The political history of Sri Lanka is replete with assassinations and attempts at it. SWRDB, the common man’s Prime Minister, fell victim to a plot engineered by disgruntled elements within his own camp through “a man in yellow robes”, as the late PM had described. Three decades later, R. Premadasa, President, was blown to smithereens around in his own constituency and familiar environment., reportedly assisted by a trusted household lieutenant, when he dared to brave the familiar streets personally mobilising a May Day procession. A few days earlier, Lalith Athulathmudali who had trusted a rally mob sans his bullet-proof vest, was silenced with a bomb blast on stage at Kirulapone. Not long after, CBK as Presidential candidate also attending a rally, ended up with the loss of an eye. Many other leaders have similarly not been left to tell the tale.
The absence of the usual security regalia, including the expensive gun salutes, lead and backup vehicles, trotting horses, may be a sight the people longed for to be scrapped for a long time, and a welcome absence, but nevertheless the majority who had democratically elected the President would definitely not approve of President Gotabaya throwing caution to the winds, depending solely on his bullet-proof vehicle and divine sources to protect him. The State has the sacred duty and responsibility to protect him. He on his part needs to remind himself of the near miss at Flower Road years ago when he was the Defence Secretary. The shock and the few blood stains should be reverberating in his memory. To take chances now despite the bullet-proof vehicle would be to place himself in the company of blind men or those with blinkers.
Stalwarts like John F. Kennedy, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Abdul Nasser, Benazir Bhuto all paid their supreme price despite heavy state-of-the-art security and planning. There is no reason whatsoever to offer his life on a platter, particularly in the context of the on-going battle with the underworld and other racketeers and political foes. The Cabinet needs to assume responsibility and force the President to abide by a set of rules laid down for his security. There is no reason for others to seek such security, which indeed was an ugly sight which compelled President Gotabaya to set an example.
I.P. C. MENDIS
Some beliefs on current economic and financial crisis, debt sustainability, Central Bank independence, transparency and accountability
By Jayampathy Molligoda
What is Belief?
“Belief is the central problem in the analysis of mind. Believing seems the most “mental” thing we do. The whole intellectual life consists of beliefs, and of the passage from one belief to another by what is called “reasoning”. Beliefs give knowledge and error; they are the vehicles of truth and falsehood. Psychology, theory of knowledge and metaphysics revolve about belief. What makes a belief true or false I call a ‘fact’. The particular fact that makes a given belief true or false I call its “objective.” – Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind (1921), Lecture. XII: Belief, p. 295
Price stability as core function of CB:
One popular belief is that the government of the day could continue to print money to service its domestic debt and meet other expenditure, but it cannot roll over foreign debt so easily and therefore it is associated with sovereign risk, meaning government is unable to repay its debt. Therefore, the debt sustainability needs to be constantly evaluated by comparing future debt obligations with available reserves to ascertain whether it could meet the debt obligations.
It is generally known that a Central Bank mandate is basically to keep the money that the CB has issued at a given period of time at a ‘stable level’. In other words, one of its main objectives are the price stability; means “maintaining inflation at a low rate’- then it would not discourage people to save and businesses to plan for their future activities, taking into consideration a long- term view on price stability. Some eminent economists are of the view that, having undertaking extensive case studies of economic situations and series of financial crises in several countries over a long period of time, the only one task the Central Bank could accomplish well is ‘maintaining price stability’ through regulating the money supply and interest rates. That’s another belief.
Before 2002, the price stability was the supreme objective although there were many sub objectives assigned to the CBSL. In order to attain ‘price stability’ with certain level of economic growth, the CB is required to keep the money supply of the country at an appropriate level so that the total demand for goods and services known as the ‘aggregate demand’ is just equal to the total supply of goods and services called ‘aggregate supply’. Under Monetary Law Act, the objective of price stability and financial system stability becomes the mandatary rule for the CBSL. As for financial system stability, there is a separate department handling banking supervision at the CB. In the event some banks are in trouble and the CB wants to bail out by giving them some loans, it amounts to printing new money leading to increase in money supply, thus facing difficulties in containing core inflation. Therefore, one belief is that the CB should not compromise its prime ‘price stability’ objective, if inflation becomes the most pressing problem at a given period.
