21 May, 2024

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Nettles Needing To Be Grasped By Future Leaders Of Sri Lanka

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The New Year celebrations this year were low key compared to the past. The loud sound of crackers and other fireworks that traditionally accompany the dawn of the New Year were less than in the past. The economic burden on the people has begun to tell and was evident in the reduced purchase of new clothes and other items in preparation for the New Year. It can be surmised that the general population has less savings to utilize due to those savings being consumed in earlier months when people’s expenditures exceeded their income. The latest World Bank publication titled ‘World Bank Update: Bridges to Recovery’ released on April 2 shows that poverty has increased over the past four years—from 11 percent in 2019 to almost 26 percent in 2024 in Sri Lanka. According to it, approximately 60 percent of Sri Lankan households have decreased incomes, with many facing increased food insecurity, malnutrition and stunted growth.

In contrast to these ground realities that have eroded the optimism of people to spend on festivities and non-essentials, the run up to the New Year was accompanied by positive statements of recovery from the international financial institutions supporting the country. According to the Asian Development Bank, Sri Lanka is showing signs of recovery, with green shoots emerging in the second half of 2023 while inflation has decelerated to single digits, foreign exchange reserves continue to be built up, and the exchange rate has appreciated. Furthermore, tourist arrivals and remittance inflows continue to show a commendable recovery while supply conditions have improved. ADB’s growth forecast hinges on the continuation of reforms and better consumer and business sentiment. Timely completion of external debt restructuring will also support Sri Lanka’s debt sustainability efforts.

The gist of the recent statements by the IMF, World Bank and ADB is that the government is taking the IMF programme that they support forward and the country needs to continue on that path. They have pointed out that the macro-economic figures on inflation and budget deficits have been reduced. However, there are also cautionary elements in their communications. One is that the government needs to pay more attention to addressing the needs of those sections of the population who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. The ADB, for instance, has noted that government needs to address the impact on the poor and vulnerable and also continues to implement reforms to address the underlying causes of the crisis.

Policy Clarity 

The second element in the communications of these major supporters of Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is to point out the dangers of the election cycle disturbing the smooth implementation of the economic reform process. They have expressed concern that the upcoming elections in Sri Lanka could jeopardize the country’s economic recovery program supported by the IMF. The uncertainty surrounding the elections is causing a potential downward trend in Sri Lanka’s economic outlook. This could lead to a slowdown in the IMF programme and hinder the country’s progress towards economic stability. They also warn that due to the elections, the IMF programme may be extended into the second half of 2024 which can have political consequences.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that elections would not be held until the IMF programme is completed has generated concern about whether the presidential elections scheduled to be held in October will be endangered. The international agencies whose main backers are the Western democracies and Japan are unlikely to be advocating that elections should not be held merely to safeguard the IMF programme. Their concern is more likely to be that the government will loosen its current efforts to limit unnecessary expenditures and engage in populist measures such as reducing taxes and increasing subsidies as a means of getting votes. Sri Lanka’s past track record of failing to fully implement its previous 16 IMF agreements is a warning that the government may not follow through on its commitments. The concern would be exacerbated by the fact that both the major opposition parties, the SJB and JVP have said they will renegotiate the IMF programme if they come to power.

Given the importance of the IMF programme to the revival of the Sri Lankan economy, it is incumbent upon the major opposition parties, both of which are front runners to form the next government, to make their stances clear on their economic policies. The JVP in particular needs to make its stance clear as it has a Marxist background that rejected international markets-oriented development in the past. Their economic thinking has traditionally been suspicious of exploitation by international powers with a preference for self-reliant economic development in which the state is the engine of development. For that very reason and its image of a radical alternative, the JVP has emerged as the dark horse of national politics in the aftermath of the Aragalaya mass protests that demanded “systems change” in the context of the country’s sudden economic collapse.

Systems Change

At the present time in keeping with the general consensus among economists and the intelligentsia, the JVP appears to be recognizing the importance of the international financial agencies in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. They have said they will renegotiate the IMF programme, not abandon it. Fiscal targets will need to be met and there needs to be a balance between expenditures and incomes. At the same time there can be a redistribution of the burdens of emerging from bankruptcy that have been put on those who are at the bottom levels of society rather than those at the higher levels. This is evident in the host of newspaper advertisements announcing the forced sale of properties being mortgaged by small and medium businesspersons. The government has chosen not to protect them, giving priority to saving the businesses that are “too big to be allowed to fail.”

