22 June, 2021

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Gota’s Import Bans & Economic Development

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

‘Vistas of prosperity and splendour’, ‘food self-sufficiency’, ‘to go all-organic in agriculture’, and ‘consultation with villagers’, are few of the propagandist slogans popularized by state media and the president’s power cartel to advertise the regime’s ‘alternate way’ to reach new heights in economic development. No one seems to have any idea what that alternate way is. It was nothing more than a phrase introduced by the Governor of Central Bank, Professor W. D. Lakshman, when he explained why the country would not approach the IMF for concessionary loans. Beyond that, the alternate way remains a mystery.      

Erratic, impulsive and unpredictable policy decisions have become the hallmark of Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa (NGR)’s development dream and it was clearly evident in his import bans on turmeric, palm oil and fertilizer. The proclaimed objectives of self-sufficiency in food and nature friendly agriculture are noble indeed, but what is at fault is the absence of an overall plan or strategy within which those decisions fit in. Such a plan or strategy would take into account not only the short and medium-term impact of those decisions, but also, and more importantly, the linkage or flow on effects of decisions in one sector on the operation of other sectors. For instance, the sudden ban on import of palm oil immediately created problems for manufacturers of bakery products. Apart from the rise in palm oil price itself and shortages in the market, it also had its effect on the price of substitutes and their availability. In short, unpredictable actions would lead to unintended consequences, and in the end will defeat the original purpose for which such actions were designed.      

Economic development, especially at a time like the present when Covid pandemic has crippled the economy and refusing to go away soon and when the country’s trading partners are also facing a similar situation, requires at least coordinated set of policies if not a comprehensive economic plan. National economic planning has become a defunct ideology and discarded strategy under neoliberal economics. However, it has not disappeared from the scene altogether. China for example, which embraced the market economy more than four decades ago, still operates with Five Year Plans. Its fourteenth plan (2021-2025) is currently under way, and the market is allowed to function within the parameters set by that plan. The market is not entirely free in China, and that is why economists aptly describe that economy, a birdcage economy, where the bird is the market and cage is the plan, and the bird can fly only within the cage.   

In Sri Lanka, if not a plan, at least a team of eminent economists, agronomists and scientists should have been consulted before NGR announces his bans and other economic measures. At present, the president, whose administrative experience doesn’t go beyond issuing military orders, seems to adopt the same tactic on matters of economic development also. Import bans introduced in ad hoc manner will not make the economy self-sufficient. One wonders whether even an eminent economist like the Governor of Central Bank is consulted on economic matters. The President seems to have a desultory approach towards economic policy making and an aversion towards expert knowledge. The way the eminent virologist Tissa Vitarana was ill-treated by NGR recently, and how the regime is dismissive of advice and warnings about the pandemic from medical experts and preferring to go along with recommendations from members of medical trade unions, demonstrate the regime’s disrespect for science and scientific knowledge. How else could none describe the Health Minister’s faith in Holy Water and government’s tolerance of Dhammika’s magic potion, both of which bear no scientific truth? This is the sickness of a regime headed by a military man and his politically obsessed power cartel.    

To go along the memory lane a little, there were import bans in 1970s also, imposed by the Leftist Coalition of Mrs. Bandaranaike. Those bans were part of a grand strategy of Import Substitution based industrialization and economic development, designed by a team of eminent economists of that time, like Dr. N. M. Perera, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, Dr. B. H. Hewavitharana and so on. These men had their own political differences but they worked as a team and were aware of the linkage effects of each of their measures and suggested remedies accordingly. The one salient feature in their approach was that there was no room for procedural flaws. With benefit of hindsight one can now criticize why they failed. Yet, there were a few notable achievements. For example, it was that strategy which transformed the North into a successful market garden for chilies, onions and other condiments, and turned the East into a factory for homemade sarongs and saris in addition to becoming the granary for rice.           

Another remarkable feature of their approach was to galvanize the effort of an entire nation, including school children through shramadana campaign, in the production of food. There were initial hardships no doubt, but they began to peter out as food production and distribution improved. Unfortunately, dramatic changes in the international arena and domestic sabotage combined towards the end of 1970s to kill that experiment.            

Yet, there are two lessons that one could learn from that experiment. Firstly, policies and decisions about the national economy and economic development require at least an input from experts in those fields. Secondly, there need to be a national effort to tackle the two major issues, economy and public health that confront the nation now. With NGR’s innate aversion towards consultation with independent experts in different fields, his ad hoc policies of import bans, tax concessions like in the case of the sugar scam, and the so-called village consultation tamasha will only worsen the situation. At the same time the regime’s total commitment to an aggressive Buddhist ethno-religious nationalism is keeping the nation divided, forcing the regime to allocate an unaffordable ratio of meagre financial resources on security, and depriving the country of a significant proportion of precious social capital, a unique ingredient in economic development.

