To rescue the country from its march towards a certain disaster, Sri Lanka has appointed a stellar team of world-renowned fiscal and monetary experts to assist in the critical negotiations with the IMF, on the outcome of which may hang the immediate fate of Sri Lanka.
It would be hard to find a more experienced team of experts who are immersed in the operations of international financial institutions than the team of advisers appointed for the pending IMF negotiations. Yet, the task before them is a daunting one. With the State coffers empty, the production sector at a standstill, and recent sources of foreign exchange — remittances, and tourism dried up, it is indeed a harrowing task.
With the instability of the Government and rampant protests and civil strikes, which might lead to sporadic violence the IMF will be compelled to seek an assurance of stability before reaching an agreement. Such a conclusion would be hard to come by on an immediate basis and even an emergency package might be held up by the prevailing instability both within the Executive, legislative and civil society. One can only hope the stellar team of experienced advisers would be able to shepherd the official team towards a productive end.
The leader of the advisory team, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy has taken over the mantel from his father, Rajendra Coomaraswamy, fondly known as Roving Raju with the begging bowl, an endearing term he earned because he was periodically dispatched to the World Bank in Sri Lanka’s post-independence years. That was when he distinguished himself as Secretary to the Treasury from the days of Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, to the days of Sirimavo. His days were more manageable with stability in the country with the tea, coconut, and rubber plantations churning out foreign exchange.
Yet, Indrajith may be up to the task because of his education, experience and perhaps, even the genes. He is the Former Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. He was educated at Royal College, Colombo, and Harrow School. After leaving school, he joined Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he received B.A. (Hons) and M.A. degrees. He played first-class cricket for Cambridge University.
He then proceeded to the University of Sussex, from where he obtained a DPhil degree. Coomaraswamy joined the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 1973. He was seconded to the Ministry of Finance and Planning between 1981 and 1989 to provide advice on macroeconomic issues and structural reforms. He worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1990 to 2008, holding various posts and ending up as Deputy Director of the Secretary-General’s Office. He was an adviser to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Project Minister of Economic Affairs, and later a senior adviser to the Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade.
That is a resume that cannot be bettered. Santha Devarajan joins Indrajith. Two of them trace their ancestry to famous families of Jaffna. Their fathers were pathbreaking national and international civil servants. As Fate would have it; both Raju Coomaraswamy and B.R. Devarajan, who were members of the Ceylon Civil Service, ended up at the United Nations in New York and happened to be neighbours at a U.N. enclave where the United Nations International School (Primary Section) was located.
Living in the same locale as a young U.N. official, I was privileged to see the young Indrajith and Santha grow up while the fathers scaled the dizzy heights of the United Nations. Raju ended up as the Deputy Administrator of the U.N.D.P. and Deva as a Senior Director. The sons were not second to the fathers and ended up ascending dizzier heights of International organisations.
Santha Devarajan began his education at the United Nations International School in New York and went to the prestigious Ivy League Princeton University, where he earned his B.A. He completed his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received an M.A. and a Ph.D. Shanta was the Acting Chief Economist of the World Bank Group succeeding the Nobel Laureate Paul Romer.
He co-directed the World Development Report. He was also a faculty member at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and is the author or co-author of more than 100 publications. He is presently a professor of economics at George University. The duo of Sri Lankan legends on the international monetary and fiscal world is joined by equally formidable Sharmani Cooray. She was at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and served as Director of the Institute for Capacity Development (I.C.D.), “Sharmini is one of the great leaders in the fund, and she has made incredible contributions throughout a stellar Fund career,” said IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva in a press release on the occasion of her retirement from the IMF after three decades.
Ms. Cooray’s leadership was key in providing strategic directions for the governance, management, and funding of the IMF’s capacity-building activities, making it an even more potent instrument in the service. She holds a Ph.D. and a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Harvard University. She has published papers on inflation and economic growth in transition and developing countries and edited a book on managing the oil wealth of the C.E.M.A.C. region.
A pain-free IMF package is the objective of the Sri Lankan negotiating team. The official delegation composed of Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, a career Central Banker PhD in Economics from the Australian National University, who served as the Deputy Governor before his retirement in 2021, and the new Minister of Finance, Mr. Ali Sabry, an experienced lawyer.
The entire country will be hoping and waiting for them to use all their skills and bring back expeditiously a relief package that will alleviate the misery of a large section of the people of the Island, already enduring prolonged turmoil before the country reaches the point of no return.
Nandi Jasentuliyana is a former Deputy Director-General, United Nations
By Nandi Jasentuliyana