By Godwin Constantine –
Our country has collapsed. A few hours ago, government spokesperson Bandula Gunawardane announced that fuel supply has come to a standstill and fuel will be available only for essential services. These is no one to blame, no one to look up to.
When Ranil took over the government, as there was no one else to take over, people had some hope that he will be able to bring in much needed dollars to our economy. People gave up protesting withdrew support for the “aragalaya” hoping that things will gradually get better. Ranil did try very hard to get loans or grants, but nothing has come in so far.
Who ever comes the situation will be the same. Leaders can make fancy proclamations about export-oriented economy, digital economy or knowledge-based economy, nothing of these will bring in much needed dollars in short term. More and more borrowing is not the answer to our economic crisis. Our debt would have risen at least by 10% since the beginning of this year. We need to stop borrowing now. Fuel for private vehicle should be temporarily stopped and public transport should be strengthened. Three-wheels should be given fuel under special scheme. Our fuel import should be secondary to reducing future debt burden and imports of essential items.
Our productions are in crisis as a result the exports are dwindling. There are only two sources of income that we can depend on at short term. One is tourism and the other is foreign remittance form our expatriates.
When Ranil was interviewed by the Sky news after taking office as the Prime minister Ranil made his views regarding tourism at this time. He was asked by the interviewer “at the moment would you say (its) safe for tourist to come and visit Sri Lanka” the answer was “well for those who want to have an exciting time should come here and may be even they could take part in the demonstrations. They could hold placards which says the president of Sri Lanka to go home or you could ask the Prime minster of your country to go home, all that is options that is available” The interviewer commented “it’s good to see you light hearted, but it was a serious question, tourism is an important part of any emerging market, your not encouraging people to visit are you it’s a genuine question” Ranil responded saying “ we……wwww we are not discouraging people from visiting but we understand with the shortage of foreign exchange, the demonstrations that are going on and shortage of essentials that they may not visit Sri Lanka at this time”. When a newly selected Prime minster makes such statements who will want to visit Sri Lanka. Probably that’s why our tourism income has dropped to a record low of 54 million USD, half of what we earned in March.
Government must focus on tourism from the time of arrival till they leave every detail has to be looked into to make sure that tourist feel welcomed and looked after. A separate minister can oversee the welfare of tourist to make sure there is fuel and food and other facilities provided as required. There should be an emergency call service facility to attend to tourists needs and encourage tourists to visit this country rather than saying this is not the time to visit. At least the politicians should learn from our spectators at the last ODI against Australia how they showed their gratitude to the visiting Australian team and how the Australian players responded to that gesture. Even the politicians should have got on to the ground and thanked the Australian players for coming to Sri Lanka.
Our foreign remittance had been one of our important avenues of getting dollars. However, since last August there had been a steady decline in the foreign remittance to a record low of 205 million dollars in February 2022 which is now standing at around 250 million dollars. In our crisis this source is a lifeline. So far, the government is trying to send abroad as many as possible to earn the dollars. There are two main reasons fro the decline in remittance, one is the artificially fixing the dollar rate the other is the perception the expatriates have regard high rate of corruption among the politicians and the state officials in our country.
It is no secret that corruption is rampant in the system. Politicians have been cited many a time as defaulters of bank loans. Taking commission for all forms of transactions including during the present crisis is well known. We need to put this right to increase the confidence among our foreign expatriates. If we cannot assure this we are doomed as a nation. There is no point in changing governments and changing parties in every election. People had lots of hope in the so called “Yahapalanaya” government came into power promising many things. Ultimately that government also encouraged corruption and did nothing for the alleged corrupt politicians, it protected them instead. When GR came into power too there was hope that the course of our country will direct to the correct path, unfortunately the reverse happened.
In the above-mentioned interview PM Ranil talks about the “books being cooked” regarding rampant corruption during the previous regime. However, it is worth remembering how many promises and big talks were given during the run up of the election which brought in the so called “Yahapalanaya” government. Ranil’s track record proves him as an unreliable person in this regard.
Some say that we need an election to change the situation. In fact an election might make it worse. However, what we have at present is a new government, a form of selected government which is comparable to an elected new government. What have they done? Practically nothing. This country is our future we need a system change to make it a better place to live.