“Economic Emergency” an interview/discussion with the new Governor of the Central Bank – Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, Treasury Secretary of Sri Lanka, Mr. KMM Siriwardana, Vice President of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Duminda Hulangamuwa, and Professor Hema Thilakasisri, broadcast on Rupavahini on Friday evening (8.4.22), was probably one of the most enlightening discussions heard about the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka. This discussion should be rebroadcast on all channels a number of times, so that everyone has the opportunity to listen to it. Without pointing fingers and without political hyperbole, one gets an explanation of how we got to this point, and the severity of the economic calamity we face, as well as an idea of how to get out of it.
In a nutshell, we do not have enough money to honor the loans we have taken out, nor enough money for our future essential purchases. Therefore, we urgently need to restructure our debt, so that these loans can be repaid over a longer period of time; and we need to create a situation where we are able to raise more loans and more revenue, in order to avoid a complete economic collapse. This must be done under the auspices of the IMF. In other words, these shortages that we are experiencing today – be it electricity, gas, diesel, etc… will continue until we can stabilize our economy, and if this stabilization is further delayed, it there will be a complete collapse of the economy.
For the economy to be stabilized and brought back to the “keel” so to speak, besides the Central Bank/Ministry of Finance plan, two other things need to happen. First, there must be a “stable government” in place, to start and continue negotiations under the aegis of the IMF to restructure our debt and organize future loans, etc. Second, and almost immediately, there must be social stability, in order to create an environment conducive to the entry of “dollars” into the country. This is further supported by the news story – “Social unrest, ex-World Bank official Lanka’s biggest risk”, in the Sunday Island edited 10.4.22 by former Chief Economist for South Asia Regions at the World Bank, Shanta Devarajan.
Unfortunately, at this stage, we have neither political nor social stability. There is no doubt that at this time we as a nation are disappointed with the current presidency/government. Hundreds and thousands of people are on the road today, protesting the current government’s failure to provide what are considered basic amenities in the modern world – be it electricity, gas, gasoline, diesel, etc.
The entire opposition seems to be of one mind, determined to try to oust the current government, whatever the consequences for the country. They are asking/encouraging/campaigning for people to hit the road “to force” the current president to resign and the Rajapaksas and others to return home.
However, there are several critical aspects to this equation, which members of the opposition (and some civil groups) blatantly ignore or, to give the benefit of the doubt, have failed to consider.
First, the people are not just asking for the president and the Rajapaksa clan to go home; they are also asking all 225 MPs to go home as well. A very convincing case of selective blindness and deafness among members of the opposition.
Second, if all the members and the president go home, who is there to govern the country? There is a misunderstanding among the members of the opposition that the people are asking them to govern! Don’t get me wrong, no one is asking the SJB or the JVP to take over.
Third, a new president and a new government will not change the underlying economic crisis and impending economic catastrophe.
Fourth, as discussed during the “Economic Emergency,” that political stability and social stability must happen NOW. Regarding the approach of the IMF, etc… we are already behind. We don’t have time to rehash a constitution and/or organize elections.
April 4 editorial “Help others save us”, in his usual pragmatic style, demonstrated, once again, the urgency of an interim government. Hats off to Minister Ali Sabry, who said he accepted this post of Minister of Finance because there was no one else, and if there is anyone else who can make a best job to please take over. The opposition must show that it understands the reality on the ground. Form an “interim government” between all parties, so that the first step (political stability) necessary to resolve this crisis can be taken.
The next step is social stability. The president and the party leaders – of the “interim government” – must address the people. Assure them that they are heard and that once this crisis is resolved or in the process of being resolved, if possible, there will be a serious and sincere discussion with them. The necessary changes to the Constitution, the electoral system, the requirements of future elected officials, the functioning of Parliament, an independent audit to assess the finances of deputies, etc… will be established, and that you– all 225- will step down to allow the people to decide how their/our country will be governed.
Therefore, until that time comes – that is, until we are out of this crisis – advise the public to go home and allow the necessary social stability to take hold to get out of this crisis. This should also be supported by all civil societies/organizations, if they genuinely care about the welfare of this country and its people.
It is imperative that we realize that we are all in this crisis together – not just you or me.
Dr. SUMEDHA S. AMARASEKARA