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Economy first!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Déjà vu. The response to the failure of Yahapalanaya a couple of years ago has been made to the failure of Pohottuwa as well. Solutions are proffered by politicians, priests, pundits, NGOs and the intelligentsia. They are clamouring for good governance and a change in the way we are governed. No one denies that these issues need attention but it is a great shame that these worthies overlook the crucial fact that there is a fundamental difference between these two failures; whereas Yahapalana failure was predominantly political, the major issue today is an economic disaster, largely though not entirely of Pohottuwa making. Economic issues should be addressed before political failures.

The only solution the Opposition seems to be offering to the immense suffering of the masses due to skyrocketing prices, and the rupee devaluation compounded by scarcities leading to never ending queues is an election! This is the obvious conclusion anyone watching the proceedings of the Parliament comes to. Will an election or the abolition of the executive presidency help dull hunger pangs? True, the chaos is due to the actions of the government but the solution the Opposition proposes could make matters worse at least in the short term. Parliamentary sessions have become a farce. The behaviour of the so-called ‘honourable’ members of both sides is despicable and results in repeated suspensions of the sittings. No surprise that the irate public demands that all 225 MPs go home!

The leader of the Opposition went into details of the setup he wishes to have for good governance but offered no solution to the economic crisis. In fact, Sajith faced criticism from MP Harin Fernando, a leading member of his own party, who suggested MP Harsha de Silva should be President temporarily! Whilst Sajith is advocating the abolition of the executive presidency, Sarath Fonseka wants it retained! Whilst the ‘Independent’ group is advocating an interim government, the SJB and JVP refuse participation in such a venture.

The Pohottuwa leaders were oblivious to reality. In fact, when plotting was going on to bring Basil to Parliament, I wrote an article titled “Pohottuwa: Will it blossom or wither?” (The Island, 6 July 2021), which said among other things:

“It looks as if the withering of Pohottuwa had already started. Unfortunately, this would have disastrous consequences for the country as there does not seem to be an alternative. The SJB seems full of puppets and disgraced politicians. Ranil does not seem to allow anyone else to develop in the UNP, as long as he is alive. The JVP has turned out to be a bunch of spent revolutionaries who lost credibility by propping up Yahapalanaya. They say a vacuum would not be left and would always be filled. But with what? A revolution? As an appendage of the USA, India or China? I fear the worst unless the Rajapaksas see sense and make an immediate course correction!”

Instead of making a course correction, Basil grabbed the Finance portfolio from Mahinda. Gota sided with Basil, cornering the elder brother Mahinda. As public unrest increased many appealed to Mahinda. In fact, the editorial, “Killer waves of public anger” (The Island, 2 April) said, “It is high time he [Mahinda] put his foot down, began to act like the Prime Minister, and took action to ensure that the government makes an immediate course correction to pacify the public and prevent a bloodbath.”

By the time Mahinda took action, persuading the Cabinet to resign, it was too late. By then the genuine protests by the desperate public had been hijacked by those with a hidden agenda.

Though genuine protests continue, some are resorting to intimidation. It is sickening that teachers’ trade unions, which won a huge pay hike, are now on a sick-note campaign. Even the Cardinal seems to have lost his bearings. Disregarding the critical economic burden affecting all, he has decided to lead a delegation to the Vatican. Will sending Gota home solve the economic problem? Very unlikely! Even if he decides to leave, which he is not obliged to do––there is no constitutional provision for such a move––who is there to govern the country? The SJB obviously would say Sajith, but imagine what the situation would have been had Sajith been successful at the last presidential election. Even if a few of Sajith’s generous election promises had been implemented, the country would have been bankrupt much earlier.

Ranil is touted as a saviour by the UNP, but he has to make UNP electable first! Anura Kumara displays oratory but has not displayed talent in previous portfolios he held. He and his lot propped up Yahapalanaya government unashamedly though they now pretend not to have had anything to do with Maithri and Ranil. With their background together with recent speeches and acts bordering on incitement to violence, can they be trusted?

In this gloom, the only ray of sunshine seems to be the appointment of Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe as the Governor of Central Bank and Ali Sabry as the Minister of Finance. Ali Sabry has excelled as a Minister and Dr. Weerasinghe is eminently suited to the post of Governor CB in view of his 30 years-experience in the CB in various capacities as well as his experience with the IMF too, serving as an ‘alternate executive director’, representing the country group Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh, from January 2010 to August 2012. He should be commended for having accepted a difficult challenge; he displayed a firm grasp of the situation, at his first press conference itself. It is the duty of the government as well as the Opposition to give them the much-needed political support so that they may pull us out of the economic mire. Politicians can wait till the basic necessities of the masses are met to start fighting for power.



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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Opinion

Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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Opinion

Dispelling Misconceptions: Visionary Future of an NPP-led Sri Lanka

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NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake taking part in a protest (file photo)

by Shantha Jayarathne, PhD

In recent discussions, concerns have emerged about the National People’s Power (NPP) in Sri Lanka, with some fearing a return to outdated communist traditions if the party ascends to power. These apprehensions, often fueled by political agendas, particularly target those with limited political literacy. This article aims to dispel these misconceptions and shed light on the NPP’s forward-looking vision for a progressive and prosperous Sri Lanka.

