6 December, 2022

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Sri Lanka’s Goal Must Be Economic Recovery In Tandem With Democracy

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The primacy being given to the defense budget at time of cost slashing in virtually every other area is a pointer to the government’s reliance on the security forces to maintain and exhibit political stability and their grip on power. It is also a reflection of the government’s fears that the worst is still to come. This does not bode well for the people who are hoping that the country will come out of its worst ever economic crisis soon. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s accession to power was greeted with the hope beyond its query of legitimacy that he would be able to navigate through the prevailing political instability and access international support through his familiarity with international systems. This hope has still to materialize. The last significant economic support to the country came from India before President Wickremesinghe took office.

At the present time hopes are pinned on the IMF giving the country the loans it needs which will be a green light to other credit agencies to restart doing business with Sri Lanka which has been ostracized since it defaulted on its debt in March of this year. President Wickremesinghe has been forthright in saying that the budget will reflect the economic targets set by the IMF. The president has also promised to disclose the IMF proposals which have so far remained a tightly guarded secret to the general public which has created doubts as to its impact on the living standards of the majority of people. The anger at the sacrifices the IMF package is likely to call for may be directed against the president by potential successors. Other aspiring leaders in both the government and opposition have been conveying the message that they will protect the people better if they get the chance.

In this context, it appears that the president and his team do not wish the people to express their opposition to the economic reforms either by elections or public protests. The sudden appointment of a National Delimitation Committee for the demarcation of wards for local authorities and to reduce the number of local councillors by one half has been explained as a cost cutting measure that takes the economic crisis into account. It may be seen as a clever ploy as it will almost certainly lead to a postponement of local government elections which fall due in March of next year. This will prevent the people from expressing their opinion regarding the government’s performance. The large defence budget, which exceeds that of health and education combined, will ensure that the security forces are motivated to suppress any uprising against the government.

Legitimacy Crisis

Ever since the economy started to collapse this year and the protest movement took to the streets, the government has been facing a crisis of legitimacy that it is unable to shake off. The resignation of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers in the period from May to July this year seems to have scarred the government and made it insecure. The arrest this past weekend of two women protestors who were marching by themselves on the road carrying a placard demanding the release of two student leaders is an indication of this governmental insecurity. The government was not taking any chances in dealing with the two women. Dozens of police surrounded the two women prior to forcing them into a vehicle. In the melee, male policemen were seen on social media videos treating female police officers very roughly, even squeezing the neck of one and shoving them for reasons unknown to onlookers.

It is very unfortunate for the country, and indeed for the government itself, that it has become so preoccupied with its security concerns that it does not perceive how others may perceive its actions. The insistence on keeping two student leaders incarcerated for over three months without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act is costing the government dearly in terms of outrage on the part of any right thinking person let alone human rights activists. The costs can be high to the economy as well as the EU’s GSP Plus tax concession which is hugely beneficial to Sri Lankan exporters comes up for review next year and its extension is dependent on human rights considerations. The violations of human rights that have taken place in the past and which continue into the present are being taken up in the UK parliament and UN Human Rights Council among others to the country’s detriment.

The House of Commons last week discussed the human rights and economic situation in Sri Lanka with several parliamentarians accusing Sri Lanka for continued violation of human rights in the country. They called on the UK government to act on Sri Lanka in the form of sanctions which included referring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court; urging Sri Lanka to meet its GSP+ commitments; and to reduce its military spending. One member recommended that the Global Magnitsky Act, the first of a new generation of human rights sanctions programmes be applied. The Act, in contrast to traditional sanctions targeted at individual countries, can be flexibly applied to alleged perpetrators from all over the world, regardless of their geographical location.

Military Limits 

Regrettably, the government’s security-centered approach is going to be counterproductive in the longer term as well. It can only suppress the symptoms for a while. The latest UN report titled ‘Sri Lanka: Multi-dimensional crisis -Humanitarian needs and priorities JUNE – DEC 2022’ by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on behalf of Humanitarian Country Team and partners, says that an estimated 13.5 million, or 61.1 percent of the population, are using food-based coping strategies, and 47.7 percent of households use livelihood coping strategies. The report published on Nov 8, 2022 says that “About 5.3 million people, or 24 percent of population, are reducing the number of meals, and the same percentage of the population are reducing adults’ consumption so that children can eat, with women being the last to eat in the household. The proportion of households with unacceptable diets is ten times higher compared to the end of 2021.” This shows that people literally are starving.

Especially in a context in which elections are being postponed and people cannot elect the representatives they have confidence in, the tendency will be to come out and protest against the hardships that people experience. The security forces cannot be expected, and will not be able to, suppress the masses of people when there is a desperate need as was the case in the period of the Aragalaya when prices shot up, fuel and fertilizer was not available and power cuts stretched for half the day. The main need at the present time is for the government to allocate its scarce resources to meet the needs of the people rather than suppress their legitimate protests. On the other hand, the government appears to be relying on the security forces to keep the people in check and cope with the potential unrest of the future.

In a speech at the Kotalawala Defence University, President Wickremesinghe acknowledged that there may be questions raised as to why the government is focusing so much on the armed forces, and why the government is looking at Defence 2030. He is reported as having said “When we were born, there was no tussle for the Indian Ocean. At one stage, no one wanted it. Today it is not so. If we are to survive, the skills, the security skills, Strategic Studies, all that has to be utilized.” The President is also reported to have said that the country cannot have an export-oriented industry unless it has the freedom of navigation. This answer was not convincing, because the bulk of the defence budget goes to support the army which is bigger in numbers than the British or French armies. It is such claims and justifications, redirecting or misdirecting the public that has taken the country to its present status over the 74 years of Independence. Holding elections on schedule and negotiating the way forward with the political representatives who emerge is the democratic way to sustainable political stability which is needed for economic development.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    Sri Lanka’s Goal Must Be Economic Recovery In Tandem With Democracy. (Title)
    The very first words however indicate that the Government’s primacy is the defense budget.
    That says that Democracy is way off tandem with economic recovery.
    .
    How did we get into the economic mess?
    There was no Democracy to begin with. That is the only reason.
    That makes me cast aside the Title.
    For any Economic Recovery Sri Lanka’s Goal Must Be Democracy!

    • 0
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      Excellent, dear Nathan.
      .
      You’re clearly independent, and also an amateur, but always spot on.
      .
      The “almost” has been dropped, so 100%...
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe..

  • 3
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    The budget is littered with revenue raising proposals and only a passing reference to the bloated public sector. The biggest drain, as Johan says above is the defence and police budgets and the excuse given to maintain high defence spending is to facilitate exports.
    The public are being hoodwinked again into believing that somehow Sri Lanka is going to become like Germany (which has a tiny Navy) within the next few years and to protect the exports strong defence is required yet there was no mention of ships.
    The problem is that that the government needs the Army and the Police to defend the political classes against its own people.

    • 0
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      Yes, yogi, Ranil will use the armed forces .against us.!
      .
      He has forgotten that he is mortal....

  • 3
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    Dr. JP. Donald Lu’s Force backed IMF Economic Hitman who came to power in a regime change Aragalaya, President Ranil Rajapakse talks tosh.! He is destroying Sri Lanka’s food Security by privatizing the Fisheries and Agriculture sector and “export substituting” (ha,ha, ha) the healthy Lankan tradition ‘rice and fish’ diet with imported corn, maize, Soya and milk powder and maize fed chicken, while talking up Famine in SL!
    Also, RW wants to 1. . get Rwandan soldiers accused of Genocide against Hutus and backing the M23 outfit in DR Congo to train SL troops on Maritime Awareness!
    2. RW Plans to set up a global Climate University rather than an Indian Ocean Marine University which Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean needs desperately. Meanwhile RW is destroying Higher education on the austerity advice on the IMF!
    3. RW floated another Hydrogen balloon over the strategic Trincomalee port that India and US and Japan and QUAD have great plans for – he wants to manufacture hyrdogene to power trains in Lanka which are crashing all the time..!
    All these are Pie in the sky missplaced projects while the peoples assets are being privatized and sold off under the guise of public private ventures like Yugadanavi power plant sold by Goat Rajapakse to the US New Fortress company!

    • 3
      2

      By the way, RW recently claimed in his speech inaugurating the new US embassy that the US embassy owns the beach and sea of Sri Lanka outside its embassy! Will they soon be parking Nuclear Submarines in Lankan waters?!
      https://www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk/index.php/2022/10/30/the-united-states-has-supported-sri-lanka-in-every-difficult-situation-president/ “38 years ago, I stood in another building next to this witnessing President Jayawardena open the new US Chancellor building. The earlier building was housed in the residence, which one time belonged to my great-grandmother, Helena Dep Wijewardhena before the Americans purchased the sea. I think that’s the only private beach in Sri Lanka much and that is the only Embassy which has a private beach, which I am sure will be really the cause of joy for your marine scene.
      How did this happen? Is this not a violation of the Law that beaches are public in Sri Lanka?! This must be reversed! We need a new non-NED Human Rights Whores funded Aragalaya get rid of the Ranil Rajapakse regime!!

  • 2
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    “Holding elections on schedule and negotiating the way forward with the political representatives who emerge is the democratic way to sustainable political stability which is needed for economic development.”
    Keeping the power within the family includes the Government and major Political parties is not a democratic way. Over the past 75 years we have seen Senanayaka family, Jeyawardena Family, Bandaranaiyaka family, Rajapaksa family are controlling the governments or oppositions and vice versa. The international community (West) wants to keep the basic structure that is the government by UNP even though people of this country wanted to get rid this family dominance. Most important factor in economic development is hard working people and making use of national resources effectively which is not the focus of ruling regimes and international community.

    • 0
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      And now, Ranil, nephew of JRJ, wants to hold on until he finally dies.
      .
      Hasn’t he been given enough by destiny, or whatever?
      .
      Unless we find some way of stopping him, he will prove to be worse than all who preceded him!

  • 0
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    Sri Lanka’s Goal Must Be Economic Recovery in Tandem with Democracy

    Democracy no vote from the people even the parliamentarian like the president
    due the benefit of them not from the people democracy is by the people for the people from the people
    ride a Tandem with democracy is deflated. In front of the world Ranil has to define his president as he assembled this position not one owned democracy

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