In 2002, the then Governor and the monetary board of the CBSL changed the objective clause to state as “economic and price stability” meaning an additional objective of achieving the country’s economic growth. Some economists believe that achieving the economic growth should be the responsibility of the government and not the Central Bank. Retired Senior Central Banker, Dr. W.A Wijewardena stated in his book on Central Banking published in 2017 that he and many in the Central Bank did not fully understand the wisdom enshrined in the mission statement and then Governor’s belief. It should be mentioned here that there are different economic theories put forward by various eminent economists from time to time and for example, Keynes presented his theory in the form of deficient demand that leads to economic recession during 1929 period in the US and he believed that printing money and spending through government budget would eliminate deficient demand and improve economic growth.
When the government expenditure increases, it raises aggregate demand in the country and policy makers would expect some increases in goods and services through capital formation. In addition, the government could reduce taxes as a policy to induce investments through increased capital formation and together with low interest rate regime, it was expected some increases in the economic growth. The Sri Lankan government adopted this policy since beginning 2020 till end of 2021 with a view to providing relief to people and businesses in order to overcome negative effects due to the COVID 19. However, the economy did not really produce goods and services to the extent that is required, resulting in high inflation from beginning of 2022. It is also true that during the year 2020 the recorded negative growth rate of 3.6% due to the COVID 19 impact has thus been converted into a positive growth rate of 3.7% in 2021. From the beginning 2022, the CBSL adopted a policy of tightening the monetary policy by increasing the interest rates in order to avoid over spending by private and public sector economic players.
Excessive government expenditure including subsidies and debt sustainability:
The responsible governments in other developing countries make every attempt to maintain their expenditure within the revenue and any deficit to be financed through non-inflationary borrowings. As for Sri Lankan situation, there has been a current account deficit in the Balance of payment (BOP) every year -except few years. This means, the FOREX receipts from the transactions with rest of the world are always below the FOREX outflows, even before the foreign debt repayment mainly due to excessive import bill. The tourism proceeds and inward remittances from expats are not enough to bridge the trade deficit. There has not been a single year a ‘surplus’ in the government budget for the last half a century.
Exports as a % of the GDP has come down from 28% during 90’s to 12% from 2014 to date. The GDP of the US $ 25 billion in 2004 has increased to the US $ 85 billion during the last 17 years mainly through services sector- infrastructure development expenditure without corresponding increases in revenue from exports. However, it would have helped to improve tourism proceeds and some export sectors by improvement in the ‘incremental capital out- put’ ratio. my belief is that no proper assessment on the economic cost: benefit of these infrastructure development projects has been undertaken by experts and presented to the ordinary people. My belief is the current crisis has aggravated partly due to the ‘twin deficits’ for a long period of time, meaning the current account deficit in the BOP, which was only US $ 215 million in 2001, thereafter ever increasing and it was US$ 3,343 million in 2021. The government budget deficit of 4-6 %, which is now exceeding 12% (not even a primary surplus before debt service, except in 2017). Further, the GDP per capita in the economy did not really increase to the extent that is required, resulting in high inflation. (GDP at current market price was US $ 85 billion in 2021 compared to US $ 75 Billion in 2014)
Even with the current exchange rate of Rs 366 per dollar, compared to say, Rs 230 per $ as determined by CBSL on 06 March 2022 (thereafter has adopted some kind of a managed float with upper bands), the FCY accounts of commercial banks are still not receiving sufficient foreign currency inflows There is a lack of dollars to meet import bills either through LCs, DP/DA terms or TTs. Almost the entire export sector and other foreign exchange earning businesses are in the hands of private sector, but 25-30% of the import bills of the country consists of most essential items/goods have to be imported by the government through trade finance facilities and credit lines, thus creating further issues on foreign debt sustainability. (See table)
Central Bank independence, transparency and accountability:
