Revival Needed

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The current US dollar crisis in Sri Lanka resulting in further job losses has plunged more Sri Lankans into poverty.

This has to be looked at in the context that prior to the dollar crisis, the World Bank (WB) estimated that over 500,000 Sri Lankans became poor consequent to the loss of employment caused by the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that took place two years ago in 2020.

This estimate comes in the backdrop that the Census and Statistics Department said Sri Lanka’s poor totalled 3.04 million in 2019, according to its latest data. An additional 500,000 will swell those numbers to 3.54 million, comprising 16.1 per cent of the island’s total population of 22 million.

Meanwhile, NPR Media, USA, in a publication dated 29 April, quoting Chayu Damsinghe, an economist attached to Frontier Research (Pvt.) Ltd., Colombo said there was a cooking gas shipment that required a mere USD 5 million payment to be cleared but was sent back for the lack of it. “A ridiculously small amount not to be able to pay, Sri Lanka should not have come to this level.”

Opposition SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne speaking in Parliament on Thursday (19) said, in the South Asian region, other than Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, all other countries have seen their foreign reserves grow in the past two years despite the Covid-19 Pandemic.

He further said that the request made by the international community is to have a Government bereft of the Rajapaksas. That appears to be happening. On Friday (20), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (SLPP) appointed a few more Cabinet ministers, some of whom he not only didn’t see eye to eye, but also had a vituperative political relationship with them.

They included rebel SJB MP Harin Fernando as the new Tourism Minister; Susil Premajayantha, Education Minister and Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Justice Minister.

But Rajapaksa has to do much more than aligning himself with Lord Palmerston’s saying, “In politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests,” to win over the international community, in whose hands the much needed dollars required to revive the Sri Lankan economy and to regain at least part of the jobs loss, lie.

The international community led by the West and Japan, in whose hands those dollars lie, believe in the rule of law.

But hardly two weeks ago on 9 May, SLPP goons clubbed peaceful anti-Government protesters in broad daylight, in Colombo.

Nonetheless, a positive development seen on Friday was that Rajapaksa’s nephew, Namal (MP), was questioned by the CID over the 9 May violence. Already a few SLPP politicos, including a State Minister and an MP have been arrested over these incidents, but there are reports to say that there are other SLPP bigwigs too involved in the 9 May violence who are yet to be questioned.

The world is waiting for tangible progress in respect of the SLPP Government’s commitment to the rule of law, before the floodgates of aid would once more be open to the country to revive its sick economy and regain jobs lost as a result.

Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL’s) 1977 Annual Report writing about the economic changes that took place that year said, “Unemployment appeared to be growing, largely on account of the sluggish growth of the economy in recent years which was inadequate to absorb the growing work force. The new Government reacted to this situation by adopting fundamental and far reaching economic reforms which almost reversed the policies adopted since 1956, or perhaps since Sri Lanka became an independent country in 1948. In that sense, the year 1977 was a watershed in the economic history of Sri Lanka.”

If Sri Lanka made revolutionary changes in policy to revive the economy in 1977 not seen since independence in 1948, fast forwards 45 years to the present, what the country now needs is revolutionary changes in its human rights history to once more revive the economy.