Given this tragic scenario, and the disarray prevailing in the cabinet and those military men tasked with controlling the virus, NGR’s vistas of prosperity and splendour and other visions sound nothing more than but politically concocted razzamatazz.    

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 4
    17

    All imports must be done by state owned companies.

    • 13
      1

      State owned companies??

      • 8
        1

        Ajith,
        I presume Gatam has never been to the CWE.

    • 12
      3

      GATAM,
      .
      You again seem to be in top form.
      .
      Boringly predictable and silly comments.

    • 9
      1

      Great. All Quotes to be as follows:
      Value of one item … X
      Total Value ……………….1000X (1000 units)
      Commission available for distribution……20%

    • 2
      6

      Thanks for the replies. Proves my point. If it is bad for you, it must be good for SL!

  • 16
    1

    If the nation to be saved from the disaster on their door steps, incumbent leadership should become MORE human and serious to the nation, not providing anodyne statements on and on. They should stop their hypocrite agendas, giving the decision making to the specialist in the field. As no leader soafr, Gota-Baya has broken all records being unable to give the priority to the specialists in the field. Ms Fernandupulle should be made the minister for health ASAP…. all university dons inthe field should work with her… strengthening her hand.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3XAvZ7Xnos
    .
    Each and every ministry could return some of their funds allocated to purchase of COVID-Jab.
    .
    Above all, people should be contained from the virus.

    • 14
      1

      Isn’t the Fernandupulle woman already the minister responsible for pandemics? Didn’t she, despite her western medicine background, endorse the divine concoction in public as well? Anyway, what has she done so far & what is her plan?
      In my opinion, she should be sacked as well, along with the stupid & uneducated minister of health, who is nothing but a joke. The ministers are a reflection of the govt.’s incompetence & inability to govern the country but, I am sure, a majority of the 6m or so who voted for the current regime are happy to live in denial.

      • 3
        0

        Raj-UK: I think you have missed some important statements that Ms. Fernandupulle made recently. She was asked at a “Media Briefing” on the failures of controlling the virus. She said: ” I made very important recommendations to be implemented, but were thrown away”. Those recommendations were not based on “divine concoctions”, but medical and scientific basis. That statement shows, there are “Know All” and “I can do it” “Ghostly Authorities”, mind you not “Divine”, but “Stupid” living beings in the seats of “Power” (Decision making) who have received “Blessings” and “Protection” to do what they want and feel to do. That is the trouble and the people are at the receiving end.

      • 2
        0

        Raj-UK,
        Currently she is a state minister in HM.
        .
        In order to allow her bold actions, she should be given ministerial powers. She is said to be a specialist in COMMUNITY DISEASE CONTROL. She is the only minister out of 3 ministers in that ministry to have come with proposals being close to the specialists in the field. Prof. TV is the other who is senior virologist and is reported to have obtained collected exp in WHO and various like minded world bodies. Both these candidates are caught by step-mother treatments because, their know how are not respected by MEDAMULANA born Gotabaya.

      • 2
        3

        Raj-UK,
        “The ministers are a reflection of the govt.’s incompetence & inability to govern the country…?
        —-
        Does this applies to ministers of countries such as UK, USA, France, Germany who messed up handling the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • 30
    3

    NGR is a cowardly a military commander who ran away from Sri Lanka to enjoy the freedom of USA. He did not come back to serve the country but he came only with the condition that he should be ensured as a President to give up his US citizenship. He is more of a Fundamentalist Buddhist rather than a Sri Lankan Sinhala. He never respected Sri lanka’s or Sinhala Culture. He does not know anything other than violence. He never had any experience or basic knowledge of agriculture. The world has changed lot now and you cannot a closed economy in a small country which wasted the resources for racism and fundamentalism instead of development. If there is no stability in the country, it is utterly a waste for development.
    Organic farming is good for health but it is not good enough to feed every one in the world. It is not economically profitable for farmers. Only rich people can consume organic food. Rajapaksa family and his colleagues can have organic food but ordinary Banda and Sunda can’t think about that.

