Hard-nosed business has been the bane of many countries when it came to controlling the spread of Covid 19. We see it all over the world, especially where business has influence/control over politics. USA, UK Brazil etc. have suffered and is still suffering the worst brunt of the virus outbreak. Why? Because they listened to business instincts than health warnings. Economics sense took priority over health risks. By their actions, they have jeopardized not only businesses and economies now, but the whole country as a result.
Only a few weeks ago in the Island newspaper, a doctor wrote a very pertinent piece on the choices we are left with in the face of the current pandemic. Open up the country for economic reasons and risk health repercussions or stay closed and healthy. One is at the expense of the other, whether you like it or not. It is the reality. She gave very prudent advice to look for safe economic activities that can flourish within a closed country, at least for the time being.
Sri Lanka which had strict lockdown in the 1st wave of the pandemic, had almost negligible cases and deaths. We beat the virus beautifully. We were one of the top countries in the world to have done so. We have shown the world how it is done, for so many months. But then the economy was biting and Sri Lanka needed to listen to the rumblings of the businesses. As businesses were allowed to open, it was a matter of time.
One can bet on the hard nosed business people to break or flout the health guidelines at their whim. Brandix cluster is a prime example of bending and bypassing health regulations. It cost Sri Lanka a second wave and a heavy price in human lives. Now we are doing the same with tourism. Hard Nosed businessmen have already flouted the health rules within days, and burst the health bubble supposed to be maintained around tourists, Why this total disregard to the risk factors to the rest of the country? It’s Just to keep their businesses going. If the whole country is plunged into a health crisis because of it, is not their worry. Foreign currency jangling in their pockets, is all that matters.
Today the UK went into total lockdown. The USA will follow suit. Japan is declaring an emergency. The world is far from over the hill where Covid 19 is concerned. Sri Lanka will also have to come to total lockdowns soon, if the current trend in the virus spread continues, without being arrested. Whatever the methods and control systems that are in place are not working, it seems. We need to be dynamic in our policies and actions when dealing with this virus. If one method is not working, it needs to be changed, and changed very quickly. We need to respond accordingly.
Yes, the tourism industry is suffering. But this is not the time to revive it with the huge risks involved with that industry. Most countries have closed borders for foreigners. Even India. Some are not even opening to their own countrymen to come in from abroad, as in Canada. This is considering the risk the returnees pose to the rest of their countrymen at home. But what is happening in Sri Lanka? I think it’s a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup situation here. During the first wave, only the president was in charge and he was happy to let the health authorities do their work, unhindered by himself or anybody else. The task force formed was devoid of any political or business interests. They had no other agenda than saving the country from an unknown and microscopic enemy. The forces, police and the health sector was more than equipped to handle it and control it effectively. And they did. Then came elections, and the parliament, and the usual cacophony of noise, opinions, protests, oppositions, etc which the president is compelled to listen to. And of course, the voice of the businesses rose through the mouths of the politicians in the parliament. Rescue us, was their cry .We are going under, they screamed.
As the good doctor who wrote to the Island advised, we need to look local for business. To keep the economy ticking, there are a lot of businesses/economic activities that can be done along with health restrictions. Local supplies, local tourism, local produce and agriculture, and the biggest – the exports. Exports of produce, goods, and services like IT, financial services etc. All this can be done without opening the country to outside risks. We must adhere to the ‘Safety first’ rule, as said in any construction project site.
There are ample examples when health bubbles burst. It’s a matter of time. Brandix was one instance. Now the Ukrainian tourists’ project. It won’t be too long before we have a ‘tourism’ cluster too. This is not going to fare well with any tourist initiatives Sri Lanka will do in the future. Sri Lanka should be known for its wellness and health tourism. Going by the health guidelines ignorance shown by the businessmen, travel agents, service providers etc involved with it, wellness would be the last thing to be associated with Sri Lanka tourism. A country should not be put at risk for the fancy of one businessman, who wants to showcase his colors or rescue his tarnished reputation.
