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Constitution making:

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A layman’s view

by ROHANA R. WASALA

‘At least since Rousseau’s Social Contract and the end of the divine right of kings, the state has been seen as party to a contract with the people – a contract to guarantee or supply the necessary order in society. Without the state’s soldiers, police and the apparatus of control, we are told, gangs or brigands would take over our streets. Extortion, rape, robbery and murder would rip away the last threads of the “thin veneer of civilization.”’ – Alvin Toffler, Powershift, 1990.

The late Alvin Toffler (American writer, journalist, educator, and businessman) says this while reflecting on the nature of power as one of the most basic social phenomena. ‘Power……implies a world that combines both chance, necessity, chaos and order.’ According to him, we humans ‘share an irrepressible, biologically rooted craving for a modicum of order in our daily lives, along with a hunger for novelty. It is the need for order that provides the main justification for the very existence of government’.

Sri Lankans are currently experiencing, in the raw, a taste of the evils that Toffler says the absence of order would breed, which makes constitution making interesting for them. But what is a constitution? Google offers a simple definition of the term: ‘a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed’.

Now, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda (‘A very wrong approach to Constitution-making’/The Island/September 29, 2020) opines that the proposed 20A has ‘several major defects’. One key fault, according to him, is that the approach adopted for drafting the amendment is ‘very wrong’. JU offers a number of reasons to explain this alleged wrongness of the ‘approach’: the ‘sponsors and framers’ (I suppose the phrase means the politicians and the legal experts behind the drafting of 20A) refuse to learn ‘constructive lessons from past constitutional reform experiments’, but they have learned some ‘partisan, narrow-minded, politically short-sighted ones’. What he probably means by this becomes clear (not clear enough though) in the rest of his article, but it is doubtful whether his sense of right and wrong in the context is shared by many outside the now diminished anti-nationalist coterie, who occupied the parliament for four and a half years and hexed it with the controversial 19A.

It is not necessary to read further into JU’s article to be able to infer where his own inexcusable biases lie. He is obviously in favour of 13A and 19A forced on the nation from outside, and is against the present government’s sincere effort to remove the obstacles placed on its path by the departing yahapalanaya through its ill-conceived constitutional mixed bag that is 19A, where what is bad is by choice, and what is good is by chance. This is not to argue that the new 20A is perfect in comparison. I share many objections raised in different quarters against the proposed 20A, but I believe that the moot points will be satisfactorily sorted out by the present leaders before they manage to get it through parliament.

The Opposition critics of 20A quite well know that it is, after all, only a stopgap measure to clear the way for the unhindered implementation of the government’s development plans. The government will introduce a completely new Constitution within a year or two. JU’s advice as a political scientist will come in handy then.

The proposed 20A is not an arbitrary piece of legislation that the government is introducing behind the back of the people. There is considerable opposition to some of its articles even within the government ranks. Unlike in the case of 19A, the passage of 20A will be a democratic, above-board affair. The Minister of Justice on behalf of the government issued it as a draft bill for public view and review in all three languages on September 2, 2020. The document clearly specifies what is to be amended, repealed, or replaced. The yahapalana constitutional fraud in the form of 19A is not being repeated. Over this four-week period, some thirty-nine petitions have been filed challenging 20A’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court and they were being heard for the third day (October 2) by a bench of five judges, at the time of writing. The government has already declared that it will abide by the court decision by duly adjusting its response to it. JU’s alarms and warnings are uncalled for.

By the phrase ‘past constitutional reform experiments’, JU must be referring to the making of the first and second republican Constitutions (of 1972 and 1978 respectively) and the substantial number of opportune as well as ad hoc amendments introduced by successive governments since, some of them questionable and controversial, where 19A stands in a class by itself as the best example of the worst type of constitutional reform introduced in Sri Lanka to date. What prompts him to describe them as experiments is probably the fact that he is a political scientist with his indispensable toolkit of academic analysis. My interest as a lay citizen, modestly informed of the original construction and subsequent reform of a constitution, is concerned with how good it is going to be for the largest number of the people of the country, as its supreme law, in the context of the more or less stable social and political realities that are prevailing.

