COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka will not enact laws or promote policies that discriminate among citizens, Deputy Economic Development Minister Harsha de Silva said.
"There is something called horizontal discrimination," de Silva said, speaking at the opening of a Central Bank office in Kilonochchi, a former war torn area,. "What is that? That is when you create, design and implement policy, that affects a certain group of people.
"If we have a policy that says, women are not allowed in buses after four o’clock in the afternoon that could discriminate women.
"If we have a policy saying men, should not be allowed outside their homes after six o’clock – even though that may be music to the ears of their wives – would discriminate the man."
De Silva recalled an incident in parliament where a member had proposed that import duty be increased on wheat flour to put the price up to 1,000 rupees a kilogram, to push up the income of farmers.
"I got up and said that is the most ridiculous thing that I have heard in my life," de Silva recalled.
"It is a particular group of people that use wheat flour more than other. And that would be discriminatory towards those people."
Wheat flour which is cheaper than rice, is consumed by the poor, especially Tamil speaking communities in large commercial estates in the Central Hills region who are mostly wage earning workers.
"So in policy, whether in taxation or regulation, we must make sure that our policies, are equitable, that they don’t discriminate a particular group of people," de Silva said.
De Silva said since the end of the war, infrastructure has been built in former war-torn areas but in the future everyone also has to fee that they are equal citizens.
"I am not going to go the past of this country, I do not need to remind you here what some of those policies were, and how they created the disharmony in Sri Lanka.
"Let us look to the future. In the five years since the end of eh war, one cannot but see the infrastructure development that has taken place in this part of the country,
"It would not be appropriate to stand here and say nothing has happened. A lot has happened. Infrastructure, the roads have come up, electricity has been provided, but that alone is not sufficient
"We need to ensure that people feel, that they belong, that they are a part of this country, as equal citizens with everyone else."
De Silva recalled a few years back when he took part in a walk from the north to the South organized by two of his friends Sarinda Unamboowa and Nathan Sivagananathan to raise two million US dollars to build a cancer unit at a hospital in Tellipillai, Jaffna.
He said the hospital buildings were now built, but it had to be equipped.
"I did not walk the entire distance," de Silva said. "Even beggars donated their days earnings for the group’s walk.
"If we can get polices, if we make people both in the north and the south feel they are equal citizens of this country, I think most of the challenge would be won."
A protected domestic industry which gives a privilege to a special producer interest or crony group generally will not be able to export, as it has no incentive to improve efficiency or productivity to the level done by their counterparts in a country with freer trade.
Freedom advocates say agricultural protectionism, aiming at self-sufficiency is one of the most harmful policies rulers can practice against their people.
Raising import duties on food, while giving extra profits or rents to the group enjoying political favour – farmers and landowners – harms the welfare of all people, especially the low-income groups and their children.
When the price of milk and maize prices are pushed up through import duties making proteins more expensive than the rest of the world, childhood malnutrition can increase reducing brain development, freedom advocates say.
Food protectionism and self-sufficiency was promoted by the ideologists of the German historical school of economics that included Adolf Wagner and Gustav von Schmoller taking forward the idea of industrial protectionism promoted by Friedrich List.
But a state intervention discriminating against a foreign producer, also discriminates against all domestic consumers, taking away their freedom and lowering their standard of living.
Economic philosophers in Europe, where nationalism gained ground with the popular vote, have traced direct link between protectionism which discriminates against ‘foreign’ producers which created a mindset that led to discrimination against minorities in the same country.
"In a world in which people have grasped the meaning of a market society, and therefore advocate a consumer’s policy, there is no legal discrimination against Jews," explained Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian economist and philosopher.
"Whoever dislikes the Jews may in such a world avoid patronizing Jewish shopkeepers, doctors, and lawyers.
"On the other hand, in a world of interventionism only a miracle can in the long run hinder legal discrimination against Jews.
"The policy of protecting the less efficient domestic producer against the more efficient foreign producer, the artisan against the manufacturer, and the small shop against the department store and the chain stores would be incomplete if it did not protect the "Aryan" against the Jew."