The issue of changing our clocks back to the GMT+5 1/2 time has been one of much discussion and contempt over the last few weeks. In the mid 1990’s Sri Lanka set its clocks forward by a half hour (corresponding to a GMT+6 time zone) on the directive of then President CBK, with one’ve the main reasons being the severe energy crisis faced by the nation at the time. It was hoped that the additional half hour of daylight in the evenings would reduce electricity consumption significantly, thereby somewhat easing the burden faced by the national grid. While the premier insists that the time change has not resulted in much of a power saving and the benefits of the earlier time are greater, and tech guru Arthur C. Clarke vehemently opposing the taking back of the clocks, it has been decided that from the 14th of April our clocks will indeed be pushed back by an hour. It will correspond to the time of the astrological ‘litha’ as well as the standard time observed in the Tiger controlled areas of the North and East. All this is very sweet and convenient, but how much consideration has the premier put into this in terms of the impact it has on the economy?
Sri Lanka is very much integrated in the global business arena. Whether it’s shipping and air freight or an international BPO centre, the time change affects business activity in a seemingly infinite number of ways.
Banks and other financial institutions that run their own Treasury and Trading departments will have to change their clocks, readjust their trading times, re-evaluate the global market synchronisation strategies and do a bit of an overhaul to their systems. These treasuries are where all the biggest and most lucrative FOREX trading takes place. Being in sync with different time zones is crucial to them, and a change such as this, does little help.
Other sectors affected by the times change would be airlines and tourism. Airlines will be compelled to revise their entire flight reschedule, carry out revisions with international air traffic control, and revise there systems to suit the new time of the country. Many airlines have already expressed their disappointment that the time change is being enacted without much consultation with affected parties like themselves.
Another very significant change would be seen in the computer systems sector, where all the new computers running MS Windows have been programmed with Sri Lanka being GMT+6 in their internal clocks. The revision of this will be a costly and cumbersome effort, no doubt.
However, the president stands by his argument that the energy saved by the time change has not been significant enough to warrant the continuation of this time. Right. So assume we didn’t save more than a couple of thousand mega watt hours per month. But we SAVED a couple of thousand mega watt hours a month! – a massive saving for a country neck-deep in a severe power shortage and sky-rocketing energy prices! Those of you in industry will know how burdening this crisis has come to be. Over the last decade, this issue of high energy prices and the national grid being choked to capacity has resulted in a rise in cost of production for factories, adversely affected competitiveness of exporting industries, and severely hindered foreign investment prospects. With Norochcholai still in development and Dendro power still in its infancy, the existing hydro and diesel power plants can barely cope with the national energy demand. Now is certainly not the time to throttle our national grid with an additional hour of power guzzling every evening, everyday.
Again, he reiterates that the move by CBK at the time may have seemed the logical step to conserve energy, but according to him, it caused more inconvenience than did good. This next argument is not exactly an economic one, and hence I will not dwell on it in detail. The president claims that much inconvenience is caused to school children by the current time. They are required to wake up much earlier, and go to school while it is still dark outside. But wouldn’t it be an even bigger hassle to get your children adjusted to yet another new time? How long do you think it’ll take? Also consider the fact that the lost daylight in the morning is well compensated for by the fact that school’s now begin at 8am and not at the previous time of 7.30am.
This also applies to the labour force of the country, especially in highly commercialised areas. The inconvenience caused to them by having to completely revamp their daily travel and living timings has been ignored.
The children-having-to-wake-up-early argument seems the only one being voiced by the president and others advocating this change. Personal opinion: that argument is far too trivial to be the basis of such a dramatic decision. Carry out a small poll, a referendum maybe. See what the general public actually feel about it. Do they agree with your conception that the time should be pushed back just to suit this purpose? Surely, there must be some economic reasoning behind it, considering the economic impacts the change would have? Even if it is the most convincing argument to the general public, isn’t it a minor trade-off to have to make? Considering how much more is actually at stake? Altering and re-altering major national features of a country which is quite integrated in the global economy is not a very prudent move. In our quest to become a more investor-friendly, stable and business-conducive economy, this time change will not go down as one’ve our smartest moves.