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IMF may have changed, but Sri Lanka has not

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The IMF has told us in no uncertain terms that corruption and waste have to be brought under control. Yet, a minister would directly solicit a bribe from a Japanese company and get away with it. Doesn’t the Cabinet have any control over officials who change the conditions in the tender, and decide to buy coal for two years with no thought for the price fluctuations.Although the IMF, the Paris Club, the US, the UK, Europe, China and Japan have all got together to help us. Do we deserve their help? The corrupt system needs a shake-up.

The IMF was formed in 1945 at the Bretton Woods Conference based on the ideas of Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes. At the beginning it had 29 members. The objective was to expedite the economic development of underdeveloped countries. It focused on three areas – policy development, financial assistance and capacity development. The funds came mainly from the US, western countries and Japan. Keynesian policies, which did not discourage welfarism and government intervention in economic policies, initially benefited many developing countries and also the poor in rich countries. From the end of World War II to about the early 70s, these policies were not harmful to the global poor.

In the 70s Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US. They were of the opinion that welfarism and government role were an impediment to economic development. The basis of neo-liberalism is the idea that the market is the prime determinant of not only prices of goods, and matters related to trade and commerce, but also social characters and human values. This means there is no need for the government to intervene on behalf of the people, and market forces most efficiently guide the economy with benefits to all stakeholders. This theory was first mooted by Friedrich von Hayek, and it was more or less a refutation of welfare capitalism advocated by John Maynard Keynes, which had been in practice since the end of Word War II in 1945. Hayek advised Margaret Thatcher on the virtues of neo-liberal economic policies, and those were subsequently adopted during Reagan’s time in the US and Margaret Thatcher’s in the UK.

These policies virtually detached the government from economic management. During the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, which existed from the late 40s to the early 70s, the governments in the western countries adopted measures to protect the ordinary people from the depredations of market forces. Reagan and Thatcher, however, viewed those policies as an impediment to economic development. They believed that unrestrained market forces were a better driver of the economy. Thus were born neo-liberalism and its offshoot globalisation, which was designed to force the rest of the world to fall in line and accept their open-borders, export-led growth policy. The IMF, WTO and the World Bank were reoriented to serve this purpose.

These neo-liberal policies prevailed until the outbreak of the international debt crisis in 1982. In the latter half of the 1970s, developing countries borrowed heavily to pay for increasingly costly oil imports and to finance ambitious investment projects, many of which turned out to be white elephants. The IMF traced their problems to poor policies, unproductive borrowing, and incomplete programme implementation. In disbursing funds, the IMF became more selective about the recipients of concessional support, and required stricter and more extensive conditionality.

The 1980s the world learnt that a programme was unlikely to succeed if the impact of economic reforms on the poor—and resulting social unrest and opposition—was not addressed. This prompted the IMF to focus its help not only on poor countries, but also on the poor within countries. Analysis of poverty issues in Policy Framework Papers became a standard part of programme negotiations. Programmes continued to emphasise fiscal consolidation as a prerequisite for macroeconomic stability, but there were growing pledges to strengthen social spending, especially for health and education.

In the meantime, however, many low-income countries faced the problem of debt accumulation beyond their repaying capacity. In 1996, the IMF and the World Bank developed the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, under which low-income countries with multi-year track records of good policies, would qualify for grants in association with their concessional loans.

The HIPC initiative soon came under heavy criticism for “offering too little relief too slowly to too few,” with only four countries obtaining a full stock of available debt relief before the end of the century. In 1999, the Bretton Woods institutions “enhanced” the initiative, by lowering the bar for judging whether debt was unsustainable, and providing debt relief and grants sooner to qualifying countries. Within three years, enhanced HIPC could deliver almost US$1 billion in debt relief to 25 countries.

By the turn of the century, the IMF’s engagement with low-income countries centered on three pillars: better funded and designed programmes, debt relief to facilitate poverty reduction efforts, and technical assistance. Although the IMF had long offered technical assistance to its members, the focus shifted to African countries, which by the early 2000s were receiving more than one-quarter of the IMF’s technical assistance. These efforts paid rich dividends. By 2019, 36 out of 39 eligible countries had received debt relief totaling some $125 billion, allowing them to increase social spending, especially on health and education, while remaining within budgetary envelopes. While most did not fully achieve their UN Millennium Development Goals, many made substantial progress.

