Rationalising the recovery process | Daily News

Rationalising the recovery process

There is nothing that’s close to normal in a crisis as big as the Covid-19 pandemic, but the fact that the levers of the system are working to make the best out of a bad situation can be seen in the very civic-minded inputs from all sectors of society, even as the national recovery process gets underway.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has issued a statement to the effect that Covid-19 quarantine related restrictions of movement are necessary. This attitude is in the right spirit. In the commercial sector, there are various inputs from experts on rationalizing the import restrictions placed in the face of the pandemic.

These restrictions were not intended as protectionist policies per se. This is where, for instance, the top EU official who made observations on the undesirability of protectionism, needs to realize context. These are temporary measures, and that’s due to the need to keep the economy functional.

This dispensation in power is not wedded to dogmatic decision making — and the policy on lockdowns now being rationalized is testimony to that. The same is true for details such as import restrictions.

Protectionism is one thing, and developing new and unique products is entirely a different matter. The latter is the direction in which the country’s economy is being taken. The economy will continue to grow when this new paradigm is in place and soon the import restrictions would be redundant. However, no government that is responsible and focused on getting life back to normal can be expected to provide a time-frame for lifting these restrictions. That could happen sooner rather than later, depending on how fast the economy recovers under the new paradigm.

The same applies to certain restrictions placed on normal civilian life. Laws with regard to quarantine may impact some people drastically because they would have never expected such restrictions on movement, and are not used to it. The quarantine regime must be implemented in the most humane way possible. The home quarantine process that is now the preferred option is a step in the right direction. But there are some complaints that these restrictions are being imposed under the ‘jackboot’ of the military, as some opinion-makers have characterized it. That’s a wrong assessment at many levels.

Home quarantine is imposed under civil State agency supervision and this includes PHI supervision. The police play a part, and if the military also plays a role there is nothing about that that’s remotely comparable to placing a ‘jackboot’ restricting the freedoms of the quarantined.

The HRCSL has suggested a list of measures that could be taken to ensure that there is the least amount of disruption of life as we know it, due to the isolation imposed on those who come into contact with Covid-19 patients. Among the suggested procedures are the creation of a receipt system for quarantined persons including the reason for quarantine, the place they are being taken to, and the length of isolation — all this while ensuring scrutiny of quarantine centres, especially by the “proper authority.”

The key aspect of this suggestion list is that the need for scrutiny is acknowledged. What are the proper authorities that can do the job of oversight, however? The health sector personnel are too involved in the curative and recovery process of identified Covid-19 victims, to get involved.

There aren’t enough PHIs to go around that can be effectively deployed to supervise the task of keeping quarantine centres in check. Therefore, in the interim, the military or other law enforcement authorities may play a role. This is as temporary a measure.

None of these restrictions are even remotely contemplated as being necessary on a permanent basis, and even though the pandemic may be here for some time, all the curbs on normal life are subject to review and change. Whether it be normal civilian life or normality in matters of trade and commerce, a degree of flexibility had been shown that is desirable, and it is a good sign that the HRCSL for instance is aware that the approach of the government is pragmatic and humane.

In the area of import restrictions, the best answer to protectionism is to ensure that our own products made in this country are comparable in quality to anything that’s imported.  We do not manufacture automobiles in any significant numbers and therefore there could be no import substitution in that area, unless our entrepreneurial sector is up to the task of collaboratively, at least, turning out cars.

These are all issues that have to be discussed at a national level. But State level decision-makers are acting in terms of an overarching national strategy that encompasses policy geared to a recovery in each separate sphere of enterprise and national endeavour.

This approach of pragmatism is bound to deliver results and anyone who is having anxieties about import restrictions, etc., should probably set their minds at ease, because those measures are not here to stay, except where absolutely necessary.