By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
What is unfolding in the Sri Lankan political arena seems rather deceptive and distorted. Fast changing scenes on stage make things so confusing and what is visible is not the “ground truth”. Country is, as it appears, learning to live with it. The developments unveiling indicate the dust is somewhat settling and the atmosphere is clearing. But is this the reality?
The agitational trends are gradually diminishing, creating a hopefulness of an early resolution of the crisis centered on shortages in essential supplies needed for day -to- day life in the wake of the restoration of Law and Order amidst claims that it is by extralegal measures taken. The concerns and intervention by opposition political forces and human rights organizations focusing on the modus operandi adopted, is also, on the increase heavily influenced by external forces including some foreign missions here. Let us examine a few issues currently in focus in this context.
Is the Form of government ludicrous?
We have a government of strange formation. A party elected with an overwhelming majority choosing a defeated candidate brought into the house under special provisions,( to accommodate one representative from a party on the basis of percentages received country -wide at the election), to lead the government. The UNP, a party losing all seats in the general election benefited by this provision to send in one MP through the national list. He was nominated as the Prime Minister to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of the sitting Prime Minister, by the President who himself had earmarked to tender his resignation shortly. When the President subsequently resigned the nominated PM succeeded him as the Head of the government with only himself as a MP from his party. He was elected by the parliament to be the President to run the balance period of the Presidency by a majority vote, and is to present a Policy statement at the ceremonial opening of the new session of the parliament as the new President. Now whose policy is he going to present to the Parliament? His own OR one agreed with the political party which nominated him?
There are many areas undecided in this parliament. The cabinet is incomplete. The size of the cabinet depends on how many other political parties will agree to join the Government. Accordingly, it can be presumed that the policy statement is going to be a nominal proposition covering broad concepts than any specific plans because the new Cabinet Ministers will have to make some contribution towards the policy plans unless they have conceded that they will agree to any, come what. Then, the question that would arise is will such an ad hoc policy statement would suffice the requirement for a sustainable economic policy plan called for by the IMF and the World Bank before considering any assistance to us?
The panacea of an All Party Government “sarva pakshika anduwa”
The on- going debate and the center of focus is about the formation of a government represented by all parties in the parliament. But will there be a consensus reached on this? As it is, of course, it remains a very distant hope due to the several interests and concerns expressed publicly by the various parties. The variances are so wide, innumerable and masked with hot and cold reactions.
The President has already announced the expectation for the formation of such a government and it is reported that he has written to all MPs individually too. It remains to be clarified whether he has sought their views on a policy plan to address and fulfill the required needs. This leaves us with the big question whether a comprehensive policy plan would be the aim of a government of consensus OR whether the current government is only trying to share the burden and the responsibility of addressing the burning current issues among all squarely. A scape goat tactic in the old- fashioned wat to distract the people’s attention! The pitfalls we can visualize in this process are many. It can be a carrot dangling before those aspiring positions , power and benefits so that once thrown as offers it can lead to a quarrel going far beyond the need of the hour among the members of the same party. Members of the public do not see why the entire parliament cannot concede to work as one government dedicated to resolve the crisis and agree on a sustainable long term policy plan without any differences to be carried forward. But it is not difficult t apprehend that each party is only concerned with how they can come to power next overriding the others.
It will be an easier task to agree on the allocated number of portfolios for each party proportionately to the number of seats they have in the parliament now and allow each party to name their contenders with a dead line. Country is fed up of maneuvers and manipulations witnessed so far.
In the event of a failure to reach consensus the parties can agree to replace their National List MP quota with substitutes to be chosen from a common list of knowledgeable educated persons who could positively contribute independently towards the formulation of a sustainable economic policy acceptable to the International Organizations. So that we will have a new blood group of capable 25 , free of previous convictions in this parliament to serve a current interim period pending an election to select a new parliament of choice of the people.
Stances of IMF, World Bank and other international bodies
It is understandable that all these institutions insist on acceptable economic policy plans for the country. We have several instances before disregarded the reforms recommended to us as conditions to be observed for the revival of our economy. If we adhered to those, we would not be facing the difficulties we are confronted with today. Successive governments equally share the responsibility for these failures.
The introduction of these conditionalities repeatedly show that our politicians were not only incompetent in handling the affairs by themselves but have neglected their responsibilities in carrying out the roles as true representatives of the people. Hence the concerns of the international bodies about the internal politics of a country is not totally unjustified. No organization would be interested to deal with a careless and irresponsible government. Especially when the governance is tainted with rampant corruption the focus will be much more serious. What we are facing today is the result of these shortfalls on our part.
In this context the temporary political maneuvers we are indulging in may not satisfy the international agencies as measures sufficient to convince that we are on the right track and direction. Also, may not help to hood wink them. So, when the country is demanding an opportunity to correct the situation the changes made should reflect those thoughts to be accepted as meaningful steps. Therefore, the sooner ending of the term of this parliament and paving the way for a new general election is an essential means of establishing that the country is determined to bring about a positive change.
In such a situation the IMF and the WB may take us more us more seriously to consider granting an interim relief to help us get over this crisis. However, till the last EFF granted to us in 2016 we have never defaulted any repayments to the IMF. It is unfortunately on record that the last tranche of the 1.5 Billion USD facility granted in 2016, was not released in full to us for some reason and we only received 1.3 Bn. instead which is a kind of non-compliance on our part.
The virtually forced and pressurized advice to default & restructure loans, unpeg and float the dollar, and run to the IMF in such a situation in retrospect show us that many things have gone wrong. The need and emphasis for short term measures to strengthen the inflow of exchange through various steps too were overlooked and by passed by those in authority. All these have added to precipitate our dwindling economy in a faster phase. Let us therefore, reexamine these shortfalls and sensibly plan to steer the economy out of this mess at this stage.
Missions and Diplomatic Relations
WE are aware that there is a UN treaty called the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations governing the affairs of foreign missions in any country. This convention clearly sets out the functions of a Diplomatic Mission in Article 3 of this convention.
Inter alia these functions are;
1. Representing the sending State in the receiving State;
2. Protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law;
3. Negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;
4. Ascertaining by all Lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting there onto the Government of the sending State;
5. Promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State,and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations;
Unfortunately we are witnessing actions, initiations and steps taken by some missions in Sri Lanka beyond these basic involvements as stipulated in the convention. In certain instances they appear to be direct interventions in the areas of lawful actions of the government. We are compelled to state as peace loving citizens that the ordinary people are looking up to the State to provide them the security, freedom and protection through legal means. When Law and Order is violated by one section those affected as a result will have no option other than to seek the protection from the State. There is a mis-conception by the Law breakers that the Foreign Missions are supportive of their action. We appeal to the foreign missions to refrain from making public Statements about such matters and the missions to report to their States if so required and necessitated, instead.