Brain drain and kottu roti



Saturday 7th October, 2023

The SLPP-UNP government has earned notoriety for trying to defend the indefensible. It is trying to make light of the mass emigration of educated Sri Lankans, by peddling some ludicrous arguments, one of them being that the human capital flight is a global phenomenon and it has been blown out of proportion here.

State Minister of Media Shantha Bandara has said, in Parliament, ‘brain drain’ is not of recent origin; he heard it the first time when he was in Grade Seven. It is heartening that there is at least one MP who remembers what he learnt in school!

Bandara, however, should have done a proper study of the issue of brain drain, especially its current magnitude, before venturing to speak about it in Parliament. He will have to stop peddling his Grade Seven argument if he does not want the discerning public to think less of him.

Minister Nimal Sirispala de Silva argued in Parliament yesterday that the economy could not be turned around in a hurry, the way a kottu roti was made, for brain drain to be tackled. True, it is not possible to sort out a bankrupt economy overnight although the task of causing an economy to go belly up does not take long. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, in which de Silva was a Cabinet minister, ruined the economy in about two years, and incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe says it will take several years for the country to achieve full economic recovery.

The question is whether Minister de Silva and others of his ilk want the country to wait until such time to address the issue of brain drain. The human capital flight impedes economic development; it deprives Sri Lanka of many of its best brains, making its economic recovery even more difficult.

Minister de Silva has sought to discount the intensity of brain drain affecting this country by claiming that it has not spared even the nations such as the US, Canada and India. But in none of those countries, the problem is as severe as it is here. What is of concern is not brain drain as such but the sheer magnitude thereof in this country. Indians, Americans and Canadians are migrating not because their economies are bankrupt or a bunch of political dregs are at the levers of power in their countries. But Sri Lankans are running away because they are experiencing severe economic hardships, and feel that they and their children have no future here.

Only the naïve will expect the current dispensation to tackle the issue of brain drain effectively. It obviously lacks the capacity to do so; but it should at least admit that the mass emigration of educated citizens, especially professionals, is a problem that warrants serious attention. It cannot wish away the problems it is not capable of solving.

As for the aforesaid ministers’ references to Grade Seven and kottu roti, one may say that even the kottu roti makers who have not received education beyond Grade Seven will run the country much better than the incumbent regime.