  • 3
    3

    Will export be dropped all contract are done for mutual benefit the relationship will continue to grow and prosper to the mutual benefit of all peoples. Imports and exports level the economic playing field for developing and balance of trade, importing goods where natural resources are abundant is affordable because each country has its particular strength if we stop import what will happen to what we export
    the reason visit of pakistan had mutual benefit also when sri lanka prime minister visit banglshed had the same.

  • 2
    0

    Since the end of Second World War, the international Community – the West, were promoting international trade through IMF, World Bank , General Agreement on Trade and Tariff GATT and later through World Trade Organization WTO and through the concept of globalization. The west is not going to look at any import ban sympathetically.

  • 3
    1

    Why, you should be happy Gotabhaya didn’t ban the import of choppers.
    Whether we are inclined to China or whether we are inclined to the West, the end result is taking more loans.
    Thanks to environmentalists, nature lovers and civil society organizations, our heritage Sinharaja forest and adjacent lands were saved from being collateral for another mega loan.
    People say we still pay the loans taken for the Mahaweli Project.
    Instead of taking more loans backed by collateral, at this time, Sri Lanka should be seriously focusing on finding ways and means to PAY BACK loans.
    Politicians who are corrupt to the core want Sri Lanka to be deep drowned in debt. Unnecessary expenses and unnecessary mega projects that line their pockets are called developments.
    When Sri Lankan children lament their mothers stay hungry to give them food, the government is seen handing over Rs. 625 million to one of their buddies to build container gymnasiums!!!
    Our society brings up children to be even not to pick a coin on the road. From early childhood, children are taught to be unselfish and honest. Needless to say, the Rajapaksa corrupt culture is ruining our children.

    • 0
      1

      Champa,
      it is all – that Gota Baya s so called vision would not be a match to an asian democracy. A man who thought it was right to steal statefunds for building monuments for their deseased parents, and not even a single word asking a public pardon, how shameless he should be to do any like minded acts. These buggers are uncultured, bastards born to that part of srilanka. They have broken all records, years before they got reelected. But ours are an island filled with ULTRA stupid people ( I mean the majority). They are given free education so that each and every citizen could read and right, but they behave far behind MOROCCANS or any other others whose literacy rates are far below 40%

      sRILANKEN is read as ” socialst democratic srilanka” but when it goes to demo rights not even basic rights for its citizens are safeguarded. Today it is becoming dichotomous than any times in the past. I am no tliving in that hell, but my friends and former mates that are professionals in Medicine, Agriculature and Engineering fields are not happy at all. They now understand what we emphasized them prior to Nov 2019 is right. It is too late, even too late after the ballige puthas gave them a mandate and even made more powerful also giving the nod to 20A…. Pinguththaya community is now seeking hideouts …. BBS head behaves as if he is caught by the act. For some resons, many except their high criminals, are lagged by their so called behaivours. Even JVPrs are somewhat silent today than any times in the past.

  • 2
    2

    The people, out of sheer “Frustrations” and “Sufferings” imposed upon them by the “Yahapalanaya” wanted a “Hitler” to rule the country and that “Hitler” was promoted by the “Buddagama/Sinhala Brigade” PLUS the “Viyaththu” waiting to pick an “Avenue” and “Opportunity” to achieve their “Ambitions”. That was the “Birth” of the “Saubagye Dekma” (Vista of Prosperity & Splendour) the “BAIT”. The “Promoter” knew the “Qualities” and “Capabilities” of the “Hitler”, but not the “6.9 million” who voted to instal him on the “Throne”. That is how we got a “President” who is “Erotic”, “Impulsive” and an “Unpredictable” (as the writer describes) decision-maker. This “BAN” on fertilizer was one of the latest among almost all decisions he has made so far. He announced “HIS”decision at a meeting of the Heads of Government Corporations and there was a “Triumphant” applause from the audience. The Cabinet was also informed stating that it was to implement a “Promise” (stated in the Manifesto -Saubagaye Dekema). The whole “Jing-Bang” occupying the seats in the “Cabinet” without betting an eye-lid said “OK”. What else you can expect from them?

    • 1
      1

      Simon,
      Who in SL, especially those “privileged” to be a cabinet ministers, wants to vacate his position? Or forced? None. Have you heard of Cabinet Minister resigning for difference in Policy of the King and his men? None since 1970, strangely.
      Exception, I Take my hat off to Hon Gamani Jayasooriya, MP for Homagama and Cabinet Minister (Believe Health in 1977-87 and probably founder member of UNP) in President JRJ’s cabinet, immediately prior to signing of the Indo-SL accord! Hence you have to contend, sadly with “Appudi” & applause, and loud as possible and the hands clapping can be well seen by the President o make sure they are in good books of him, by these servile representatives.

