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Need for moving from geo-politics to geo-economics



Speech made by Ajith Nivard Cabraal, State Minister of Money, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms at the Trade and Investment Forum organised by the Pakistan High Commission on 24th February 2021.

Honourable Prime Minister Imran Khan, Honourable Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Honourable Ministers, My dear friends.

First of all, I want to thank the organizers of this Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference for inviting the Sri Lankans to commit their cooperation to you. As your Foreign Minister just mentioned, I believe this Forum would offer great opportunities for our two countries to co-operate effectively, and I am eagerly looking forward to that. At the same time, I think it’s a privilege to be able to speak at a Forum where two Prime Ministers represent their country’s economic spheres, which is also a very rare occasion.

Honourable Prime Ministers, our two countries have come a long way since we gained independence: you, in 1947, and we, in 1948. Over the last 73 odd years, we have broken free from many shackles of Colonialism. We are finally beginning to “think big” of our respective economies and focus on the next era of our respective countries. I have listened to speeches of the Pakistan Prime Minister as well as that of our own Prime Minister, and have seen a common trait. That is, they both talk about bringing the poverty levels down and making sure that the fruits of development reach every section of the country’s people. Those are very important outcomes that we all need to be focusing on.

Honourable Prime Ministers, by 1992, within 45 years of being independent, Pakistan was able to win the Cricket World Cup under your current Prime Minister, by beating England. We in Sri Lanka were very happy to watch him play Cricket, but when he played against us, we were not so happy! Nevertheless, we have been regularly delighted with the exploits of the Cricket team of Pakistan. Perhaps as a result of their successes, we also took a cue, and by 1997, 49 years since our own independence, we beat Australia to become the World Cricket champions. Since you had already beaten England to become champions by then, the two countries which started Cricket (England and Australia) were both beaten by two countries of the subcontinent, which then showed the world that we can do it!

Unfortunately, however, we have not done so well in other areas, such as cooperation in trade and investment. As your Foreign Minister just mentioned, the targets that we have set for ourselves in this sphere seem to be quite low. We should not be looking at 300 or 400 million dollars of trade and investment. We should really be looking at a lot more, given the relationships that we have, the friendships that we enjoy, and the way in which we have cooperated with each other. We should be talking about trade and investment between ourselves in the billions of dollars. Let’s therefore see whether today could be the day where we start on that target. Hopefully, today we will find ways and means by which we can co-operate to achieve those goals.

Honourable Prime Ministers, we all know that there is a resource gap in our countries, and that such resource gap has to be filled with investment. In the Colonial times, many of those countries that reached high per capita incomes, didn’t fill the resource gap with investment. They took the dubious step to conquer other countries and forcibly grab resources. By doing so, they were able to reach the prosperity levels that they are at today. But our two countries have not done it that way. We have accessed resources and investment legally and honourably. We invited and received investments. We took loans. We traded in a fair manner. We played by the rules. That is how our countries have progressed and developed.

So, let’s see how we can do even better. In my view, to do that successfully, we have to make sure that we invest in each other’s countries. I was a former Governor of the Central Bank, and my experience tells me that we have been mainly investing in the West for too long. We have invested in those countries based on the “credit ratings” given by various Western credit rating agencies. Then, we get about a 1 per cent return. But, when those countries’ investors invest in our economies, we pay about 7 per cent as interest, due to our supposedly “poor credit rating”. Have you also ever wondered as to why when we lend money to the West, it is called an “investment”, but, when they lend money to us it is a called a “loan”? Not only that. In accordance with that strange arrangement, we suffer from an interest differential of around 6 per cent on our reciprocal investments. On that basis, if we have forex reserves of 10 billion dollars and our market borrowings are higher than that, we will have a 6 per cent up-front negative carry on our total reserves. That works out to about six hundred million dollars, which is a lot of money!

