Examining how a man labelled a crook can still get away with everybody now on their guard is amazing. Discussing this will be an educative experience.
    .
    See also, where the link first appeared three days ago, below the Rajan Philps’ article.
    .
    Some of you may, after all, tell me that I was not an ass! Please check and tell me.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

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