A laudable step | Daily News

A laudable step

The consent given by the Cabinet to a proposal by Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara to allow the import of electric vehicles for migrant workers who remit foreign exchange via official banking channels is a laudable move indeed.

According to Minister Nanayakkara, this will be in addition to enhanced Duty Free Allowances to returnees at the airport which will allow them the opportunity to purchase more goods at Duty Free shops. Accordingly, a person who had sent more than US$ 3,000 to his/her or a relative’s account at a bank will be permitted to purchase an electric motorcycle for half of the money sent. Electric motor vehicles are allowed to be imported from between US$ 20,000 to a maximum of US$ 65,000. Meanwhile, duty relief at the airport will be increased from US$ 1,750 to US$ 6,550 depending on the duration of stay, whether or not one has remitted foreign exchange earnings to the country.

The Minister has offered a considerable relief package to our migrant workers and deservedly so. This is considering the steady inflow of dollars to the country in July through the legal banking channels after a heavy slump prior to that, enabling the Government to import fuel, LP Gas, and medicines that were in short supply due to the lack of dollars.

It is not known if the exit of the Rajapaksas from high office had resulted in the steady inflow of dollars from Lankan migrant workers. In any event, the trend is promising and everything should be done to encourage its continuation. Apart from minor concessions like permission for our migrant workers to use the Green Channel at the airport on arrival, very little else was granted by way of relief or concessions barring a few sops. This, despite the fact that overseas remittances were our principal foreign exchange earner for a long time.

Given the collapse of the tourist trade which earlier drew in the dollars we should now pursue the avenue of relying on our migrant workers to bail out the country. For this, more concessions and incentives (for sending money via legal channels) should be explored to attract the maximum amount of dollars from this source.

In the meantime, stiffer penalties should be imposed on illegal channels dealing in foreign exchange remittances. All measures should be taken to convince our migrant workers that their remittances are safe and special bank interest rate schemes devised for drawing in more dollars.

Measures should be explored to increase the value of foreign remittances by sending our youth for better paying jobs abroad. More vocational training institutions and skills development centres should be set up to equip youth to earn enhanced salaries as a means of bringing in more dollars to the country.

All licensing agencies should come to an agreement with foreign-bound employees who go through these agencies to have all remittances sent to the country strictly via legal banking channels. Tabs should also be kept on rogue agencies which swindle persons desperate to go for jobs abroad. Our embassies abroad should also be roped in to persuade Lankans in those countries to send their remittances through our banking system.

They should also be instructed to be of service to our Lankans when in need. The recent actions of some of our embassy envoys who abandoned their fellow countrymen in times of distress may have also contributed to the bitterness that made them hold back their money.

Our foreign employment sector has indeed come a long way since the days when only largely poor rural women went to work as housemaids in the Middle East after this avenue was opened in the late seventies in the aftermath of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Conference held in Colombo. They went in a steady stream and while some ended up with harrowing experiences a majority made it good and not only succeeded in coming out of poverty but also built decent homes and gave their children in marriage.

In contrast, at present men and youth have largely outnumbered the women and are earning well and on their return not only build spanking new homes but also purchase luxury vehicles. It is such folk that we like to see leaving for greener pastures abroad and in return benefit the country with their enhanced earning capacities.

On the flip side, though, caution should also be exercised against precipitating a brain drain lest Sri Lanka lose her talented youth who will take their skills and expertise to other countries. The scenes at passport offices where the queues are several kilometres long itself tells a tale. This state of affairs is mostly born out of frustration due to a lack of opportunities, disregard for merit in granting employment, bribery and corruption and the general disgust with the system.

The luxury lifestyle enjoyed by the ruling elite and their progeny is also a contributory factor leading to this state of frustration. But for the moment, the country is in dire need of dollars and one way of obtaining this is certainly through the strong Sri Lankan workforce abroad.

 


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