By Kumar David –
They have made him captain and sent him in to bat at number eleven! At the other end is Mahinda, nought not-out. Has the previous captain been sealed in a glass vanity case and put on display or will he interfere? They are facing an inning’s defeat, the wicket is sticky and the light is fading. Will Basil be allowed to run the economic show or will the retired-hurt captain, his Viathmaga jokers and his jackbooted junkers still call the shots? The immediate challenge is this: Can Brother Basil get the lunatic, literally mentally retarded, instant-ban on all non-organic fertiliser imposed by Brother Gota reversed? Can he stop the train wreck of a decline in the paddy harvest before irreparable damage is done? Let me put it bluntly: If Presumptive Economic Tsar Basil is not equipped to clout this full-toss, forget him, he will be another failed Paksa in an all-lbw Multi-Paksa regime.
Even if he hits the fertiliser full-toss over the boundary the other googlies awaiting him are daunting. Honestly, the debt problem is insoluble; Basil and poor Lakshman facing $4 billion repayment in 2021 (rising to $5 billion by 2025) and with a balance of trade deficit of say $10 billion and little or no income from housemaids and tourists, are staring into the abyss. It doesn’t take an economist, plain layman like I can see that it’s curtains. Another billion dollar SWAP form the Indians, a billion and a half loan from the ever generous Chinese and a suffocating IMF restructuring stranglehold . . . what on earth? The regime and poor Lakshman are just kicking the can six months down the road. Take a deep breath and tell me what can Basil do to turn the tide? The storm is too big; Basil can’t build cadjan sheds to shelter from the debt repayment tsunami. Poor Lakshman seems to be at his wits end trying to scramble together some dollars to pay his dues, the rupee has pierced the 200 to a dollar ceiling several times in recent months, letters of credit from local banks are sniffed at like rotten fish by international banks. Something is going to give on Brother Basil’s watch. Were I his most sincere well-wisher, I can’t see a way out with national debt at 80% of GDP and no balance of payments reversal in sight.
Covid and debt repayment have emptied government coffers. Brother Basil’s principal task we are given to understand is to rebuild the economy. GDP was minus 3.6% in 2020, but it was a bad year. The World Bank says growth has declined steadily since 2014 when it was +6% (2015=5%, 2016=4.5%, 2017=3.6% 2018=3.3%, 2019=2.3%). It’s been a systematic decline. Things just didn’t go right for us in a period during which most developing countries were doing OK. The ADB very graciously expects the economy to grow 4% in 2021 which means that it will just about recover to where it was at the beginning of 2020. This forecast, when it was made was based on expectations of renewed foreign investment and normalising tourism, both of which have faltered. Once again and without gloating on bad news I don’t see a bright future for Brother Basil. As for poor Lakshman, he will have to print like the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon to finance the deficits of a bankrupt Treasury and raise funds for Brother Basil if he sets his sights on projects and investments so as to breathe life into the moribund economy.
Dinesh wants to pull the wool over the eyes of the International Community and fool the EU into believing that the Prevention of Terrorism Act which has been on the statue book for 44 years and kept marching forward like Johnny Walker striking down scores of regime-opponents, will miraculously be repealed within three months. Does it need 44 years + three months to throw out an evil law? Does the EU consist of a bunch of suckers to believe a habitually promise flouting government? Will GSP+ survive? Maybe, otherwise Brother Basil’s hopes of raising the economic corpse will remain dead and poor Lakshman can retire and go get a good night’s sleep.
On the 1930 tour of England Bradman scored a century, two double centuries and a triple century in the tests for a mind boggling test-average of 139! Going in at number eleven, with Brother Mahinda 0 not-out at the other end, can Brother Basil achieve even more glorious feats? They jest that Bradman could see the cricket ball as big as a football. Hmm, are Brother Basil’s Balls Big enough to grapple with the challenges ahead?
For a sombre, serious and valuable appraisal of why Brother Basil’s reincarnation will flop see Sonali Wijeratne.