As a Constitution is not holy writ, it is open to appropriate amendments from time to time, in compliance with the will of the people, as and when these realities change; a constitution specifies the legal way to reform or replace it as the case may be. The current 1978 republican constitution as amended up to 2015 (Chapter XII/Articles 82-84) specifies the procedure for amending or repealing the constitution. The people whose memory of the yahapalana misadventure is still fresh are anxiously aware of the necessity of passing the 20A.

Contrary to what JU asserts, the political leaders and the legal luminaries responsible for drafting the proposed 20A, have not forgotten the constructive lessons left by their respective predecessors in the form of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Colvin R. de Silva (1972), and J.R. Jayewardene and J.A. Wilson (1978). Both Bandaranaike and Jayewardene cared about the country, the people, and the culture. Both displayed firm leadership in governing, and a high level of intellect in statecraft. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had her native wit, and Jayewardene possessed a good education. In April 1971, Bandaranaike nipped the JVP terrorism in the bud, not without some violence, though, that she never intended. Opposition leader Jayewardene approved of her actions, saying, ‘yes, a government must rule’. For her courage, firmness, and composure, she was described then as the only male in her cabinet. The contribution of the inspiration provided by Bandaranaike’s political leadership to the making of the first Republican Constitution, the principal architect of which was de Silva, must have been immense and indispensable. Later, hadn’t Jayewardene got Wilson to write the powerful institution of executive presidency into the second republican constitution (1978) as the main anchor to the unitary state, the sovereign Sri Lankan republic that Bandaranaike and de Silva created for the people would have disintegrated and drifted into wilderness and oblivion by now.

Back to the point.

The second alleged defect that JU asserts, without any evidence to support his opinion, is that ‘the framers of the 20A are not motivated by the broader democratic interests of all Sri Lankan people, but the ‘political self-interest’ (of someone or group that JU avoids mentioning). A third defect, JU identifies the Amendment’s supposed lack of ‘a democratic formative framework relevant to our society and its own progressive-modernist legacies of constitutionalism .. (together with the fact that).. it builds itself on one or two dreadful and destructive experiments of constitution-making in the recent past’. This is as close to clear as I can get in interpreting JU here. To illustrate the ‘one or two dreadful and destructive experiments of constitution-making in the recent past’, I think, he draws upon what he, assuming a kind of arbitrary academic license, calls the ‘relatively long history of unmaking, making, and amending constitutions’ that includes the 1972 and 1978 exercises on the one hand, and the 1978C and 18A on the other. JU’s adjectives ‘dreadful and destructive’ could be justifiably applied to the passage of 19A and other such ‘experiments’ in constitutional reform, as contained, for example, in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (As amended up to 15th May 2015) (Revised Edition – 2015) issued by the Parliamentary Secretariat. Chapter IV – Language covers Articles 18-25. One is bewildered by what the crafty, ill-meaning, ‘sponsors and framers’ have from time to time done to degrade Sinhala in its official status with the uncomprehending concurrence of some self-seeking Sinhala MPs in the House. This, of course, would be an iconic piece of constitution-making for a theorist with one’s head in the clouds.

