27 Oct SANவாදය – EPISODE 04
The COVID-19 pandemic represents a permanent threat to the whole world, labelled as the worst economic shock and pandemic in recent history. In this novel viral outbreak, Sri Lanka is one of the most vulnerable middle-income countries. COVID-19's economic effect may be expected to be significantly direct and indirect since the Sri Lankan economy depends mainly on foreign trade.
"The Big Picture: Navigating a Crisis", the fourth instalment of the series 'SANவாදය', is an awareness program initiated by the Rotaract District Steering Committee 3220 and hosted by the Rotaract clubs of Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Matale, National School of Business Management and Royal Institute of Colombo. This was held on the 10th of October, 2021 via zoom and the main intention of this session was to educate the public about "How big of an impact COVID-19 have on the Sri Lankan economy as a whole". The guest speaker for the session was the Member of Parliament and Economist Dr. Harsha De Silva.
The event was beautifully hosted by Rtr. Tharushi an undergraduate at NSBM Green Town University. The event started with a small informal discussion about how Dr. Harsha De Silva's weekend was spent. It was quite evident how busy he had been with just one minute into his explanation as he went through the air-tight schedule he had for the weekend. It seems that Dr. Harsha De Silvas's weekends are even busier than our busiest weekdays!
However, the session quickly started to take on a more serious note as the flow started with a timely issue affecting all Sri Lankans. Dr. Harsha stepped into the conversation with a bold statement that couldn't be truer: 'Everything is about Economics'. He went on to emphasize and explain how seriously developed countries think about economics by starting with educating their children and youth about the basics of economics in schools as well as universities. Afterwards, Dr. Harsha expounded on the following questions in a friendly yet very informative manner.
He also went on to elaborate on the necessity of the media to understand and grasp concepts in economics mentioning how all students of the University of Missouri School of journalism had to take micro and macro-economic modules compulsorily during their courses.
In terms of how the pandemic impacted the Sri Lankan economy, it was elaborated how some businesses and individuals faced the pandemic well while some were grounded. Dr. Harsha also revealed that “Sri Lanka already went into the pandemic in a very problematic situation as the budget deficit had no hope of seeing better days shortly. So it was quite evident that the pandemic simply exacerbated some already problematic issues that were always under plain sight rather than completely change the landscape as an outside force”.
Dr. Harsha took us on a journey of how it all started in the first place to explain the direct effects of the pandemic on the economy of Sri Lanka. Also, he tried his best to explain how critical our current situation is 'without playing the blame game' by bringing to attention some important statistics throughout the pandemic. “When the pandemic started all of Sri Lanka went into an island-wide 52-day lockdown that resulted in countless people losing their jobs and businesses. Many industries faced a dire state with the almost zero functioning of the economy which resulted in receded economic indicators throughout many industries”.
However as Dr. Harsha explained, "Even though the second quarter of 2020 (yes the year that flew by) showed a negative 15% economic growth, on a more positive note the second quarter of 2021 showed a positive 12% growth. The economy seems subsequently picked up and is now running forward with at least three steps forward and two steps backward. All said and done, it soothes our hearts and minds to know that a visionary economist after all these economic hardships remains positive that our country will see brighter days very soon!”.
Afterwards, Dr Harsha was asked a question that affects all of us future graduates in the coming years: ‘Would you think there'd be a long-term impact?’ Personally acknowledging that it was a very good question for many reasons, Dr. Harsha went on to state the case that up until now, the contemporary Sri Lankan economic outlook has been one of an inward-looking economy where import substitutions have been preferred over imports. "As good as it sounds when uttered by a position wearing our national clothes it is the type of idea that always looks good on paper but is near impossible when done in the real world," he said, going on to explain why bygone norms and ideals like the modern monetary are fundamentally flawed.
He went on to explain how the pandemic could manifest negative multifaceted long term impacts that could cripple our economy in ways that are too depressing. "We didn't take any credible action right now. Unfortunately, it seems that the long-term impacts are not easily foreseeable since the way by which we tackle this issue right now could single-handedly change whether the long term timeframe would be a favourable or unfavourable one for us all in the future".
Answering the question raised by the moderator ‘As talented and skilled graduates in the future, would we or could we be better off Sri Lanka or somewhere else in the future?’ "Letters are skills and products are words. Don't let anyone kid you" said Dr. Harsha, explaining that as a country we are limited in our skills on a macro scale compared to other developed and developing countries. In his opinion, the model forward should improve and develop our economy while welcoming international talent. “Then what should be the model forward? – revise, improve and develop our economy because otherwise, the future would be gloomy for Sri Lanka. Do these and we'll be as good or if not better than any developing country in this region. That is guaranteed!” he added.
Finishing off the discussion the host asked yet another important question: ‘What is the best contingency plan to get out of this mess?’ “So then if printing money and encouraging a self-sufficient-minimum import economy is not the way to go, which way should we go? Referring to the saving and investing gap, we consume what foreigners produce when we don't have that currency we borrow more so the gap increases more. This has become so serious that it's going to implode on us. We have to start doing things differently", was the wise explanation Dr. Harsha gave at the end.
Finally, Dr. Harsha concluded his session as the words of wisdom from an exceptional character in the Sri Lankan political and economic landscape, with the ultimate message of;
Sink in here to witness the fourth episode of Sanவாදය
Rtr. Gimhan Weerarathna
Rtr. Dilki Kottage
(Blog Team Member 2021-22)