There are many countries that have fared well in the face of this tragic pandemic. Not just wealthy countries like New Zealand, Australia, China etc., who are rich enough to weather the economic battering of a total shutdown; but small countries like Vietnam and Cambodia who have cracked the secret of controlling the pandemic from ravaging their countries. Cambodia has NO deaths and a few 100’s of Covid cases since the pandemic began. How come? I’m sure they suffered economically as much as any other country. But their priorities were right. Health before wealth. Let’s do the same Sri Lanka. Because even if we pursue an economy driven agenda now, the virus will bring us to our knees soon, and force us to total lockdown, like it is doing in countries which dared to carry on business as usual with minimum restrictions. They are all forced to go into total lockdown now. The UK , USA are prime examples of business driven health policies, now paying the price with the lives of their citizens.
What is Sri Lanka’s choice? To go ahead and open up the country, calculating and knowing fully well the human cost of it, and accepting it. Or going it safe for everybody. Unfortunately it looks like this decision is up to the politicians to make. Not the health authorities nor police nor the armed forces, which managed it beautifully all on their own in the first wave of the pandemic.
Today’s struggle for democracy
Was it really a birthday? When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa completed 73 years, we did not see any official or family celebrations – the stuff of Rajapaksa power, and the politics of crooked governance.Instead, there was much more of the Gota Power on show. Twenty-one Protesters on what is now described as the front of Gota entrance to his office were arrested and taken away by the Police. That must be a show of Gota Birthday Power!
The protests also affected the entrance to the nearby Finance Ministry, and the coming team from the IMF was shifted to the PM’s office. Was this a show of Gota’s continuing failure in dealing with the IMF, which he kept postponing to contact when he followed Ajith Nivaard Cabraal’s thinking on economics and money power?
Or, was it a show of the bigger power of the Prime Minister, who has been making a big display of his commitment to Yoga exercise? The twists and turns on his Yoga display were very much in keeping with his deformed and distorted politics, and governance.
The real power today is in the tanks of the vehicles that seek fuel. If the tanks are even half full, you have the power in this rising Fuel Society.
The fuel prices are due to make a big hike, which is on the way to making Sri Lanka hold the record for the highest fuel costs in the world – in the dirty Rajapaksa Rupees. Shouldn’t this be cause for great celebration? This is how the Gota-Ranil Combine shows the world what a costly country Sri Lanka is, for its own people.
If there was no celebration of the Gota B’day at Janadhipathi Mandiraya, there was plenty of it throughout the country, in the fuel queues – be it for petrol, diesel or kerosene. The thousands lined up in these queues have begun to make special can-designs and have special can-dances with the cans they carry for the fuel, and the quick banging of the cars and other vehicles that are in other queues.
The Queue Celebrants who are showing the world the power of long-line celebrations, have begun to mark special records of those who die in queues. They are reportedly very keen to have a monument to mark where each person died, so that we will soon have a world record in the numbers killed in queues. This will soon be called the KiQ celebrations of the Gota-Ranil contortion in politics and governance. Very soon Sri Lanka will be world leader in the KiQ records, which could be a celebratory factor for Gota-Ranil power, and possibly the IMF’s plans to have a Strategy for Progress in this country.
We now have the two main Opposition political parties boycotting parliament for one week. What a show of Opposition Politics!
The leaders of both the SJB and the JVP/NPP must be looking with rising anxiety at the ‘Aragalaya’ displays at Galle Face Green. Are their boycotts of parliament showing that they have begun to understand the major changes in political thinking in Sri Lanka? Both these parties have had huge public rallies in Colombo and other main towns before the rise of the Aragalaya. The SJB and JVP leaders must surely be aware that the elections they are calling for, will need bigger changes in the politics and governance in Sri Lanka.Whether we are thinking after Gotabhaya’s birthday, or in the continuing crumble of the Gota-Ranil shady and shadowy governance, we will certainly need different norms and standards to select the candidates for the next election. Family fronts, links and alliances must be ruled out, and the selection of uneducated persons for parliamentary power, must certainly be pushed away from the politics of governance.
