Sri Lanka needs to win!


The speech by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinhe  on the current economic crisis was one of the finest in recent decades by a Sri Lankan political leader. There is an economic dimension to the crisis and a political dimension. The premier sounded convinced that he was the best person to handle the issues which is by far, the more pressing priority. A public that is hungry is dangerous and no one would be safe. On Monday night, for the first time, the leader outlined in stark detail, with specific numbers, how dire the situation is after two plus years of denial by his predecessors. And it is grim. He sounded sincere and sober. There were no false notes. It was not a political speech. The Premier said he expected the worst in the future ahead but it will not be for long. Sometimes you have to hold a light at the end of a tunnel. People need hope.

The message one heard the most was the need for stability. We are relying on the goodwill of others to feed us. The fact is that the economy of the past 74 years is dead. The question is whether we resuscitate it back to life support or do we build a new one for the future? Most rational people would select the latter.

Build self-sustaining economy

There are two dimensions to the Economic job. The first is the need to feed: to find the funds to keep a bankrupt country going. RW is arguably, the best for that. The second is the need for Economic Reform. Like every other politician of the past 70 plus years, he had not fully utilised the opportunities presented to him. To build a self-sustaining economy will take many years and require a massive readjustment of the economy which would have been painful even in the best of times. The PM mentioned the need to restructure SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Ceylon Electricity Board as the public can no longer subsidise these inefficient institutions. There are more in the massively bloated public sector, and the government also needs to improve revenues and transparency at institutions such as Sri Lanka Customs, the Excise Department and Inland Revenue. The PM did not deal with that part yesterday as one needs to prioritise. First things, first.

Incompetent and corrupt leaders

Then there is the political dimension. Should the people who precipitated an already imbalanced country to its worst economic crisis through incompetence and corruption still be holding office? If they will not resign, and an election at this stage is not the brightest idea, one has to work with them in the interim until the economic wolves at the door are dealt with. This is especially the case when the Leader of the Opposition was seemingly confused earlier on inviting a consensus leader to take the helm who could have brought together all the parties in a government of unity.

PM did not sound like someone who took up the job for the ego. He sounded like someone who rose for the country. He was probably stung by the failures of his last Yahapalanaya administration and in particular, the bond scandal. He does not want that to be his defining legacy. He wants to be remembered as the person who fought for the country when the chips were down; the economy pillaged and destroyed.

Prime motivation

As a keen observer of cricket, one always felt that a prime motivation for Arjuna and Aravinda to win the 1996 World Cup was a match against Australia in Kandy, little remembered now.  Sri Lanka, cruising to its maiden Test win against Aussies, somehow self- destructed. Chasing 181, Sri Lanka went from 127-2 to 164 all out. After scoring 547/8 in the first inning. No one knows what really happened but it did not look right! That is not how these two great servants of Sri Lankan cricket wanted to be remembered by. The 1996 World Cup win superseded all that and Arjuna and Aravinda are among our greatest sporting heroes.

May be the PM has similar motivations. Righting the economic ship would be bigger than any sports win as the lives of 23 million people are at stake. He wants that to be his defining legacy and seems convinced he is the best man for the job. This is no ego job as the risks of failure are too great. On the trickiest of wickets with winds howling and the ball swinging, he wants to bat for the country. If he pulls it off, this will be bigger than the World Cup win!

Sri Lanka needs to win!

The writer is a former Head of a  State Entity

By A. Duminda