The “systems change” demanded by the masses of people is not only economic justice on the lines pointed above but also includes the issue of inter-ethnic justice that is of particular importance to the ethnic and religious minorities. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been clearest in his analysis of the problem and solution though he has failed to deliver on the solution in his two years as president and earlier years as prime minister. Drawing on his personal experiences, Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa made a remarkable speech recently to a professionals group in which he identified the ethnic, religious, caste and social class cleavages in society. Similarly, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has been making speeches in which he provides a comprehensive analysis of the use of narrow ethnic nationalism to win elections, starting from the disenfranchisement of Tamils of recent Indian origin (Malaiyaha Tamils) in 1948.

In his New Year message, the JVP leader broke new ground for a mainstream political party when he referred to ethnic and religious minorities as “nationalities.” The communities in Sri Lanka are not only cultural, religious and linguistic groups, but are also political entities. They all wish to protect their identities and to be treated equally by the Sri Lankan state without discrimination. In describing them as nationalities, the JVP leader was utilizing the Marxist political tradition, in which regional self-government is not a negative but a positive. However, the JVP needs to be more specific about what they will actually put in place on the ground to resolve the issue of power sharing between the communities. They also need to deal with their opposing positions and actions in the past. This is no different from the question of what they will do in terms of the economy and with the IMF agreement. These are the nettles that need to be grasped by those who aspire to lead Sri Lanka and bring about the systems change for economic development and national unity. Answers need to be given to convince those in business and politics and those at the bottom who are struggling to make ends meet.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    … bring about the systems change for economic development and national unity.
    How more vague one could be?
    Would a sytems change bring about national unity?
    National unity is NOT a systems issue. It is an attitude problem.
    Does JVP show a different attitude?
    .
    AKD was in Jaffna canvassing for his JVP. I was all ears. Not a single word on that major hurdle was said.

    • 5
      0

      Nathan – I wish some learned person would offer us a comprehensive explanation regarding what “System Change” really means and everything that it entails. Does it include National Unity or does it cover only such issues as Corruption, Democracy, Economic Development, and Rule of Law?
      Simply bandying about phrases like “System Change” will not get us anywhere.

      • 6
        2

        In my opinion, System change should include national unity because system change means whether we would like to continue with the unitary constitution or federal constitution. The change from unitary to federal system is one of the ways to unite the people and share the power. However, the constitution should exclude the inclusion of any special law for any religion or race or language or any individual including the President/Prime Minister. The rule of law and justice to all should be equal. I hope the candidates for the next Presidential election should put forward their proposals or policies towards how they want to see a better Sri Lanka than the past.

      • 7
        1

        CM,
        “System Change” is in the same class as “Vistas of prosperity”, “Good Governance”, etc.
        Everyone talks about it, but no one has seen it.

        • 0
          5

          old codger, You will see “System Change” when Jesus returns to Jerusalem and eliminates evil from nations coming against Jerusalem to divide it.

    • 4
      0

      1/
      Dear Nathan,
      .
      “Does JVP show a different attitude?”

      Obviously not.
      That is clear to all those who respect the facts.
      .
      In fact, the JVP was the first to strengthen the hands of the corrupt Mahinda Rajapaksa in his “divide and rule” principle. WIhtout the direct support of JVPrs, Rjapakshe would not have risen to all high levels of popullists in this country. So, today, JVPrs cant get rid of their part in that big damage.
      Although it was misinterpreted by the nation, it was because of their patriotism in a form of mlechcha MEDAMULANISM.

      tbc

      • 3
        0

        cont.
        2

        Were there enough resistance by JVPrs against the brutal racist agendas of Mahendra Rajapaksa’s election campaigns?, also not in Nov 2019….. they just let people be misled by Rajapkshes for some hidden reasons.
        .
        Almost all or most of JVPrs , like kids are good at accusing the others and their political representatives of being grossly corrupt. The fact is most of our people are corrupted actively or passively.
        Today, I believe, JVP has not understood how to get closer to a real victory. Not yet.

        They just count the thoughts of some cyber fans that are not even 40% of the population. Not everyone in this country is accessed to internet.

        tbc

        • 3
          0

          cont.
          3
          Now again, JVP are making every effort to dodge having a public debate between their specialists and the counterpart of SJB about “future government economic plans”.
          It is all becuase JVPrs have not sufficient confidence about their capabilities yet. Most of them that are called heavy weights of JVP LED NPP are just degree holders without any kind of exeperience in practical world.