Sri Lanka, to begin with, was better in terms of economic development than the African countries. It achieved middle income status. From 2010 to 2015 it recorded the highest GDP growth in South Asia, and was well on the way to prosperity. But the economy was like a wounded animal, burdened with so many unproductive projects and huge unsustainable debts. We were living beyond our means. Consumerism and aggrandizement became the order of the day. Few blunders by the government in 2020 and 2021 made the economy go bankrupt.

Apart from living beyond means, corruption, bribery, mismanagement and waste ate in to the vitals of the country. Yahapalana committed the Treasury bond scams. Then came the sugar scam under the new regime. And the most recent coal scam. Nether politicians nor bureaucrats have changed!

The IMF has told us in no uncertain terms that corruption and waste have to be brought under control. Yet, a minister would directly solicit a bribe from a Japanese company and get away with it. Doesn’t the Cabinet have any control over officials who change the conditions in the tender, and decide to buy coal for two years with no thought for the price fluctuations.Although the IMF, the Paris Club, the US, the UK, Europe, China and Japan have all got together to help us. Do we deserve their help? The corrupt system needs a shake-up.

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

The ‘Smiling Chancellor’- educationist par excellence

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The most reverend Dr Oswald Gomis, Emeritus Archbishop of Colombo and the former Chancellor of the University of Colombo, was called to his heavenly home on 03.02.23

It is with sincere gratitude that I pay this tribute to him for his invaluable service to the field of education in general to the University of Colombo and to me as an academic

It was Father Bonjean, a Catholic priest, who has been acclaimed as the greatest contributor to Catholic education at that time through his submissions to the State advocating a system of state-aided schools to be run by each religious denomination for its children. He pointed out, not only Catholics but also the adherents of other religions in the island (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims) should be fairly treated. The Denominational or Assisted Schools System, which it was hoped would benefit all religions, thus came into being and lasted nearly a century until the takeover of schools by the state in 1960. Fr. Bonjean came to be known as ‘the Father of the Denominational School System’

Father Bojean was considered ‘the Father of the Denominational School System’, and most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis can be considered the modern father of Assisted schools. Being a product of St Bendict’s college, he wanted to provide similar education through equality and religious harmony for the students. At an interview he said that when he was appointed Archbishop of Colombo, he had a special objective – that is to provide a good education for the people. To achieve this, he wanted to expand the catholic education. Hence, he made a valiant effort within the existing legal framework to establish branch schools of the popular catholic private schools. St. Peter’s College, Gampaha and Udugampola Branches, St. Joseph’s College, Enderamulla and Kadolkele branches and many more such branch schools. Further, a branch of St. Nicholas’ International College in Negambo and St. Thomas Catholic International College in Seeduwa were also established. School of Hope, Paiyagala and– Don Bosco Technical Institute – Nochchiyagama were also founded under his patronage.

Most Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis as a historian and author has also contributed to education. For example, he has disproved that, i.e. Catholicism was introduced for the first time in our country by the Portuguese, in his book, “Some Christian Contributions in Sri Lanka”

The Archbishop, has pointed out that one Jordanus Catalha de Severac, a Dominican Friar, was appointed to Colombo as a bishop by Pope John XX11 on 5th April 1330 according to a document in the Vatican Archives, and he (Jordanus) has written a book called “Mirabila Descripta”(also in Vatican Archives) giving vivid description about various countries including ancient Sri Lanka and about two kings during his stay here. He also forwarded evidence according to Vatican sources that another missionary, a Papal Legate by the name of Giovani de Marignolli who was sent to East by the same Pope stayed in Colombo for eighteen months around the years 1348/1349 and taught catechism in a church dedicated to St. George and also erected a huge stone Cross here, before his departure to Europe. The Archbishop also quotes that Prof. Paranavithana, in his book , “Story of Sigiriya” has proved that Christianity was in ancient Sri Lanka with irrefutable evidence based on details found in the rock inscriptions in various parts of our country. A stone Cross in Anuradhapura he claims bears testimony to this.