  • 2
    0

    Surprise to see importing coconut oil,but may be not nuts so we have to rely on ,ban the Nescafe and improve the local coffee,even the parrupu have to come all the way from OZ,
    Should help farmers and do research and improve our farming community

  • 2
    2

    Zero Casualty, Liar Aanduwa reported Today’s new infections are 2600. Total is around 126,000. Both are new landmark numbers. A day for celebrate with KIribath and Crackers for Aanduwa, who willfully infected people with Covid -19 to use Hitler administration to win election 2015. Aanduwa blocked Lefts observing their annual Dismay Day on May 1st, but celebrated its Aluthawruth, grandly, to oil the slippery heads Ayatollahs’ and their dry palm with New Year “Kai Vishesham”. In Lankawe, the word “Province” has become a Pariah word because Rear Admirable wants to abolish the dysfunctional 13A. Remember the day Communist Dinesh, with his entourage went, to Geneva to withdraw from the dysfunctional Resolution 30/1 and has brought back abundance of Milk & Honey and fame for the Wildlife Sanctuary Lankawe? The next project is dismantling dysfunctional 13A and removing the Pariah Word “Province” word from Aandupashawe, Sinhala. Hopefully, the new height of Covid-19 numbers would help Royals, Real Admirable & Communist Dinesh on that too. But for the time being, after appointing 25 Rapist Army Generals to each districts to market the tourist guide, Pavitra’s Paani, now Aanduwa has appointed 9 Medical officers to each province to control the Covid-19.
    Comedy Thamai!

  • 3
    0

    continued… This “BAN” on Fertilizer and Weedicides affect every aspect of agriculture, stretching from paddy, vegetables, tea rubber, coconut, etc. The “Seed” “Mafia” has seen to that these agricultural sectors are made to survive only with the manufactured fertilizer and chemicals. These are all connected with “Science” and “Technology”. For example “Bhutan” experimented on this “Ban” and experienced problems of imposing such decisions on a “short-term” and “ad-hoc” basis. On realizing that a wide sector of the population faced food shortages and excessive prices, that country revised its decision and altered the “Phases” of eliminating the use of “Chemical and Fertilizer”. After that program of “Phasing”, that country has achieved what they desired. This President with the guiding principles of “I can do it” and in-born character traits of “Erotic”, “Impulsive” and “Unpredictability” has embarked on another “Destructive Project” that would impose heavy burdens on the people. Where are the “Promoters” who brought this “Menace” to this country? The people must go after those “Promotors” now.

    • 1
      1

      Simon, None to be seen and No Takers. I am hearing that there is a debate going on everywhere you turn to find the promoter of “Heil Hitler”, without any success or affirmative response.
      Sad to say, all those who made the “Ballyhoo” are hiding behind Palm trees now, in the beleaguered Palm Oil tree estates. Whereabouts of the promoters is not known.
      The baby is being gradually disowned.
      The elder sibling, who oversaw the great battle with aplomb, decade ago, nurturing the young sibling is not fighting fit at present and coupled to the incapacitation by the 20th.
      The eldest of the siblings is found not capable to the task, in spite of tough talk in the Chamber.
      The youngest of the lot though, is waiting in the sidelines, with glee awaiting noble call, to fill the vacuum, should the necessity arise.
      Sad Episode

      They are also finding/searching alternatives.

  • 3
    3

    Problem with these experts is saying ‘On the one hand this and on the other hand that’. So, politicians face a dilemma to decide which hand to choose.
    —-
    “at least a team of eminent economists, agronomists and scientists should have been consulted before NGR announces his bans and other economic measures.”

    • 0
      0

      Eagle,
      You remember the before the election the Modaya Brothers conducted a press meeting , in which Central Bank Cabal, when he didn’t know the answer to the reporter’s question, replied to give them the power then they would do and show it? Now what? Whom are you blaming for the fault of uneducated Hitler. Didn’t Chandrika say that time that you guys didn’t know the answer that is why you were looking left and right and back and forth? This is not the way Hitler made stren decisions.
      Instead of worse Modayas waiting for the word of worst Modayas and running a goverment, they should reign together. At least, make that one decision like a Hitler.

      • 0
        1

        Mallaiyuran,
        Uneducated Hitler was your boss. Educated Hitler screwed him.
        —-
        “Whom are you blaming for the fault of uneducated Hitler.”

  • 0
    0

    The respected Prof: W.D. Lakshman Governor Central Bank seems to be also trapped without an alternate way out!

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