SLFP – What fate awaits it
By Gunadasa Amarasekera
The reason for the SLFP leaders to celebrate its 70th birth Anniversary, I believe was promoted by a desire to make a comeback out of the depths to which it has sunk in recent times. Despite the desire to come back, has it the vitality, the elan left to do so? This is a question to be asked not only by the SLFPers themselves, but by the vast majority that happens to be the children of ’56 and also by all those who are interested in the well- being of the country-the nation. To answer this question, one needs at least a brief analysis of its genesis, its history and its past performance.
The biggest misfortune the SLFP has faced and is facing even today is its inability to identify itself, understand why it came into being. Except for a discerning few, most of the present generation including our so- called intellectuals and even those who have undertaken to lead the Party, lack this understanding.
For many, even today, it is a quirk of fate; for some elitist groups it’s the result of a demagogy spawned by a disgruntled few. Very few have addressed their minds to find an answer. GC Mendis was one among the few who sought to delve deep to seek an answer. He saw it as a lapse on the part of the main civilised political stream which allowed the barbaric tide languishing at the periphery to overtake it!
However, the die- hard SLFPers see it as nothing but the creation of its great leader-SWRD Bandaranaike – Bandaranaike with his slogan of ‘Sinhala in 24 hours’ was able to sway the masses, achieve victory and create history. Little do they realise that it is not the leaders that create history; instead it is history that creates leaders. Bandaranaike did not create a new party as such; he only delivered what was created by history, and played the role of the midwife or the obstetrician. This historical perspective has eluded those devotees of Bandaranaike.
The SLFP is a party that is different from all other parties that have emerged after Independence. The UNP was founded on the liberal ideology of the West, the Socialist parties were founded on Marxism, which once again was a product of the West. The SLFP, on the contrary, has its origins in the soil; it is rooted in the Sinhala Buddhist civilisation, which has nourished this nation over the centuries. This can be ascertained from the historical background that gave birth to this party.
After the Uva-Wellassa rebellion, the national liberation movement gave up the armed struggle and opted for a non-violent path. By then the renaissance movement initiated by Asarana Sarana Saranankara, during the Dutch period, had permeated to the rest of the country, especially to Ruhuna. It produced the intelligentsia, the educated Sangha community who were to spearhead the movement. Two great seats of learning – Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara were established by the pupils of Sarankara.it was this background that made Anagarika Dharmapala emerge by the end of the 19th century. It was he who took the message to the masses with a number of cultural movements. In his travels across the country, he realised that those villagers, the peasants, though living in poverty, had retained a civilisational consciousness inherited from a past; he also realised that this civilisational consciousness which lay dormant could be awakened in his fight against imperialist forces. By the beginning of the twentieth century the British ruler realised the threat imposed by Anagarika. The IGP said there was a likelihood of Anagarika surrounding Colombo one morning with ‘his barbaric hordes’. The rulers with the help of the comprador class and the deracinated members of the National Congress groomed by them were determined to take Anagarika off the stage, silence him and destroy his movement. They succeeded in doing so, but failed to destroy the seeds sown by him in the minds of the vast masses. Those seeds took root and flourished unnoticed with the passage of time, the nourishment needed was produced by the indigenous intelligentsia, the writers, novelists and poets of the time – sanga-veda-guru – the forces of ’56, came out of that milieu.
Except the young Bandaranaike, who had returned from UK, no other leader was aware of the silent revolution initiated by Anagarika. It was that awareness that made Bandaranaike establish the Sinhala Maha Sabha in 1934.The Sinhala Maha Sabha produced the blue print needed for the formation of the SLFP in 1951. The Sinhala Maha Sabha has suffered great injustice being labelled a chauvinistic Sinhala caucus. The truth is far from it. The SMS envisaged a political organisation that would not only look after the economic needs but also the cultural aspirations of the people who had suffered at the hands of the colonials. It addressed its mind to the unity of different communities and as a prerequisite to that unity it emphasised the need to unite the Sinhalese who were divided by political affiliations, by religion, caste and creed. It maintained that; it is only then, that other groups could be brought in as stake holders, participating in a common civilisation. This is possible when there is a non- antagonistic symbiotic relationship between these cultures and civilisations. (I think this a point that Huntington missed when he considered /assumed culture and civilization as one and the same.) This, I believe was the state of affairs in this country prior to the advent of the foreigner. This is so, even today at the village peasantry level, and this is what prompted President DB Wijetunge, a great villager himself, to make that most misunderstood statement -comparing the Sinhala nation to a tree around which the other ethnic groups should wind themselves for their survival. I believe this vision of the Sinhala Maha Sabha is more relevant today when the so -called reconciliation at the expense of the major community has failed miserably. It was a mistake on the part of Bandaranaike to have dissolved the Sinhala Maha Sabha when he joined the UNP; ironically what made Bandaranaike form the SLFP was the rejection of the proposals of the Sinhala Maha Sabha at the Madampe sessions by the UNP.
The great victory achieved by the SLFP in ’56 was not one that was anticipated by many. I don’t think that even Bandaranaike anticipated it; his close friend and founder member of the Party, Bernard Aluwihare left the party on the eve of the elections saying that he was not prepared to carry the coffin. There is a story I have heard from a reliable source that is symbolic of the situation and the quandary faced by the great leader and the nation. Bandaranaike, after a hectic election campaign had retired early to bed, the night, the election results were to be announced. He had told the family members, not to put him up; the family members though overjoyed by the results, had remained silent till the following morning. When they heard his footsteps coming down the stairs they rushed to announce the victory- Bandaranaike had stopped coming down and sat on the steps, silent, wrapped in deep thought for a long period.
I think this premature victory had its ill-effects on the party; it had the vision, but lacked the political structures, institutions, and the economic policies that were needed to translate the vision into praxis. Though it spoke of a nebulous middle path, a socialism of its own, there were no concrete plans to achieve those ends. I believe Bandaranaike had the vision, the intellect, to translate that vision. His death––a result of a conspiracy still unraveled––denied him that opportunity.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike was able to implement some of the policies that were envisaged by her husband. But she had no holistic agenda. The Marxists who were with her, were partly responsible for it; they were interested not in a nationalist plan but a Marxist agenda. Some of the results were horrendous, such as taking away the lands of the locals; indiscriminate nationalisation followed by corruption, discouraging local entrepreneurship, austere measures –hal polu. miris polu and bread queues that made life impossible for the middle class, and the poor.
The situation was seized by the old fox JR to present the coalition as an adharmista evil force. What was ironical is that he was able to use the same lingo, the same terms dharmista which formed the core moral and ethical values of the SLFP. But this debacle suffered by the SLFP was temporary, it was no threat to its survival.
However, it was Chandrika Kumaratunga who assumed the leadership of the Party who was capable of thwarting) its survival.
It was Chandrika Kumaratunga who was able to destroy for the first time, the Sinhala Buddhist cultural foundation on which the SLFP was built. It was no longer the Party of the Sinhala majority-the backbone of the SLFP. It was turned into a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multireligious, multi-cultural party. Having transformed it, she was prepared to hand over North and East to Mr Prabhakaran for 10 years; invited the Norwegians to divide the country in the name of reconciliation, and was ready to execute the P-Toms together with Prabhakaran. She confessed later that the decision she made to dissolve Parliament was a mistake, which action was what allowed the war to be continued.
In all these, Chandrika Kumaratunga was ably supported by Mangala Samaraweera, with his thavalam and sudu nelum campaigns. I do not wish to believe that she extended her blessings to Samaraweera to co-sponsor the traitorous resolution by the US against our country.
The greatest harm inflicted on the SLFP was the derailing and destroying the economic policies followed by it from its inception. Though they may have not been clearly defined, they were always anti-imperialist, pro nationalist and pro socialist. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was always guided by her civilisational consciousness, she never allowed imperialist powers to exploit this country, she was fearless and bold enough to nationalise the American oil companies in spite of the threats of that super power. Her government cleared all the debts we had accumulated, JR Jayewardene reversed all this with his open economy -a euphuism for neo colonialism.
Chandrika never tried to get back to the economic policies of the SLFP, she was happy with the neo liberal policies of JRJ. Under the pretext of giving a human face, she embraced them gladly. However, what is most disappointing and damaging was that Mahinda Rajapakse who followed her als o continued with the same policies when he had the opportunity to change them.
The result of these contradictory, harmful trends, was the loss of vision, direction and loss of ideology, resulting ultimately in the loss of confidence of the people. The SLFP became a headless body-a kawandaya. No attempt was made to recover the lost head; what was attempted was to graft the heads of liberal donkeys and heads of Marxist horses, adding insult to injury. ( In my address at the Bandaranaike Commemoration I pointed this out.)
It was left to President Sirisena to complete the task and finish off the Party. He did so by doing the very opposite of what the founder of the Party did 70 years ago, by making the SLFP an appendage of the UNP, and taking it back to the folds of the UNP. The last supper (of hoppers) at the Temple Trees was followed by the crucification of the kawandaya.
This was the fate of the SLFP; the fate that awaits it today, cannot be much different.
What is really worrying is not so much the demise of the kawandaya, but its repercussions. Ranil Wickremasinghe may have thought that it was a superb strategy on his part to embrace Sirisena. He would have thought embracing Sirisena means destroying his opponent the SLFP for good. Little did he realize that it was the embrace of death, that it would kill his party as well as himself. He had ultimately secured a dishonorable grave for his grand old party after 75 years. In spite of all these repercussions, one would say that not everything is lost. The two main parties in their death throes have thrown up two saplings; the Pohottuwa and the Telephone which would carry on their mission. It would be extremely naive to believe in such a fantasy. The Pohottuwa will wither away before it blossoms, and the telephone will be dead before it answers the call.
Ultimately, we are left with a political dessert, a wasteland with no hope and nothing in sight as visualised by the poet – “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this this stony rubbish,”. All signs are there, that we are fast approaching that stage. (On the other hand the poet may be wrong where this resplendent isle of ours is concerned… that stony rubbish can produce heroes out of clowns and comedians as well as politicians to lead us.)
However, let me not end what I have to say only with this dismal picture to the children of ‘56, who had pinned their faith on this party and now feel betrayed and let down. There is no need to lose faith. The SLFP as a party may be dead, but not the ideology that gave it birth, it’s alive. It’s that ideology that made 6,900,000 of you to vote Gotabaya to power. That ideology founded on our centuries old civilisation as old as the Chinese civilisation will die only with the death of our civilisation. That it has not suffered such an untimely death is proved beyond all doubt by the victory of Gotabaya.
In 1959, three years after ’56, I wrote an article to that prestigious- now obsolete -journal Sanskrithi; I made the observation — that you the children of ’56 are the ones who would come to power and redeem this country. As you know that has not come to pass, it has remained a dream. The blame lies with you. You, living through dark times, especially after ’77, did not realise that what is needed is an enlightened dialogue, an intellectual engagement to prepare you for such a task. As a matter of fact, there had not been such a dialogue since Independence for you to get ‘connected to it’. What was there, was the despicable politics of power-hungry politicians to which you too became a prey. You thought the answer was in the barrel of the gun which wiped out a whole generation of you -that should have been a lesson to you.
I hope this present discussion on ‘the role of the children of ‘56’ would open your eyes to the need for such an intellectual engagement and an enlightened dialogue based on the civilisational ideology and the civilisational consciousness that it has generated, which you have not lost. It is only then, and then only that you can claim to seek power.
(Based on the contribution made on zoom seminar ‘On the role of the Children of 56.)
Singarasa Case should guide GoSL’s Geneva policy
BY Dharshan Weerasekera
In 2005, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled in the seminal case Singarasa v. Attorney General (SC/SPLA/182/99) that the U.N. Human Rights Commission (the predecessor of today’s U.N. Human Rights Council) did not have jurisdiction, within Sri Lanka, to make recommendations on behalf of the petitioner. In doing so, the court decided that Sri Lanka’s accession to the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1997 had been done in a manner contrary to the Constitution, and hence illegal.
This case has invaluable lessons to teach in regard to the present government’s ‘Geneva Policy.’ By ‘Geneva Policy,’ I mean the government’s stance to the UNHRC’s follow-up resolutions to Sri Lanka’s unilateral withdrawal, in March 2020, from the co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1 of October 2015. In response, the Council adopted Resolution Resolution than 30/1. Among other things, it establishes an evidence-gathering mechanism to collect evidence of war crimes and other crimes against Sri Lankans.
Meanwhile, in September 2022, the High Commissioner released a report on Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing the recommendations of Resolution 46/1. The government has officially rejected both, Resolution 46/1 and the High Commissioner’s report, on grounds that they were done without Sri Lanka’s consent and, therefore, contrary to the founding principles of the Council. (See A/HRC/51/G/1, paras 1.1, 1.2). However, the Foreign Ministry, in its response, lists various things that the government is doing to comply with Resolution 46/1.
I argue that the government, continuing to comply with the Resolution while, at the same time, rejecting it in principle, without first obtaining a definitive interpretation of the relevant legal position, from an international forum, or even the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, creates a dangerous precedent. Given the fact that state practice is one of the sources of customary international law, the government’s conduct has the potential to do irreparable harm to the long-term interests of the country.
Unfortunately, there is little, or no, discussion of these issues in local newspapers, and academic journals, and it is in the public interest to start one. In this article, I shall discuss: i) the facts and reasoning of the Singarasa judgment, ii) the High Commissioner’s report and the government’s reply, iii) assess of the government’s position, and draw the relevant conclusions.
The Singarasa case
In 1991, the High Court of Colombo convicted Singarasa of five charges, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The charges dealt with alleged attempts by Singarasa, and others, to attack the Army camps,in Jaffna and its suburbs. Singarasa appealed against the conviction to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court. He also complained to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The HRC could entertain petitions under the Optional Protocol to ICCPR. Sri Lanka had ratified the ICCPR, in 1980, and acceded to the protocol, in 1997. The HRC said that, Sri Lanka was under obligation to release Singarasa.
The main issue, in this case, is whether Sri Lanka’s accession to the ICCPR, and the related protocol, gives a right to an international body to intervene in the domestic sphere to determine Singarasa’s fate. The court answers ‘no,’ because of the following reasons. The court starts with the premise that the authority for the President to enter into international agreements comes from Article 33(f) of the Constitution. Article 33(f) states: “To do all such acts as, not being inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution…he is required or authorized to do.” It follows that the President cannot agree to anything inconsistent with the Constitution.
The court then assesses the signing of the ICCPR, in 1980, and the subsequent accession to the optional protocol, in 1997, separately. The court points out that the ICCPR requires that the respective signatories adopt domestic legislation to implement the provisions of the covenant. This does not conflict with our Constitution and hence is lawful.
However, when acceding to the optional protocol, the government had issued a declaration that envisioned that the rights of Sri Lankan citizens could be adjudicated in tribunals, and forums, outside this country. The court points out that the institutions, through which Sri Lankans can vindicate their rights, within this country, are exhaustively set out in Article 105 of the Constitution, and the HRC is not one of them. Therefore, the court deems the accession to the optional protocol illegal. The court states:
“Where the President enters into a treaty or accedes to a covenant the content of which is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or written law it would be a transgression of the limitation in Article 33 (f) and ultra vires—such acts of the President would not bind the Republic qua State.” (p. 11)
The High Commissioner’s report and the Government’s reply
The most disturbing aspect of the High Commissioner’s report is its description of the progress made by the impugned evidence-gathering mechanism. It states: “OHCHR continues to develop the information and evidence repository using an e-discovery platform….OHCHR commenced identifying material held by other actors and engaging with information providers. To date, the databases of two organisations have been migrated into the repository, and negotiations with other information providers are ongoing.” ((A/HRC/51/5, 4th October 2022, para 54.)
The report also details what the OHCHR plans to do with this information. It says: “To develop possible strategies for future accountability processes, the project team started mapping potential accountability process at international level, including through consultations with relevant stakeholders, in particular national authorities, victims and civil society organisations.” (para 56.)
In sum, it is clear that a vast operation is underway, not just to collect evidence against Sri Lanka but to set the groundwork to help prosecute Sri Lankans before various national and international forums. To the best of my knowledge, the founding statutes of the UNHRC, as well as the OHCHR, do not give enforcement capabilities to these institutions to prosecute or assist in the prosecution of people for violations of human rights and other offences.
Their respective mandates to protect and promote human rights are to be carried out with the consent of all nations concerned and in a spirit of “cooperation and constructive international dialogue.” Therefore, through the impugned mechanism the OHCHR has now arguably expanded its mandate to include an enforcement component, seemingly without any debate or discussion of the matter before the Council.
To turn to the government’s response, in the introductory paragraphs of the said document, the government rejects both resolution 46/1 as well as the High Commissioner’s report on grounds that they violate the UN’s founding principles. However, for much of the remainder of the report (which runs to 16 pages) the government enumerates the various things it has been doing to implement various provisions of the resolutions. For instance, the government discusses the work being done under the Office on Missing Persons, Office for Reparations, and so on.
On the OMP, the report states inter alia: “The OMP conducted panels of inquiries as part of the verification process. More than 89% of persons (1207 of 1370 applicants invited for inquiries) met with members of the panel and their testimonials were recorded.” (A/HRC/51/G/1, 9th September 2022, para 46)
Meanwhile, on the Office for Reparations, the report says, “The office processed 5964 claims for payment, by the end of 2021, and paid a sum of Rs. 399.8 million in settlement, out of the allocated sum of Rs. 800 million….Upto the end of 2022, the OR received Rs. 226 million to pay compensation and 2097 claims were settled utilizing Rs. 153 million.” (para 56)
In sum, even though the government has nominally rejected resolution 46/1 and by extension resolution 30/1 as well, the government is expending great energy, including enormous sums of money, to comply with various provisions of those resolutions.
Assessment of the policy
The Singarasa case establishes that the President, when conducting foreign policy, is exercising the power conferred under Article 33 (f) of the Constitution. One cannot suppose that it is consistent with the Constitution to comply with the provisions of a resolution that the Government itself considers to be in violation of the founding principles of the UNHRC.
Admittedly, a resolution of the UNHRC does not rise to the level of a treaty or covenant. However, there should now be a serious debate in this country about whether the reasoning above should apply to such resolutions which continue to target Sri Lanka on the world stage.
Furthermore, if, as I have suggested, the OHCHR has expanded its mandate by exploiting the provisions of Resolution 46/1 to acquire capabilities that were never envisioned in the relevant founding statutes, permitting such conduct to continue has the potential to set precedents in customary international law, with grave consequences for Sri Lanka, as well as other nations.
Therefore, Sri Lankan citizens are entitled to know the legal basis for the government’s continued compliance with provisions of Resolution 46/1, while nominally rejecting the Resolution. The only institution that can provide a legal opinion binding on the government is the Supreme Court. The President has the capacity, under Article 129 of the Constitution, to request an advisory opinion of the Supreme Court on any matter of public importance.
In these circumstances, it is incumbent on the government to seek an advisory opinion as to whether it is lawful for the government to continue complying with provisions of Resolution 46/1 unless and until the UNHRC clarifies its position in regard to the impugned mechanism.
It is in the interest of all Sri Lankans to keep a close eye on what the government is presently doing in Geneva. There is a famous legal maxim that says, “The laws assist the vigilant, not the sleepy.” Ultimately, it is the Sri Lankan people who will pay the price for any mistakes or missteps that successive governments make in regard to their “Geneva Policy.’
(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law)
Human Papillomavirus vaccine: one that can prevent a cancer
This article has been written as a fervent plea to the parents of little girls of the eligible age group. Please make sure that your precious daughters get this vaccine. It will be an investment for their happiness in the future.
By Dr B. J. C. Perera
All vaccines by definition are substances that are used to stimulate immunity against a particular infectious disease or a specific causative organism. Such vaccines are used to prevent the occurrence of the said diseases in humans and animals. Several vaccines have been introduced to combat such infectious diseases over the last few decades. In some countries, the use of some of these vaccines has led to the elimination of dreaded diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough or Pertussis, Polio, Measles, German Measles or Rubella, just to name a few.