Against this background, I think we need to think as to how we can co-operate with each other and in particular, as to where we can invest in each other’s economies and countries. Your State Bank of Pakistan and our Central Bank of Sri Lanka should now be looking at ways and means by which we can co-operate in our respective forex investments. These are the big tickets that can make an impact in our cooperation. That’s a very important part where we can make a significant difference in the way we do business and investment between our two countries in the future. In addition, we must also promote trade within our private sectors.

My dear friends, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a fervent plea recently for a Post-Covid moratorium to provide some real financial support to the countries that need to deal with the fall-out of the pandemic. Sadly, it has not yet been favourably responded to, by the global financial community. Our President also made a similar plea a few months ago. But unlike what happened immediately after the tsunami, the world monetary authorities have been very slow in responding to these calls. If an year’s grace was given to the emerging nations for the forex payments that had to be made in that year to the multilateral institutions, it would have made a huge difference to those nations which have had to grapple with the sudden drop in their foreign receipts as a result of the pandemic. Let’s therefore agree to work together to achieve that kind of a global outcome, which is essential for the continued growth of our countries.

Honourable Prime Ministers, Pakistan is a 300-billion-dollar economy. We are an 80-billion dollar economy. In that context, I think if we can work out a scheme where our two countries have trade relationship of at least a billion dollars very soon. That would be a great outcome for both our countries.

Let’s also make our respective countries preferred destinations. Let’s make Pakistan a preferred destination from Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka a preferred destination from Pakistan. Let’s visit each other’s countries frequently. Let’s play a little more cricket as well. Maybe some club teams, school teams, or over-50 cricket teams (I can also participate then!), women’s teams, can play each other. We can also have exchanges of students. We already have that happening. In fact, we have to be grateful to Pakistan for providing 1000 scholarships to our kids to study in their universities. Let’s make films together. Let’s organize exhibitions. Deepening our co-operation in various ways is essential if we are to make our relationship meaningful and profitable.

Honourable Prime Ministers, I welcome the Pakistan Foreign Minister’s suggestion that we should now move from geo-politics to geo-economics, and why not? I think that’s an excellent basis for future co-operation, when we are reshaping our respective economies. We must keep that in mind, because I think it would be an important factor when we push forward our own economies. In that regard, I must also proudly mention that Sri Lanka is today emerging from economic stagnation which dragged us down over the last five years. In fact, Sri Lanka has been able to go through the recent difficult period with the Covid pandemic, even while maintaining low interest rates and protecting the value of our Rupee.

Honourable Prime Ministers, going forward, a continuous pipeline of investments would be a priority for us in much the same way that it will be for you. So, come invest with us. In the same way, Sri Lankans could invest with you. We have the Port City which is an exciting value proposition. We have the Hambantota Industrial Zone. We would like you to consider making investments there too. I also know you have some great industries in Pakistan. You have the Pharma industry. In fact, I met some of them last night and had wonderful conversations. Let’s see whether we can develop some partnerships in that field, as well.

Let’s now promote a sustainable South-South dialogue and partnership. One of the best economists of our country in the 1980s, Dr. Gamani Corea who was the Secretary General of UNCTAD, was the man who first proposed the “South-South” cooperation. Unfortunately, that laudable concept didn’t get enough traction at that time, but today would be a good day for us to take that initiative forward. That would be a tribute to that great man as well.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, we deeply appreciate the time you have spent here in Sri Lanka and the fact that you have been the first visitor to Sri Lanka after the pandemic. We greatly value your visit and we hope that today’s event would be the fore-runner for a great partnership. You have been involved in great partnerships in the field of Cricket and I think you know very well about the value of good partnerships. Let’s hope that the great partnership we are starting today would be a truly winning partnership for both Sri Lanka and Pakistan.


What JVP-NPP needs to do to win



A JVP protest


A young academic at the Open University writing on a popular website has recently defined the NPP project as ‘Left populist’, a term which is very familiar to us at least from the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. He also mentions several parallels and precursors internationally.