          Be it Sunil Handunetti, AKD, Lal Kantha, Nalin Hewage, Nalin Jayathissa or others all are though graduates, but they dont come with any kind of sufficient professional experience. Keheliya is imprisoned as the minsiter of health but what woudl be the outcome if a JVPer would become a minister of health ( e.g Nalin Jayathissa with his just MBBS degree ) ?
          :
          Furthermore, The JVPrS did not elaborate yet today on how they would go along with existing IMF recommendations. People today are at a loss as to who is telling the truth about the economic plans for the future, which is the most crucial factor in keeping the youth in the country without going anywhere.

  • 11
    1

    Chief of the delegation of German Industry and Commerce Maria Antonia said that, ” effectiveness of Lankan legal system is questionable over corruption. Despite the existence of laws implementation remains a challenge, which may deter investors from choosing Lanka over other alternatives. If anyone interested read DBS article on DM , A U.S “Kaputa” , a Lankan “Nariya” and a Presidential “feast “, based on ancient childhood story. ( fox outsmarting a crow and running away with Vadai / Kavun / cheese ). There is slight chance of a person making, positive life style change at age 75 , but system change in Lanka after 75 years independence. ????? get real .

    • 1
      3

      Dear chiv,
      .
      Wake up, Rip van Winkle.
      .
      We’ve had more than 76 years after independence.
      .
      I’m over 75 years, so is the villain, Ranil. Please vote for anybody but him.
      .
      If marking Preferences (I will) please ask me what the hazards of doing that are. Candidates are not explaining to the public that there is a Preferential system of voting. We have not so far fallen back on it, in seven elections. It is increasingly looking as though we may have to in 2024.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

      • 2
        1

        SM, with all due respect, you’re over 75 years, and my mom is 95. According to her
        ” talk is cheap, when not supported by evidence or actions. 75 years in dependence and rhetoric is what lead to bankruptcy.” If any party is committed in addressing an issue ( economy, Easter, reconciliation . . . . .), first they should genuinely admit, spell out a realistic plan to rectify, explain in simple language, measures / steps to be taken, means ( not bringing rice from moon ), man power, people / authority responsible . . . . . . etc . . . . etc, so that voters can make up their decision. Not just promises, manifesto, white elephants, unrealistic BS, rhetoric , catchy phrases, finding fault with incumbent , stage talk ………. . . . . . You may be right with preferential votes. I wonder how a clueless Lankan voter, will understand or decide on preferential vote ??????? Not to forget people who write articles and comment here have repeatedly voted for corrupt regimes in past. In the field of medicine we never give promises and guarantees. We are expected to explain, discuss, give options, tell benefits / risks to help a person / family make their own decision.(informed consent) That’s how I see voting too, especially when the decision, involves whole country / people , not just individual / family.

  • 0
    0

    Yes, New Year celebrations were low key. However people from some of the urban lower strata seem to be doing not so bad.
    .
    For example Odel which usually is a bustling place even on a regular day, was a ghost town this pre-Avurudu shopping season, perhaps partly due to the ongoing constructions, but still, I think people shopped less this time around.
    .
    Same was true for House of Fashions, but it seemed like it was doing slightly better than Odel.
    .
    However Lady J, Borella was jam packed, during days immediately before the New Year weekend.
    .
    May be the Colombo’s affluent are more conservative than their lower SEC counterparts when it comes to spending – or may be there’s some other explanation?
    .
    On couple of other topics Dr. Perera has addressed:
    .
    Inter-ethnic justice seems like a good concept. First time the term caught my attention.
    .
    System change, whatever it is meant to be, would require that we first change the people that have been running the system for the past 75 years. It is obvious that those who have failed 16 times would not succeed in the their 17th attempt.

  • 0
    4

    “Grasp the nettle” is the idiom
    “nettles-needing-to-be-grasped” can be prickly but not quite the same.

    • 0
      5

      I must check that out. No time now!
      .
      Panini

      • 0
        0

        Sinhala_Man,
        A kid sister, a mosquito, an angry boyfriend, or a hot, muggy day are examples of things that might nettle a person. (Googled.)
        As such, Nettles Needing To Be Grasped, is a pretty bad construct.

  • 15
    1

    Lankan journalism is ……… people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.

    Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.

  • 3
    10

    Jehan attempts to explain complex political situations in simple, everyday terms. That is commendable. He doesn’t align himself with any one political position. Not what I can discern. Yet many seem not to bother with what he has written but with childishly rebuking him. What a shame. Being critical is always welcome. We all learn from criticism. But we all look for substantive, applicable criticism. Not the “ado hoo” type.

