Return of ex-Prez, and third woman PM in UK
The buzz during the week was the return of ex-Prez Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Cass missed seeing news clips that showed his arrival at the Katunayaka airport and the many eager Pohottuwa politicians who were gathered to welcome him back. She wonders how many of these with garlands and bulath ath and a showing of
teeth/dentures were genuinely welcoming a disgraced President who unnecessarily ran away from the country and was not welcome in the three countries he took refuge in. Imagine being told to confine yourself to your hotel room! Of course, in Gotabaya R’s case it would have been a most expensive suite of rooms and he could translate the request as solely for his safety. We think otherwise. A runaway leader of a country is suspect, justifiably or otherwise.
Cass asked the question whether the Katunayaka reception committee was sincere in their welcome of the ex-Prez. Difficult to believe in these corrupt times of self-seeking and self-protection being of the highest priority. Were they merely saving their skins by exhibiting false allegiance? Cass hopes not. The ex-Prez deserves better. He destroyed the agriculture of the country; reduced taxes from the rich who were cronies and allowed scams, to mention but two – making huge money on the import of sugar, etc., and let down a nation that was promised spendour and prosperity. But though stubborn, part of the blame must lie with his ill advisors and also sycophantic yes men. Further, Cass believes he caught the infection from two brethren and a nephew of thinking he was almighty and could pass any rule, brooking no dissent.
We welcome you back, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This is your second home: the US was your first and your wife and family are US citizens. You have every right to return to Sri Lanka. We are sure you will be safe; Ranil W R will ensure that. Our people, in the vast majority, are not so cruel or insensitive they hound an injured animal, least of all a human. But DO NOT consider returning to politics of this land. This we ask, nay demand, not through spite, revenge et al. But with sensibility and wisdom. Cass heard a crazy supposition of you returning to power, climbing to highest so a nephew can be PM. Your family of brothers and nephews was rejected by the people so will they tolerate a return of these to power? Cass well knows it is the pipe dream of some young of the family. But the majority Sri Lankans do not want it, just as they voted in the vast majority for you to be President of this country which was doing fairly OK then. So refuse to be tempted by ever loyal, most generous Dr Seetha Arambepola and such like.
New PM of Britain
So, Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister of Britain and remain thus for two years plus. You know all about the election and how this British woman won over Rishi Sunak, who by every measure is more suited to the highest post than Truss. Cassandra is admittedly biased to women and swears they serve better in positions of authority which call for commitment, integrity and non-swerving from the straight and narrow. But in the case of the British election for the Head of the Tories, and PM to replace Boris Johnson, Cass placed all her bets on Sunak, known as Dishy Rishi expressive his alluring personality, yes, charm and absolute ability. Tax evasion by his multimillionaire wife was perhaps the major negative he carried to the campaign for top job, but of course not admitted, but definitely present, is British underlying racism and them not still ready for a coloured Head of Government. More’s the pity! Here was a fine candidate who would surely have pulled Britain, struggling as it is with inflation and an energy crisis, out of the woods, most likely better and faster than Liz Truss with her thrice promised, “We will deliver.”
Watching the BBC telecast of the meeting when the announcement of winner was made, Cass was thoroughly shocked that as Truss was named winner, she grabbed the text of her speech from the person beside her, did not even glance at Sunak seated one seat away, and rushed to the podium. Cass expected her to at least speak a word or two with him, leave aside shake hands or commiserate. Cass also noted that there were hardly any brown faces among the Conservative gathering and not one black. So, how not expect racism at crucial points.
Cass is however admiring of the positives exhibited. The meeting of the Conservatives had much clapping but not a trace of excessive jubilation. The entire process of transfer of power worked smoothly. Johnson made his final speech standing on the road in front of 10 Downing Street and then a plane took off for Norfolk where the Queen is at Sandringham, with him and Truss on board. Johnson presented his resignation to Her Majesty and a few minutes later, Ms Truss was ushered into the state room and invited by the Queen to be Prime Minister and form a government. The commentator over BBC said the meeting will last about 20 to 30 minutes. Later BBC news broadcasts showed the Queen receiving Liz and her husband, High O’Leary. The new PM will then move to 10 Downing Street, address the public from outside her future home and by Tuesday night the Cabinet will be known.