As one who has been advocating a ‘left populist’ project for years, I am disinclined to nit-pick about whether or not the JVP-NPP fits the bill. At the moment and in its current incarnation, it is indeed the closest we have to a ‘left populist’ project. Its competitor the SJB, which its founder-leader identifies as social democratic, would be as approximate –and as loose– a fit for the labels ‘progressive populist’, ‘moderate populist’ or ‘populist centrist’, as the JVP-NPP is for ‘left populist’. But that’s the deck of cards we have.

The points I seek to make are different, and may be said to boil down to a single theme or problematique.

Distorted Left Populism

My argument is that the JVP-NPP is as distant from ‘left populism’ globally as it was from ‘left revolutionism’ globally in an earlier incarnation. In both avatars, it is unique in its leftism but not in a positive or helpful way for its cause at any given time.

Mine is not intended as a damning indictment of the JVP-NPP. It is intended as a constructive criticism of a rectifiable error, the rectification of which is utterly urgent given the deadly threat posed by the Wickremesinghe administration and its project of dependent dictatorship.

The JVP-NPP has a structural absence that no ‘left populist’ enterprise, especially in Latin America, has ever had. It is an absence that has marked the JVP from its inception and has been carried over into the present NPP project.

It is not an absence unique to the JVP but figures more in Sri Lanka than it has almost anywhere else. I say this because the same ‘absence’ characterised the LTTE as well. In short, that factor or its radical absence has marred the anti-systemic forces of South and North on the island.

The homeland of left populism has been Latin America while its second home has been Southern Europe. With the exception of Greece, it may be said that ‘left populism’ has an Ibero-American or culturally Hispanic character, which some might trace to the ‘romanticism’ of that culture. But such considerations need not detain us here.

‘Left populism’ has had several identifiable sources and points of departure: the former guerrilla movements of the 1960s and 1970s; the non-guerrilla movements of resistance to dictatorships; parties and split-offs from parties of the Marxist left; left-oriented split-offs or the leftwing of broad flexible even centrist populist formations; leftwing experiments from within the militaries etc.

Populism, Pluralism & Unity

Despite this diversity, all experiments of a Left populist character in Latin America and Europe, have had one thing in common: various forms of unity – e.g., united fronts, blocs etc.—of political parties. I would take up far too much space if I were to list them, starting with the Frente Amplio (which means precisely ‘Broad Front’) initiated by the Tupamaros-MLN of Uruguay and containing the Uruguayan Communist party and headed by a military man, General Liber Seregni, in 1970. The Frente Amplio lasted through the decades of the darkest civil-military dictatorship up to the presidential electoral victories of Tabaré Vasquez and Mujica respectively. Another example would be El Salvador’s FMLN, which brought together several Marxist guerrilla movements into a single front under the stern insistence of Fidel Castro.

Though the roots of unity were back in the 1970s, the formula has only been strengthened in the 1990s and 21st century projects of Left populism. There is a theoretical-strategic logic for this. The polarisation of ‘us vs them’, the 99% vs. the 1%, the many not the few—in socioeconomic terms—is of course a hallmark of populism. But pro-NPP academics and ideologues are unaware of or omit its corollary everywhere from Uruguay to Greece and Spain. Namely, that socioeconomic ‘majoritarianism’ is not possible with a single party as agency.

When the JVP and the NPP have the same leader, and the JVP leader was the founder of the NPP, I cannot regard it as a truly autonomous project, but a party project. Left populism globally, from its inception right up to Lula last year, is predicated on the admission of political, not just social plurality, and the fact that socioeconomic, i.e., popular majoritarianism is possible only as a pluri-party united front, platform or bloc.

This recognition of the imperative of unity as necessitating a convergence of political fractions and currents; that unity is impossible as a function of a single political party; that authentic majoritarianism i.e., “us” is possible only if “we” converge and combine as an ensemble of our organic political agencies, is a structural feature of Left Populism.

It is radically absent in the JVP-NPP and has been so from the JVP’s founding in 1965. It was also true of the LTTE.

It is this insistence on political unipolarity (to put it diplomatically) or political monopoly (to put it bluntly) is a genetic defect of the JVP which has been carried over into the NPP project.

