Don’t Ignore the West

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UNP Leader and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe responding to a question asked by Chief Government Whip and SJB MP, Lakshman Kiriella in Parliament yesterday said, that he hoped to clinch an IMF deal in another three months time in September.

Previously he told the media that he hopes to get this IMF deal by the middle of this month, casting doubts on Wickremesinghe’s timelines, when comparing to what he said a few days ago, to what he said yesterday. Once the IMF deal is clinched, he said that he hopes to obtain bridging finance.

However, what Wickremesinghe didn’t say was how Sri Lanka is to survive in the next three months to September, till this IMF deal is through? Probably the Premier is expecting aid from the international community based on an appeal to be made by the UN today, according to him.

In this connection, Wickremesinghe speaking in Parliament on the previous day, Tuesday said, “The United Nations has arranged for a worldwide public appeal on 9 June. They are seeking support to provide humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka. Through this project, they plan to provide $ 48 million over a four-month period to the food, agriculture and health sectors.”

But in that same speech the Premier said, Sri Lanka needs to find US$ six billion to keep the country afloat for the next six months, ie dollar three billion for the next three months. But obtaining D36 million (1.2 per cent), when prorating $ 48 million for the next three months from the international community still leaves a further D2,964 million (98.8 per cent) needed for Sri Lanka’s survival during this period.

The Premier may be counting on at least India to see Sri Lanka through during this period, where the Premier in this connection said, “India offered to help us in the face of the growing crisis. We call on the International Monetary Fund to hold a conference to help unite our lending partners. Holding such a conference under the leadership of India, China and Japan will be a great strength to our country. It is our hope that some consensus on lending approaches can be reached through such a conference.”

Wonder why Wickremesinghe left the West out of this expected donor conference? This has to be looked at in the context that when Wickremesinghe was previously Premier in June 2003, The Sri Lanka Donor Co-Chairs (SLDCC), comprising four members: the European Union, Japan, Norway, and the United States, were founded. (See also US State Department’s media note of 14 June 2005).

The SLDCC was formed during the period when the Wickremesinghe Government was having peace talks with the LTTE to monitor reconstruction assistance to Sri Lanka and the peace process. The LTTE was subsequently decimated under Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda’s Presidency on 18 May 2009, when Gotabaya was the Defence Secretary.

The USA is Sri Lanka’s largest market for its merchandise exports and the EU is its second. While Norway is not a significant market for Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports, it has however, provided the island with USD 726 million worth of aid since 1965, according to the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo.

 Norway is also a significant market for Sri Lanka’s ICT exports, which exports, including ICTES exports, according to the Central Bank Sri of Lanka, was Sri Lanka’s fourth largest foreign exchange earner last year. Meanwhile, the UK is Sri Lanka’s third largest merchandise export market.

Therefore, it’s a significant oversight that Wickremesinghe didn’t rope in at least two parties from the West to co-lead this proposed donor conference for the island, together with India, Japan and China.

 At this critical situation, Wickremesinghe, in cricketing parlance, “cannot afford to lose sight of the ball” and should learn a lesson or two from his uncle J.R. Jayewardene’s Presidency, under whom he first served as an ordinary MP and subsequently as a minister.

The infrastructure legacies such as the Accelerated Mahaweli  Development Project, Rupavahini Corporation, Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital and the present Parliament left behind by Jayewardene to name a few were due to his warm and cordial relations with the West and Japan.