Another ‘Somalia’

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None of Sri Lanka’s friends, other than India, has come forward to assist it to overcome its present fuel crisis underlined by a US dollar shortage due to corruption, not only to import fuel, but other essential imports as well. Nonetheless, talks are on with the Indian authorities to import yet more fuel on a credit basis, but no finality has been reached, it’s learnt.

It’s not that Sri Lanka’s other friends are not aiding the country at this critical juncture, but they are more interested in providing food, medicines, and livelihood support, rather than helping the island to import fuel, with the exception of the World Bank, which diverted some of its allocations from projects in the island to cooking gas imports and other emergency needs, recently.

In fact, Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David McKinnon, in a statement yesterday said, “In collaboration with the World Health Organization, we are funding the procurement of essential medicines and supplies. Canada is also working with the World Food Programme to purchase urgently needed rice stocks for the National School Meal Programme. As the crisis deepens, we are looking how we can best respond to the recent flash appeals by the UN and the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies.”

One possible reason why at least bilateral donors, with the exception of India in this instance, are reluctant to work with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) direct, is fears of “mismanagement,” as blamed by no lesser person than Minister Bandula Gunawardena himself for the present dollar crisis, being replicated to their aid as well, if channelled direct to the GoSL.

Sri Lanka’s friends, with the exception of China and Russia, are democracies and hence answerable to their taxpayers. By simply telling their voters that their tax money was squandered due to mismanagement by the GoSL will not do, unlike in Sri Lanka. They will show their disenchantment at the next election by at least throwing out that Government, or, in the worst case scenario, taking it to Court.

To re-establish confidence in the GoSL, Gunawardena and his Government should bring to book the culprits behind the dollar “mismanagement” story. Otherwise, shortages, queues, rationing, ‘queue deaths,’ a black market, cronyism, nepotism, bribery and corruption, in short a replication of what took place in a seven year period from 1970-1977, with far greater ramifications, threaten to swamp Sri Lanka’s political and socioeconomic fabric in the present context.

This is the “system change” which President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently talked of, that the masses want. If not, Sri Lanka is virtually sitting on a volcano, waiting to erupt at anytime.

Dollar shortage, also experienced by record hours-long daily power cuts at least since the beginning of the year and the shortage of raw material, threaten the very existence of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). MSMEs employ at least 60 per cent of the island’s labour, making their jobs vulnerable in the present scenario, made worse by the fact that 60 per cent or more of Sri Lanka’s employees are working in the informal sector, bereft of employment contracts and EPF and ETF contributions, among others, making them and their families, already vulnerable, even more vulnerable, if they lose their jobs.

In its short space of 74 years of independence, Sri Lanka had more than its share of bloody revolutions, albeit abortive, nonetheless causing the deaths of tens of thousands of its youth, destruction to billions of rupees worth of property, and retarding the country’s progress by several decades.

The proof of the pudding is that 50-year-old Bangladesh, which got its independence after fighting a bloody war with Pakistan in December 1971, and which just four decades ago was considered a basket case, is now providing loans to Sri Lanka!

Rajapaksa’s promised “system change” must be complemented by charging those responsible for “mismanagement” with criminal negligence that has led to the present state of affairs. Otherwise, it would be just a matter of time before Sri Lanka ends up becoming another ‘Somalia.’