Party politics must be the stuff of democracy – where party leadership is moved away from family politics, and brought to a genuine People’s leadership. The reality of Sri Lankan politics was a show of family power in both the UNP and SLFP, that gave the leadership till 1977; and hugely the crooked politics that has followed since then, under JRJ thinking and working.
The GotaGoGama thinking of today goes far beyond the reach and scope of the Rajapaksas, and the warped politics of JRJ and nephew Ranil.The long and suffering queues of today painfully seeking fuel, food and medicine, and the rising call for the care of children and better and meaningful education to them, are asking for a major political change in the country. It is a call for a True Democracy, away from the mockery of the people, to the real and democratic Power of the People.The Gota-Ranil ridicule of governance today, with its show of Gota power with Ranil Yoga-play must soon be the history or a truly rising democracy. Let us bring new life to the Ceylonese and Sri Lankan peoples’ call for Freedom from colonial rule; and also take it away from Family Power of Sri Lankan politics that has made a huge mockery of democratic thinking. We are now at the call of a National Aragalaya – beyond Galle Face, and into the hearts, minds and arms of the people – a true Jana Balaya, a dedicated Struggle for Democracy!
Crisis deepens without rescue plan
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
Sri Lanka has come to a decisive political-economic juncture with a big question mark on the present administration. Crisis deepens day by day without any plan for its rescue. It appears that the foreign debt default in April this year has affected the local debt market as well. The defaulted foreign debt is not small. While the country owed $7 billion to foreign buyers this year, the total debt is estimated to be over $50 billion. Proper accounts are not kept on this matter. Different figures are given on different occasions.
On 22 June, the government tried to sell Treasury Bills to the value of Rs. 93,000 million but could sell only Rs. 30,779 million, nearly one third. The credibility of debt resettlement is doubted both externally and internally. Out of Rs 30,779 Treasury Bills the bulk and nearly Rs. 20,000 million must be settled in three months. These are the steps of current management, not so different to the previous one.
IMF and All
IMF officials are now in Colombo asking the government to show a viable macroeconomic plan, among other conditions, before they lend dollars, as Sri Lanka had not heeded these requests several times before. They will assist Sri Lanka to restructure debt, while giving the requested 3 billion in stages. Sri Lanka should have requested a bigger amount as the present foreign exchange crisis is insurmountable.
Amnesty International also has sent a letter to the IMF, emphasizing the unfortunate situation of the ‘poor and the vulnerable,’ among other human rights issues. Sri Lanka has a bad record of assisting political supporters and not necessarily the ‘poor and the vulnerable.’ It is also well known that the debt accumulated through sovereign bonds were largely used for unproductive purposes and to the benefit of certain sections. This was largely the same when Ranil Wickremasinghe was running the previous government (2015-2019). Among other things, Amnesty International has said the following:
“To ensure that the verbal commitments above translate into real and effective protections in these difficult times, human rights must be central to any future economic reform programm, negotiated between the IMF and the Sri Lankan government.”
There are several foreign countries who are willing to assist Sri Lanka within the IMF framework, and Australia has already pledged A$ 50 million. The US has announced $12 million assistance (USAID) and this amount might increase. Britain is another country promising support. Japan has been a traditional donor and a lender who has today become somewhat distant. China will continue to assist.
Since January 2022, India has been generously assisting Sri Lanka through currency swaps, credit lines for essentials, and loan deferments. It is estimated that this generosity now amounts to $4 billion. This is mostly a new debt. This has taken a new dilemma because of the controversy over the Adani deal.
No country or international agency would give dollars to Sri Lanka without any condition or some benefit in return. More pertinent question is whether the present Sri Lankan authorities would be able to manage this assistance properly and prudently. There are undoubtedly prospects in resolving the crisis in Sri Lanka. However, do we have the right administration to do so?
Grievances of People
Not only people’s grievances but also anger is visible in various queues for petrol, diesel, kerosene, and cooking gas. Over 10 people have already died almost all of them due to ill health while in these queues overnight. Now there are food queues, mostly women are forced to attend. Most alarming is the shortages of medicine and medical equipment. The death toll is not properly counted. Inflation is now nearly 50% and the poor are the most affected.
