SRI LANKA’S ECONOMIC QUAGMIRE AND HOW MARGRET THATCHER SMASHED THE KEYNESIAN CONSENSUS
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
For quite some time, experts in economics and finance not associated with any political party have been raising the red flag about the severe economic challenges that our country was facing. Unfortunately, the politicians have consistently ignored these challenges. Many in the
private sector believed that commonsense would prevail and necessary course correction will occur, and the ship will sail smoothly.
I recently reminded a few of my former colleagues about how some of them rebuked me (in a friendly manner) five years ago when I asked the regional team of a large multinational bank, “Will Sri Lanka default on foreign debt like Greece?” My colleagues felt that I was unnecessarily pessimistic, although I thought I was a realist. Fortunately for me, one of the regional team members came to my defence and said that the scenario was not so outrageous as “Sri
Lanka was not out of the woods.” That was five years ago.
Since then, a debilitating pandemic, along with a decision to reduce government revenue by around Rs. 600 billion due to various tax cuts has severely depleted government coffers. Moreover, the loss of foreign exchange earnings due to the country being closed for tourism
has been a body blow. I, however, contend that our inability, or should I say struggle to meet the repayment of foreign debt, was always ever-present. The pandemic has just fast-forwarded it. The challenge for a country with an annual deficit of around USD 8 billion in merchandise trade having to repay USD 23 billion between 2021-2025 was always tricky. Moreover, our ability to raise additional foreign currency debt has been severely constrained as international rating agencies have continuously downgraded our ability to repay the debt.
Many have spoken and written articles recommending that the Government (GOSL) seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To many, other than rabid socialists, it is the most sensible of options, not that there are too many available. The GOSL, on the other hand, has articulated to neither the public, the private sector or the international creditors how they intend to avoid a possible sovereign default immediately as well as going up to 2025 whilst also ensuring that there is sufficient foreign exchange to facilitate imports.
One can only assume that those reposed with economic strategy and management under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are disciples of Keynesian economic theory. Keynesian economic theory was developed by the British economist John Maynard Keynes during the
1930s. Keynes advocated increased government expenditures and lower taxes to stimulate demand and pull the global economy out of the depression.
Keynes argued that during periods of economic woe, the government should undertake deficit spending to make up for the decline in investment and boost consumer spending to stabilize aggregate demand. He rejected the idea that the economy would return to a natural state of equilibrium if left to market forces. Instead, he proposed that the government spend more money and cut taxes to turn a budget deficit, which would increase consumer demand, viz overall economic activity, and reduce unemployment. Thus, he believed the government was better positioned than market forces when creating a robust economy.
The critics of deficit spending say that if left unchecked, it could threaten economic growth. Too much debt could cause a government to raise taxes and even default on its debt. What’s more, the sale of government bonds could crowd out corporate and other private issuers, which might distort prices and interest rates in capital markets. Many who oppose Keynesian theories will now use Sri Lanka to illustrate how continuous deficit spending and funding with mountains
of debt will ultimately lead to economic disaster.
Modern Monetary Theory
A new school of economic thought called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has taken up the fight on behalf of Keynesian deficit spending. It is gaining influence, particularly on the left of the political spectrum. Proponents of MMT argue that as long as inflation is contained, a country with its own currency doesn’t need to worry about accumulating too much debt through deficit spending because it can always print more money to pay for it. This is precisely what our
Central Bank has been doing, one presumes at the behest of the GOSL.
How Margeret Thatcher smashed the Keynesian consensus
To understand what Margeret Thacher (MT) achieved in upending the Keynesian theory, one needs to understand the decade and a half before that. The 1960s and 70s was a time of unrivalled sociopolitical activism. In the USA, which had established itself as the leading superpower both from an economic and a military perspective, there were protests against the war in Vietnam whilst the civil rights movement gained significant traction after the death of Martin Luther King. Elsewhere particularly in western Europe, pop music, recreational drugs, a liberal view towards sex and the gay community gained wide acceptance. As a result, the 1960s is fondly referred to by many as the “swinging sixties!’
In the political arena, across the world, many socialist governments were voted into power. For example, in both the UK and West Germany, socialist governments held power for most of the 1960s and 1970s. These governments underpinned their political philosophy with the concept of the social welfare state and that capitalism was not desirable. However, the aftermath of the 1973 war between Israel and several middle eastern countries caused significant economic upheaval in many countries. The oil price increased by 400 per cent, and supply was constrained due to an embargo impacting the USA and Western European countries.
