24 January, 2022


Govt. Is Clueless How To Handle Normalisation & Reconstruction: A Politically Unified Approach Is Imperative

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

“The role of the intellectual is to speak truth to power” ~Quakers (1955), Edward Saied (1993)

Last week (3 May) I broached the issue of a unified multi-party response to the disaster created by the virus. It could be a multi-party Cabinet-team like Churchill’s inner War Cabinet, or some other tie-up that President Gotabhaya chooses, but the bottom line is: Political parties, ethnic communities and other groups must be functionally engaged. The key is NOT getting a consultative body to slurp around; that’s a waste of time. The key is to create a leadership team to take executive responsibility and to take charge. This is why the analogy with a War Cabinet is appropriate – Attlee took charge of the colonies, Beaverbrook supply and war-production, Earnest Bevin took on labour and services and so on (there was reshuffling during 1940-45). 

My suggestion evoked support in personal e-mails, won much appreciated endorsement from my Editor and I could espy hints of interest from a few party leaders. The reservation among leaders was “Oh Gota will never do it”; that is pessimism about Gota’s motivations. If true, it is a pity since for sure if he rises above partisanship and puts together a winning team, kudos will accrue to him. Let’s wait and see if he is big enough. Someone should repeat these lines to him though the likelihood that he will change is pretty small. 

There is a tide in the affairs of men.

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their lives

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our venture.

The critical thing not to lose sight of is that the battle to rescue the country from shipwreck has not even started. Even the easy bit is not over; the real problems are starting. The administration is still at the easy part, lock-down and curfew, and still struggling to get that mess cleared up. It has not yet touched the hard part. The real problems yet to come are three-fold. The economy is in shambles, there are threats to democracy from forces that would like to play dirty in the havoc and third if there is second-wave infection the country will absolutely need to unite, unite and unite to fight. This essay will only talk about cleaning up the curfew-lockdown mess and discuss the economic outlook. 

However, first let me make a point that underlies my thinking. This an opportunity in a lifetime to squash our egregious partisan political culture and to banish pernicious ethnic divisiveness. If a many-party, many-community leadership takes over, working together will engender an environment in which these malign inheritances can wither.  No nation has the luxury of choosing its instruments of history – in Lanka if at this juncture it be Gota, so be it. It will be in his individual interests too as it will enhance his stature if he goes down in the books as the bloke who did it.

Terminate this crude lockdown and blindfolded curfew

Gota and his administration have been making efforts to tackle the ‘easy part’. However, curfew and lockdown in the past fifty days has been crude and excessive; a blunted instrument to deal with a tumour that needs surgical skill. Curfew continues indefinitely in five districts including the two most populous, an idiotic ID-card last-digit mantra has been contrived and the ruling cabal, on the roll, is as clueless as ever. A legal outfit known as the International Truth and Justice Project has published an “infographic” depicting Gota’s inner coterie of military brass and core family, today’s rulers. Add in Viyathmaga hangers-on and the GMOA to complete the picture. Heavy handed insensitive lockdown and curfew is extended interminably though new cases outside military cantonments is negligible and total deaths are single digit. How to further manage this scenario requires a broad-based political leadership not a squadron of brass and born-again Gota devotees.

A benign lockdown, indeed necessary and justified would have included:

a) Social-distancing, no large gatherings (sports, cinemas) and weddings, funerals max say 10

b) Shops regulated entry, one-way flow; supermarket numbers inside limited depending on size. 

c) Work-from-home encouraged for office type staff; short-term crisis time prohibition of others

f) Minimal interference with personal freedom (can visit friends/family but not encouraged)

But the country has suffered a draconian lockdown, especially in five Districts.

g) Factories, work places, construction sites ordered shut

h) Daily-paid, casual and informal sector work prohibited (families starve) 

i) Shops, retail outlets and supermarkets all ordered to shut down.

j) Curfew (some districts or whole country; crazy hours; haphazard arrangements; illogical locations)

New Zealand set about it thoughtfully. Four Alert Levels were defined and the country just moved down from Level-4 (Lockdown, but not blanket lockdown as in Sri Lanka and never curfew) to Level-3 (Restrict). An abbreviated summary of Level-3 follows to contrast with Lanka’s blindfold approach. I wish to drive home that a military-cum-Viyathmaha cabal is not equal to the job; we need a proven all-party national leadership that can mobilise all – parties and communities – and think. 

New Zealand’s Level-3 Measures (Much like what I have termed a benign lockdown).

Stay home other than for essential movement — including to go to work, school or for recreation.

Physical distancing of two metres.

