Clarion call to professionals
Post-conflict Sri Lanka has embarked on a massive
development drive that covers all regions including the newly
liberated Northern and Eastern provinces. The present
Government, to its credit, went ahead with many development
programs even at the height of the conflict. Now that peace has
dawned, there is greater impetus on development which can
These development programs would cost more than Rs. 5
billion. Many countries are willing to assist Sri Lanka to
undertake this major development drive. Among the areas covered
are roads, power, water supply, irrigation, housing,
telecommunications and healthcare facilities. There will
necessarily be greater focus on the North and the East, whose
infrastructure has to be rebuilt almost from scratch.
A development drive on this scale needs manpower and
professional expertise. There is an erroneous perception that
Sri Lankans cannot design and execute major projects without
foreign assistance and expertise. The truth is that many
projects are being undertaken without foreign expertise and
funds, as 100 percent local ventures.
This is the time that Sri Lanka needs a firm commitment from
her professionals to embark on this unprecedented development
drive. Thousands of Sri Lankan professionals have left our
shores in search of greener pastures due to various reasons
including the protracted conflict which restricted the
opportunities available to skilled workers. They are now engaged
in lending their expertise to the governments and citizens of
Addressing engineers and other professionals on Thursday,
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said it was time for the country's
expatriate intellectuals/professionals and others, to return to
their roots and help rebuild the Nation.
In the words of the President, the country which is on the
threshold of a new era needs the services of its
intellectuals/professionals today more than at any other time in
its history, to guide the nation on the path to lasting peace
This is a clarion call from the Head of State to all Sri
Lankan professionals domiciled abroad. The Government has
already announced several plans and incentives to facilitate
their return and we are sure there will be more. After all, Sri
Lanka's Governments and the people have funded their education
which helped them secure coveted jobs in those countries. Now is
the time for these professionals to express their gratitude to
the people and to renew their bonds. It is heartening to note
that the Government is also reaching out to the professionals in
the Tamil Diaspora, who now have an opportunity to participate
in the rebuilding of the North and the East.
Engineering professionals will be in high demand as there
will be a major infrastructure development program especially in
the North and the East, but all other professionals will have a
major role. Their talents must be recognized and harnessed for
the nation building exercise. But the question remains whether
we have recognized our professionals in an adequate manner. Many
Sri Lankans who were not properly recognized locally have won
plaudits in other countries for their work. Names such as Prof.
Cyril Ponnamperuma, Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe and Prof. Mohan
Munasinghe come to mind in this regard. We have to reward and
appreciate the work done by our professionals living here and
abroad to get their optimal services to the Nation.
Brain drain is a problem that affects all developing
countries, not just Sri Lanka. We must study how other countries
are dealing with this issue. India is a shining example for the
recognition granted to expatriates or Non Resident Indians (NRIs).
They are given a special ID card and many other facilities
should they wish to serve the Motherland either by returning to
India or even from their current locations. Such a model could
be adopted here as well.
We find that only health professionals are usually blamed for
staying back in countries to which they go for higher (post
graduate) studies. Many other professionals engage in the same
practice. On the other hand, we have to appreciate that nearly
90 percent of all professionals who go abroad for higher studies
return to serve the Motherland. It is now up to the authorities
to secure the return of the others.
One other issue affecting the professional sector is that
only a very few categories such as doctors and lawyers are
recognized as professionals per se in Sri Lanka. Some of these
fields have a very high demand in other countries, making
migration an easy option for such personnel. The Organization of
Professional Associations and professionals' bodies must resolve
this issue so that many other skilled workers can be recognized
as professionals in order to encourage them.
All Sri Lankans, not just professionals, must join hands at
this juncture to secure a brighter future for Sri Lanka and to
banish communal and religious divisions. Such an approach will
lead to lasting peace, harmony and prosperity in our Motherland.