On practical needs-based economic development | Sunday Observer
Cabinet appointments:

On practical needs-based economic development

After the Government’s overwhelming majority in Parliament following the recently concluded General Election, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Government leaders have opted to continue with the pre-election Cabinet of Ministers in the interim Government to take Sri Lanka to greater heights due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

No Government or Opposition has faced such a contiguous task post World War 11, reestablishing what even global economists feel is an untenable effort to put right devastating national economies.

This potential crisis, therefore, demands every skill and qualification, and a grasp of the huge pitfalls over the next one year, which will mark the forthcoming budgetary period. The collective responsibility of the Cabinet to boost export, tourism , import rationalization in conjunction with monetary and fiscal backing of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and international price controls including the control of the US Dollar and other currencies will focus successfully, not mismatching macro-economic and micro-economic targets.

It is in that perspective that the Cabinet Ministers and State Ministers have been sworn in. As assured, all 15 previous Cabinet Ministers have been sworn in , some with the same and others with different portfolios.

The highlight of the appointments is that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has retained Defence and elder brother Mahinda, as Prime Minister with the portfolios of Finance, Buddha Sasana and Urban Development.

Eldest brother Chamal has been appointed as Minister of Irrigation; and Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa, who has been an MP since 2005, is the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs. Namal’s appointment is widely acknowledged, being a former Sri Lanka Rugby skipper, who, with his brother Yoshitha, brought Sri Lanka within the first five slots in the Asian region.

His contribution to youth development through the (Tharunyata Hetak) Movement would also have been considered for his appointment. At 34, he is the youngest Sports Minister, making him outshine, especially in the light of Sports Ministers in the past who could barely walk half a kilometre.

The others who retained their portfolios are, Foreign Affairs Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi and Plantations Minister Ramesh Pathirana. Pavithra, not only topped the Ratnapura District with 200,000, the Government would also have given her credit for helping to control the Covid 19 pandemic. Wimal Weerawansa has also retained the Ministry of Industries, while all other Ministries he held in the interim Cabinet have been relegated to the level of State ministries.

All others have got just one portfolio each. In a logical move SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris has been appointed Education Minister, in charge of both collegiate (Primary and Secondary) Education and (Tertiary) University Education as well. Who would be better for Education than Prof. Peiris? He was a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo and visiting Fellow of the three apex British Universities - Oxford, Cambridge and London!

The classification of State Ministers has been practical and needs based, mostly product based with emphasis on value addition for both, local markets and export. There is scope for identification of the products directly. For instance, Gampaha District MP Prasanna Ranaweera has been appointed State Minister of Rural Industrial Development which involves value addition for clay, cane, brass and other products.

The products placed under his Ministry have the potential for sale in the local as well as export markets. The highlight is that these products are originated in his electorate Kelaniya itself.

There can be cane baskets, furniture and clay products such as clay lamps which are in demand in temples and have the potential to be used as cooking utensils at buffets in five star hotels. They have the potential to enhance rural economy, revenue generation and employment opportunities.

?Focus has been laid on individual product development such as cashew, betel, kithul treacle (non perishable items) and others which could bring additional revenue to the rural economy as well as employment generation. Coconut products also increase value addition such as brooms and ekel brooms, coir dust which has its industrial uses, and desiccated coconut. Coconut water is bottled and has found its way to the export market.

Fruits can also be processed in bottles, especially king coconut for both, the local and export market. The fact that the State Ministry for the creation of Industrial Zones is merged with Aviation would be helpful in creating the processing facilities.

The focus on organic foods, especially vegetables and fruits would create value added foods for the local and overseas market.

It is heartening to note that there is a separate State Ministry for the development of solar and wind power generation which will reduce the cost of power generation considerably. Sri Lanka’s Industrial Cost of Production has been among the highest in the region.

All aspects of the economy have been thought of, such as rural roads and other infrastructure.

This would be widely acclaimed by the rural folks where in some instances there is not even a bridge to cross a stream, but a plank of wood instead.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should be congratulated for identifying areas which need improvement.

The President in his visits to outstation cities in the run up to the elections studied the issues in the periphery and found out which areas needed the attention of the Government. Now, it is up to their delivery.