I do not say this to contest the leading role and the main role that the JVP has earned in any left populist project. I say it to draw the Gramscian distinction between ‘leadership’ and ‘domination’. Only ‘leadership’ can create consensus and popular consent; domination through monopoly cannot.

The simple truth is that however ‘left populist’ you think you are; no single party can be said to represent the people or even a majority – as distinct from a mere plurality– of the people. Furthermore, the people are not a unitary subject, and therefore cannot have a unitary leadership. This is the importance of Fidel Castro’s insistence to the Latin American Left of a ‘united command’ which brings together the diverse segments of the left by reflecting plurality.

Anyone who knows the history of Syriza and Podemos knows that they are not outcrops of some single party of long-standing but the result of an organic process of convergences of factions.

Had the JVP had a policy of united fronts – within the Southern left and with the Northern left– it would not have been as decisively defeated as it was in its two insurrections, and might have even succeeded in its second attempt. Though it has formed the NPP which has brought some significant success, it is still POLITICALLY sectarian in that it has no political alliances, partnerships, i.e., NO POLITICAL RELATIONSHIPS outside of itself.

I must emphasize that here I am not speaking of a bloc with the SJB, though it is most desirable, to be recommended, and if this were Latin America would definitely be on the agenda of discussion.

Post-Aragalaya Left

Let us speak frankly. The most important phenomenon of recent times (since the victorious end of the war) was the Aragalaya of last year. The JVP, especially its student front the SYU, participated in that massive uprising which dislodged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but it played a less decisive role in the Aragalaya than did the FSP and the IUSF which is close to it. This is by no means to say that the FSP led the Aragalaya, but to point out that it played a more decisive role – which included some mistakes– than did the JVP.

How then does one remain blind to the fact that the JVP-NPP’s ‘left populism’ does not include the FSP and by extension the IUSF? How can there be a ‘popular bloc’ – a key element of left populism—without the IUSF?

Given that Pubudu Jayagoda, Duminda Nagamuwa, Lahiru Weerasekara and Wasantha Mudalige are among the most successful public communicators today (especially on the left), what kind of ‘left’ is a ‘left populism’ devoid of their presence, participation and contribution?

What does it take to recognise that unity of some sort of these two streams of the Left could result in a most useful division of labour and a quantum leap in the hopes and morale of the increasingly left-oriented post-Aragalaya populace, especially the youth?

Surely the very sight of a platform with the leaders of the JVP-NPP and the FSP-IUSF (AKD and Kumar Gunaratnam, Eranga Gunasekara and Wasantha Mudalige, Wasantha Samarasinghe and Duminda Nagamuwa, Bimal Ratnayake and Pubudu Jayagoda) will take the Left populist project to the next level?

As a party the JVP from its birth, and by extension, the NPP today, have set aside one of the main weapons of leftist theory, strategy and political practice: the United Front. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Dimitrov, Gramsci, Togliatti, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro have founded and enriched this strategic concept.

It is difficult to accept that Rohana Wijeweera and Anura Kumara Dissanayake knew/know better than these giants, and that the JVP-NPP can dispense with this political sword and shield and yet prevail–or even survive the coming storm.

The JVP must present a LEFT option in the leadership of which is the major shareholder; not merely a JVP option or para-JVP option, which is what the NPP is. A credible, viable Left alternative cannot be reduced to a single party and its front/auxiliary; it cannot but be a United Left – a Left Front– alternative.


[Dr Dayan Jayatilleka is author of The Great Gramsci: Imagining an Alt-Left Project, in ‘On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative’ eds Richard Falk et al, Routledge, New York, 2019.]

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Obtaining fresh mandate unavoidable requirement



Protesters demanding local goverment elections

by Jehan Perera

The government’s plans for reviving the economy show signs of working out for the time being. The long-awaited IMF loan is about to be granted. This would enable the government to access other loans to tide over the current economic difficulties. The challenge will be to ensure that both the old loans and new ones will be repayable. To this end the government has begun to implement its new tax policy which increases the tax burden significantly on income earners who can barely make ends meet, even without the taxes, in the aftermath of the rise in price levels. The government is also giving signals that it plans to downsize the government bureaucracy and loss-making state enterprises. These are reforms that may be necessary to balance the budget, but they are not likely to gain the government the favour of the affected people. The World Bank has warned that many are at risk of falling back into poverty, with 40 percent of the population living on less than 225 rupees per person per day.

