By Tony Perera –
Having written multiple pieces, a few in which I have labelled Sajith Premadasa ‘the son of a mass murderer’, I think it is important to raise what I feel to be real concerns with the recent events. I contend that the recent events have all been sequenced quite carefully to lead to a Premadasa acquisition of power and one that vests with him all the power that accrues to the Executive Presidency.
Given that Dayan Jayatilleka was not too long ago an ardent supporter of the Rajapaksas who has suddenly converted to a Premadasa stooge it is not beyond the imagination of even the most simple-minded to see it as an extension of the policies of the past. The 1980s UNP government’s spending and flaming of ethnic tensions were far worse than that of the recent Rajapaksa government both of which should be condemned by any civilized society.
We are not a civilized society and given the intelligence of our people and the long-standing fractures within the populous we are going to descend into one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world.
Recent images of one Hirunika Premachandra with her foot against the wall of the Presidential Palace were obviously a precursor to the quite violent and despicable damage to public property that took place yesterday (as I write this). This Premachandra was the daughter of a Provincial Council thug who despite considerable backing was rejected by the electorate at the recent Parliamentary elections.
Premachandra was also gifted this prominent role in this play of ‘sequenced events to a Premadasa Presidency’ by actions of the media, the judiciary, and the police. Those working in the adjacent area would be aware that Aragalaya had fizzled out to a large degree when there had been mass resignations by those in power and even further when the 21st amendment had been presented.
Premachandra’s cohort was so small and actively selected to include people who were unlikely to be attacked by the police that it begs the question as to why her lack of numbers was not put to any real test. Again, I contend that Premadasa’s actual polling is not that strong. From view counts on his posts to organic interest generated by issues that he speaks about are not very strong and still well below that of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s poor figures (in comparison to Mahinda’s peak).
The trifecta of media, judiciary, and police are not among the most trustworthy of people and have acted in a quite coordinated fashion in the past. You can go back and read the coverage and see how important issues like the Social Security Contribution which would have gone a long way as a stop-gap measure to fix the revenue shortfall were sidelined by some trivial stories. Even if you are against it, the tax impacts a large number of prices by as much as 2% and it must be discussed.
The Executive Presidency
Those currently screeching ‘Go Home Gota’ have in no way get out of Sajith Premadasa any commitment by him towards the abolishment of the Executive Presidency. In terms of concrete policy discourse out of him so far, we have gotten the fact that he has distributed medicines and not much else. A move so Rajapaksa-esque that if we were to Photoshop him into the mix people would be unable to date the image.
Gone are the days of even Mangala Samaraweera’s insincere drab that politicians should not be worshipped. Again, gulped down by a media that fails to showcase that Samaraweera acted in quite an organized fashion to undermine the improvement in the operations of Sri Lanka Customs and carved out of the Sri Lankan Tax Code quite large loopholes for the extremely wealthy.
The commentary on actual tax policy and dollar availability remains scant by institutions that seek by way of misdirection to make you the general public unable to rally around actions in the public interest. There is widespread leakage of fuel and many gas-guzzling vehicles cut across the city in the most unnecessary of endeavours as doctors wait in fuel queues thereby encapsulating the priorities of the system.
The USAID-backed idiots at Verite Research spewing their fact-checking garbage across our idiotic press have just conducted polling that showcases government approval as low as 3%. These figures seek to undermine the government which admittedly had little public support but was not as bad as suggested by these figures. No one questions that this polling only began recently and has only one other data point to compare against. In other words, WhatsApp forwarders seem to quite conveniently ignore this poll has only been done twice and thereby go on to forward the quite convincing chart in the post.
This false polling forms the backdrop by which they can create a justification for yesterday’s actions which again seek by way of timing and intensity to prevent the abolishment of the Executive Presidency and the rolling in of Sajith Premadasa as President in an early election.
Parliamentarians have actively been threatened on their way to and from parliament by select political actors on which way they should vote at parliament. This is highly condemnable behaviour and against the entire premise of democracy.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t leave
This is the most ridiculous argument. It is untrue on so many levels and seeks to defend the indefensible. Sri Lanka may be a lot of things, but it remains a democracy. There will be elections in the foreseeable future. If it is the priority of the protestors to seek elections, then why is there little movement by them on the Provincial Council front which has long been delayed. Again, questioning the commitment by Sajith Premadasa to devolution.
