Way Forward

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking at Army Headquarters, Akuregoda, Battaramulla, yesterday thanked the Army for protecting Parliament during last month’s mayhem.

He also thanked the Army for not allowing a single life to be lost during those incidents, which also included the storming of the Presidential Secretariat, President’s House, Colombo, Prime Minister’s Office and the burning of his private residence by angry masses led by the youth of the country.

Wickremesinghe said that Parliament was the country’s law making body.  He said that if it was invaded there wouldn’t have had been any law.

Newton’s third law of physics says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Last month’s mayhem was a reaction by the masses to the injustice in the system. It was akin to the storming of the Bastille by starving Frenchmen on 14 July 1789, that led to the French Revolution and the declaration of the ‘Rights of Man’, subsequently, that same year.

Sri Lanka is currently in the grip of record high inflation and cost of living. Census and Statistics Department (CSD) data released on Monday showed that the official poverty line (OPL) which at last year was recorded at a mere Rs 7,913, had, within a short space of six months to June of this year risen by 52.26 per cent (Rs 4,531) to Rs 12,444.

According to the last official poverty survey conducted by the CSD which was in 2019, it was found that 3.04 million of Sri Lanka’s population was poor. That accounted for 14.3 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population that year. The OPL in 2019 was a mere Rs 6,966. It has since, i.e. in a short space of two-and-a-half years risen by 78.64 per cent (Rs 5,478) to Rs 12,444 by June 2022, driving more people to poverty.

The consequence of which, the ‘July Revolution’, led by Sri Lanka’s lack of US dollars, stolen by its immediately preceding rulers, led by the Mahinda Rajapaksa clan, thereby driving inflation, as Sri Lanka is an import dependent economy and imprudent policies of the immediately preceding President, led by the banning of chemical fertiliser imports, since rescinded, but too late to reverse the harm it caused to harvests led by rice, Sri Lanka’s staple food and cutting taxes as an election gimmick in the midst of the island suffering perennial budget deficits, leading to inflationary money printing to bridge the gap.

Wickremesinghe has to fix the country’s dollar shortage, the mother of all of the country’s record socioeconomic evils besetting the masses, the worst since obtaining independence 74 years ago in 1948.

Subsequent to this dollar shortage, Sri Lanka has inadequate foreign currency to import fuel, cooking gas, medicines, food and a host of other essentials on top of record high inflation and poverty, leading to the July riots.

Paradoxically, Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the UNP, owes his position to the SLPP led by Mahinda who has 145 MPs in the 225-member House, who elected him to power. Wickremesinghe, therefore, has to work with these MPs.

An IMF bailout package is on the cards, provided Sri Lanka’s creditors agree to debt restructuring. All of Sri Lanka’s creditors, including the ‘G7’ countries are agreeable to debt restructuring other than China. In an arm twisting measure, a Chinese surveillance vessel plans to dock in Hambantota Port, one of several white elephant projects of Mahinda’s regime, given to the Chinese on a 99-year lease on a quid pro quo basis, in lieu of the commercial loan owed to it for building this Port, raising regional sensitivities.

Since the election by Parliament of Wickremesinghe to the country’s highest office last month, there has been a noticeable warming of relations by the West and Japan with Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe should be bold enough to not allow this Chinese vessel to dock at Hambantota, similar to the stance taken by J. R. Jayewardene 45 years ago in 1977, when he kicked the Soviets out from building the Samanalawewa Hydro Electric Power Project, originally negotiated by the immediately preceding regime of Sri Lanka.