The practical reality is that the operative meaning of any Article (whether this is legally contested or not) is implicitly embodied in the English text (though, according to the present constitution Sinhala and Tamil are both official languages, while English is the link language.). So, it is vitally important to translate the draft document that is the Constitution into precise, unambiguous, formal and legally acceptable and uncontestable Sinhala and Tamil. I detected a couple of stark discrepancies between the original English draft and the Sinhala translation (not relating to the particular context – Chapter IV – mentioned above) when I made a very random comparison between the two versions while researching an article at the time, but I don’t remember whether I dwelt on the subject long enough for it to be taken notice of by the reader as something important, though beyond the central scope of that article. Apart from this, those sufficiently informed did not fail to see how some Tamil lawmakers wanted to openly hoodwink the Sinhalas with the word ‘akeeya’ stripped of its intended original meaning of unitary, but falsely insisting that the English term ‘unitary’ was not its equivalent and was not suitable as a translation, and started talking about an ‘Orumiththa Nadu’, reminiscent of Tamil Nadu. How the question which version should prevail in case of an incongruence between the Sinhala and Tamil texts should be resolved, I can’t remember having been discussed. But the last item (58) of the published draft of 20A runs: ‘In the event of any inconsistency between the Sinhala and Tamil texts of this Act, the Sinhala text shall prevail.’

Having outlined the lessons to be learnt from constitution-making, -unmaking, and -reforming exercises up to 18A, JU moves on to the many lessons that he thinks may be drawn from the ‘much maligned’ 19A. He identifies four key lessons. The first lesson he mentions is that wide public consultation is useful, and helps ‘improve the level of democratic health in the polity’. I cannot agree with him that this was true about the drafting of 19A. It was claimed that the constitutional experts including Jayampathy Wickremaratne, presumably its principal drafter, toured the country meeting with individuals and representatives of many minority civil groups during a short period of two or three months. They had to rush the job, they said, as they were in a hurry to finish it within a stipulated time frame. About two thousand people were consulted nevertheless, they claimed. It was obvious that they roamed the country making it their main aim to pay more attention to the minorities that they had decided were discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, as they wanted the meddling foreign powers to believe in order to justify their interventionist excesses in the internal and external politics of the country. Meanwhile they paid only symbolic attention to the Sinhalese majority. Wickremaratne, the chief architect of the fraudulent document, is now rumoured/reported to have found or is seeking political asylum in Australia or somewhere (though there is absolutely no possibility of his being targeted for persecution in Sri Lanka). He has reportedly admitted that 19A is problematic.

The second lesson that JU asserts he can learn from the making of 19A is that it is ‘better to build consensus across all political parties in Parliament for a major amendment or a new Constitution’. If he means that 19A set a negative example of that principle, then he has a case. But in actuality, 19A destroyed the burgeoning interparty consensus in Parliament and the growing intercommunal goodwill in the broader society that the MR government achieved in the wake of victory over terrorism. It was because of this that ‘for partisan political reasons, some might later withdraw from the consensus’ as JU laments.

I agree with JU on the third lesson he derives from his seemingly iconic amendment, which is that ‘If the consultation and consensus-building in constitution-making is not politically managed with clarity of purpose, the overall goals of the constitutional compromise may run the risk of producing a constitutional scheme with potentially harmful internal anomalies and contradictions’. Yes, in other words, 19A is a very good illustration of a very bad constitutional amendment.

The fourth lesson that 19A offers, according to JU, is that ‘a democratic constitution-making exercise today needs, more than ever, an unwavering political leadership to champion it through to the end by innovative and imaginative democratic means’. In my opinion, this is what the pre-2015 government achieved. 19A, by dismantling it, demonstrated how ill the nation fared in the absence of such unwavering, innovative, and democratic leadership. Then, JU starts chewing his own tail, by suggesting a ‘paradoxical’ reason: ‘Alternatives to democracy are also competing with democracy, with enormous material resources, to gain popular support and loyalty through democratic means. In this age of right-wing populism, media-manufactured popular consent and manipulation of public perceptions through information pollution, post-democratic alternatives tend to gain easy currency and public legitimacy’. Frankly, I can’t make head or tail of this, but it makes me wonder whether JU is trying to make light of the very real persecution of the majority community that is hardly recognized by most mainstream politicians, who feel obliged to find refuge behind political correctness.



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Opinion

Fork in the road: Will we protect medicines that protect us or deal with incurable diseases?