Stay within household bubble, but can expand this to reconnect with close family

Schools can safely open but capacity limited capacity; learn at home if possible.

Work from home unless that is not possible.

Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers.

Low-risk local recreation activities allowed.

Public venues – libraries, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, markets, closed.

Gatherings of up to 10 allowed for weddings and funerals. Physical distancing must be maintained.

Use virtual non-contact healthcare services where possible.

Inter-regional travel limited to essential workers with exemptions for others.

High risk or older people encouraged to stay at home but may work.

Dismal global economic perspectives

The web, the media, the Financial Times, the Economist, the IMF, the EU, Goldman, Fund Managers and pundits have assailed us with analysis and forecasts for the world economy for the next twelve to, if they are brave, 30 months. Since readers have access to this it will be adequate if I make the shortest possible summary as a lead into perspectives for Lanka. 

The consensus is that 2020 will be an annus horribilis. A few like Goldman stick their necks out with predictions of a glorious V-shaped recovery after two bad quarters, but most analysts have their feet parked firmly on terra-firma. The consensus is that we will be lucky to stave off a depression (that is a prolonged and socially disruptive global economic downturn); it is unlikely that the US and Western economies will stabilise in 2021 and there are question marks hanging over 2022. The reason for pessimism is precisely the actions now being taken by governments and central banks as ‘rescue’ measure – printing money like tabloid newspaper, QE that is multiplying sovereign and corporate debt by trillions of dollars and helicopter money (print-all-you-can Modern Monetary Theory). Global finance capital is on a trajectory foredoomed to a debt trap from which it has no idea how to escape.

This is an extract from Michael Mackenzie, Financial Times, 2 May 2020, strung into a para typical of what most analysts write: “Central banks have sent a message: this is not the time for a financial crisis triggered by capital markets. Grim assessments by policymakers in Japan, US and eurozone were accompanied by expressions of determination to keep pumping liquidity into the financial system. The rapid expansion of central bank balance sheets beyond $18tn will continue. The challenge from the coronavirus is less about liquidity than about solvency. Sovereign, corporate and household credit quality are all taking a very big hit. A default cycle is coming”. The United Nations said in April 2020 that the global economy could shrink by 1% in 2020 and conjectures that a worst-case scenario is more likely than its optimistic best-case scenarios. 

If the global scene is 2020 growth in the US and the West down to near zero, and 2021 very dicey, Lanka’s predicament is worse. The worst-case IMF lament for Lanka is that our economy will SHRINK at least 0.5% in 2020; down 4% from a previous 3.5% growth forecast.

United Nations April 2020 Forecast

Lanka’s frightening economic perspectives

A report in the Economist portrays Lanka as deep in public domestic-debt, foreign-debt, faced with high international borrowing rates and having minimal reserve cover. Of 66 countries assessed we come out as a miserable 61st in ability to survive without carrying the begging bowl to China, the IMF, the USA and the EU.  Worse is that our economy is 1/3-rd trade dependent; as long as the global economy remains depressed, we are begging from households themselves in bad shape. Our largest export, garments is dependent on Western markets and Asian raw material imports.

A nightmare scenario is if employment of Lankan workers and domestic helpers in the Middle East is disrupted. Do not forget that ours is a remittance economy which earns more than $7 billion a year that is over 60% of earnings from good exports on average, from this source. India has begun the repatriation of 190,000 nationals from the Middle East. Fleets of aircraft and the navy have been mobilised No one knows yet whether large scale repatriation of Lankans will become necessary. It is a deadly scenario not only because the loss of remittances will send our balance of payments into a tailspin but will also bring distress to tens of thousands of domestic (village) households.

Pulling the economy out of this rut, managing domestic and foreign debt, and restoring growth is a huge, one is wont to say superhuman, challenge. Agriculture and fisheries have been least disrupted and can get back into the swing once the market and not the military take charge of logistics. Getting every other sector up and running is going to be hard. The screw-ball transport arrangements to come into force tomorrow and the regimented staggering of working hours may be suitable for movement of military ordnance but it is a silly way to set about restoration of manufacturing.  Tourism is dead as a dodo for the rest of 2020. Services and small retailing will struggle at first but will revive. Ever resilient is informal economy, it will defy the brass and rise again.

The membership of the so-called Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication is chaired by the notorious Basil and includes seven ex-military brass and cops but not a single representative of the nation’s political opposition! Conversely, my bottom line is that to deal with an impending economic catastrophe like this nation has never seen before, calls for restructuring of the political apex, unity of diverse cultures to reach a common vision, and breaking free of the dominance of military cabals and narrow interest groups.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    to be honest governments all over the world are clueless except a few like South-Corea , New Zealand.

