Winning COVID, Economic Wars
With the total number of COVID-19 deaths recorded at 11,152 as at Friday according to the interpretation of the Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) data together with news.lk data, COVID deaths are fast approaching the 13,000 mark, the latter number which is synonymous with the killing of 13,000 mainly Sinhala youth by the then Government in power, which effectively quelled the April 1971 JVP insurgency.
Post-independence, the highest number of killings however was caused by the LTTE insurgency which snuffed a total of 250,000 lives, second was the 29 July 1987 JVP insurgency in protest over the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord that took place on that day and which killed 60,000 Sinhala youth, third was the 26 December 2004 tsunami which killed 40,000, fourth was the April 1971 insurgency which killed 13,000 Sinhala youth and fifth and still counting is COVID-19, which up to Friday has killed 11,152, mainly the Sri Lankan elderly! Sri Lanka’s hitherto number one killing field postIndependence, the LTTE terrorism, became full blown after the LTTE ambushed and killed 13 soldiers in Jaffna on 23 July 1983.
The President then was J.R. Jayewardene. Jayewardene, after the beginning of LTTE terrorism on 23 July 1983 left the shores of the country only five times. The first was to participate in the inaugural SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in 1985, the second was to have cocktails and dinner with President Ronald Reagan in the Whitehouse in Washington, D.C. in 1984 in a failed attempt to procure arms from the USA to fight Tamil terror, third was a visit to Bangalore in 1986 to participate in the Second SAARC Summit, the fourth was a visit to Nepal in 1986 to participate in the third SAARC Summit, and the fifth was a visit to Pakistan in December 1988 to participate in the fourth SAARC Summit.
When Jayewardene visited the SAARC Summit in Pakistan in December 1988 he was the outgoing President, retiring from politics on 31 December 1988, thereby paving the way for his successor, Ranasinghe Premadasa, who won the 19 December 1988 Presidential Poll to take over the reins of the country, post 31 December 1988. The Pakistan SAARC Summit was held during the period the IPKF was fighting the LTTE with all other Tamil terrorist groups having entered the democratic process on 29 July 1987 other than EROS, which subsequently merged with the LTTE and the LTTE itself.
It was in Pakistan that Jayewardene made his last official speech and which speech he concluded by saying, “I’m a lover of India, a friend of its people, and a follower of its greatest son Gautama Buddha,” which won the heart of Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi, who was also present at that occasion. But two years and five months after the Pakistan Summit, Gandhi was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber on 21 May 1991, effectively neutralising India’s aid to the LTTE, which, since January 1980 when Indira Gandhi was once more elected to power as India’s Premier, was openly hostile to Sri Lanka, arming and training LTTE terrorists and even threatening to invade Sri Lanka at least twice over the Tamil issue.
But with India neutralised after Rajiv Gandhi‘s killing, coupled with proper leadership provided to the LTTE war by the triumvirate comprising the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Defence Secretary and now President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the then Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (MP), Sri Lanka was finally able to subjugate the LTTE on 18 May 2009, thus ending Sri Lanka’s cruellest terrorist war, much crueller than COVID-19, vis-à-vis the numbers hitherto killed. It’s that type of professionalism from within and support from without that is also required to subjugate COVID-19. COVID-19, like LTTE terrorism, is dual-faceted. It not only kills, but also cripples the economy.
Currently, its impact on the economy is felt by the US dollar shortages the country is facing, a resultant effect is the shortage of essential items like milk powder and sugar to mention a few. The US dollar, the international currency of trade, cannot be printed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. It has to be obtained either by way of loans or by boosting exports, encouraging foreign investments or by appealing for grant aid. Loans may be out of the question, as the reason behind Sri Lanka’s current dollar illiquidity is due to having to pay back foreign commercial loans, the genesis of which was in 2007 when Sri Lanka launched its first sovereign bond issue that year.
Sri Lanka’s main export market is the West, even after having obtained independence more than 73 years ago, on 4 February 1948. That market will have to be further nurtured. That nurturing will also bring in the muchneeded foreign investments into the country with the object of building export-oriented industries once more to the West, whilst nurturing the West politically will also bring in the much-needed grant aid.
Winning both the COVID-19 war and the West is the key to Sri Lanka’s success from both a health and economic perspective. No foreign investor or tourist would want to visit Sri Lanka if it has not overcome COVID-19. Tourism, before the COVID-19 outbreak, was Sri Lanka’s third largest foreign exchange earner. Almost simultaneously is the need to further strengthen relations with the West, Sri Lanka’s key export market. Export or perish!