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.
Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?
By a Sports Aficionado
This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.
One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.
What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.
So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.
A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.
Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.
To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.
There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.
The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”
Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.
Going ritual mode
The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.
It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.
Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”
However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.
Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.
It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.
It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.
It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.
LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour
Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House
Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.
“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”
I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!
Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”
The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.
Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.
I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.
Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong
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