Such smoothness with dignity; age old traditions followed; the Queen given her due place as Head of State. She continues meeting her PM weekly though one knows not whether it continued that way with Johnson. The BBC political correspondent commented that Johnson’s last speech was typical of the man – cheerful with not one regret or even a glance back to the immediate past expressed.
And so to the contrast with how things happen in this land of ours. Time was when decency, tradition and lack of contention were present in Parliament and outside. Cass need not mention how it is now, with the MPs that garner votes and get in, in many cases, being unsuitable to the core.
She adds an aside. As she was writing this a friend from London rang her. Her comment: “Things are corrupt over here too; money making on the sidelines is rife. England is a third world democracy now.” Sri Lanka is not there – not even a third world democracy – but a failed state, made bankrupt by selfish horrors in politics and administration, and thus not even a derided banana republic, but worse. A further dismal prognosis: Ranil W R is concentrating on his given second name. However, he has the ability to pull us out of the morass we have been thrust into.
Mere baseless rhetoric
Such is what the Secretary of the SLPP Party – Sagara Kariyawasam – announced at a recent press gathering he held. He said the country wants the Rajapaksas reinstated in positions of power. We know full well how they turn these powers to absolute power to do as they like. He further stated that the 6.9 million who voted for Gota and the party at the last elections are still with them, still supportive. Perhaps he did not hear any of the shouting at the Aragalaya and so many former supporters saying they are utterly sick of those they voted in. Is he deaf? He certainly is not dumb, judging by his recent statements.
Heard Ex-Agriculture Minister whose effigy was burnt on so many tracts of paddy fields destroyed by the veto of chemical fertilizers: Aluthgamage, exonerated himself completely from guilt for the massive damage done to Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector. This was when he spoke in Parliament on Tuesday September 6. This denial of culpability like corruption is a fostered and nurtured inbuilt character trait in most MPs, especially of the Pohottuwa types, though there are others in opposition ranks too. It is the devious dishonesty of passing the blame buck. Never are mea culpas forthcoming, every crime committed by them is by others, they remain lily white. This to Cass is even more heinous than being dishonest about money; both of which show lack of integrity, taking responsibility, and utter shame.
And, now there is denial by bods of the Health Dept who deny malnutrition is rife among children in SL as pointed out by UNICEF. Such organisations cannot be accused of lying.
That’s what Cass got when she peered into her strip of a CEB bill for September. She is charged more than treble what she paid previously. Her last bill was 700 odd, new bill is very near Rs. 3,000. So a trebling and more. Pop goes the money! At least she has meager earnings. What about more than 60% of our population struggling below the poverty line?
Latest on IMF and debt restructuring- II
by Jayampathy Molligoda
Further to my article published in ‘The Island’ recently, IMF Executive board has just approved the EFF arrangement for Sri Lanka at its meeting held on 20th March ‘23. In the meantime, our Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in consultation with the financial advisory group hired for negotiations have finalised the latest position of Sri Lanka’s Public Debt as at end 2022 just prior to commencement of debt restructuring negotiations with creditors. The financial advisory group, Lazard was hired by former President, Sri Lanka in May 2022, along with international lawyers Clifford Chance, to guide the government through the process of restructuring its debt, for which estimates range from $70- 90 billion. According to Reuter reports published last September ’22, Sri Lanka was expected to formally reach out to private creditors who hold about $15 billion in bonds. My understanding is ‘Lazards’ is now working on different permutations and combinations.
The purpose of this paper is to critically review the latest position on the debt restructuring negotiations, because various conditional requests and diverse views are being made by ISB bond holders, Bi -lateral creditors and other stakeholders. I hope our high powered ‘negotiators’ have the competence and commitment to seek ways of avoiding the adverse results stemming from the concerns expressed here that are likely to crop up in the debt restructuring process.
Latest conditional request from the group of bond shareholders:
Having perused the document uploaded to the Ministry of Finance (MOF website) recently, the total public debt stock has skyrocketed to US $ 83.6 Billion, which includes total foreign debt of US$ 45.6 billion and the local debt of 38 billion in US $ equivalent. The total debt as a % of GDP as stated in the above MOF doc is 128%.
Latest conditional request from the group of bond shareholders places a cap on domestic borrowing component in the overall gross financing need of the government budget @8.5%. And if the total deficit financing need is @ 13%, means a MINIMUM of 4.5% of foreign debt financing component. This places serious restriction to our earlier thinking of reducing the foreign borrowing component as well as indirectly places restrictions on earlier thinking of asking higher ‘haircut’ for foreign debt holders. Previously, there was no such requirement came from India and bilateral debt holders.
Resist touching banks’ domestic debt:
In the circumstances, my own view is we are reluctantly compelled to restructure local debt i.e.; TBs and, it’s inevitable that the local debt of US $ equivalent of 38 billion would also need to be taken into consideration for debt restructuring – otherwise there is no way of reducing the total public debt stock to the level that is required as per IMF conditions. This would create a serious issue for our ‘financial system stability’ and the deposit holders including pension funds are badly affected.
This cannot be allowed and therefore the government/MOF/CBSL/Lizards need to negotiate hard on this aspect. We need to convince through hard negotiations to try and get away without ‘haircuts for Treasury bills/bonds.
As far as Sri Lanka’s domestic debt is concerned, CBSL top officials view at that time was that they should be able to get away without ‘hair-cuts’. It could come in the form of re profiling debt, i.e., bundle up short term debt instruments to long term T Bonds and ask people to hold to Maturity-may be with a coupon payment; at least to be confined to CBSL debt, EPF plus ETF and Insurance holdings. They have to know fully resist touching banks’ domestic debt. Whether they can sell this to ISB and other debt holders is another matter.
‘Alternative economic approaches’ offered by eminent economists:
Having said all these negative narratives, my concern is whether we have any other viable and practical option as a solution except IMF supported programme? As stated in my article, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, has slammed the IMF for unleashing riots on nations the IMF is dealing with He has been a critique of IMF causing great damage to countries through the economic policies it has prescribed countries to follow, in order to qualify for IMF loans.
However, in my view, neither Stiglitz nor any other eminent economist has come out with a practical and alternative policy framework to overcome the most serious economic and financial crisis faced in the 75 years of Sri Lanka’s independence. Nevertheless, some contradictory views shared through ‘alternative economic approaches’ are that the only sustainable solution could have been based on domestic self- reliant effort supported by proper planning for accumulation, productivity growth and international competitiveness, supported where necessary by friendly nations. An eminent economist, having extensive knowledge on Federal Reserve banking/CB operations world over and development economics/finance has promptly responded to the writer that this question (alternative solution) should have been seriously considered before the decision to go for IMF assistance was taken and the pre-emptive declaration of the country’s debt default, but it is too late now. Social unrest is reaching the boiling point.
Conflict resolution might be way out!
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
Sri Lankan crisis cannot be separated from the international crisis both in economic and political terms. This is a warning for the political leaders to resolve their differences and conflicts in an amicable manner. Holding (or not holding) of Local Government elections and the newly-introduced Advance Personal Income Tax (APIT) regime are the main contentious issues between the main political parties and their trade unions at present.
While there are only nine recognised parliamentary political parties in the Australian federal system, sixty-two political parties are recognised in the Sri Lankan parliamentary system giving rise to both superficial and unwarranted conflicts and competitions between them. As a result, there is no stability in the political party system. Where are the UNP, the SLFP, the Federal Party or the Ceylon Workers Congress today? All these main parties from the early years of independence have suffered crippling splits.
Conflicts and Conflicts
Intense political rivalries at the political party level are undoubtedly a reflection of the psychological mood and orientation of the public and the people. These rivalries are not uncommon to many other political systems including the developed democratic countries. France at present is one example while many parts of America have been inundated in this situation for a long time.
However, to my experience and observation, extreme politicisation and rivalries are much higher in the case of Sri Lanka. There has been a tendency among the people (both young and old) to look almost everything from a prism of politics. Even at social events or even family parties, mainly men, get involved in political debates. The drinking of liquor (excessively) at these occasions might be a contributing factor.
The world undoubtedly is going through a civilisational crisis. The war in Ukraine has become a mess and human disaster. The invasion by Russia was unwarranted even in terms security or prestige of its country. However, instead of resolving the conflict through peace and negotiations, the NATO countries and America have intensified the war through supplying arms and ammunition to Ukraine to continue a fight. The major failure has been on the part of the UN which has become hopeless in terms of conflict resolution and peace. There is a possibility of the war becoming a nuclear disaster.
This is not an isolated case. Humanity, civilisation, the so-called developed nations, and the UN have continuously failed to prevent war between Israel and Palestinians and many other wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. These conflicts have given bad examples to many other developing countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, etc. Similar conflicts have continued in the Latin American nations. This is the civilisational crisis today. Although humans have developed in terms of science and technology, they have terribly failed in terms of human relations, justice, peace, and conflict resolution. This is also one reason for the natural disasters and environmental problems.
Facets of Economic Crisis
Sri Lanka should not be callous in addressing the present economic problems. The IMF does not have a magic wand while those who oppose the IMF are misled by old leftist arguments. Sri Lanka has been a member of the IMF since 1950. If there are disagreeable conditions from the IMF, those should be discussed and negotiated. I was surprised to observe that many international media reported that the last general strike in Sri Lanka was held in opposition to the IMF! While the trade unions undoubtedly have many grievances, they should sober their positions and slogans to suit an amicable resolution to the present crisis.
The emerging international signals are continuously worrisome. Two major banks in America, Silicon Valley Bank, and the Signature Bank, have completely melted down. The signal clearly is for a world recession sooner than later. The repercussions are now shaking the Credit Suisse bank (the second largest) in Switzerland. If the government leaders in the country are trying to give a rosy picture after obtaining a small amount of IMF loan, and restructuring the debt repayments, it is a complete distortion of the situation.
The loan taking during the last ten fifteen years have been completely irresponsible. There was no transparency. There were no discussions to reveal the plans and objectives and to take inputs from independent specialists and/or the people. The political leaders and the top bureaucrats were not even keeping the accounts or information properly. When it became revealed that Sri Lanka is not able to fulfill the debt obligations, it was a shock to everyone. That was the result of the irresponsibility of the political leaders.
Still they move in the same direction of duplicity. The so-called debt restructuring is often pictured as debt cancellation. These restructured debts must be paid later while the government is still taking loans from countries and multilateral institutions. Apart from debt restructuring, the country needs to restructure the economy. Although some measures have been taken, no clear plan or programme is put forward before the people. The people’s support is imperative for any economic recovery. This is where the conflict resolution is necessary.
Relevance of Conflict Resolution
The last year 2022 was a mess both in political and economic sense. According to reliable figures the economy had contracted by 8 percent. This will not significantly change this year. A global recession will adversely affect the Sri Lankan efforts to resuscitate the economy and develop the country. These are the matters on which the political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations should come to a common understanding. That is one aspect of conflict resolution. However, there are so many other aspects.
Although the open war is over, the Sinhala-Tamil conflict is still a major obstacle for the country’s development and peace. The failure to understand each other, and respect other people’s values and culture is common even among religious, language, cast, gender, professional, regional (up-country vs. low country) and other groups. Under such a situation, peace and conflict resolution should be taught to children from the beginning of school years. There can be a mass movement and a massive effort to fulfill this task transcending political parties, divisions, and groups.
Let us take few examples. On the advice of the IMF, the present administration has declared that over 40 loss-making state institutions would be closed. To my view, this is a necessary measure to manage the economy better, and the support of all groups should be sought. Although not overtly expressed, there can be conflict of views on this and other matters. What are these institutions? What kind of an economic position that they are engaged in? These facts and information should be revealed to the public to open a healthy conflict resolution discussion.
This does not mean that the situation in the country is completely hopeless. The younger generations are quite skillful with modern ideas and views as revealed through social media and new social engagements. Although they are highly frustrated about the present situation, they could be mobilised and motivated for new ventures and paths. It is unfortunate that the present university students are disoriented and discouraged. While curricula should be changed to modern directions, the medium of instruction should be English for future prospects. Sri Lanka should be a modern country and old views, values and practices should be discarded.
During the last two decades, the development trajectory had taken a distorted form. While large infrastructure (ports, airports, major roadways) is a must to the country, they should have been the second priority, giving much prominence to industrial, entrepreneurial, and export-oriented enterprises. What are the main pillars of the economy? Traditional exports (tea, rubber, coconut) have not improved enough with value additions. New exports (textile, garments, gems, and labour) are also a fragile pillar without long term agreements or understandings with importing countries.