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By SHOBHA SHUKLA – CNS

The spotlight is once again on preventing antimicrobial resistance that is not only devastating human health but also threatening the sustainability of our planet earth. Will we protect the medicines that protect us or lose them, resulting in diseases that become difficult or impossible to treat? “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind” as the legendary lyrics go.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites become resistant to, and hence no longer respond to the antimicrobials or drugs (antibiotics, antivirals, fungicides and parasiticides) used to treat the diseases caused by them. While antimicrobials are the backbone of modern medicine, their misuse and overuse in humans, animals and plants is driving the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, making it difficult or even impossible to treat infections, increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.

Progress on all SDGs threatened by antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is not only causing a huge loss of human life (contributing to over 6 million deaths every year directly and indirectly) but also posing a crippling mountainous economic burden, said Dr Haileyesus Getahun, who is the Director, Global Coordination and Partnership on antimicrobial resistance, and also the Director, Quadripartite Joint Secretariat on antimicrobial resistance at the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr Getahun was the inaugural speaker at a recently concluded 2nd Annual Global Media Forum in lead up to 2022 World Antimicrobial Awareness Week.

According to a 2017 World Bank report, if no action is taken now, antimicrobial resistance is likely to cause an USD 1.2 trillion additional health expenditure per year by 2050, and push up to 24 million additional people (particularly in low-income countries) into extreme poverty by 2030. Dr Getahun warned that antimicrobial resistance can directly affect progress on at least 6 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and can be linked indirectly to the remaining 11 as well.

Inequity also ails antimicrobial resistance

As the burden of antimicrobial resistance is greatest in low-resource settings, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, it is not only a global public health problem, but also an issue of health equity and socioeconomic development, says Thomas Joseph, Head, Antimicrobial Stewardship and Awareness Unit at the World Health Organization (WHO). Along with ensuring a rational use of antibiotics “having access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as good infection prevention and control measures, such as hand washing and vaccination, are vital in the fight against antimicrobial resistance,” he emphasises.

One Health approach is vital to address antimicrobial resistance

Humans, animals, plants and environment are continuously interacting and sharing with each other the microbials that have become resistant to drugs. So curbing antimicrobial resistance to protect human lives is not possible without protecting the health of our plants, animals and environment.

Jacqueline Álvarez, Chief, Chemicals and Health Branch, Economy Division, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), rightly points out that “Antimicrobial resistance is both, a cause and a consequence of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and chemicals.”

Dr Getahun calls for increased financing, political advocacy and coordinated global action to better respond to the converging threats of antimicrobial resistance and the climate crisis before it is too late.Scott Newman, Senior Animal Health and Production Officer for Asia and the Pacific at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), stresses upon preserving antimicrobial efficacy while we sustain food and agriculture production.

“Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as of natural habitats for agriculture, has also led to an increase in antimicrobial use, and pathogen spread. We have to ensure that emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance is slowed down across all food sectors (animal husbandry and agriculture). We need to switch to sustainable food production, by promoting climate-smart agriculture, agro-ecological approaches, nature-based solutions, and efficient and safe production methods biosecurity and disease prevention and control,” added Scott Newman.

Antimicrobials cannot compensate animal husbandry practices

“Antimicrobials are also used to prevent infections in animals apart from their use in treating animal diseases. But we must note that antimicrobials used in animals to prevent infections, must not be done to compensate poor animal husbandry practices. Rather antimicrobials should only be used for infection prevention in animals, who are at risk of acquiring a specific infection or in a specific situation where infectious disease is likely to occur, if the drug is not administered,” cautioned Delfy Gochez, Data Management Officer, antimicrobial resistance, and Veterinary Products Department, World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

Jane Lwoyero, Technical Officer on antimicrobial resistance at the WOAH shared that in Africa, and globally, WOAH (World Organisation for Animal Health)’s strategy is followed by them to promote prudent use of antimicrobials. “We have also disseminated farm biosecurity guidelines in Kenya and Ethiopia to curb antimicrobial resistance. We also helped pilot the information and alert system for substandard and falsified veterinary products (during October – December 2021)” said Jane. “WOAH is also promoting the use of vaccines as an alternative to irrational use of antibiotics for Theileriosis in cattle and Typhoid in humans.”