    • 0
      1

      “They also need to deal with their opposing positions and actions in the past. This is no different from the question of what they will do in terms of the economy and with the IMF agreement. These are the nettles that need to be grasped by those who aspire to lead Sri Lanka and bring about the systems change for economic development and national unity. Answers need to be given to convince those in business and politics and those at the bottom who are struggling to make ends meet.”
      Sonali,
      That is what Jehan PhD says. I don’t know whether wholeheartedly he is advising the NPP or guiding the animal to a pit that it never can get out of in the future! My morality is preventing me from saying something good about a Sinhala Intellectual who has been dedicated to protect, preserving and guarding their utter racist Sinhala Intellectualism and the UNP-SLFP Union’ s Aanduwas.

    • 0
      1

      Sonali, Jehan PhD has only one way, that is the double talk. That double talk is always unitary, in style. Never deviate. First, he starts with the people’s problems. That is to catch the eyes of the international paymasters of him. In that second part he goes on how difficult it is to deal with those dire situations. Reading up to that, many readers start to shout hooray and elevate Jehan PhD as hero and ignores what he was about to write as the rest. That is where he delivers his true nature of the double deal. In a cold and cunning manner, he ends the essay with “Appe smart brave Sinhala Only Aanduwa has sorted all that out. What an amazing achievement!”. Those who started to shout hooray during the middle of the mantras chanting, never wake up and say “Ahhhhhhhh” They walk home completely mesmerized hooting hooray, bound by Jehan PhD’s mantras. Time and again that is only script for all successful dramas of Jehan PhD. But many sleepy commentators who go home mesmerized by his mantra chanting, this time awaken strung with his nettles crying “Ouch”. In today’s end, there is a difference. He did not say as he usually does, that the UNP-SLFP union has resolved all the problems.

    • 0
      1

      He says international agencies are rating the Aanduwa higher. Yes, they did. Even on that Jehan PhD is correct. But he withheld the fact that agencies only reprint the Central Bank’s election campaign pamphlets, never do their own research. Specially, at this time, IMF in such a hurry to have recruited Evil Emperor in to their China fighting and Read Sea Floating teams, telling nothing but lies. Other two not doing anything other, and not telling something of their own, but just copycatting IMF. (By quantity, World Bank’s numbers differ from IMF, but on quality no change in the fundamental nature of forming union with IMF.) Further, so far none of the Credit rating companies had said anything good about Langkang exchange rate or borrowed loan reserves (in any accounting sense, you borrow only if your loan can make more than its principal and interest but would not remain dormant as white elephants. This mammothlike grown foreign exchange reserve is only another White Elephant; only difference is Sahala’s commission on that is not easily accessible, unlike the Old Rowdy’s $19B. Remember, Jehan PhD has stayed out of mentioning that the three large credit rating companies, who had been very accurately reading the Baba Banga’s Anjanam that in April 2022, Appe Aanduwa will fall, and it has happened.

    • 0
      1

      Though every pundit of Dick, Tom, and Harry are blaming Gothapayal’s tax reduction, which is what the IMF has forced Evil Emperor to do currently (reduce the tax of upper edge but increase the direct tax and roast the poor) but it was in Yahapalanaya the Langkang was listed as money Laundering kleptocracy Aanduwa and three credit rating giants had written off as worthless below CCCs.
      But, this time, Jehan PhD’s end is neutral and illuminating, without denial. The country has been running on the negative path for 76 years and not just deep down at bottom roots’ hire, even other miles deep underneath the tree has been fed with venom. If NPP wants the victory and if that victory is to bring any good for the people, then NPP need to grasp the nettles; alas no more feather bedding with the usual anti-Tamil campaign, the easy technique, which the UNP-SLFP union enjoyed in the past 76 years during the election times, as per Jehan PhD. There is nobody whom the NPP can blame for that but needing to grab the spear and walk in front of the elephant to take it down. The NPP will be doing something that will undo the disillusion the masses are forced to by UNP-SLFP for 76 years. Neither I nor Jehan PhD can predict what it will be, but it will happen before the election.

    • 0
      1

      What other advice can a critic give to a political party which wants to win an election in an unusual adversary condition like this?

      Well, done Jehan PhD. Bravo. I hope NPP will receive your message.

  • 1
    5

    System change needs to include religious beliefs which are true according to what has already happened to human beings who lived in the world. Many think they can do evil and then go into a state of nihilism like nirvana and vanish out of creation which forgets their misdeeds. Jesus at his own resurrection, allowed the saints buried in Jerusalem to be resurrected and to appear to many who recognised them.Mat.27,52

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