    UK government is a government hand picked to deliver BREXIT and not resolution to COVID19, US government is hand picked to deliver a second term to Trump.

    Lanka Government is incapable of delivering anything except propagation of Rajapakse regime by hook or crook not only propagation but fatning of the coffers of the shameless dynasty

    So what do you expect when there is no government but Gota and his “yes sir” defence personnel surrounding him…from the army and the navy and the airforce….they only know curfew.

    just curfew is not going to drive the virus away

    there is no plan B for that matter not even a plan A

    • 4

      To be more honest, there are quite a few countries besides S Korea and New Zealand that have fared even better. Vietnam (no deaths), N Korea (no infections), Nepal (no deaths), Nicaragua (16 cases and 5 deaths) and Venezuela (402 and 10) faring far better than their respective neighbours.
      Cuba is faring pretty well. I suppose China is taboo.
      Most of these countries have the distinction of being targets of US sanctions. (Will that explain anything in the context of Trump messing it up in the US?)

      • 0

        Were South Korea,New Zealand and Nepal targets of US sanctions.

        Corona virus did not discriminate ideologically.

        “I don’t know” is a far better response than idle speculation as an expert opinion!

  • 7

    Jack of all trades coming to advise the Government of Sri Lanka how to handle the COVID-19 crisis.

    People in this country still can remember what the don keys of the Unpatriotic National Party told when the country faced a more serious challenge after the Rajapakshe regime launched the military campaign to eliminate Tamil terrorists. Instead of helping, they ridiculed the Government, Sri Lankan Armed Forces and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. These BPs are not interested in helping the Government. They want to convene the Parliament and implement their hidden agenda.

    TNA guys came and asked the PM Mahinda Rajapakshe to release the ‘POLITICAL PRISIONERS’ and solve the problems in North and East. Are they the priorities for the Government at this juncture?

    • 0

      yes exactly. Sri Lanka is doing just fine without this clowns advice,

      What is this guy an epidemiologist ? or an economist? no just a washed-up engineer.

      • 0

        a144455 & EE
        Why don’t you contest the views expressed with sound arguments rather than questioning qualifications.

        • 1

          As a washed-up Engineer myself self I know what I don’t know. David doesn’t

          • 1

            How are you so sure?
            Is what David does and does not know within the purview of your knowledge?
            You could challenge his views rather than call him names.
            That will be useful discussion.

            • 0

              useful discussions with ltte stooges in disguise ..

              doesn’t happen

            • 0

              You do not seem to have anything meaningful to say than call people names.
              You are pathetic.

              • 0

                if I have nothing to say why reply to me, it seems like you are the pathetic one.

  • 5

    The paragraphs that end Prof. David’s paper, “lanka’s frightening economic perspectives”, should be read by all. If the ruler’s think the virus was bad, the economic fallout will be a catastrophe never before seen in SL. The people will not starve because the country has enough rice, the fisherman will provide fish, and the farmers all the vegetables needed.

    But no one will have cash in hand. And a country can’t run on a barter system.

  • 14

    How can the government be clueless when EXPERTS like you are languishing out of it?
    How did you become an expert on such matters such as reconstruction without any qualifications or experience o such subjects?
    You once floated the idea of making that stupid monk Maduluwave Sobhitha the ‘common candidate’ against the Rajapakse regime. Looking at what befell him, your opinion and advice should be directed straight to the BIN.
    No Thank you.

    • 4

      “How can the government be clueless when EXPERTS like you are languishing out of it?”
      This sentence escapes my knowledge of the language. Can you help?
      There are few experts around here who call every other person stupid, but never seem to try their ‘thickness’ meter on themselves.

    • 2

      Sure. We do not need Intelligence people to advice.
      We have given automatic weapons to millitary personnel and placed them all over the country
      They will shoot Coronus Virus to death.
      We know how to manage economy, we will kill all the.people by Starvation. We use the money saved and ask GMOA.to import cars and make.profit

      • 0

        intelligence people ?

        ok dude go and sleep under your bed you are not one of them, whatever they are

  • 2

    To expect unity among a set of selfish brutes who only believe in “Kleptocracy” is an unrealistic dream. All they want is power for one goal, namely, earn for seven generations. Corona! Pooh! “We will cry for the dead as a part of the act, but it is the remaining living who would vote and decide our fate”. Prof Kum has gone into great lengths in studying precedents elsewhere and analysing the issue. But anything sensible always fall into deaf ears. In my hearts I hoped some unity amongst politicians even in this dark hour but ALAS!

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