What constitutes wealth in Sri Lanka?

How do this new breed of Sri Lankan sudden wealthy, see themselves and how are they seen by others in the land?


by Victor Cherubim

( March 17, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) We define a nation’s wealth in many ways. We can explore wealth from the reserves of currency we have in the Central Bank, from data and knowledge of our people, the quality of life we lead, the health and wellbeing, even the concern we show for welfare of our rural communities and the care we give our dispossessed,

When we look beyond past and present statistics to detect clues about ourselves and our assessment of wealth we find that we are concerned about our individual wealth rather than the wealth of the nation. After 69 years of independence, we find it difficult to appreciate that the wealth of the nation is the wealth of our people?

As the definition of a nation’s wealth implies it is the manifestation of “human happiness” or “well being” and our expectation today about the future, or tomorrow. This may be anchored in tangible things like land and natural resources, human capital and by intangible wealth. Intangible wealth can be high valuable assets produced by Government such as legal, administration and government infrastructure to make for a stable society. Likewise lack of an effective government in a country is the main source of a nation’s poverty.

A nation can provide its families with considerable financial security through education and health care. A nation can arrange for its citizens to be in relatively safe environment with high internal security without fear of the “white vans.” A nation can offer its citizens relatively clean environment, clean air and water. A nation can leave its citizens with a sense of fairness about the distribution of wealth and particularly economic privilege within society. A nation can leave its citizens with more leisure for recreation pursuits, other than work for pay.

Who rules Sri Lanka?

The days of the “mudalali” are nearly gone; the days of MR are almost gone, but the days of unspoken abject poverty or of greed and affluence stand out in stark contrast.

Financial wealth is only a fraction of the nation’s wealth. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is only one element of the social index.

If wealth is a sum of future human happiness that a nation benefits within its borders, human happiness is the source of many other factors besides GDP and financial wealth.

The wealth of the poor

9 out of 10 poor live in Sri Lanka in rural areas. More than 40 % of rural poor are small farmers. Malnutrition and more recently dengue fever are common particularly among children in rural parts. “In some areas in 6 of 7 Provinces” according to recent report, “people have no access to electricity or safe drinking water”. This perhaps, may be due to the recent severe drought or the want of infrastructure. Small scale farmers produce most of the agricultural output but their production systems are hampered by poor economies of scale, low investment, inconsistent product pricing, and worst of all poor harvests due to lack of rain. Can we do “something” for fighting the drought?

Sudden wealth syndrome

Look at the wealth of the “Rich.” in Sri Lanka. I mean the “sudden wealthy syndrome” people who have become stinking rich overnight. Everyone in this class wants to be “someone.”They want to be distinctive and exhibit significant psychological differences than the average population. They want to own not one vehicle but two, including the latest model of a Merc or a BMW, or even a Rolls, live a luxurious life style in a salacious condo or in a new three or more storey house with master bedrooms, send their children to posh Colombo schools and or for study abroad, go on shopping sprees to Dubai or Singapore, tour the world and have a fat bank balance at the end.

How do this new breed of Sri Lankan sudden wealthy, see themselves and how are they seen by others in the land?

Some not well off seek to pursue economic growth of the nation rather than redistribution of income. Some see it as relative poverty, being poor in relation to those around. Others see it as being as “moneypot poor”. Most people are unconcerned and somehow want to get on with their lives. Those who are abject poor are told that it is their fate and accept it? Blame poverty alleviation? Sri Lankan religious leaders may have a job on their hands to eradicate this gulf.

The new rich seriously believe that their money is not a corrupting influence. They say they wouldn’t dare taking advantage of the less wealthy or even the poor. They surround themselves with status symbols of wealth, one of which is money, others being privilege, power and also isolation. Among this class are many politicians.

“Money” they say “cannot buy happiness”. Has wealth become more of a burden than a comfort? Excessive consumption, lunches or dinners at posh restaurants, new expensive luxury items or even handbags among other things becomes commonplace. Constant luxury is in a sense or in essence, no luxury living?

The burden of private v national wealth

The Marxist instinct is there to criticise the overly rich for acquiring their wealth.

The wealthy defend themselves by blaming the poor for their indolence.

A lot of people among both camps are sincerely concerned about others and their welfare and are doing something about it. That is sincerely our tradition.

In our Buddhist tradition we are reminded of the Buddha who gave up a princely life –to achieve enlightenment.

While a poor farmer in Sri Lanka confronting the imponderable weather for his pitiful harvest asked his wife “Don’t we have enough for our meals?” For those in Sri Lanka who have suddenly become very wealthy, such wealth can feel like an inheritance – a “vasanawa” a lucky break. But as seen in the ending of a dream- investing in national wealth may not be as painful and worrying, as the effect of “becoming poor once again.”

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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