The problem for the government is that the economic policies, required to stabilize the economy, are not popular ones. They are also politically difficult ones. The failure to analyse the past does not help us to ascertain reasons for our failures and also avoids taking action against those who had misused, or damaged, the system unfairly. The costs of this economic restructuring, to make the country financially viable, is falling heavily, if not disproportionately, on those who are middle class and below. Fixed income earners are particularly affected as they bear a double burden in being taxed at higher levels, at a time when the cost of living has soared. Unlike those in the business sector, and independent professionals, who can pass on cost increases to their clients, those in fixed incomes find it impossible to make ends meet. Emigration statistics show that over 1.2 million people, or five percent of the population, left the country, for foreign employment, last year.

The economic hardships, experienced by the people, has led to the mobilization of traditional trade unions and professionals’ organisations. They are all up in arms against the government’s income generation, at their expense. Last week’s strike, described as a token strike, was successful in that it evoked a conciliatory response from the government. Many workers did not keep away from work, perhaps due to the apprehension that they might not only lose their jobs, but also their properties, as threatened by one government member, who is close to the President. There was a precedent for this in 1981 when the government warned striking workers that they would be sacked. The government carried out its threat and over 40,000 government officials lost their jobs. They and their families were condemned to a long time in penury. The rest of society went along with the repression as the government was one with an overwhelming mandate from the people.


The striking unions have explained their decision to temporarily discontinue their strike action due to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s willingness to reconsider their economic grievances. More than 40 trade unions, in several sectors, joined the strike. They explained they had been compelled to resort to strike action as there was no positive response from the government to their demands. Due to the strike, services such as health, posts, and railways were affected. Workers in other sectors, including education, port, power, water supply, petroleum, road development, and banking services, also joined the strike. The striking unions have said they would take up the President’s offer to discuss their concerns with the government and temporarily called a halt to their strike action. This would give the government an opportunity to rethink its strategy. Unlike the government in 1981 this one has no popular mandate. In the aftermath of the protest movement, it has only a legal mandate.

So far, the government has been unyielding in the face of public discontent. Public protests have been suppressed. Protest leaders have been arrested and price and tax hikes have gone ahead as planned. The government has been justifying the rigid positions it has been taking on the basis of its prioritization of economic recovery for which both political stability and financial resources are necessary. However, by refusing to heed public opinion the government has been putting itself on a course of confrontation with organized forces, be they trade unions or political parties. The severity of the economic burden, placed on the larger section of society, even as other sectors of society appear to be relatively unaffected, creates a perception of injustice that needs to be mitigated. Engaging in discussion with the trade unions and reconsidering its approach to those who have been involved in public protests could be peace making gestures in the current situation.

On the other hand, exacerbating the political crisis is the government’s continuing refusal to hold the local government elections, as scheduled, on two occasions now by the Elections Commission and demanded by law. The government’s stance is even in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s directives that the government should release the financial resources necessary for the purpose leading to an ever-widening opposition to it. The government’s determination to thwart the local government elections stems from its pragmatic concerns regarding its ability to fare well at them. Public opinion polls show the government parties obtaining much lower support than the opposition parties. Except for the President, the rest of the government consists of the same political parties and government members that faced the wrath of the people’s movement a year ago and had to resign in ignominy.


The government’s response to the pressures it is under has been to repress the protest movement through police action that is especially intolerant of street protests. It has also put pressure on state institutions to conform to its will, regardless of the law. The decisions of the Election Commission to set dates for the local government elections have been disregarded once, and the elections now appear to have to be postponed yet again. The government is also defying summons upon its ministers by the Human Rights Commission which has been acting independently to hold the government to account to the best extent it can. The government’s refusal to abide by the judicial decision not to block financial resources for election purposes is a blow to the rule of law that will be to the longer-term detriment of the country. These are all negative trends that are recipes for future strife and lawlessness. These would have long term and unexpected implications not to the best for the development of the country or its values.

