(November 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka receives nearly US$ 5 billion a year from foreign remittances from citizens working abroad and this goes directly to the underprivileged of the country. This amount eclipses the US$ 2.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout package that was used to get the domestic economy back on track. So, all the country’s problems can be dealt with if the nation can raise the current 1.6 million Sri Lankans working abroad to 3 million, according to Dr. Sarath Amunugama, the country’s Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation.
Other areas he highlighted were the issues of bus and rail transport, suggesting that the first step in China’s recovery was the modernisation of its railways and southern ports by Deng Xiaoping, widely considered the Father of Modern China. He further identified this modernisation by China as the reason so many had emerged out of poverty in that country with poverty numbers halving while, over the same period, India’s poverty numbers had not gone down anywhere near China’s.
In line with this, Dr. Amunugama also opined that the authorities responsible for Sri Lanka’s rail (CGR) and bus (CTB) networks had to also be reformed, citing the examples that the CGR was the only outfit that has not added a single foot of rail over the last 50 years (having actually decommissioned some routes) and the CTB could not breakeven despite benefitting from new buses being added every year which were paid for by the nation’s Treasury.
In terms of ongoing infrastructure projects, he noted that the Colombo Port Expansion Project’s breakwater was nearly completed and the related terminals were about to be built. He also signalled that the island’s Southern Expressway, to Hambantota, would be opened on the November 24 or 25 (this following a series of delays). Additionally revealed, an expressway to Katunayake, the site of the country’s sole international airport, would be completed in 2013 and that a lot of the road work in this regard had already been completed.
Dr. Amunugama’s comments were made during his keynote address at last week’s 4th annual international conference of Sri Lanka’s chapter of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) held in Colombo.
Local chapter Chairman Prof. Amal Kumarage suggested that Sri Lanka’s infrastructure investments be made in line with the country’s new offerings rather than just updating a colonial network created two centuries ago when cash crops such as tea, rubber and coconuts were the country’s only exports. He noted that the latter, traditional crops, that made up around 90% of business in the 1960s but were only about 20% of all exports today, were now significantly overshadowed by garments exports at 50%, with even agriculture falling from its 1980’s high of 28% to today’s 12%.
Prof. Kumarage also suggested that there should be an effort to integrate all the country’s varied transportation networks into one national hub and that currently the emphasis seemed to be just bringing down the importance of Colombo’s multimodal node.
Further, he also warned that there were also logistical issues with projects already coming up such as the Colombo Port expansion and the movement of the government’s administrative offices outside of Colombo, including a lack of adequate available transport as well as a lack of understanding of possible implications.