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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s budget has given way to economic planners and controllers undermining the freehold of coconut land-owners resisting change and high productivity of land.

Sri Lanka’s nationalists and planners have for many years behaved as if other people’s land was their own inheritance (known in Sinhalese as ‘Am-mar Ap-par-gay Boo-dher-lay) placing various controls on their use, mis-using the coercive power of the state, critics say.

One such law that resisted change was the Paddy Land Act. There are also by-laws against putting coconut land in fast growing areas – especially Kurunegala – for more productive uses that give higher returns to the country expanding gross domestic product.

President Wickremesinghe is widely known as a person who supports progress and economic freedoms.

Nationalists have also hit at landowners in Kurunegala who converted paddy lands to coconut before independence when it became a lucrative cash crop, students of history say.

“As there are new opportunities to generate foreign exchange to be created by promoting the export of coconut and related products, facilities should be provided for encouraging more and more value-added exports of coconut,” President Wickremesinghe said in a budget for 2023, as Vietnam build industrial and housing estates on former agricultural land.

“It is a fact that in recent times, coconut lands are upon fragmentation used for other purposes.

“Therefore, necessary steps should be taken to protect the present coconut lands as well as to encourage the replanting of coconuts.”

“Current legal provisions allow fragmentation of less than 4 hectares of coconut lands, resulting in fragmentation of many fertile coconut lands which has severely impacted on annual coconut production.

“Therefore, I propose to amend the existing legal provisions and limit the fragmentation of coconut lands with less than one acre in extent.”

Vietnam has built industrial estates on former rubber lands, while vast swathes of agricultural land is being used for affordable housing as urbanization expanded, and poverty collapsed after central bank reform in 1989.

“In 1991, when I was the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Industry of Vietnam came to Sri Lanka. He wanted to study our open economic system and industrialization strategies. I made him aware.

“He was given the opportunity to discuss with the officials of the Greater Colombo
Economic Commission. In 1995, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves were USD 2.1 billion.

“Vietnam’s foreign reserves were USD 1.3 billion. The minister of Vietnam studied
our methods and went to his counky. What is the situation today?

“Let’s look back. Lets’s take off the colored political glasses. Why did we get it wrong?
Where did we go wrong? Did we get things wrong? Or did we got things wrong?

“Today, our country has several main revenue generating sectors. One is the plantation economy. Next is Free Trade Zones. Garment industry, Tourism and foreign employment.

“Looking at those, after independence, we have been able to create only a few avenues for the country to earn foreign income. Beyond that, why have we not yet been able to create large-scale foreign income generating sectors? (Colombo/Nov17/2022)

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