Economic gains of inclusivity and nondiscrimination

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Countries in distress brought upon by their own follies find to their cost that they need all the friends in the world to help them climb out of the pit they have dug for themselves. The extent of help extended is often determined by the image and respect the country enjoys in the international community.

A pariah state for instance will not attract much sympathy although there are instances when humanitarian considerations may prompt some governments to provide help to the citizens of a country in their time of need despite their opinion about the government of that country.

A case in point is the situation Sri Lanka finds itself in. Driven to bankruptcy by sheer incompetence and economic mismanagement and the disastrous 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the country finds itself gasping for breath and stretching its hands to pretty much anyone who can come to its aid.

While the issues relating to discrimination and inclusivity of its citizenry need to be addressed primarily because of the larger concern for justice, addressing such value based issues also contribute to shaping the image of the country in the eyes of the world.

There are several examples of the respect earned and goodwill generated by the Sri Lankan State in the past being converted to economic benefits for the country.

The annual US$ seven billion remittances that have been received from expatriates, the majority of whom are in the Middle East, has helped to sustain the economy during the years of the armed conflict.

Sri Lanka’s unwavering support over the years towards the Palestinian cause created a positive image in the Middle East which in turn translated into economic benefits for the country.

Another instance of the excellent relations that existed between the Middle East and Sri Lanka helping to tide over a difficult situation is exemplified by an incident that took place during the Ranasinghe Premadasa Presidency when the country was faced with the prospect of a fuel crisis.

Veteran journalist Latheef Farook at President Premadasa’s request called on the Iraqi Ambassador with one of the President’s confidants to convey the President’s plea for urgent oil supplies. The President himself spoke to the Ambassador over the phone in Latheef Farook’s presence and made the request.

The Iraqi Ambassador immediately spoke to the authorities in his country who immediately diverted two oil tankers heading for another country to Sri Lanka thus helping to avert a critical situation.

Fortunately, the clergyman-turned-politician’s anti-Muslim tirades and statements of “we can live without Arab oil” came many years later.

Last week the National Chamber of Exporters (NCE) at its 30th NCE Export Awards ceremony recognised the contribution of Halal certification to the economy of the country. They did so by presenting the Gold Award for services provided to exporters to the Halal Accreditation Council (HAC), which oversees the Halal certification process. The Award brought to mind another area in which negative publicity has painted the country in a poor light internationally.

The award is also a recognition of efforts made by the Halal Accreditation Council without any formal backing from the authorities and despite several anti-Halal impediments faced in the past.

The Halal certification process has opened up markets for Sri Lankan products in not only Muslim countries but also in China, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, to name a few other countries.

According to a recent study, Halal certification for the year 2021 has facilitated more than 60% of Sri Lanka’s food and beverage exports thus contributing in no small measure to Sri Lanka’s search for elusive dollars.

The global Halal market is estimated at US$ 1. 27 trillion, of which Sri Lanka’s shares in 2021 was 0.14 percent. This amounted to US$ 1.8 billion in halal certified exports.

Thailand is one country that has capitalised on the opportunity for access to foreign markets that Halal certification has given to its exports. It has established a Halal Science Centre at its Chulalongkorn University which facilitates such exports.

Sri Lanka can emulate Thailand and implement similar measures which can in turn benefit the economy considerably.

Since 2012 the country has been plagued by attempts by various groups including the infamous Bodu Bala Sena to demonise the Muslim community. One of the methods used was to paint Halal certification as anti-Buddhist and create insecurities in the minds of the majority community.

During the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency, the targeting of the Muslim community reached new heights with attempts to remove the identity markers of the Muslim community and discriminate Muslims in a systematic way.

The first such attempt was the step taken to amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act by abolishing the quazi court system and other fundamental features of the Act. Another was to ban the burqa on the pretext of national security when it had never been identified as a threat to security during the four-decade old armed conflict.

Another act of discrimination was the decision of the Government to cremate the bodies of Muslim COVID-19 victims without permitting burial of such bodies. This made Sri Lanka the only country in the world to do so and it was in direct contravention of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and the advice of medical experts here and abroad that there was no health risk by permitting such burials.

Several attacks on the Muslim community in Aluthgama, Digana, Minuwangoda and other areas contributed to the increasing fear psychosis among Muslims.

The 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which came as a bolt from the blue to the Muslims has also been used as an excuse to intensify surveillance of Muslim organisations and community activities. But answers to the million-dollar question ‘who dunnit’ which both Catholics and Muslims have been clamouring for, remains unanswered.

Recent events have shown that any acts that discriminate against communities are not only unjust but can also result in economic harm to the country. It is indeed time that the country learns from such experiences.




 courtesy sunday times

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Disclaimer: Economic gains of inclusivity and nondiscrimination - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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