President and Finance Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday, with no foreign aid forthcoming, in a panic mode, “temporarily” banned the import of a host of imported items, in order to protect the country’s spartan US dollar reserves, with immediate effect. This action of his is similar to the 1970-77 era when Sri Lanka practised a closed economy.
The new banned items include rail air brakes, electric kettles, Braille typewriters, other typewriters, flasks, fridges, electric cookers, rice cookers, microwave ovens, irons, shaving creams, air conditioners, washing/dry cleaning machines, phones, including mobile phones, microphones, fire fighting vehicles, TVs, calculators, sewing machines, machinery for food and drink manufacture, balls, other than golf and table tennis balls, several types of musical instruments including pianos, keyboards, violins, guitars and such like, machinery for making paper or paper board, book sewing machines, printing machines, lathes, weaving machines (looms), knitting machines, TV antennas, rail locomotives, railway signalling equipment and cash registers.
Clocks, alarm clocks, wrist watches, ploughs, harvesting machines, dairy machinery, poultry incubators, machinery for preparing animal feed, machinery for cleaning, sorting or grading seeds, railway coaches, ticket issuing machines, tricycles, scooters, pedal cars, video games, golf clubs, tennis, badminton or similar racquets, beverage vending machines, fishing rods, brooms, brushes, cigarette lighters, scent sprays, machinery for preparing or making tobacco, loudspeakers, duplicating machines, machinery for the extraction or preparing of animal or ‘fixed’ vegetable fats or oils, gaskets, shavers, hair clippers,vacuum cleaners, food grinders, mixers, fruit and vegetable juice extractors, binoculars, milks and creams,cut flowers, coconuts, chocolates, waters, including mineral waters.
Wooden railway sleepers, safety headgear, steam turbines, boilers,diesel engines, dishwashing machines, water pumps, weighing scales, ship cranes, fork lift trucks, locks, padlocks, keys, toilet paper, paper serviettes, facial tissues, indentured ethyl alcohol, slates, marble, pebbles, limestone flux, quicklime, perfumes, beauty or makeup preparations, hair preparations such as shampoos, preparations for oral and dental hygiene, shaving creams, hoses, trunks and suitcases, travelling bags, briefcases, spectacle cases, school satchels, gloves, handbags, belts, plywood, windows, doors, posts, beams, pyjamas, panties, night dresses, T-shirts, jerseys, swim wear, handkerchiefs, ties, blankets, bed linen, curtains, footwear, umbrellas, bricks, ceramic ware, tableware, glassware, wash basins, hand tools, knives, razors, scissors, spoons, forks, gas and water gas generators, among others.
Wickremesinghe recently said that he wants to usher in a change similar to that of 1977. But the 1977 change was not about stifling imports as the President has done as shown above, but rather, liberalising imports.
The underlining factor behind Wickremesinghe imposing such harsh import controls is that there are no dollars forthcoming, unlike in 1977. The fact of the matter is that in 1977 the West and Japan, among the key conduits which have the dollars, trusted the new regime that was elected to power at the 21 July 1977 Parliamentary Poll, however, that bloc doesn’t repose that same confidence and trust in Wickremesinghe.
That, however, is unsurprising. For example, due to the frequent breakdown of the 3X 300 (900 mW) Norochcholai Coal Fired Power Plant (NCFPP), that has seen the taxpayers’ electricity bills being inflated by at least Rs 1.44 billion in the nine consecutive days to Tuesday alone, latest Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) statistics showed. This is because CEB has to rely on the expensive diesel to fill the breach. All costs are based on Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL’s) 2021 estimates.
Consequent to the further breakdown of NCFPP since 15 August, CEB has extended its record, daily power cuts by 200 per cent to three hours since 16 August. NCFPP was built at a cost of US$ 1.35 billion by the Chinese during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era in a mix of commercial and concessional terms sans tender call.
But, Wickremesinghe hasn’t called for an investigation in respect of the procurement and building of the NCFPP despite the taxpayers having to foot in a bill of Rs 1.44 billion in the space of a mere nine days due to no fault of theirs.
If the Wickremesinghe Government lacks financial accountability, how may the West and Japan then trust him with their dollars? The President needs to address this trust deficit if he wishes to replicate the “1977 miracle” in 2022.