Tuesday, June 7, 2016

‘Drunken’ policymaking leaves Sri Lanka with economic hangover

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan professionals are becoming frustrated with the lack of scientific decision-making by successive governments, mockingly saying decisions are taken at cocktail parties instead of in a systematic manner.

“Policy decisions in Sri Lanka are not taken at meetings or research forums,” declared Tilak Siyambalapitiya, Energy Consultant at Resource Management Associates (Pvt) Ltd.

“Policy decisions are largely taken at cocktail parties – they are proposed, discussed and decided upon at cocktails,” he told ‘R4TLI’ or Research for Transport & Logistics Industry, held by Sri Lanka Society of Transport and Logistics with Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Sri Lanka.

Professionals need to change this attitude and get into decision making structures and convince policy makers of the need for research in policy structures, Siyambalapitiya said.

Neither and state nor private sector was doing enough research, except in a few cases, with funds and people deployed for research being inadequate, he said.

“We need a new research culture.”

Siyambalapitiya noted how lessons could be learnt from the energy industry with recent successive islandwide power blackouts prevented with better research.

“More analysis and research could have prevented the collapse. Research could have brought the situation to light and remedial measures taken in advance.”

The availability of information to decision makers was very poor. “It is as if the operator is blindfolded and he was driving a car.”
Regulatory agencies also need to do research to examine how such regulated industries can improve their performance, he said.

Sri Lankan transport experts have said better planning could have prevented the building of ‘white elephants’ as a port and airport in southern Hambantota are now being called since they have failed to attract business.

The government is struggling to repay loans taken from China to build the port and airport since they are not generating enough revenue.

Transport professionals also warn the new government is in danger of repeating the mistakes of the former regime by going for ‘supplier-driven’ transport solutions instead of heeding professional advice. 

A case in point is criticism of the government’s preference for a light rail transit system in the planned Western region megapolis project, a more expensive system than bus rapid transit, which they say is easier and cheaper to implement. 

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