Without fuel for their vehicles, people cannot go for work or run their businesses. Public transport is also not working properly due to fuel shortages. Now the government decision is to limit the working week to four days. Is that a right decision is a question? In addition to all these, there have been power cuts due to the lack of necessary fuel to run some power stations. Reuters and others have reported some of the heart rending stories about queues. The following is one:
‘Lasanda Deepthi, a 43-year-old Sri Lankan woman, plans her day around fuel queues. The driver of an auto-rickshaw on the outskirts of the commercial capital Colombo, she keeps a close eye on the petrol gauge of her sky-blue three-wheeler before accepting a job to make sure she has enough fuel.’
A woman three-wheel driver is a rare sight in Sri Lanka. However, Deepthi is one who has selected the job to support her family. She has stated ‘I spend more time in line for petrol than doing anything else. Sometimes I join a line about 3 p.m. but only get fuel about 12 hours later.’
The government and the Energy Ministry should have stopped people unnecessarily joining queues by transparently announcing a scheme how they would distribute the limited fuel to the people. Transparency is something the governments are lacking for a long period. There was no point in using the police or the Army to discipline people when they gather in hundreds or thousands. When you Google on the subject, the following are some news items you come across:
‘Long queues outside gas stations,’ ‘Sri Lanka troops open fire to contain unrest over fuel shortages,’ ‘Clash at fuel queue in Vavuniya – five hospitalized,’ ‘Sri Lanka sees signs of fuel riots as motorists wait for days in queues,’ ‘Clashes reported at gas queues in Kandy.’ ‘Sri Lanka’s poor queue for hours to buy kerosene amid crises,’ ‘Sri Lanka deploys troops as fuel shortages sparks protests,’ ‘Queue for death: Systemic examination of Sri Lankans’, etc.
Roots of Crisis
The crisis that Sri Lanka has been encountering at present is two-fold. (1) Economy is in shambles and the PM himself has named the country as bankrupt. (2) There is an emerging strong opposition, mostly extra-parliamentary, from the youth. It is difficult to distinguish one from the other and that is why it should be called a ‘political-economic’ crisis. If the major problems are not addressed soon, there is a possibility of an ‘uprising.’
The crisis has its roots in decision-making or more correctly erroneous decision-making. That is why people ask particularly the President to resign. Prof Mick Moore (University of Sussex) has uncovered the crisis as ‘manmade.’ Who is the remaining man? Apart from a necessary change of heads, there is a need for a policy change. Some can be outlined below.
Without going or listening to the IMF, the country depended mainly on China and sovereign bonds dubiously sold to questionable foreign institutions and speculators. Amounts were unbearable to the country. There is a possibility that some of the decision-making Sri Lankans had stakes in these institutions when sovereign bonds were sold. Now there is a lawsuit by the dubious Hamilton Reserve Bank against the country for not paying of their sovereign bonds. A former Central Bank Governor is also implicated. Even if they had a clean record, the borrowed money was not used for productive and priority purposes of development. This applies to both China loans and sovereign bonds. These deals should have been transparent.
What was particularly missing was proper financial management in the case of balance of payments and internal budget balances. Most of the budget figures presented were just bogus. Country’s income and expenditure did not match and 2019 budget was a mere disaster. There was no proper transparency. There should be a parliamentary committee, like COPE, to scrutinize past budgets. Or the present COPE should handle it. Lessons can be drawn, or the culprits could be reprimanded. There were huge budget deficits in actual sense and money printing was used as a solution. Local debt also was accumulating throughout the years and as we have noted at the beginning the last Treasury Bill auctions was a disaster.
During 2018, foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be over $9 billion. It came down to $7.6 billion in 2019. This was before the Covid pandemic and with a clear early warning for the policy-makers. However, in the absence of proper measures, the amount came down to $5 billion by the end of 2020. These early warnings were clear enough to go before the IMF. Within the SLPP government and in the country in general there are sections who are opposed to the IMF claiming that the institution is not supportive of developing countries. Even if the IMF was ‘dubious’ during the early period, things have changed over decades. Sri Lanka joined the IMF in 1950. It is one of the important multilateral organisations among other institutions. It is up to the local officials to bargain and deal properly with the IMF.
