By Ameer Ali –
While mobs of militant ethno-nationalists including a few members of the Sangha, with political patronage, are rampaging to kill Sri Lanka’s historically renowned pluralist polity, the government’s neoliberal economic agenda, under the tutelage of IMF, is impoverishing substantial sections of the population across all communities. Daring journalistic exposures regarding hidden hands of politicians and security personnel in the recent anti-Muslim riots, and the latest budgetary measures to impose discriminatory price hike on petroleum-based products amidst the startling revelation by the Central Bank Governor that one quarter of the population is trapped in poverty, are clear evidence of looming disasters facing the country.
The most worrying aspect of these developments is that both coalitions, one that governs the nation now and the other that wants to replace it soon are in collusion in maintaining the status quo. With regard to ethno-nationalism the contest between the two is in showing to the majority Buddhist voters which one of them is more ethno-nationalistic in comparison. Because both camps are aware that the ethno card is the only trump that they have to beat the other in the electoral game. This ethno virus has infected the minorities also. The Tamil and Muslim politicians see no alternative but to champion their respective ethnicities to capture the vote bank. Having travelled around the country recently I regret to record that the cycle of ethnic violence is bound to be repeated as the Provincial Council and Presidential elections get closer.
On the economic front both camps have embraced neoliberalism and its supreme manager, the IMF, rules through remote control. The recent discriminatory price hike on fuel which increased the price of kerosene by more than 100 per cent per litre, diesel by more than 14 per cent per litre and gasoline by more than 16 per cent per litre was dictated by IMF before releasing the next tranche of the promised loan. The official reason given for the hefty increase in the price of kerosene, which is the fuel of the poor, is to discourage motorists from mixing gasoline and diesel fuels with subsidised kerosene. On closer scrutiny that reason is a camouflage to cover up the actual economic motive of ending subsidies to the poor. The government’s promise to subsidise the poorest of the poor is bound to fail because of the selection criteria, which will allow ample room for corruption. The finance minister’s announcement that he is going to initiate a gamperaliya with the revenue saved will remain just another piece of political rhetoric. Will the government extend its kerosene subsidy to the one fourth population trapped in poverty as declared by the Central Bank Governor? The fuel policy should be tied to a policy on environment and they both require measures beyond price fixing. The nation’s major economic manager, IMF, is the last entity to worry about the environment.
The price hike on fuel in addition to the VAT and a depreciating rupee will spell disaster to the middle and lower classes. The so called free enterprise market economy unleashed by JR has mortgaged the economy to foreign capital and the IMF. The burden of national debt shows no sign of easing; the cost of living shows no sign of falling; corruption shows no sign of relaxing and lawlessness shows no sign of abating. In this context, to whose benefit is the less than expected growth rate of 3.1 per cent in 2017? Isn’t the answer obvious?
The nation desperately needs a political alternative to liberate the polity from the clutches of militant ethno-nationalism and economy from an oppressive neoliberalism under IMF. Where is that alternative?
*Dr. Ameer Ali, Research Fellow, Murdoch University, Western Australia