Sri Lanka has a very efficient and inherently equitable system that looks after the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) for children and young people. In general, we have been extremely successful in this programme and can boast of over 90 per cent coverage for the vaccination of all children. We have successfully eliminated polio, the last case being confirmed as far back as 1993, and we are free of diphtheria, tetanus, measles and German measles or rubella. The success of the EPI is due to many factors that include government commitment, the unstinted dedication of parents, the promotion of the programme through all media channels and the dedicated work of all grades of healthcare personnel. The very high literacy rate of the populace of our country enables all information regarding vaccination to be most conveniently conveyed to the population. Sri Lanka has been hailed as a country that has achieved so much in this field, but with so few resources. It has been cited as a model to the entire Asian region as well as even the world.
In addition to their undoubted effectiveness in protecting against infective microorganisms, some of these vaccines have other bonus effects. At least two of the vaccines in use today have telling effects in preventing certain cancers. One is the Hepatitis B vaccine. It provides protection against liver cancer. The other is the more recent Human Papillomavirus vaccine (HPV vaccine) which protects females against cancer of the neck of the womb, which is also referred to as the cervix of the womb. That disease is generally referred to as Cervical Cancer.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is sexually transmitted and most people become infected sometime during their lifetime. In the majority, it is soon after becoming sexually active. Most infections are asymptomatic and usually clear up spontaneously, accounting for remission in 90% within two years. Only 10% of persistent HPV infections with certain genotypes of HPV can persist and progress to changes in the cervix. If infection from cancer-causing HPV types persists over 10-15 years, women can go on to develop precancerous lesions that, if left untreated, develop into cervical cancer. This process takes an average of 20-30 years from infection to the development of cervical cancer.
In 1995, Dr Anne Szarewski, a renowned researcher from the United Kingdom, led a team who outlined the role of human papillomavirus in uterine cervical cancer detection and screening. Then the researchers began work on an HPV vaccine. Szarewski was also a chief investigator, principal investigator and author of key HPV vaccine trials and publications, who helped to develop the bivalent HPV vaccine. The word bivalent is used to indicate that it contains two strains of HPV. HPV infections are very common, often with minimal symptoms, but high-risk HPV strains can go on to cause other medical conditions, particularly cervical cancer.
In 2006, the first vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) to be used globally was approved. HPV vaccination has now gone on to become a key part of the effort to eliminate cervical cancer. According to the available research results, HPV vaccination could reduce the lifetime risk of cervical cancer by 35–80%; the rather wide range being due to several studies with different methods. The vaccine was initially promptly snapped up in the West, especially in the Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, the coverage of the vaccine is over 80 per cent. However, according to the data put out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2022, the human papillomavirus vaccine against cervical cancer has been introduced in just 41 per cent of low-income countries, even though they represent much of the disease burden, compared to 83% of high-income countries. We have a set of 10-year data on the benefits of the vaccine and in certain Western countries, a significant drop in the morbidity and mortality rates of cervical cancer is already evident.
In Sri Lanka, the National Vaccine Summit in January 2015 recommended the usage of the HPV vaccine and the government introduced it in 2017 for girls within the age range of 10 to 13 years. That age group was decided on the premise that to get the best results, we need to introduce the vaccine before sexual activity starts. The vaccine was to be administered to the selected age groups in the schools free of charge and in the fee-levying private sector. To date, the vaccine is not available through the Immunisation Clinics of the Provinces and the MOH Clinics.
NOW HERE IS THE REAL CRUX OF THE MATTER. For a variety of reasons, the coverage of the HPV vaccine in the entire cohort of eligible girls in Sri Lanka is somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. This is woefully inadequate coverage to get the best possible results, especially when looked upon in the light of over 90 per cent coverage of the other vaccines in the National Expanded Programme of Immunisation. Cervical cancer ranks among the five commonest cancers in women in Sri Lanka. HPV vaccine is just one of two vaccines that can prevent cancers. All children have had the Hepatitis B vaccine which protects against liver cancer, as it is given through the National Programme of Immunisation. But, and this is a BIG BUT, the only other vaccine, the HPV vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer, shows a rather low uptake.