Bishop Oswald Gomis’s Contribution to the University of Colombo and to me personally is invaluable. In 1994 in response to an application I sent to the University of Colombo for a Post of Probationary lecturer in Humanities Education I was called for an interview. At the interview I was amazed to find his lordship most Rev. Oswald Gomis the Archbishop of Colombo on the interview panel. I thought that my nervousness was making me see a vision! However, later I learnt that he was indeed there as a member of the University Council as an educationist. Years later as the Dean of the Faculty of Education when I met him at a convocation, I mentioned this incident to him. With his usual endearing smile, he said “I am glad we made the correct decision at that time”. In 2019 at the Post Graduate Convocation when he as the Chancellor handed me the Vice Chancellor’s award for excellence in research in the Faculty of Education in the year 2018, beaming with pride he told the Vice Chancellor “I selected her to the University”. Such was his memory!

Bishop Gomis has been on the Council of the University of Colombo from 1977-2001. Later, he was appointed the Chancellor in 2001 and continued to serve the university in this capacity till 2021. Every year I hear the graduands after the convocation commenting on the “smiling Chancellor’ who wished each and every one of them. In spite of the arduous task of sitting through three days of four sessions , and handing over the scrolls , he made it a point to make their big day memorable by that personal touch. He continued to discharge his role as Chancellor to perfection by attending all the University functions he was invited irrespective of whether it was X’mas carols or Pirith. He took pride in the achievements of both the students and staff of the University of Colombo. I have heard him saying to the students, referring to raging such unfortunate incidents do not happen in our university. Bishop Gomis held his position with dignity and pride. In turn the students and staff respected and liked him.

When Bishop Gomis was appointed the Archbishop of Colombo the Bishop’s Conference in a statement said, he brings to Colombo valuable expertise as a scholar, educationist, historian, author and above all, a revered pastor”. He has indeed used his expertise to the maximum and in his retirement continued to impart this knowledge through his writings. People of Bishop Gomis’s calibre is very rare today.

We will miss you dear father, but you will live through your good deeds.

May host of angels lead you to your eternal rest!

Marie Perera
Professor Emeritus
University of Colombo

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Opinion

Senerath Rajakaruna

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Senerath or Sene, as he was affectionately called, passed away on January 7 plunging his near and dear and a host of his friends and associates into a pool of tears and agony. According to his wife in whose arms he breathed his last, death was instantaneous.

True, he had a few health issues which however did not warrant the kind of quick “exit” he encountered. Senerath, my son-in-law was a doughty fighter who braved his affiliations with great fortitude. The doctors who treated him were baffled by the composure he evinced when confronted with the complications he was doomed to go through. Admirable, isn’t it?

An alumnus of D.S. Senanayake College, he cultivated a strong link with the school and was an active member of the Old Boy’s Association of the school. After a brief career as a Demi Chef in a prestigious hotel in the Middle East, he showed his powers in Real Estate in later years. He was over the moon and basking in the success of his trade.

Sene was an entertainer par excellence. He ran an open house for his plethora of friends and associates. The gregarious animal he was, prompted him to hold musical evenings where singing and dancing went on till the wee hours of the morning. He sang with lilting and melodious resonance. “Baila’ was his forte good lord Bacchus was an indispensable invitee to his parties where he had free rein.

This popular personality was a compulsive humorist who left his audience roaring with uncontrollable laughter. His infectious smile is missed by many. His philanthropy extended far and wide especially to the poor and helpless people in and around where he lived. The received monetary assistance, dry rations and produce from his cultivations.

He had traveled widely and was planning to visit his son who is employed in New Zealand but it was not to be. His daughter had left to the United Kingdom just three days before her father’s passing. He was a loving husband to his wife Lalana and a fond father to Lakitha and Lasandhi. As his father-in-law I join them to invoke blessings of the Noble Triple Gem to help Sene to tread the path to Nibbana.

Bandula Abeyewardene

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Opinion

What has happened to the Sri Lanka Police?