The less violent protests in which I did partake were also capable of ensuring the resignations of a significant portion of the establishment. Further, those protests were also able to shift the direction of policy. The recent incidents seemed to prevent policies like the 21st amendment and the Social Security Contribution which I would contend though not perfect are actually in the public interest. This is so obvious that I don’t feel the real need to elaborate.
Actions by the Central Bank
Though people may attribute the current failures to things like the fertilizer ban and the tax cuts it is far more attributable to the actions of the Central Bank. We are facing supply disruptions of essential items mostly because the banking sector is dollar insolvent. This is primarily the duty of the Central Bank which has for decades allowed the functioning of a black market for remittances and done absolutely nothing for instance about Sri Lankans mentioned in the Panama Papers.
On the fertilizer front it must be noted that even in high growth years in 2010 we were still importing a considerable portion of our essential food items and not just dairy but inclusive of things like potatoes, onions, and rice. In a normally regulated monetary system, these things would be highly targeted in terms of monetary policy as they have such a high bearing on inflation given the way indices are compiled. What the Central Bank did instead allowed for construction material to continue to be imported which was not a priority and further allowed for Sri Lankan entities involved in construction like John Keells to issue dollar-denominated debt.
Moves to prevent open account importation of items though not a panacea (harder enforcement by Sri Lanka customs should be called for) have already shown some impact in terms of remittance figures. The Central Bank can and has signalled that it would do more under the current leadership in terms of errant actors.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s even most minor of moves for instance to fix taxation on casinos has been stifled by Dhammika Perera. The move was again vastly ignored by the general public as it was hidden by the media. Ranil Wickremesinghe again refuses to bow down to the media conglomerates’ every interest.
On the tax front, the leakages are mostly due to ridiculous tax policy which the current opposition says nothing about. Cinnamon Life and Shang Ri La though nice are not strategic investments that make our economy resilient. The entire export sector and IT sector would not seek to function if it was taxed on par with the rest of the country.
In the Yahapalanaya government of 2015, Ranil Wickremesinghe was instrumental in stopping the ridiculous excesses of the BOI and bringing in incentives through a capital allowance mechanism which ensured that tax incentives were beneficial to the economy. Risk-bearing capital faces the highest rate of taxation in the economy which is weird given that we want to incentivize that activity. Taxes are anyways only placed on profit and as such the entire rationale of varying tax brackets only really keeps alive an overly large tax consultancy industry into which the current IRD, Excise, and Customs officials will retire into.
Former Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne though not palatable to many was actually behind the scenes acting very much in the public interests. It was a movement largely on his part that lead to the increased taxation on cigarettes and alcohol. Sucker punching an old man is not an action that should be celebrated or glorified.
Senaratne may have told his fair share of lies but as a politician, he is in no way less suitable to govern than Hirunika Premachandra who we must remind ourselves even as a junior minister had to resign for being involved in a case of abduction. What on earth do you think she will do with more power given this already excessive macho image she has displayed herself to be.
Creating a petition mechanism
I believe that a course of action should be put down on paper. If the recent people who have taken over the ‘Go Home Gota’ movement with the violent actors in the IUSF are serious about impacting change they should work by way of a petition mechanism. Put Verite’s shoddy research to the test and see if they can put forth a clear set of demands from the government and get a figure that may be lower than 97%, I suggest a million people, sign onto it.
This will achieve two things. First, it will prevent ‘Go Home Gota’ from directly translating into an SJB movement without the consent of people participating in it. It will create some sort of discourse which would shape the policy which is what we as people want.
Secondly, it will show the lack of depth in the thinking of the actors that the media picks to play out this game. Sajith Premadasa as we have seen with the Central Cultural Fund is not shy about paying the media the dues which they expect. Written discourse makes it more difficult to hide your intentions.
I though an ardent supporter of Wickremesinghe think his days are numbered. He is a good man and will probably pull something off but that strategy will probably entail it being a political suicide mission wherein he takes the Executive Presidency, the Sinhala Maha Sabha, and the more corrupt elements of the UNP with him.
This is what I want to see happen and I think the more intelligent amongst us can outmanoeuvre the idiocy current trying to impact policy. Though I am doubtful of our chances of success let us not go down without a fight. Go Home Gota but more importantly Go Home Violence. Here I am assuming that people willing to read this far into what I have written our well aware of the Premadasa legacy and Sajith Premadasa’s intentions to solidify power through means of the death penalty on initially the likes of drugs addicts and subsequently on the likes of journalists speaking out.