There are indications that President Wickremesinghe is cognizant of the precariousness of the situation. The accumulation of pressures needs to be avoided, be it for gas at homes or issues in the country. As an experienced political leader, student of international politics, he would be aware of the dangers posed by precipitating a clash involving the three branches of government. A confrontation with the judiciary, or a negation of its decisions, would erode the confidence in the entire legal system. It would damage the confidence of investors and the international community alike in the stability of the polity and its commitment to the rule of law. The public exhortations of the US ambassador with regard to the need to conduct the local government elections would have driven this point home.

It is also likely that the US position on the importance of holding elections on time is also held by the other Western countries and Japan. Sri Lanka is dependent on these countries, still the wealthiest in the world, for its economic sustenance, trade and aid, in the form of concessional financing and benefits, such as the GSP Plus tariff concession. Therefore, the pressures coming from both the ground level in the country and the international community, may push the government in the direction of elections and seeking a mandate from the people. Strengthening the legitimacy of the government to govern effectively and engage in problem solving in the national interest requires an electoral mandate. The mandate sought may not be at the local government level, where public opinion polls show the government at its weakest, but at the national level which the President can exercise at his discretion.

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Sing-along… Down Memory Lane



Sing-alongs have turned out to be hugely popular, in the local showbiz scene, and, I would say, it’s mainly because they are family events, and also the opportunity given to guests to shine, in the vocal spotlight, for a minute, or two!

I first experienced a sing-along when I was invited to check out the famous Rhythm World Dance School sing-along evening.

It was, indeed, something different, with Sohan & The X-Periments doing the needful, and, today, Sohan and his outfit are considered the No.1 band for sing-along events.

Melantha Perera: President of Moratuwa Arts Forum

I’m told that the first ever sing-along concert, in Sri Lanka, was held on 27th April, 1997, and it was called Down Memory Lane (DML), presented by the Moratuwa Arts Forum (MAF),

The year 2023 is a landmark year for the MAF and, I’m informed, they will be celebrating their Silver Jubilee with a memorable concert, on 29th April, 2023, at the Grand Bolgoda Resort, Moratuwa.

Due to the Covid pandemic, their sing-along series had to be cancelled, as well as their planned concert for 2019. However, the organisers say the delayed 25th Jubilee Celebration concert is poised to be a thriller, scheduled to be held on 29th April, 2023.

During the past 25 years, 18 DML concerts had been held, and the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will be the 19th in the series.

Famous, and much-loved, ‘golden oldies’, will be sung by the audience of music lovers, at this two and a half hours programme.

Down Memory Lane was the brainchild of musician Priya Peiris, (of ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Do’ fame) and the MAF became the pioneers of sing-along concerts in Sri Lanka.

The repertoire of songs for the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will include a vast selection of international favourites, Cowboy and old American Plantation hits, Calypsos, Negro Spirituals, everybody’s favourites, from the ’60s and ’70s era, Sinhala evergreens, etc.

Down Memory Lane


Fun time for the audience Down Memory Lane

Singers from the Moratuwa Arts Forum will be on stage to urge the audience to sing. The band Echo Steel will provide the musical accompaniment for the audience to join in the singing, supported by Brian Coorey, the left handed electric bass guitarist, and Ramany Soysa on grand piano.

The organisers say that every participant will get a free songbook. There would also be a raffle draw, with several prizes to be won,

Arun Dias Bandaranaike will be the master of ceremonies.

President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha Perera, back from Australia, after a successful tour, says: “All music lovers, especially Golden Oldies enthusiasts, are cordially invited to come with their families, and friends, to have an enjoyable evening, and to experience heartwarming fellowship and bonhomie.”

Further details could be obtained from MAF Treasurer, Laksiri Fernando (077 376 22 75).

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