In the UK, a full-scale energy crisis loomed due to a combination of a limited supply of oil and an overtime ban by the coal miners to support a significant pay increase. As a result, the government declared a state of emergency. To conserve energy, industries were told to work only three days a week, and all national television stations were switched off at 10.30 p.m. In addition, students had to do their homework in the evenings by candlelight. The following year the conservative government paid the ultimate price by being rejected by the voters.
Emboldened trade unions resorting to industrial action caused many headaches to the government and a great deal of inconvenience to the public. In addition, due to rising inflation which peaked at 26 per cent, the unions demanded higher wages, resulting in higher unemployment as many companies were unable to afford such increases. It was indeed a vicious circle.
The despondency amongst the British public due to the poor economy and the actions of the militant trade unions is aptly summed up by the comments made by the then minister James
Callaghan. He warned his fellow Cabinet members in 1974 of the possibility of “a breakdown of democracy”, telling them: “If I were a young man, I would emigrate.” Ironically. he subsequently succeeded Harold Wilson as the Labour prime minister after the latter’s surprise resignation in April 1976.
The Labour government faced continuing economic difficulties with rising inflation, a balance of payments deficit arising from significant oil price increases, and a series of industrial disputes. Events came to a head in 1976 when markets began to lose confidence in the sterling. In September 1976, the government approached the IMF for a loan of US$3.9 billion, the largest ever requested from the fund. The IMF demanded significant cuts in public expenditure as a condition for the loan, which the government accepted.
But life in the UK got worse a few years later when, in 1978, a wage dispute between Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan and the trade unions culminated in the Winter of discontent. Streets were lined with litter, some dead went unburied, and parents rushed to
feed their ill children in hospital as everyone from rubbish collectors to gravediggers and nurses went out on strike.
In May 1979, the public, fed up with the inability of the Labour government to curb the militant trade unions and bring down inflation, voted in the conservative party led by Margaret Thatcher (MT), with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats.
MT brought about many radical changes to British economic policy. The pillars on which she built her economic policies were:
* Reduce inflation through reduced money supply growth
*Reduce the budget deficit by initially increasing taxes and reducing public expenditure
*Privatize state-owned enterprises
*Deregulate the financial industry
*Bust the trade unions.
There is no doubt that she did achieve her objectives. She remained the PM for 12 years, and the conservative party was the ruling party for 17 long years. However, the initial years under MT were extremely tough for the British people. There was significant unemployment as her policy of increasing interest rates meant that many companies went into liquidation. I recall watching the one-minute segment on national TV every evening where the number of closed companies and how many were made redundant along with cumulative figures were announced.
In March 1981, as many as 364 eminent British economists published a letter condemning her plans to hike taxes even as her monetarist attack on inflation plunged the economy ever deeper into recession. However, MT stood firm. She famously said, “The lady’s not for turning ” in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 10 October 1980. It is considered a defining speech in Thatcher’s political development. As a result, she gained the nickname “Iron Lady”,
and it was widely believed that she had more “balls” than any of her male colleagues in the cabinet!
There is no doubt that her economic policies upended the Keynesian theory of governments spending money and lowering taxes to increase aggregate demand. Along with Ronald Regan, the President of the USA, she led a renaissance of conservative politics that relegated socialist parties for nearly two decades.
Space constraints prevent me from going into details of the main initiatives that underpinned her economic policies. However, I wish to share two of them as I believe these are imperatives for Sri Lanka in the current context.
Privatization of State-Owned
Under MT, the government aggressively sold off key industries that the British government had owned. Early in her term, she sold off British Aerospace and Cable & Wireless, followed later on by British Telecom, Britoil, British Gas, and Jaguar. In her third term, British Airways, British Petroleum (or BP), British Steel, Rolls Royce, and electric and water companies were privatized as well.
Many of those companies have gone on to be successful private firms. In addition, fans of the effort note that it freed up a great deal of money in the 1980s, preventing further spending cuts or tax increases and creating competitive telecommunications and fuel sectors.
One of MT’s most heated political battles came in 1984 when the miner’s union struck work. Earlier in Thatcher’s term, in 1981, the miners almost struck, but the government immediately gave in and offered concessions. Thatcher spent the ensuing years plotting to make sure
that this never happened again by changing trade union laws, stockpiling coal to blunt the impact of a strike on consumers and even having MI5 agents infiltrate the miner’s unions.