It is very clear that Sri Lanka had enough time and opportunity to deal with the crisis earlier on. However, this was not done. It is difficult to excuse the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on this matter among other things. He has a pathetic human rights record. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, the authorities have not taken measures properly to mitigate the situation. The ad hoc nature of measures is still a liability and would boomerang on the country again and again.
Day of Mourning; way to go in reviving tourism; way to go in governing
Monday June 20
Cassandra opened her email in-box in the himidiri udey as Buddhist monks are fond of pronouncing when their sermons are in the early morning, and found a black framed message: “Day of Mourning ”. Wondered which VVIP had died recently, so scanned further down. “Birthday of … the 8th President of Sri Lanka ”. It is a day of mourning, the notice says. Cass does not disagree. She set more firmly the sackcloth and ashes she has donned almost from the inception of GotaGoGama, metaphorical though it be, and recollected for the umpteenth time that near starvation, high prices of rice, vegetables and fruits, irreparable damage to the tea industry – our steady forex earner; and lack of money (the rich not taxed as Gota came to power in 2019) had resulted from this 8th term of presidency instead of the splendour and prosperity promised by the novice politician ascending the highest seat of State. All stupid, the drastic decisions made by the one man and nodded approval of by many cunning idiots and slipper lickers cum bum suckers.
All these days are ones of mourning as queues get longer, frustration grows and deprivation of essential items and hunger stalks the land. The present government does not seem to have alleviated the dire situ even a jot. Only the CB Governor is taking positive steps and giving us hope. Despair seen as father and son emerge from hiding in the stronghold of the Trinco Naval Base like worms from the woodwork and not even questioned about the dastardly acts of May 09. Rescued and given safe passage by the PM for sure. Cass believes 99% adult Sri Lankans believe this saviour theory so it has to be correct; also pronounced by political VIPs. If not for the Aragalaya and other watch dogs, by now printed money would have been freely distributed to those politicians whose houses and offices were attacked that night and a mausoleum in Medamulana reconstructed to greater splendour and prosperity with government money: our money.
On the same day – Monday 20th – an article in The Island by Capt Gihan A. Fernando gives pragmatic advice on “Tourism and earning urgently needed valuable foreign exchange”.
He stresses eco-tourism being the way to go. Cass particularly applauds and endorses his suggestion to convert the ‘Loneliest International Airport in the World’ – the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a wildlife park. Hurrah! Cheers! And for goodness sake erase the name off. This Mahinda Rajapaksa, as pictures that circulated on social media showed, has a wildlife tourist resort in some African Sate with his name emblazoned on the decorative iron gateway to the park. I don’t know whether it is a concocted picture but…
Gihan Fernando adds “Converting Mattala into a Tourist Hotel will create a money spinner. Let us ‘bite the bullet’ and cut our losses in these difficult times. As experts say ‘mistakes pave the way for innovation, growth and creativity.’” Cass adds: mistakes and corruption also make way for being toppled down; totally disrespected and despised and the person who got vanity edifices built will be an Ozymandias, King of Kings, ending up as two massive legs and a visage half buried in the sand. Dry Hambantota was fed with costly diverted water to have an animal park, garden, cricket grounds, apart from a massive meeting hall and of course airport and port during MR’s term of presidency 2010-15. All built with elephant corridors invaded, elephants driven away or killed and thousands of peacocks shot, we heard. Ozymandias, in Shelly’s poem, cries out “look at my Works and despair”. We oblige. Despair and curse the money spent to perpetuate a name, which now is detested by most.
Gihan Fernando gives valid reasons why the Mattala airport is ideal to be converted to a tourist resort and its infrastructure including fences, etc., be transported to Ratmalana to enhance that necessary airport.
Personal money or from the State coffer?