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The sorry depths the Sri Lanka Police has plunged into today is a disgrace to our country. Gone are the halcyon days when every policeman on the road or in the police station was looked up to with respect. Until recent times we had fewer police stations in the country and they were manned by very capable officers, be they Inspectors or Sub Inspectors. They knew their job, any offenses committed were quickly detected and the culprits apprehended without delay.

Very rarely did we hear of police officers resorting to graft, maybe except in rare cases where some officer would send a police constable to get his beef, fish, or other requirement from the market free of charge. Another important factor in yesteryear was that no officer boot licked politicians to get their promotions. There was no Police Commission, but the promotions were given to the deserving at the correct time. No junior officer was promoted over his seniors.

At that time, there was only one SP for each Province and four police Ranges, each headed by a DIG (Deputy Inspector General). Now DIGs are a dime a dozen and yet the work done cannot be compared to what was done by a few earlier. OICs of police stations are appointed today according to the whims and fancies of politicians. Any officer who fails to carry out illegal orders of the politicians is sure to be transferred to a difficult station. This change in the system is all for the worse of both the police force as well as the people.

It results in the police turning a blind eye to the illegal activities going on in their areas. These include distilling kasippu, brothels operating without hindrance and drug trafficking as most of these illegal activities are carried out by supporters of the area politicians. The politicians and the police function hand in glove as both parties are duly rewarded for their support of each other.

In recent times we have heard of the worst type of illegal actions indulged in by some police officers. Many ganja plants were detected in an SSP’s residence at a time the police were examining the bags of schoolchildren to check for narcotics being smuggled into schools. The sleuths should have searched the residences of the senior police officers first! Earlier there were three police officers in the Narcotics Bureau caught stealing drugs kept as court productions and sending stocks back into the drug market! Then there was the case of the policeman in charge of court productions who had removed the batteries from two vehicles and sold them. There were other policemen involved in treasure hunting and giving protection to persons felling valuable trees, sand mining illegally and even sexual abuse of underage children.

Now there are squabbles between gazetted officers and subordinates over matters which could be settled amicably. An instance of this nature was reported in the media between the SSP and the OIC of the Kebitigollawa police station. Earlier an SSP had filed a fundamental rights against a Senior DIG alleging he had been threatened by the latter. Such happenings were unheard of, of all places in the Police Department, in the good old days.

The police could not prevent the Easter Sunday suicide bombing which took the lives of over 250 innocents. The police have not been able to apprehend the mastermind behind this heinous crime to date. This on top of the murders of Lasantha Wickramatunge and Wasim Thajudeen. Most recently, the police have not been able to trace those who have threatened the Elections Commissioners even over half a month of the incident.

It is very rarely that we find senior police officers defying illegal orders given either by senior officers or political leaders. It was heartening indeed to hear of an SSP defying orders given to do something against his conscience. He admitted this at a meeting with the minster in charge and left the meeting saying he would not obey illegal orders. This happened long after a DIG stood up and corrected the lady President when she had said something wrong about the police. At neither meeting was the defiant stand by their colleagues endorsed by seniors present. A sad commentary on the way senior police officers behave.

It is only in Sri Lanka that about half the police force is deployed to protect the political establishment: president, prime minister, cabinet and state ministers and MPs. Add former presidents, their spouses and former speakers to this number. Whenever these lawmakers travel by road, there is a police entourage that accompany them. How big this is depends on the standing of the lawmaker escorted. In addition to the waste of manpower there is a huge drain on fuel at a time when ordinary people must make do with a modest weekly ration. The repercussions of this is there are insufficient policemen to check on errant and reckless drivers and prevent avoidable accidents. So also crime prevention by night patrolling of roads as was done earlier. With no terrorist threats today, why can’t each minister be guarded by a single personal security officer as in the past?

Hopefully, the next IGP will be one who had not stooped low to get the position but won it on his own merits. He would then be able to act impartially without carrying out illegal orders of political leaders and also will not give illegal orders to his subordinates. This would help the Sri Lanka police to return to its earlier glory and command the deserved respect of the public.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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