Ranil and Accountability

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, at his inaugural policy speech made in Parliament yesterday (3), overlooked promising to take action against those responsible for Sri Lanka’s present socioeconomic morass.

It was the fiscal profligacy of the previous successive regimes over the past few decades that got the island into this situation.

Wickremesinghe owes his position to the 145 SLPP MPs who command the majority in the 225-member House. The next Parliamentary Poll is due in 2025. Nonetheless, the President is constitutionally empowered to dissolve Parliament after the expiry of two-and-a-half years of its present term of office and call for fresh polls. The present Parliament will complete three years on 20 August, since holding its first session on 20 August 2020.

It’s to be seen if Wickremesinghe will take action against the Rajapaksas, probably in the lines of a Presidential Commission, after first finalising a deal with the IMF?

He, however, said that bonafide “Aragalakaruwos” will be allowed to continue with their protests at designated sites, while saboteurs will be dealt with. Wickremesinghe said this is a tourism month, with a focus on the Tamil Diaspora, expected to attend religious festivities. There are however reports of attempted sabotage which will not be tolerated, said Wickremesinghe.

To ensure certainty to change, important in the eyes of the international community, in particular the West and Japan, the President said he would reintroduce the 19th Amendment (19A) which previously clipped the powers of the Executive Presidency, by reintroducing those to the proposed 22A.

He also said he would institute a “People’s Assembly,” (PA), which would decide on the fate of the Executive Presidency. Wickremesinghe said the PA would be funded by the Government, which members would also include those in the “Aragalaya,” with inputs from the UN and regional countries.

The President further said he would present a 25-year economic plan, by 2025 the Budget would make a primary surplus, the debt to GDP ratio presently at 140 per cent would be brought down to 100 per cent by 2030, and by 2048 Sri Lanka would enter the annals of being a developed country. He also invited the Opposition to join in an “All-Party Government” to take the country forward.

The President invited the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora to participate in the country’s development process. He further said State-owned enterprises will be reformed. Wickremesinghe in his speech also referred to “1977” several times. The year 1977 was when Wickremesinghe made his inaugural entry to Parliament.

1977 was epoch-making, economically and politically. That year, Sri Lanka embraced an open economy with the change of Government on 21 July 1977, which also saw Wickremesinghe’s virginal entry to Parliament.

Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s 1977 Annual Report, describing the economic changes that took place that year, said those changes were momentous, never seen after 1956, nor even after independence in 1948.

In 1977, when Sri Lanka chartered a new economic course, it ditched the friends of the previous regime, China and the then Soviet Union, together with the Socialist-Marxist policies followed by that immediately preceding regime to invest in a pro-Western style market economy.

However, as ‘markets’ are an ugly word to some, the President substituted the word ‘market’ with ‘social,’ in yesterday’s speech. Wickremesinghe also emphasised the importance of the country once more realigning itself with India and Japan, a far cry from the policies followed by the immediately preceding Rajapaksa regimes which, instead, aligned itself to China at the expense of India, Japan, and the West. The triumvirate, India, Japan and the West, looks at China’s expansionist moves with suspicion.

The ‘Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka,’ for ulterior motives, since 17 November 2005, has been advocating a pro-China policy at the expense of the country’s socio-economy, integrity, and independence. Wickremesinghe pledged to change that. It’s left to be seen whether the free world would respond positively to his speech, despite several gaps, as said above.