Dr. Pethiyagoda blames Lanka’s woes on rulers, bureaucrats not using common sense
By: M. A. Kaleel
Sri Lanka could go bankrupt again and again in the years to come like Argentina, Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost biodiversity experts said at the convocation of the Sri Jayewardenepura University.The engineer turned biodiversity expert told the students that they were graduating at the most difficult time in Sri Lanka’s post-Independence history.
“The fact is whichever government we get, whichever President we elect in the future, it won’t make a difference because coming out of this type of economic crisis is a slow, tedious and long process. It’s not going to be bad as people say that Sri Lanka is going to end up as Zimbabwe. I don’t think it will. We have people like you in Sri Lanka but Zimbabwe doesn’t. We might end up like Argentina. A hundred years ago Argentina was the 15th richest country in the world. On average Argentinians were richer than Italians, French and Irish. Today it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. All because of lack of common sense in political ideology. In 20 years, Argentina declared bankruptcy not once nine times. We can also expect that Sri Lanka can go bankrupt again and again in years to come. Unfortunately that’s how the world works. Recovery from the crisis we face is not easy. It’s not going to be over in a year or two. It might take ten or twenty years or a generation and you are the generation that can drive the recovery,” he said.
Excerpts of the speech: Today, Sri Lanka is in a crisis because people didn’t have something a mother has. Mothers are people, I think all will realise, who are rich in a thing called common sense. To think about it, our primary problem started with the inflation we are seeing in our economy as the result of the Central Bank two years ago printing 2.3 billion rupees in paper money. Money which is not supported by the growth in the economy always leads to inflation. If you look at other countries, every country that has done that has faced a financial collapse. Our Governor of CB, a highly qualified professional and academic with a PhD from the University of Oxford denied there was a link between money supply and inflation. He didn’t have common sense.
“Your mother couldn’t have done that. That’s why we have this problem. We saw what happened in organic agriculture. Overnight the government decided to change the agriculture policy. Agriculture expertise that has been taught by the universities for the last 50 years – scientific modern agriculture was put aside. We decided to take agriculture back by 100 years to the 19th century. If we look at any other countries in the world, has any country successfully done this? Then common sense says it is unlikely you will be the first successful one. That is your mother would have said. As we didn’t listen to our mother and we got it wrong and that caused our problem. Even people who are highly qualified and competent, if they don’t use common sense, may make serious mistakes. We made that with Dhammika Peniya. The government was telling Dhammika Peniya was a cure for Covid. If it’s a cure for Covid, how come Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca sold 100 b $ worth Covid vaccines last year. Sri Lanka could have got 100b $ for selling Dhammika Peniya but we didn’t. Common sense said we were wrong. When people reject science and when we people reject the learning you’ve received at universities, they can make huge mistakes. Science, as you have learned, is testing hypotheses. It is about evaluating evidence. It is not about listening to the most qualified persons. You have to learn to question everything.
“You have the advantage of graduating from one of the best universities in South Asia. University of Jayewardenepura, specifically your faculty, publishes on average one paper every day in influential indexed journals. It’s an astonishing record. You can be comfortable that you have earned a degree of international standards. If you want to do a further degree anywhere in the world, your degree will stand you in good stead.
Coming years are going to be tough. You’ll be looking for jobs. I feel sad about it. Unfortunately the mistakes have been made for no fault of you but because of corrupt, crooked, ignorant politicians. They have been the curse of our country since independence. But I don’t doubt for one moment that you have the skills, you have the intelligence and you have the knowledge to be a force to drive the change. This is your moment and this is your time for the shakeup of our country. I hope you’ll be equal to the challenge and for that reason I feel Sri Lankans deserve your skills, your talents and your dedication.”