Improve the basics to strengthen antimicrobial stewardship

“To contain antimicrobial resistance, we need better evidence, and evidence-backed actions; we need to improve diagnostic stewardship; we need to have good infection control practices in the hospitals and the community; and without these pillars – we cannot truly practice antimicrobial stewardship,” said Dr Kamini Walia, Senior scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research.

“Diagnostic stewardship and infection control – both are significant challenges in our country because we have sub-optimal investment in the healthcare system, and we do not have good diagnostic laboratories in secondary and primary healthcare services (and good laboratories are essentially limited to tertiary care health services). Being a tropical country, we have a significant burden of infectious diseases. This further leads to sanitation and hygiene problems, and most of the antimicrobials which are prescribed are to compensate for poor sanitation and hygiene – both in communities and in hospitals. So, if we really want to make progress on antimicrobial stewardship we have to improve the basics, such as improving diagnostics, infection control, and other necessary actions,” rightly added Dr Walia.

“Studies done in India show that almost half of all prescriptions audited in the study, were of antibiotics, and over 55% of antibiotic use was prescribed for uncomplicated respiratory symptoms. More alarmingly, less than 1% of these patients had any microbiological diagnosis done. Many of these prescriptions show the levels of inappropriate use or higher use of antibiotics. Also, over two-third of these drugs are available over the counter. We need to prevent over-the-counter dispensing of antimicrobials,” said Dr Prapti Gilada-Toshniwal, senior microbiologist and founder head of UniLabs.

“We need stronger and practical antimicrobial stewardship programme for our context and ground realities so that we can effectively promote the appropriate use of antimicrobials (including antibiotics), improve treatment outcomes, reduce antimicrobial resistance, and decrease the spread of infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms,” added Dr Prapti Gilada-Toshniwal. “We need to boost diagnostic capacities at all levels. Access to accurate, rapid, and point-of-care diagnostic facilities for different diseases and conditions, should be scaled up.”

Clock is ticking

All this points towards the urgency of tackling antimicrobial resistance through an integrated and comprehensive response involving all the sectors, what is now referred to as the One Health approach. In the words of Dr Getahun, “One Health approach is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and ecosystems. It recognizes that the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent.”Collaborative efforts are needed that involve public health, agriculture, animal husbandry and environment sectors, as well as whole of society approach, to effectively address the challenge of AMR and make economies resilient to its impacts.

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Opinion

Addressing loss and damage finance: It’s more than money

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BY Ashish Barua

The main objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration in Earth’s atmosphere. Over the last three decades, it has achieved the opposite because of our indifference and disregard for the millions of climate-vulnerable people in Global South, now extended to the North as well, who are suffering the adverse impacts of climate change. The UNFCCC started with a focus on mitigation and gradually moved on to adaptation. It is evident that those are not enough, and tackling “loss and damage” is a must-do now.

The 19th climate conference, held in Warsaw, Poland in 2013, established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which works as a policy framework on the issue of loss and damage. Then the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage (SNLD) at COP25 started as a technical assistance provider in addition to knowledge and resources. However, the financial mechanism has remained a big question for a long time.

The good news came ahead of COP27 when issues related to funding arrangements to respond to loss and damage caused by human-induced climate change were incorporated as a sub-agenda under finance-related matters. After having different opinions, debates, and negotiations throughout the two-week-long climate conference in Egypt this year, the parties found a common ground and agreed on the finance mechanism for loss and damage during the extended period.