We do need to escalate the uptake rate of the HPV vaccine to at least around 80 per cent to get reasonable benefits in the reduction of the morbidity and mortality that is currently seen in cervical cancer. I think we have to admit that due to very many reasons, the message has not gone through to the general population in the country. When inquiries are made from the mothers of eligible girls, the vast majority of them are not even aware of the existence of this vaccine and more importantly, the future beneficial potential of this endeavour. The age group selected is a rather tricky cohort. They get upset at the drop of a hat. The last thing they want is an injection. They will run away, as fast as possible, to avoid it. Some are so frightened that it is not uncommon to see them faint even at the sight of the syringe and the needle. One way of getting the cooperation of these little girls is to allow either the mother or the father to be present to hold her hand most reassuringly when the vaccine is administered. An additional initiative would be to make it widely available through the Immunisation Clinics for it to be administered to all those who have missed it when it was given in the school. This is particularly important as the vaccine is quite expensive when administered in the private sector.
Latest position on debt restructuring process
By Jayampathy Molligoda
According to the announcement made by the Managing Director of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF Executive board meeting will be held on 20 March to consider and hopefully approve the EFF arrangement for Sri Lanka. In the meantime, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank in consultation with IMF 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. Having perused the document uploaded to the Ministry of Finance (MOF website) recently, which is a comprehensive summary of debt stock as at end 2022, I have tabulated the summary of the main facts and figures (See Table). As can be seen, 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%. The public debt is expected be reduced to 100% of GDP in order to ensure debt sustainability in line with IMF supported program parameters coupled with ‘comparability of treatment principle’ whilst ensuring equitable burden sharing for all restructured debt.
However, I have my doubts about GDP computation here. As per the MOF doc page 1, the Nominal GDP was stated as Rs. 23.7 trillion for the year 2022. The $ exchange rate used for conversion as Rs.363.10 clearly indicating that it is the year end figure, they have taken the year end Exchange rate of Rs 363.10 per US$. It is pertinent to ask the question as to why ‘year- end exchange rate’ figure to convert our annual GDP in rupee to US dollars? It should have been the ‘average exchange rate’ as in the past so many years computed by CBSL. As a result, the GDP (in US$ terms) works out to US$ 65.2 billion only. That’s why the total public debt stock of US$ 83.6 billion works out to 128% of GDP – my initial query is; why did they take year-end figure of Rs363.10 instead of taking the average exchange rate?
Besides, the real critical issue is how to reduce the debt stock to a level of 100% of GDP in the context of declining GDP (- 7.8% in 2022) and on the other hand, our debt stock is on the rise. More importantly, if we take the total ‘multilateral debt’ out, then the foreign debt is US $ 34 billion only, which includes ISBs and bilateral loans. Assuming a higher ‘haircut’ of 33% for foreign debt is agreed upon, it works out to 11 billion thus reducing the total public debt to 73 billion only.
In this regard, The President in his latest open letter dated 14 March ‘23 to Sri Lanka’s official Bilateral creditors has clearly indicated that there will be equitable treatment of burden sharing in respect of all creditors (except IMF/WB/ADB) Quote; ” ..we reiterate our commitment to a comparable treatment of all our external creditors with a view to ensuring all round equitable burden sharing for all restructured debt. To that end, we will not conclude debt treatment agreements with any official bilateral creditor or any commercial creditors or any group of such creditors on terms more favourable than those agreed. …To this end we also confirm that we have not and we will not make any side agreements with any creditor aimed at reducing the debt treatment impact on that creditor.”
In the circumstances, my own view is we are reluctantly compelled to restructure local debt i.e.; TBs and, it is inevitable that the local debt of USD 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 ‘finance system stability’ and all our commercial banks will be in trouble. Further the deposit holders including pension funds are badly affected. The temperature of social unrest is brought closer to the boiling point.
As stated in the global research article by Jonathan Manz recently, 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 pointed out that the riots are written into the IMF plan to force nations to agree with the average 111 conditions laid down by the IMF and they destroy a country’s democracy and independence. 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, neither Stiglitz nor any other eminent economist has yet to 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.
SRI LANKA RECEIVES IMF EXECUTIVE BOARD APPROVAL FOR THE EXTENDED FUND FACILITY (EFF) ARRANGEMENT
Thailand parliament dissolved ahead of May election
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Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
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