Be Patient for Two Years

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Yesterday the Government of SLPP Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and UNP Leader and President Ranil Wickremesinghe passed emergency laws as expected in Parliament.

Such a bipartisan Government is obnoxious because it came into being not through the mandate of the island’s 15 million + voters, but by the 225 MPs in Parliament, thereby going against the spirit of the law, though, constitutionally correct.

SLPP commands 145 MPs in the 225-member House. Therefore Wickremesinghe, elected by Parliament and not by the will of the masses, survives as President due to the support extended by at least 113 SLPP MPs in Parliament.

Under emergency regulations, not only the Police, but the Security Forces as well are empowered to not only arrest a suspect without a Magistrate’s warrant, but seize his property as well.

These unsavoury developments have taken place amidst record days-long fuel queues, due to a lack of US dollars to import the same, leading to at least one fuel queue death per month since last year,  record shortage of cooking gas for the same reasons and similar such record queues with expectations to purchase the same after staying for so long,  record hours-long daily power cuts due to a lack of dollars to purchase the expensive diesel to provide an uninterrupted electricity supply to the masses, as the cheaper ‘coal electricity’ plant,built by the Chinese at a cost of $ 1.35 billion, sans tenders, during Rajapaksa’s Presidency, is, more often, only partially operable.

Other socioeconomic woes include fishers being unable to go to sea because of the lack of fuel, which is another record, schools and Government offices being operable only on a few days of the week due to this fuel shortage, another record, shortages of food, including milk powder and medicines and record high cost of living and inflation leading to recurrent mass protests.

The cause for the lack of dollars in the country is due to a mix of robbery during Rajapaksa’s near 10-year Presidency from 17 November 2005 to 8 January 2015 and bad policies during Rajapaksa’s younger brother, Gotabaya’s shorter tenure as President from 16 November 2019 to 14 July 2022, before mass protests, due to the country’s record socioeconomic crisis, forced him to flee the country on 13 July. Wickremesinghe is serving the remaining two years of Gota’s Presidency.

An example of the country’s coffers being rifled during Mahinda’s tenure is that Sri Lanka’s foreign commercial debt (FCD) as a percentage of total of foreign debt (FD), which didn’t exceed since independence in 1948 and up to Mahinda’s Presidency in 2005 to seven per cent, ballooned to 51 per cent in 2012 and has stayed that way since. FCD is expensive; a feature of FCD is where the interest charged relative to concessional FD is high, coupled with a shorter payback period.  An example of FCD is the building of the above coal plant. Foreign concessional debt is, ipso facto concessional; with a longer payback period, unlike FCD. When Mahinda was elected to power in 2005, FCD as a percentage of total FD was four per cent, whereas foreign concessional debt was 96 per cent of total FD, data showed.

This newspaper remembers, when FCD was shooting through the skyduring Rajapaksa’s Presidency, IMF’s then Resident Representative in Colombo Dr. Koshy Mathai warning against such profligate spending,but his warning fell on deaf years.

Meanwhile, Gota’s bad policies include banning chemical fertiliser imports for a seven-month period from April 2021 to November 2021, thereby scarring harvests led by rice, the island’s staple food and tax cuts amidst the country running huge budget deficits, leading to record high demand pull inflationary money printing.

Under the circumstances, the masses will have to grin and bear for another two years when the next Presidential Poll is due to boot out the unpopular Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe regime, like they did 45 years ago, when they booted out Rajapaksa’s mentor Sirima Bandaranaike, a family friend of the Wickremesinghes, on 21 July 1977, by a record five-sixths majority under the UNP leadership of J.R. Jayewardene.