So COP27 decided to establish a new funding arrangement to assist developing countries regarding loss and damage, which is “new and additional.” It also decided to establish a fund and a Transitional Committee to operationalise the new funding arrangement. The committee has been suggested to make recommendations to operationalise the funding arrangement at COP28 due to be held in Dubai next year, which will be a critical outline for how the funds are mobilised and utilised.

To make the fund operational, the parties also agreed to establish institutional arrangements, modalities, structure, governance, and terms of reference; define the elements of the new funding arrangements; identify and expand funding sources; and ensure coordination and complementarity with the existing arrangements.

There will be critical challenges for the Transitional Committee, such as who will provide the fund or how the new fund will be generated, and how it will be utilised. etc.

Beyond the UNFCCC process, there has been good news. The Scottish government, the pioneer in loss and damage funding, has come forward with its enhanced pledges. The Wallonia province of Belgium and Denmark were also there with their commitment; Austria and New Zealand also came forward, creating peer pressure on Global North to come out of their backsliding mindset.

They came forward with their actions on two fundamental principles. The first one is climate justice, challenging the unjust impact on climate-vulnerable nations who are not responsible for the crisis. The second one is moral obligations, and the responsibility of the developed countries.

The solidarity of the global community must be at the centre of the loss and damage finance facility. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has presented enormous scientific evidence, enough data and information on the table. The gravity, scope, and frequency of loss and damage are growing all over the world. Hence, the parties to the climate change convention must take an informed political position and enhanced pledges. The developed and developing countries’ accountability now is to keep the positive spirit up so that the empty promise of USD 100 billion every year for adaptation is not repeated.

Most importantly, climate-vulnerable nations and communities live amid the effects of climate change; they act, respond, and know how to address loss and damage on the ground. They do it with their best efforts and the least resources – they need support to do it right. And here comes the question of solidarity and empathy, which is more valuable than money.

As the loss and damage funding arrangement is already agreed upon, the fund mechanisms are critical as community needs are urgent and need to be grounded. For developing countries, this will work only if the fund is accessible, flexible, and fast to deliver to the affected communities, unlike other funding facilities such as the Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility. It is essential to determine how much funding is reaching the affected communities and, with this, how fast they can address the loss and damage issues in their lives and livelihoods.

Climate-vulnerable countries can take a proactive role in feeding the Transitional Committee with their actions on the ground so that the committee can go ahead with the right information and inputs. For example, Bangladesh has earmarked its fund from the Climate Change Trust Fund, which can put real-life learning to use. Helvetas Bangladesh, Young Power in Social Action, and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) are partnering with the Scottish government and Climate Justice Resilience Fund, which can help put actions forward in both economic and non-economic sectors of loss and damage.

(The Daily Star/ANN)

Ashish Barua is programme manager for the Climate Change and Sustainable Development programme of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation in Bangladesh.

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Opinion

Savings bombshell – 93% of Sri Lankans are beyond means

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By Saliya Weerakoon

The recent research by PepperCube, led by Atheek Marikar, reported that only 7% of the respondents are within means. A whopping 93% spend more than their earnings. The all-island sample indicates where the country is heading. This is understandable, given the difficult economic conditions we are in. However, 93% is a fascinating figure. 90% of the top-tier banks had negative profitability growth compared to the nine months of 2021. The cost of living and high inflation is taking a toll on the public.

Atheek and I have worked on public opinion research for many years, and he was spot on and had near-perfect accuracy in insights and findings. I have no reason to doubt the above figure, given my first-hand experience with him.I have been talking to various business stakeholders in the country, and all are unanimous that we are probably in the worst economic crisis post-independence. The PepperCube research shows that most of the public does not think economic conditions will improve in the next 12 months. The citizenry is rapidly losing hope, and specially educated youth have high hopes of leaving the country for greener pastures.

