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GL: Brain drain worst manifestation of SL’s economic crisis

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Brain drain is the worst manifestation of the country’s economic crisis, Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) member and MP, Prof. G.L Peiris, said on Thursday.Prof. Peiris said that a large number of academics had left state universities. In recent years, the number of students enrolled at the state universities had risen significantly, he added.

“I was at state universities for 33 years. There are a large number of academics who can secure jobs abroad. I am not saying everyone can get foreign jobs, but there are many who can. And, most of them are leaving. Brain drain is the worst manifestation of the country’s economic crisis,” he said.

The MP said that most of the other outcomes of the economic crisis can be addressed in a short time by a compassionate and competent government.  However, brain drain had long term implications. Sri Lanka had been able to overcome many crises it has faced, from the 30-year war to COVID-19, because of its highly skilled human resources, he said.

“This was our main asset, and we are losing skilled people now. Not only universities but other professionals, from doctors to IT people, are leaving. This is a reflection of the disillusionment of professionals. Especially those with children think that there is no future for their kids in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The government has no intention of stopping the brain drain. Some elements of the government are happy about people leaving because they believe those who leave will remit their earnings.

“This is a foolish assumption. When a professional migrates, they invest the money they make in making a life for themselves. The overwhelming majority won’t remit money here. The government doesn’t even care about the collapse of the health sector. Look what is happening to the Aswesuma welfare scheme. We have not given any welfare benefits to two million poor people since June,” he said.

The government must openly discuss various free trade agreements Sri Lanka is pursuing with various chambers of commerce, professional associations, trade unions, and in Parliament, before they are signed, he said.

“It is not ethical or legal for a government, especially one that has no popular mandate, to enter into these agreements that have long term impacts on Sri Lanka,” he said.

The government was also attempting to weaken 12 Acts in place to protect the workers. These include the Termination of Employment of Workmen (Special Provisions) Act and the Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration)Act.

“These specify the working hours, minimum wages, and other important things. These are privileges workers have earned after years of struggle. Look at the domestic debt restructuring resolution. The government is not touching the investments made by billionaires. The burden of debt restructuring is borne by pension funds, like the EPF and the ETF,” he said.

Prof. Peiris said that professionals were willing to pay higher taxes, but they want to make sure that the taxes are used well.

“When professionals met the President, the Treasury Secretary, etc., and presented their proposals, they were told that their ideas were good, but the government had to work according to the agreements with the IMF. There are countries that have negotiated well with the IMF and signed favourable agreements. But we were too scared to argue our case. We were worried that we would have to return empty handed. So, we signed an agreement that was inimical to Sri Lanka’s interests,” he said

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