Prudent and cautious economists believe that there must be a sound, practical and legal mechanism guaranteeing the independence of the Central Bank, whilst making the CBSL accountable and transparent. John Exter, the founding Governor of the Central Bank of Ceylon, in his report stated that Governor of the Central bank should be of unquestioned integrity and responsibility. This is very critical because an independent CB is essential for maintaining price stability. Dr H.N. Thenuwara, former Director, Economic Research, Central Bank during 2004-6, in his book, ‘Money, inflation and output’ published in 2015 argued that the simplest test is whether the CB can resist demands from the government (a) to print money and/or (b) continue to maintain low interest rate regime, when a higher interest rate is necessary to maintain price stability meaning containing inflationary pressure. This is because the government of the day would naturally tend to push economic growth rates to run at a faster rate than its capacity limit permits and their desire to incur budget deficits by securing funds borrowed from the CB. The section 12 of MLA, the President can appoint any one as the Governor of the CBSL based on the recommendations by the Minister of Finance. However, we believe that the appointment of key positions such as the Governor, CBSL and other Monetary board members should not be solely in the hands of the incumbent President or the Prime Minister, but by the Constitutional Council set up with eminent personalities as its members. The independence of the CBSL must be strengthened along with accountability and transparency task as well. According to the CBSL annual report,2021, the total borrowings by State Owned business Enterprises (SOBE’s) from the banking system continued to expand in 2021 (Rs. 186 billion in ’21, in addition to Rs 184 billion in 2020, thus reflecting weak financial position. My own belief is that the CB must focus on price stability as its core mission as well as ‘financial system stability’ till the current precarious situation is arrested in order to contain the core inflation and fluctuations in the external value of foreign currencies including the US $.
Sovereignty of the people and Separation of power:
One of the most important aspects under the Constitution is the ‘separation of powers’ under peoples’ sovereignty – Article 4. The powers of government under peoples’ sovereignty namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – three most important pillars, must be further strengthened and separated. The writer is of the belief that the Cabinet must consist of only from the members drawn from the National list, except the Prime Minister elected by people through parliamentary elections (in addition to the President). This is to reflect aspirations of the people at grass root level through the elected MPs, as PM could take up those views at the cabinet deliberations before taking decisions. The Cabinet of ministers are charged with policy formulation and if necessary, the concept of District ministers could be introduced and such appointments could be made from other elected members in the parliament, the government expenditure for maintaining the PC system and other duplicate political institutions such as PSs, Municipal , Urban Councils need to be reduced (PC/PS acts of parliament during 1986,7 period) Even the Parliamentary seats can be reduced to 160 based on electoral districts, plus maximum 20 national list members whom they select the cabinet. However, it is important to strengthen GA system and Divisional secretary level administrative powers stemming from ‘Grama Niladharis’ empowering them with ICT.
Evidence- based policy shaping through facts finding-reasoning:
This is a time of reckoning when we need to come together and set aside ideology and egos and focus on problem solving. The positive side – there is an opportunity for the government, if genuinely interested to restructure Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, unbundling CEB, arrange Private: Public partnerships (PPPs) of many institutions like ‘Sri Lankan airline’, PPPs for port development etc. Further, some strategic actions such as any amendments to Monetary Law Act of 1949 thus re -defining Central Bank mandate and mission statement, restructuring finance ministry (MOF) and amalgamate duplicate semi government institutions, close down some other SOEs etc.
The government must make every endeavour to maintain their expenditure within the revenue and any deficit to be financed through non-inflationary borrowings and strengthen accountability and transparency to the people through parliament. We can re-build the economy by eliminating the twin deficits as long as the highest authority level, The President and Prime Minister would handle the geo political realities, especially relationship with India, China, US and create a conducive environment to attract Investments and private sector to operate without unnecessary red tapes. Ideally, this must be done in consultation with the leader of opposition after reaching consensus on nationally important subjects. The issue, since 1952 has been this excessive rival party politics and divided loyalty of voters to different political parties, and unwanted trade union protests etc., whoever in power, have made the government of the day inactive and inefficient and thus resorting to malpractices. The enforcement of law and order and discipline in the society must be strictly enforced.
