By Sonali Wijeratne –
The country is literally burning in Bankruptcy and its citizens thrust into an Economic Hellhole of utmost deprivation. Then the President, increasingly seen as a Colossal Failure and immediate cause for the mismanagement of the Economy, appoints a Prime Minister who is also the Finance Minister, but does nothing but engage in dooms day declarations, dire warnings and predictions! What more can the people expect from such an appointment of sheer political opportunism with no mandate or representation of the people; of one with a track record inter alia of cronyism, lack of team leadership, of not allowing young skilled politicians to take leadership role in the party and finally presiding over the dissolution of the United National and leading it to abject defeat!
The need of the hour is a comprehensive reform package to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability. This is the vital cornerstone for the country to move forward in obtaining financial aid from its multilateral donors and negotiate the re-structuring of it its outstanding external debt.
The World Bank is categorical that Sri Lanka will NOT receive any new financing until an adequate macroeconomic policy framework is instituted. The IMF team who held technical discussions with Sri Lanka are quite explicit on the urgent need for Sri Lanka to bring in” structural reforms to enhance growth and strengthen governance, establish measures to restore fiscal sustainability while protecting the vulnerable and poor ; ensuring credibility of the monetary policy and exchange rate regimes; preserving financial sector stability” .
The ugly but stark truth is that Sri Lanka’s public debt is assessed as unsustainable. Any approval by the Executive Board of an IMF-supported program for Sri Lanka would require a policy priority and strategic plan affording adequate assurances that debt sustainability will be restored.
Technocrats of high caliber and Parliamentarians of ability and talent have to join together in a National Unity Government in the interim for such a crucial exercise to be successfully executed and accepted by the people.
Until this important concomitant of obtaining international assistance is concluded, we the unfortunate casualties of government incompetence and corruption will be queuing up at the road side for essentials, finding astronomical price increases for fast disappearing food supply and our quality of life diving to zero.
However, instead, PM Mr. Ranil Wickramesinghe’s seems to have his priorities mixed up despite the numerous committees, incessant meetings, discussions, which are his badge in trade! His increasing reliance on piece-meal patch work Constitutional Amendments, Credit Lines, Humanitarian Aid and International Beggary is entrenching us deeper in the bog of debt and mis-rule. Consider the recent debacle in pharmaceutical imports under Indian credit lines: who is to know the standards and qualities of these products, if the prices were exorbitantly manipulated by private traders since these arrangements are done outside normal tender procedures.
Why raise Government Revenue by taxing the ordinary man and small and medium business, setting skyrocketing prices of essential basic amenities without taking steps to reduce Government Expenditure allocations for MPs security, guards, staff, fuel allowances, the plethora of perks and privileges’ that MPs are entitled to including free housing, meals,SUVs and luxury Vehicles! What about the antics of some 225 MPs whose hands are still in the Public’s till?
Some myopic amnesiacs see PM Wickramesinghe as a James Bond Savior in the present mayhem and chaos of people scavenging on the roads for the basics of living. They must remember that he is in fact the Bond Man of the notorious Central Bank Bond Scam who was brought before the Presidential Commission where even the present Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe gave evidence as to the nature of the scam. Arjuna Mahendran a king pin of the scam, roams free today thanks to the beneficence of this Prime Minister who gave him opportunity to escape the tentacles of the law and flee abroad. Small wonder then that today, Prasanna Ranatunga, a convicted criminal,MP Bandula Gunawardene formerly, of the Sugar and Garlic scam Ministry of Trade, countless irregularities and inefficiencies and current Trade Minister of Sathosa Carrom Board Scam remain prominent members of his Cabinet of Ministers!
What the People and also the international multilateral financial agencies are looking for is a Systems Change and Good Governance. A necessary first step should be to rid the country of nepotistic, favoritisms in the appointments to the Public Service. E.g. Meritocracy must be the criteria for appointment of Secretaries to all Ministries since these are the Chief Accounting Officers at the apex of Ministries and answerable and responsible for all the financial activities of Institutions, Boards and Corporations coming under their purview.
However in point of fact they are selected and appointed by the whims and fancies of the political authority. Most Secretaries to Ministries neglect to observe the Establishment Code and Financial Regulations since they want to keep their posts and privileges’ without being removed or transferred for clean, straight, discharge of work. This is why we have the darlings of politicians and political parties appointed to important positions, protected for their misdemeanors and sometimes re-appointed again and again as Secretary to the same Minister or Prime Minister simply because they are such servile obedient servants’ boys and women to their political masters! They not only cover up for their corrupt masters but show them the ways and means to escape detection and accountability in nefarious deals by manipulation of the regulations. Hence a reversion to the pre 1972 Permanent Secretary system which ensures apolitical, independent, professional service to the nation is paramount.
Therefore, the Prime Minister making proclamations about Public Sector Reform, re-wiring computer systems, and the need for closure of loss making State Owned Enterprises is useless unless the causation for the corruption and inefficiency which is nepotism, and system of political appointments for certain category of senior important posts is entirely eliminated. A relatively independent and professional Organization like the Public Service Commission together with Director Establishment in consultation with technical specific institutions should be requested to make a merit based criteria for selection to high office including other strategic positions as Chairman/Senior Member Officials of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, Governor of the Central Bank, Attorney General, Secretary to the Treasury, Chairman of Boards and Corporations, and all Statutory Institutions .
There is already a system for some professional services as the Scientific Services, Foreign Service and Sri Lanka Administrative Service appointments to be made on merit based criteria and the Appointing Authority is the Public Service Commission. So why not extend this independent mechanism to important and senior posts in the hierarchy? Is it because the 225 in Parliament favor a flexible, fawning, set of automatons to fulfill their corrupt, business deals, and continue bleeding the system for their vested interests? It is no wonder then that officials are named as being responsible for the mismanagement, corruption, economic chaos in COPE and other forums, but they remain unscathed, free to offend against the Nation again and again.
Nothing short of a Revolution may succeed in preventing the country and its people from being sucked into the black hole of bankruptcy, inefficiency and nepotism and becoming an extinct race and nation.