Coalition of Visionaries

Contrary to the narrative peddled by certain factions, it’s essential to recognise that the NPP represents a diverse coalition of 22 parties and civil society organisations, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as its main partner. Importantly, both the NPP and JVP members boast of a commendable track record, free from accusations of corruption, nepotism, or cronyism. Nominations are filed for any election from the NPP under the “Compass” symbol, and contestants with high repute and integrity will be drawn from all 22 constituent parties in the broad coalition.

A Clear Development Roadmap

The NPP has consistently articulated a comprehensive roadmap for the development of Sri Lanka. Emphasising the importance of a thriving Agriculture, Industry, and Service sectors, the party is committed to eliminating barriers hindering investments. Corruption, favouritism, and covert dealings of officials and people with vested interests will be totally eliminated under an NPP government. Furthermore, the NPP pledges to introduce efficient systems, ensuring minimal delays and promoting a business-friendly environment that attracts both local and foreign investors.

Government’s Primary Obligations

Addressing fears of property takeover, the NPP asserts that its government will not engage in business activities but will focus on essential public utility services, education, health, social security, and defence to ensure the well-being and security of the nation. NPP will not only encourage local investments but also it will take all possible measures to attract foreign direct investments. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) facing financial challenges will undergo restructuring with utmost transparency, fostering efficiency and accountability.

Business Friendly Environment

The NPP is dedicated to creating a level playing field for businesses by implementing regulations inspired by the most developed economies. Consistent antitrust laws, investment protection laws, and laws that are inconsistent and complex will be amended or new laws will be enacted to ensure fair competition and safeguard business interests. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and competition, the NPP aims to boost economic growth and prosperity. NPP plans to streamline the systems and process to facilitate investments within the shortest possible timeframe whereby it aims to take Sri Lanka in the Ease of Doing Business Index from 99th position today to a position within the first 50. The Cooperative system will be strengthened in an NPP government and they will be regulated to deliver an effective and efficient service to the periphery.

Transparent Tax Policy

Simplifying Sri Lanka’s tax policy is a priority for the NPP, aiming to create a transparent and tax-friendly environment. NPP will ensure a stable and consistent progressive tax policy in the country, and all regressive taxes will be eliminated. Citizens will be provided with clear information at the end of the Tax Year on how their tax contributions are utilised for public services, promoting accountability and citizen engagement. This transparency is crucial for building trust between the government and its citizens.

Learning from Developed Countries

Taking lessons from successful models of governance in developed countries, an NPP government will strive to implement best practices in public administration. Emphasising the importance of accountable institutions, streamlined bureaucracy, and effective public service delivery, the party is committed to ensuring transparency and efficiency in governance. There will be a minimum number of cabinet ministries for key areas, and their roles and functions will be clearly defined while making the officials accountable to their respective assigned functions. Zero tolerance for corruption and the law of the land will be applied to everyone alike.

Economic Adjustments and IMF Negotiations

Acknowledging the need for economic stability, the NPP plans to initiate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This strategic move aims to strike a balance between economic adjustments and safeguarding the livelihoods of the people in the country. The NPP is dedicated to ensuring that any economic reforms are implemented with a people-centric approach, minimising adverse effects on the general population and the industry.

Nonaligned Foreign Policy

The NPP upholds a nonaligned foreign policy, reflecting a commitment to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. While fostering international relations, the party is resolute in not allowing foreign nations to utilise Sri Lanka’s soil for military purposes. This stance ensures that the country remains neutral and independent in its dealings with other nations, safeguarding national interests and security.

Repositioning Sri Lanka in the World Order

A central tenet of the NPP’s vision is the repositioning of Sri Lanka in the global context. The party is dedicated to identifying and leveraging the country’s potentials, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and managing threats, both internal and external. This strategic approach aims to elevate Sri Lanka’s standing on the world stage, fostering positive engagement with the international community.

Quality of Life Improvement

A key focus of the NPP government is enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. The party recognises the importance of social welfare, healthcare, education, and infrastructure development in elevating living standards. By prioritising these aspects, the NPP aims to create a society where every citizen can enjoy a higher quality of life, emphasising the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Addressing False Propaganda

Amidst the misconceptions surrounding the NPP, it is crucial to address the motivations behind certain groups disseminating false propaganda. The fearmongering tactics employed by those with vested interests seek to perpetuate a status quo that has allowed for ill-gotten wealth and alleged illegal transactions. These groups, resistant to change, attempt to sway public opinion by sowing seeds of doubt about the NPP’s commitment to a fair and just governance model.

However, when one closely examines the NPP’s dedication to transparency, efficient governance, and inclusive development, it becomes evident that these accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to the shadows of a fading era. The party’s emphasis on tackling corruption, restructuring inefficient State-Owned Enterprises, and simplifying the tax policy directly challenges the interests of those who have thrived in an environment of opacity and undue influence.

As citizens, it is paramount to discern the true intentions behind such narratives and recognize the NPP as a force poised to break free from the shackles of corruption and vested interests. By supporting the NPP’s vision, Sri Lankans have the opportunity to usher in a new era – one marked by ethical governance, economic prosperity, and a society that prioritises the well-being of its people over the interests of a privileged few.

In conclusion, the NPP stands not only as a political entity but as a beacon of hope, calling on the people to embrace change, reject false narratives, and collectively forge a path towards a brighter and more equitable future.

(The Writer, a UK resident, is a former Senior Consultant at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA). He is a member of the NPP-Policy Development Team, and he can be reached through email: shantha323@gmail.com)

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