Of course, tourism is a promising area although affected by the Covid and political instability in the country. Unless the two major current issues of local government elections and APIT tax are remedied amicably through conflict resolution, the tourism sector also would be badly affected.
On the question of elections, the government is now playing with the idea of a presidential election at the end of this year. Although a presidential election could resolve the de-legitimacy of the present President, the logical step is to have the local government elections first to safeguard and preserve democracy. There can be negotiations, but soon. Even in resolving the tax issue, there should be negotiations and the government can easily reduce some percentage of the tax while trying to resurrect the abandoned files of the people who were excluded from the tax net under the last government.
It is not good for the country to have continuous strikes, protests, and demonstrations that could lead to violence and destroy not only the reputation but also the economic recovery of the country. It is my wish particularly for the universities to commence their sessions/teaching soon and for the students to study well and contribute innovatively to the economy, country, society, and democracy. There should be amicable conflict resolution in this sphere.
Doctrine of immunity in Emperor’s Clothes
By I. P. C. MENDIS
Ranil Wickremesinghe has emerged as the chief “dramatis personae” in the current constitutional deadlock drama. Whether the stars had foretold the event is not known. He was never a man in a hurry. He was cool as a cucumber when he was sacked as Prime Minister by the latter and seeking the help of the apex Court regained the position. He has chosen to confront the Supreme Court in what appears to be a battle of wits as to who has the whip-hand – the Executive President or the Supreme Court. The SC ruling in respect of the release of funds for the local government (LG) elections has opened the door for many a fundamental issue, not the least being the question of immunity and that of effectiveness and priority for SC decisions. The presidential circular does not list election expenditure as an essential item. Indeed, a direct confrontation prima facie.
One does not need much grey matter to realise that as far as the government is concerned, it does not have an iota of interest in conducting the relevant election. The pointers came in very clear terms through the “machinations” of the Government Printer, the IGP and the Secretary to the Treasury. And in this time-consuming and futile exercise, the EC through its own volition reduced itself casting away its so-called independence to be nothing more than a pen-pusher – a far cry from the Deshapriya’s lion roar of yesteryear asking violators of election laws to be shot at the head. Fair enough for the EC to write to the Secretary to the Treasury (the custodian of state coffers) but when it was clear that there was a questionable delay, it had a duty and responsibility to bring the issue to the notice of court to which it is bound by ruling to hold the elections. The Secretary to the Treasury is bound by the Constitution to perform his duties under the direction and control of his Minister and has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. He has no leeway to pass the buck or to treat a SC ruling as subordinate to any other source. Nothing of the sort has happened before. The Minister of Finance may hold the office of President substantively but that does not ‘ipso facto’ imply that he enjoys the immunity he enjoys in his substantive office while performing duties in areas other than those in Presidential office. If not anything else, this episode has the potential to become a dangerous precedent. It has to be immediately resolved once and for all.
Immunity of Parliamentary Proceedings
The question arises as to whether the immunity prescribed is limited to parliamentary proceedings. There is also the relevant issue of “absolute”and “qualified” immunity which has to be examined and argued with due reference to authorities such as Erskine May, the SL. Constitution and other such Constitutions. And who else is qualified to do it but the relevant professions, including the legal fraternity? The question arises whether the immunity is limited to parliamentary proceedings. If so, any action initiated or proceeded with by the Hon. Speaker in entertaining a motion of “Privilege” and any follow-up action thereon in tabling it, etc,. could be construed as “contempt of court” We have had the sad and unfortunate episode of Shirani Bandaranaike, which nobody wants to repeat and make SC judges the hunting ground of politicians of one hue or another. No-one wants our judiciary to be reduced to being a plaything of politicians. The judiciary expects unequivocally and requires no repetition of the treatment of Shirani B or Neville Samarakoon.
Legal Fraternity and the BASL
The BASL has proudly felicitated President Wickremasinghe on completion of 50 years at the Bar (yet not in practice). The country would not certainly seek to deny him the accolade. Yet, the BASL and the “Black-coated” gentry in particular, who thought it opportune to invade the courts of justice in their hundreds unsolicited to defend the Aragalaya demonstrators without a fee almost exercising undue influence vicariously in the course of justice, and the frenzy in which they took to the streets demanding the ouster of Mohan Pieris, was conspicuous by its absence in strength vocally and otherwise except through a tame letter.
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