Social media sent out a message and two pictures of a minister and a buxom dame wearing a crown on her head of all ornaments, with the caption “gone to Dubai and the UK”. Flight number given; question asked: whose money? His or the government’s? What canvassing tourists in the UK and Dubai if he went on a promotional tour for the Ministry of Tourism. Canvas from Colombo. Indian and other closer neighbours who are not so picky about holiday destinations and their governments not advising travel warnings at the slightest hiccup in the inviting country, are our likely tourists in the short term.
In spite of the biting remarks made by people in queues as they wait days on end for fuel or cooking gas, the high-ups live in luxury and go jetting around with favourites in tow instead of attending to ministerial duties which are best attended to at home – in the country. They are cursed roundly for they care not a jot for the suffering people, though they bear the guilt of having brought the suffering on.
Tuesday June 21
Attendance in Parliament
The Speaker bemoans the fact that MPs cannot travel to Parliament and so sessions will be ill-attended. The immediate question is: Does every b…. MP have to travel in his state-paid-for, gas-guzzling limo? Many developed and richer countries have their MPs and even Cabinet Members travel under their own steam: some on bicycles; smart Brit politicians in underground trains and Indians in India-made modest vehicles. Not champagne living on toddy income Sri Lankan politicians. If there is a truly competent Parliament Admin Head like Nihal Seneviratne was, whose two books on Parliament Cass has read with great interest, he would arrange for a van or two to go around picking up MPs to bring them to Parliament and later drop them off. And a competent Speaker like Karu J would have insisted that all travel to the House by the Diyawanne in a provided van – VVIP Minister and most recent backbencher probably sharing a seat. Being in close proximity they would not fling brickbats and insults at each other in the confines of the van. Space and safety are needed for this pastime; provided in Parliament.
Everyone should read the 4/5th page letter by Krishantha to Sajith Premadasa in The Island of June 22. Titled Act now, or regret! It forcefully presents what most of us feel about the immediate future of our loved country, torn down to shreds of poverty, despair and pervasive ennui. Krishantha points out how low the Rajapaksa men particularly near destroyed Sri Lanka and PM Ranil W has done next to nothing so far. So, he tells Sajith: “Silence and armchair criticism are not options today for any political leader who truly aspires to serve and save our people.” He advises uniting all opposition parties and taking over the governing of this country, with, if necessary, the present Prez and PM in office. He specifically mentions those who should be roped in and given powers: Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickremaratne, Champika Ranawaka. M A Sumanthiran and Harini Amarasuriya, mentioning their special qualifications and expertise. Many other competent and country-loyal persons are in the Opposition. Krishantha presents justifications, specifics, dos and don’ts and a rebuke about procrastination. Many are those who care for the country and feel sympathy for the suffering majority. They must take the ruling reins in their combined, cooperative hands, eschewing all forms of dishonesty and corruption. And here, Cass does not mean after a general election. It means here and now!
Cass adds her strident voice: Useless boycotting Parliament; nonsensical wearing black arm bands or full suits to make a point of protest; senseless thundering about incompetence of present leaders and mistakes made. Do they shorten queues and bring us necessities? Does the ranting help feed hungry kids and allow retirees who gave of their best to the country to die in peace? NO, to all. So Sajith and others: arise and save the country and its fine people!
CEBEU guns for ex-Chairman Ferdinando
Who does Sri Lanka’s fuel subsidy really benefit?
Dilshan Wirasekara, new CSE Chairman
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
Sports3 days ago
Sri Lankan fans to turn up in yellow to thank Aussies
News6 days ago
CPC monopoly to end with govt. inviting multinational companies
Sports7 days ago
SSC say no to Arjuna
News4 days ago
Illegal payments to staff amounted to Rs 3,679 mn
News7 days ago
Dudley censures Parliament over current crisis, alleges Ranil betrayed yahapalanaya
News3 days ago
Presidential pardon for Royal Park murderer: Ven. Rathana denies Sirisena’s accusations, lodges complaint with CID
Sports3 days ago
Frustrated pole vault national record holder Sachini leaves Sri Lanka
News7 days ago
Cardinal slams ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour,’ demands total overhaul