As articulated by Bertrand Russell in his ‘Analysis of Mind’, belief of people gives knowledge and error; they are the vehicles of truth and falsehood. Therefore, opinions expressed (beliefs) by our ‘Key opinion leaders’(KOLs) such as the religious leaders, eminent academics, professionals top level administrators, the educated youth, the politicians including Cabinet ministers, are either truth or falsehood, but what makes a belief true or false, Russell calls a “fact.”. One can shift his own belief to another belief through the passage from failed one to finding ‘truth’ by what he called “reasoning. This applies to every policy matter, may be hybrid middle path solutions can be the most practical, relevant and appropriate. Therefore, the name of the game is evidence- based policy shaping with clear focus on addressing implementation snags through proper monitoring systems.
We need to return to English medium
by Anton Peiris ,
Emeritus Coordinator, International Baccalaureate
Goolbai Gunasekera has written a very good article: ‘A return to the English Medium of Instruction in schools is desperately needed’.
I wish to take on from where Goolbai Gunasekera has left.
The goal that she has proposed is laudable, but it will take a very long time to achieve it. i.e. to teach several subjects in the English medium in all schools. There is a terrific shortage of Trained English Teachers and there is a shortage of Textbooks. So we need to be realistic.
Prof. Nicola Perera ( Department of English Language teaching, Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo ) has stated the following in The Island of 06 June, 2021 :
‘’ In the first few weeks of class, the undergraduates speak of the social inequalities of free education in Sri Lanka : We never had an English teacher at all or only intermittently. There weren’t enough textbooks to go around. The English teacher seemed befuddled : read out the textbook ; came to class and didn’t teach ; engaged in other work .
The students were reliant on the classroom to learn a language they did not speak at home. They came to University from under-resourced schools that had too few English teachers, poorly trained or with no training at all and poorly paid ‘’.
The National Curriculum Framework document published by our Ministry of Education states that English Language education should have the following objectives :
‘’ Students to be taught to speak well and to convey ideas confidently, to have a good vocabulary, to ask questions and to reason, i.e. to gain command over the English language in terms of reading, writing and spoken language ‘’.
Very good, but it cannot happen in the vast majority of secondary schools in provincial and rural areas due to the shortage of Trained English Teachers, Textbooks, etc.
So what is the solution ? We need to embark on something that is feasible given the lack of finances ( both Dollars and Rupees) in Sri Lanka. The aim should be to make English a compulsory subject for all students. It will take some time, but we should make a start now and make a determined effort.
1 We need more and more Trained English Teachers.
There is a need to establish a few more teacher training colleges to train English teachers. Sri Lanka cannot do this alone. We need the help of countries like the U.K., Australia and Canada and some help from UNESCO.
In Sri Lanka, the salaries of teachers are low. It is an important reason why qualified people are not attracted to the teaching profession. It is unrealistic to expect any salary increases for teachers. Given the pathetic situation that exists in the teaching of English in provincial and rural schools, other avenues should be explored in order to improve the quality of teaching.
There should be incentives for A / Level qualified students to enroll in Teacher Training Colleges to become English Teachers. I am thinking of students who have passed the A / Level in two or three subjects but did not qualify to enter University. Suggestion : make it a three year full time training course, and when they obtain the Diploma, put them on a salary scale which is superior to that of a two-year trained teacher but slightly inferior to that of a university graduate.
We know that the standard of English of a student who has passed the O / Level English Exam is very low. Goolbai Gunasekera has quoted from a WhatsApp message that she received from a student who has passed O / Level in English Language when she enquired how the girl was doing in Kuwait : ‘’ yers madam iam gud ‘’. The same is true for A / Level qualified students because they have studied in the sinhala medium.
The first year in the Training College should be an intensive course in learning English to the exclusion of everything else, i.e. to gain command over the English language in terms of reading, writing and spoken language. During the second and third years, it should be the usual psychology, pedagogy, methodology, etc., plus further training in English, including a bit of English Literature, and also taking part in Drama, Debating,etc. That will ensure the delivery of properly trained English teachers to our provincial and rural schools.
2 . We need to provide millions of our students with the English Textbooks.
At the moment Sri Lanka does not have even the paper to print Textbooks. We need financial help from developed countries in order to provide our students with the books. The Minister of Education should not hesitate to ask countries like the U.K., Australia,Canada,Sweden , Switzerland , Finland , Japan and also UNICEF for help. Ask and you shall receive.