So when the miners struck in 1984, she was ready. After nearly a year, the miners returned to work without any concessions from the government. As a result, the National Union of Miners, which just 10 years earlier had toppled the Conservative government of Edward Heath, was permanently weakened. Smashing the unions meant more when they dominated every facet of economic and political life.
Will Sri Lanka adopt Margret Thatcher’s prescription?
I lived in the UK from 1975 onwards and experienced first-hand most of what I described in the preceding paragraphs. In 1979 when MT was elected to power, I was 20-years old and very much a committed socialist. I was, in fact, the General Secretary of the Student Union
for two years. However, I took to heart the famous quote, “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof that you have no head.”
In my opinion, there is no doubt that if we genuinely want to come out of the economic quagmire that we are in, we all will need to undergo significant hardships and sacrifices. Unfortunately, that is the price we will have to pay for the extravagant lifestyle the country has enjoyed for several decades.
The pain would have been far less had corrective decisions been taken several years ago. However, we have elected successive governments who have failed to take tough decisions as
appeasing the public, trade unions, and other vested parties have taken precedence.
An example that I wish to cite in support of my above comment is that we have hardly been subjected to any power cuts in the last two decades. Whenever there was insufficient hydropower or the coal power plant broke down, the government got the CEB to generate
expensive thermal power. This was done to prevent any inconvenience to the public but at a significant cost. The CEB did not even levy a special surcharge to recover part of the additional cost. I am pretty confident that electricity prices have not been increased for the last five years.
About a decade ago, I regularly travelled to India as the company I worked for established a subsidiary company in New Delhi. It was difficult for the accountant of that company and me to go through the financial records on the system as every few minutes; there was a power outage
or a power cut. There were long power cuts during the summer months in India and Pakistan, lasting more than six hours a day. However, in Sri Lanka, despite the perilous state of the economy, we enjoyed uninterrupted power.
About 80 per cent of government revenue is spent on paying public sector salaries. In 2015 the Yahapalana government granted salary increments of Rs. 10,000 per month to public servants. The present government gave 100,000 jobs to unemployed graduates, and the state also employed a further 35,000 who had not passed ordinary level exams. Just imagine the cost being borne by taxpayers to fund a bloated and highly inefficient public sector.
I wish to share a couple of examples with the readers so that they can understand my frustration with the public sector.
In 2002 or 2003, when as the Chief Financial Officer, I offered permanent employment at the largest conglomerate in the country to a trainee graduate working under the “Tharuna Aruna” scheme, he told me “, Sir, I prefer to work as a government teacher in Mahiyangana as there is no work pressure and also, I am guaranteed a pension!” Unfortunately, that was the limit of his ambitions which successive governments have inculcated in our people.
In 1984, I went to the Inland Revenue to represent the company I was working for an enquiry. When I approached the officer concerned, I realized that she had forgotten that an enquiry had been scheduled. I was asked to sit while she desperately rang the bell for the peon to bring the file. The guy was seated only 50 feet away but pretended not to hear! The lady was embarrassed and asked me whether I could go and find the file. I lost my temper and
told her that she’d better find the file herself. Finally, she said she would re-fix the hearing, but we had still not heard from her one year later when I went back to the UK.
That we need to restructure and privatize most state enterprises that are losing significant amounts of money as was done by MT in the UK is a given. To do that, the government needs to “bust” the trade unions. The public will need to undergo certain hardships as industrial action will disrupt our life. But, in my opinion, the sacrifice will be well worth it. At least we will leave a better place for our children.
The industrial action resorted to by health workers as well as the principals and teachers is absolutely deplorable. Furthermore, the cancellation of the East Container Terminal to be awarded to India and Japan and the reported grant of salary increments amounting to Rs. 9 billion for a year to CEB staff reflect how the GOSL is caving in to unreasonable demands made by trade unions.
Margaret Thatcher, from 1979 onwards, showcased to the British people and the world at large what can be achieved by strong, determined and courageous leadership. A quote of hers that our political leaders will do well to remember “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”
Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?
By Maduranga Kalugampitiya
The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!
While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.
What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.
Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.
Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.
Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.
In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.
If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.
In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.
(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Selective targeting not law’s purpose
By Jehan Perera
The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.
Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.
But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.
The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.
Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.
In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.
The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”
Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.
The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.
Girl power… to light up our scene
We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!
The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.
Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.
It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.
Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).
Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).
Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.
They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).
Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.
The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.
Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.
She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.
“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”
With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.
“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.
Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!
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