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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2430

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe visits China: Mahinda Rajapakse vision and legacy lives on

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Volte faces are not always welcome. However, this one by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Yahapalanaya government is very welcome. Having criticized Mahinda Rajapakse for his leanings towards China, and condemned virtually every project funded with Chinese assistance, and making that criticism one of the principal campaign planks during the Presidential and general elections in 2015, all Sri Lankans will no doubt welcome the sanity that is finally dawning on Mr Wickremasinghe and the Yahapalanaya government.

In sum, however much it might be denied by Mr Wickremasinghe and the government, what is happening is the continuance of the economic and strategic vision for Sri Lanka launched by former President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The authors of the regime change no doubt expected the West, led by the USA, to put money where their mouths were and assist Sri Lanka with a post regime change economic development plan and pour money into Sri Lanka.

That clearly did not happen, and the likelihood of any significant injection of funds or investments from the already cash strapped West is remote. An ordinary Gamarala or a pavement hawker could have foretold that to the pundits in the regime change coterie as they are indeed well informed in Sri Lanka.

Now, having realized what was always known by many others, Sri Lanka has learnt the truth and are going East with its tail between its legs, perhaps in all fours, to say sorry to China for all the barbs aimed at them, to virtually beg for forgiveness and ask for loans and development assistance to continue the Mahinda Rajapakse vision for Sri Lanka.

The former President may be criticized for many things, but he cannot be criticized for standing up for Sri Lanka and engaging in a massive economic renaissance in the country. For this, his place in the history of the country cannot be erased by the Jekyll and Hyde’s of the Yahapalanaya government.

Prime Minister Wickremasinghe is due to sign several bi lateral agreements with China according to unconfirmed reports. Amongst them, are the renewal of virtually all projects commenced by Mahinda Rajapakse, and some new ones.

In the absence of an overall economic development plan, one has to assume the government has included projects that are important to repair and renew the infrastructure of the country, a process begun by Mahinda Rajapakse.

It is learnt that the Port city is back on track, and so are the Mattala Airport development, the Hambantota Port development, and economic zone development in Hambantota, construction of highways, including the extension of the Southern Highway to Hambantota, the Kandy highway, and the Jaffna highway amongst others.

Besides these, several water supply development projects are also reportedly included in the negotiations with China.

It is hoped that the government will develop an economic vision for Sri Lanka based on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vision, and consider the following in its vision

1. Infrastructure – roads, bridges, railways, electricity etc. – (a) highway to the East from Hambantota, Highway to Nuwara Eliya from Hambantota, to Kalpitiya from Katunayake, Upgrading of the railway system to permit fast trains to run on long distance runs to Jaffna, Hambantota (when its extended), Kandy, Badulla, Batticaloa, Trinco and Puttalam (after extending from Negambo) (b) Electricity – Developing strategy to lower electricity cost to consumers, both private and commercial.

2. Industrial zones – Expand the zone already set up in the North, develop the planned zone in Hambantota, and set up a zone in the East (Trinco) - All this after identifying what is appropriate for each zone.

3. Agricultural zones – Food security is a critical need and Sri Lanka should have a strategy to ensure security for Sri Lankans as well as become suppliers to other countries. Sri Lanka should seek assistance from countries like Israel to develop appropriate methodologies to develop agricultural zones. Large scale greenhouses zones, hydroponic zones and any other appropriate technology should be used in these zones.

4. Skills development hubs – Sri Lanka needs a skills development strategy and part of this should be to set up a body comprising of academics, economists, educationists, industrialists, agriculturists, software specialists, and other relevant personnel to develop a 5 year strategy. On completion, skills development hubs could be set up in different parts of the country maximizing the strengths of each area. Skills development has to be an ongoing activity, and the strategic plan needs to be constantly reviewed and updated.

5. Education centers of excellence – Set up centres of excellence in different areas such as medicine, commerce, industry, agriculture, Ayurveda, plantation industry, Irrigation, environmental studies, Information technology etc.

6. Tourist hubs – Declare Hambantota, Trincomalee, Kalpitiya and Kandy as tourist hubs. Each hub could focus on the special features in their hubs and develop them to attract tourists. Hambantota in particular has to be a very significant hub considering its proximity to hotels in the South, the East, the natural parks in Yala and Uda Walawe, and its proximity to the hill country via Ella-Wellawaya. It will be quite possible to have direct tourist arrivals to Mattala airport if Hambantota is developed as a hub.

Trincomalee as a tourist hub will open the entire East to its full potential and will provide employment to many in that area now languishing for jobs and livelihoods.

Kalpitiya as a tourist hub will entail some of the most beautiful, but yet untapped sea side locations ideal for water sports, Dolphin watching, deep sea diving, and high end resort developments. The proximity to Wilpattu will be an added attraction within this hub.

Kandy as a tourist hub will cement its place as the epicenter of cultural triangle, and also allow tourist development in the Hill country.

No doubt the experts in the tourist industry who are in high positions in the current government could articulate a vision for tourism in Sri Lanka with some lateral thinking and not flog a dying horse which is the current status of attractions for tourists visiting Sri Lanka.

7. Ports and airports - Sri Lanka already has a highly developed Port in Colombo and a developing Port in Hambantota. Considering our proximity to the maritime Silk route, we should be further developing and seeking investments to do so. Industrial parks could be set up within close proximity to these Ports. In regard to airports, besides catering to arrivals and departures, they should be marketed as attractive transit destinations.

Adhoc, impulsive decision making has been a hall mark of this government, and no one as yet knows what is store for them in years to come. One hopes that the Prime Minister has finally realized where to go for financial assistance for development of the country, and that this visit to China will show some light at the end of the tunnel for Sri Lanka.

That light that shone bright was snuffed out in January last year, and the country has been in economic darkness since then. There seems to be a ray of hope for a return to the economic revival witnessed during the post war period of the Mahinda Rajapakse regime.

Only time will tell.

- Asian Tribune -

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe visits China: Mahinda Rajapakse vision and legacy lives on
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