3 . We need to involve the media in this effort to improve the standard of English of our students in the provincial and rural areas
. Get all our TV stations to broadcast Daily Lessons in the evenings and weekends on ‘ How to Learn English ‘ beamed at our Secondary students.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw boys and girls from poor families sitting on rooftops and tops of trees and trying to follow Online Lessons. Many of them have smartphones and this can be used to advantage to teach English.
After doing a lot of research and spending a lot of time and energy, Ministry of Education has published a 52-page document, titled ‘’National Curriculum Framework For General Education In Sri Lanka ‘’ in November 2020. It is a very good document. One of its objectives:
‘’ Students should gain command over the English language in terms of reading, writing and spoken language” ‘’.
This document lists dozens of Objectives but nothing has happened during the last 20 months and it is gathering dust somewhere in the Ministry. This reminds me of something that the first Minister of Finance, in independent Ceylon (J. R. Jayawardena) stated in Parliament in 1948 : ‘’ It is possible to Plan without Developing as is possible to Develop without Planning ‘’. Time has come to forget about Planning and to make a determined effort to solve a few problems, including the need to make our Secondary Students proficient in English.
The Minister of Education should ask the Sri Lankan Diaspora to contribute some Dollars to Fund a Project aimed at improving the standard of English in our provincial and rural Secondary schools. e.g. to provide the textbooks, to improve the facilities in Teacher Training Colleges by installing modern Audio Visual equipment to teach English, to buy books for the Library, etc. There is more than a quarter million Sri Lankans working or retired in the U.K., Europe, Canada, the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand and all of them have benefitted from the Free Education that they received in Sri Lanka including University Education. I live in Switzerland and I am one of them. We have a duty to give back something to Sri Lanka in its needy hour. Please start a Fund and I will send a contribution of US Dollars 500 as soon as the Bank Account for the Fund is established. We are disappointed that our Prime Minister / Minister of Finance has not asked for our help. In 1969 Sri Lanka had a severe shortage of Dollars and our former Finance Minister ( Dr. N. M. Perera ) appealed to the Sri Lankans working abroad for help. At that time there were only a couple of thousand Sri Lankans living abroad and the response was only fairly satisfactory. Now there is more than a quarter million of them, there is a better chance and the Minister should try.
Why do parents spend a lot of money to send their children to International Schools ? It is because they will learn sufficient English ( and mathematics in the English medium ) to get through the London O/Level exams in those two subjects. That will open many doors for them and those children will have the chance of getting a good job or the ability to study abroad. So a very small minority of students in Sri Lanka become proficient in English and successive governments have ignored the vast majority of our students. It is time to make an effort to rectify this situation.
( The writer has taught O / Level and A / Level mathematics and physics in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland ).
Can we return to English medium?
Goolbai Gunasehera (GG) wrote in The Sunday Island (June 19) under the caption, “We need to return to the English medium”. When summarizing her long article, my conclusion is that what is necessary is not returning to English Medium of instruction in schools, but improving the teaching of English in schools. In the article she writes “Many of that 16.5 million people barely speak English and the majority certainly cannot read or write it, despite English being taught (appallingly badly) in all schools”, and “I quote from a WhatsApp message I received from a former maid now in Kuwait. She writes, “yers madam iam gud,” in response to my query, “are you well?” She has an O L pass in English. This would be funny if it were not so pathetic”. If the conditions are such, what would be the result if we return to English medium?
We have thousands of Sri Lankans who had their primary/secondary education in Sinhala/Tamil media, employed (even at highest levels) all over the world/in Sri Lanka effectively using not only English, several other world languages as well. Every effort should be taken to improve the ways and methods of teaching English. Another important thing is to encourage all levels of students to read books written in English, as it is not happening now. What Kumar David (KD) queried recently was whether English should be Lanka’s National language (“Should English Be Lanka’s National language?” Sunday Island, June 12), not about medium of education as GG mentions. [That would also be a different issue as KD wrote about (a) Lanka not Sri Lanka].
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