By Ameer Ali –
The Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe’s revelations about Sri Lanka’s national debt (The Island, 7 Feb. 2017) cast doubt on all published statistical data from government sources on the economic status of the country. Favourable statistics on employment growth, inflation control and economic growth are three most popular figures on which the rulers rely to trumpet their regimes economic success. If those figures look extremely unfavourable, then political pressure may compel the experts who produce the data to do something to soften the severity of the gloom. If statistical fine-tuning or manipulation is not possible then politicians look for scapegoats to shift the blame. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan exposed in 2014 (Colombo Telegraph, 4 Aug. 2014) how the Department of Census and Statistics and the Central Bank incorrectly deflated the actual inflation rate to produce incorrect economic growth rates.
The final data published by the government and its agencies are the ones transferred to international economic managers such as the IMF and the World Bank. Even though these institutions has the resources to cross check this data they rarely do so especially when the country concerned is a student of their school of economic ideology. Finally, the false data feeds into the research output of comprador intellectuals and economists who for reasons of political correctness and personal gain spin those statistics with complex econometrics to provide results satisfactory to the rulers. Reality hidden from the public; and lies, damned lies and statistics lead the commoner to a fool’s paradise. This is the economic world in which not only the Sri Lankans but also many other citizens live all over the world. In the Trump era of “alternate facts”, the Central Bank is also engaged in systemic skulduggery. Unfortunately, those who question this malicious exercise become heretics to be condemned.
The gravity of the debt situation in Sri Lanka is more serious than what the figures show. In reality, those who were and are responsible to this gross mismanagement have mortgaged the welfare of several generations of future Sri Lankans to the benefit of a living few. Rising cost of living, depreciating local currency in real terms, mounting unemployment, corruption, cronyism, absence of rule of law and recolonization via foreign investment are the reigning dimensions of the Sri Lankan economy and society.
Given this depressing scenario, some form of diversion is required for the regime to stem the growing anger of the masses. Democracy has provided one such diversion in the form of elections in which tamasha the country is currently involved. Thousands of contestants from dozens of parties are vying for positions in the regional councils, and ultimately when the time comes in the national legislature. In spite of accusations and counter accusations of each other’s personalities and shortcomings, no one so far has come out with a workable solution to the economic ills facing the country.
Sri Lanka, in spite of some glittering economic showcases, is in systemic malaise. The open economy with its neoliberal ideology needs to be constrained with appropriate controls. Some economists have described the Chinese economy as a birdcage economy. The bird is the market and the cage is the government national economic plan. Unrestricted market and uncontrolled investment do not produce results in the national interest. This is a lesson that one can learn from the Chinese economic success. A government committed to change the current unjust economic system is the need of the day.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia