By Malinda Senevirathne –
Shyamon Jayasinghe, in an article published in the Colombo Telegraph (‘The political tug-o-war in Sri Lanka is cockeyed and absurd: only Ranil talks of economic goals’) dwells on the ‘dooshanaya-discourse’ or the ‘discussion on corruption.’ Shyamon makes an interesting observation:
“One never observes any printed or online media that tries to balance the imbalance and put things in perspective. They take some side or the other in the dooshanaya vs dooshanaya battle.”
He rightfully berates Maithripala Sirisena for talking as though corruption was something that the President discovered just the other day. He then ridicules, quite rightly, ‘the Rajapaksa clan’ for attacking the ruling party of the dooshanaya disease. The Rajapaksas, he claims, are the main proponents of dooshanaya.
That’s it. Nothing of the United National Party. Nothing of Ranil Wickremesinghe. it is as though he would have us believe that there has been no dooshanaya whatsoever post January 8, 2015. Instead, he claims he is bored by dooshanaya talk. Interestingly, after these charges and silences, Shyamon laments that he never observes ‘any printed or online media [trying] to balance the imbalance and put things in perspective.’
The reason is not hard to understand, for he then proceeds to sing the praises of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Objective much, one must say (tongue in cheek of course!).
Let’s fill in some blanks here. The biggest heist ever that has been associated with the Central Bank happened under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s watch. The man at the centre of the scam is not only a personal friend, but one who has at best an iffy track record when one considers his stint as BoI Chairman when Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister (2001-2004). He was and is Ranil’s man. Wickremesinghe defended Arjuna Mahendran even after it became apparent that there had been hanky-panky involving Arjuna Mahendra and his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius. When the COPE report on the Central Bank bond issue was about to be published, Ranil, through his new found friend Sirisena, got Parliament dissolved.
Ranil went further. He took control of the Finance Minister and continued to defend Mahendran. The UNP’s Deputy Leader, Ravi Karunanayake was implicated, later. Both disgraced men were rewarded and ‘looked after’ by Wickremesinghe by way of appointments conferred subsequent to them being moved out of their jobs. The fall guy, as they say, is taken care of by the real crook.
Anyway, Shyamon is bored of dhooshanaya talk. After leaving out an important part of the dhooshanaya story, he wants us to believe that Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ranil Wickremesinghe alone thinks of ‘The Economy.’ He takes care not to talk about the one tangible economic goal that was secured: the mega bucks his friends made over the last three years. Sri Lanka has slipped in the Corruption Index under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s watch and you can’t just point fingers at Maithripala because they are a thick-as-thieves in this, literally and metaphorically .
To put things in perspective and as a hint regarding what probably happened, the party that couldn’t pay the electricity bill of Sirikotha in 2014 ran a massively expensive election campaign in August 2015 and is currently doling out billions for the local government election. Talk about having an eye on economic goals, eh?
Instead he talks of positives as per his obviously blind faith in neoliberal economic policies:
Foreign direct investment is impressive debt management and fiscal management is improving and the economy is slowly looking up. PM goes all over the world on economic missions with little gratitude from even the President who now says he will take over the running of the economy!
Let’s not talk about google balloons, Volkswagen factories and free wifi. Let’s talk facts.
Waruna Singappuli, in an article published in the Daily FT on February 7 titled ‘Economic policy: are we down the wrong lane?’ gives the data that Shyamon doesn’t seem to be aware of or else ignores altogether in the brain-freeze that seems to creep in when talking about the United National Party and Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Central Bank figures indicate, as Singappuli points out, that GDP growth has been ‘anaemic,’ being less than 5% over the past two years. It is predicted that the 2017 figures would probably be lower than 4%, ‘the lowest growth since the war ended in 2009.’ Per Capita GDP is stagnant, the numbers show.
How about the ‘impressive debt management’ that Shyamon talks of? Well, Singappuli, quoting Central Bank figures, demonstrates that ‘in absolute terms the total Government debt has increased by 39% from Rs 7,391 Bn at the end of 2014 to Rs 10,269 Bn by September 2017. The Debt to GDP ratio, he points out, has gone up from 71% at end 2014 to 79% in September 2017. Singappuli puts it down to poor economic growth. The policy of boosting government revenue by increasing taxes hasn’t worked, he says. While acknowledging that tax hikes are not necessarily the only reason for weak growth, it is a key factor, Singappuli adds.
He goes on to offer options. I shall not repeat his cogent arguments. The article can be found here.
The spikes in the graph indicate that foreign investors lack confidence in the economy. The sharp rise in 2017 is from Chinese investment which accounted for 35% of FDIs to Sri Lanka in 2017 (until September) according to the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade. The Chinese ‘slice’ for 2017 is predicted to be in the region of US $ 1.36 billion.
FDIs (calculated without borrowings) stood at US $ 1,685 Mn in 2014, came down to US $ 1,160 Mn in 2015, dropped further to US $ 1,079 Mn in 2016 and went up to US $1,630 Mn (projected) in 2017 thanks of course to China. That’s ‘impressive’? Hardly!
Yes, China. Since Shyamon talks of the globe-trotting genius prime minister that we have, let’s elaborate. This genius and his party lambasted China for years during the previous regime. It gambled on the West, convinced that the US and Europe would help out. They had forgotten that China and Japan own North American and European debt. The wide-eyed wonder of wonders who in Shyamon’s eyes can do no wrong suddenly woke up when Brexit happened. Out of the blue, the man says, ‘we are planning to look East’. What’s this ‘East’? China! So much for ‘going all over the world on economic missions’! And we are supposed to say ‘thank you Ranil’?
The economy is not looking up. It can’t when the handlers are navel-gazing and seem to believe that they were mandated to do nothing else than blame the previous regime for present ills. That and lining the pockets of the near and dear.
‘Cockeyed and absurd claims,’ yes. And there’s nothing more cockeyed and absurd than claiming that Ranil knows anything about the economy. Note: talking of economic goals is one thing, delivering is something totally different.