The officially reported food inflation is a killer. When you add inflation in transportation, educational expenses, medicines, rent, and other miscellaneous expenses puts the citizen of Sri Lanka on difficult ground. The credit card lending rates at 36% per annum and home loans, personal loans and vehicle loans also have a steep increase in interest rates. On top of it, the country’s highest-income earners will have an increased tax payment.

The cost is unbearable for the absolute majority of the country. The 93% of Sri Lankans living beyond their means no longer surprises me. We are a ticking bomb that can be exploded anytime, and the country’s leaders must understand the gravity of the situation.

The current peril will have an impact on all businesses in the country. Despite higher interest rates for bank deposits, financial institutions will struggle for deposit mobilisation. The FMCGs will find it hard to sell their products in the market. Also, the research data, I witnessed, shows people are less patronising modern trade/supermarkets vis a vis last year same period.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka reported that in the first eight months of 2022, the nominal wages of the informal private sector increased substantially (Roughly about 25%), primarily due to the demand-based for daily wagers due to high inflation. Some private sector employees received pay hikes, but anyone can argue that the wage increase is in no way relatable to the rising cost of living.

In Q2 2022, credit cards had a transaction value of LKR 100.5 billion. This is a 63% increase in to the corresponding period of 2021. We must remember that credit cards have a rolling over 36% per annum interest rate; I am aware from personal business experience that most credit cardholders are paying the minimum payment and rolling the balance, sometimes through the years. The increase in credit card usage indicates that all is not good in the top bracket of the country. As per CBSL reports, they are over 2 million credit cards in circulation, and many possess multiple cards. I estimate that we have approx. 1.2 million unique cardholders in the country.

Where are we heading as a country? No one seems to have a clue. The government looks at a one-person show where everyone is looking to President Wickremesinghe to give solutions. It’s hardly visible that cabinet and state ministers are doing anything productive. The Opposition is in disarray and I doubt they can do much other than making statements. The President’s budget was politically safe and brutally honest about the situation of the country. The SOE’s must be restructured, and the government should not be in business of making money, which they are bad at it. The public-private partnerships are the way but there should be credibility in restructuring SOEs and optimising their potential. We have a bad history of restructuring and privatisation of state assets, which should not be the case this time. I am of the view that we should recruit experts to do the job, and they should be paid handsomely to avoid any malpractices.

The public is helpless. According to research, 93% of people will have anger, disappointment and frustration. The easiest thing is to leave the country but there should be an opportunity in another country to get an employment. Given that fact most of the countries are now giving preference to their own citizens when it comes to employment it will be hard task to get a slot. However, there are many Sri Lankan youth in Dubai on visit visa to find employment. My 23-year-old nephew found a job after trying for eight months in Dubai and he left the country to support his family. He was working for LKR 20,000 salary in Sri Lanka, and I did not have the heart to stop him leaving the country because I knew the salary he was getting here was not enough for transportation and miscellaneous expenses.

As of 30th June 2022, 190,000 credit cardholders have defaulted card issuing institutions. In the coming months, we will see an increase of this as, unless someone change their lives completely, one will not be able to withstand the external pressure. My friends in the banking system are worried that the non-performing assets may increase sharply and that will erode the profitability. Even during the 30-year-old war, banks kept on increasing profits every year, and what we have now is an unprecedented situation.

The leaders are still busy playing politics and ineffective governance is nothing new. Let it sink 93% of Sri Lankans are beyond their means and human mind only can take limited pressure. The financial freedom is not everything but its healthy to have the means. For 74 years we have been seeing the decline of our coffers and almost all countries in the region have passed us for prosperity. The problem we are facing is grave in nature and we should not look for politician to give us solutions. Simply, because they can’t and they won’t. One person will not be able to get us out of this trouble unless we all get together. I hope that sanity prevails.

The writer, an entrepreneur, alumnus of Harvard Kennedy School in Public Leadership with 27 years’ experience in the business world with international experience. Saliya can be reached on

saliya@eqwtay.com

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