By Jehan Perera –
With the election campaigns for the presidential election in full swing, the candidates are making a wide range of promises to an electorate that has not become cynical enough not to hope again that these might be kept. The promises are mostly with regard to the economic benefits that people can reasonably expect from a government that has their interests at heart, and include economic development, employment opportunities and subsidies. According to the World Bank, which recently promoted Sri Lanka to the status of an upper middle income country, extreme poverty is rare and concentrated in some geographical pockets; however, a relatively large share of the population subsists on slightly more than the poverty line.
The World Bank also notes that spending on health, education and social protection is low compared to countries at similar levels of development and attributes this to low tax revenues combined with large expenditures on government salaries and interest payments. Sri Lanka has huge international loans to repay and the infrastructure it has put up is not yielding sufficient returns. The contesting presidential candidates are not specific about how they will achieve the ambitious targets they have promised to meet, or how they will finance them. Their promises range from reducing taxes to increasing salaries, providing free fertiliser and a guaranteed price for agricultural products and ensuring that the environment is protected better.
Sri Lanka has a long history of extravagant promises that are made to influence voter behaviour at election time. One of the more dramatic of them was the promise to even bring rice from the moon in the event that earthly supplies were not forthcoming. This was in the context of the demand that was anticipated for rice that was to be given for free to everyone, the rich included. However, that particular promise boomeranged on the government when it had to face a world food shortage that occurred shortly thereafter in the aftermath of the world oil price hike that followed the formation of the OPEC oil cartel. In the case of the present election promises, most of them will cost the government a large amount of money and how this is to be financed when taxes are reduced will need to be explained.
There is another key election issue that is likely to have economic implications. The focus on issues of national sovereignty has been a feature at virtually all elections that took place after the heightening of the ethnic conflict. Especially after the synchronised bombings on Easter Sunday in six locations and the failure of the intelligence services and political leadership to adequately respond to the threat, there has also been an increased demand for strong national leadership. In this context there has been criticism of the manner in which Sri Lanka has agreed with the international community to deal with the issues of past human rights violations. The co-signing by the government of UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015 figures high on this list.
In his first media briefing at Shangri-La, one of the hotels targeted by Islamic suicide bombers on April 21, 2019 presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa emphasised the importance of national security. He also said that while he is committed to work with the UN system he rejects the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the present government in October 2015. The UNHRC resolution has been a matter of national controversy especially as it has national sovereignty implications in terms of ensuring accountability for war time violations of human rights. It was agreed to by the present government after its predecessor did its utmost to resist the UN effort to get involved in the country’s post-war processes. The government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was adamant that it could deal with the issues of the past without having to be prodded by the international community and resolve them in a manner that would meet national interests rather than international interests.
During the period 2009-15 when Sri Lanka failed to meet the expectations of the international community, the country was subjected to a variety of sanctions. One was to be confronted periodically by the international community in Geneva at the UNHRC sessions and be questioned and subjected to strictures by the leading countries in the UNHRC. In addition, there was the tangible price that the country was called upon to pay when in 2010 the European Union withdrew their GSP Plus tariff privilege that it reserves for those countries that are poor but are yet making a genuine effort to improve the human rights of the people they govern. The ability to access the EU market can be indicative of a country respecting basic human rights, rule of law and good governance. It also sends a signal to the international investor community which will facilitate the attraction of inward foreign direct investments.
GSP Plus offers incentives in the form of duty reductions on exports as a reward to developing countries for their commitment to upholding the 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, sustainable development and good governance. Due to the withdrawal of the GSP in 2010 Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU dropped as a result and along with it thousands of Sri Lankan workers lost their jobs in the export industries that could no longer produce and export as much as their markets in the EU were suddenly made smaller and more competitive. In many apparels categories duties rose from zero to 9.6 percent, in the seafood sector to 18.5 percent, in the fresh and processed fruits and vegetable sector to 12.5 percent, and in the porcelain and ceramic ware sector to 8.4 percent.
Looking at how Sri Lanka’s competitors fared in the EU market, gives some sense of how Sri Lanka lost out to Asian apparel exporters. According to the International Trade Centre, Vietnam, Pakistan and Cambodia all trailed Sri Lanka in 2009, with EU exports at USD 2.1 billion, 1.5 billion and 1.09 billion, respectively, against Sri Lanka’s 2.3 billion. By 2015, however, Vietnam’s apparel exports to the EU had risen to USD 3.9 billion, Pakistan’s to 2.9 billion and Cambodia’s to 3.7 billion, with Sri Lanka behind at 2.4 billion. This situation was only partially reversed in 2017 after the government elected in 2015 accepted the need to abide by the UN desire for Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process to take place according to international standards.
In the coming years, Sri Lanka will face a challenge in retaining the GSP Plus tariff privileges on account of graduating to the ranks of an upper middle income country. This can make the country ineligible within a time frame of about three years but a longer period can be negotiated by showing that the label of upper middle income is only a statistical concept for the vast majority of people. If Sri Lanka were to unilaterally withdraw from its commitments made to the UNHRC by rejecting the co-sponsored resolution, the likelihood of the country preserving the GSP Plus tariff privilege will diminish further to the detriment of the national economy and to the people’s standard of living. An option to consider would be to renegotiate the commitments made under UN Resolution 30/1, as some of them require constitutional change, and to make them more workable instead of withdrawing unilaterally.
Spring Koha / October 23, 2019
The GOSL are experts at obfuscation and postponement. They will duck and dive at every instance to avoid responsibility for those events that need to be properly scrutinised. We cannot be members of an organisation and avoid the rules and strictures that are part of belonging. If and when GR becomes President, a whole new cat-and-mouse game will begin – and the man himself has first hand knowledge of events and where the bodies are buried. For that matter, NO SL President who values his political life will succumb to UN demands.
At the moment the GOSL is putting up a cameo performance at the Westminster Magistrates court where Our own Throat Cutting Diplomat is setting new behaviour standards for diplomats with immunity – that part of the Defence Attache’s duties are to make gestures that suggest protesting against the GOSL will not be tolerated – even on foreign soil.
K.Pillai / October 23, 2019
DrJehan Perera must not forget that Basil R formed SLPP and in the 2018 Local Government Elections Basil R advised the voters that “Reconciliation is No…. No…. No…. because it will lead to separation”.
The other day MR said “Must not give into TNA demands” implying someone is ready to. SLPP wants “War.. War.. War..”
SLPP will make it out that TNA is the cause all ‘our’ problems.
Money… Money… Money… and the compliant media has projected GR as a front runner. Is he?
Ahmad Nadvi / October 23, 2019
Dear Mr. Pillai,
Don’t worry. If GR got the chair of the President and his brother formed the next government ,then you’re nearing to see a sign at the entrance of Killinochchi
” Welcome to Tamil Ealam”. The year 2020 going to be the “year of test” for the rowdy crowd of Rajapakse family. The rule of the test is either behave fairly and reasonably or cut the cake into two.
ajith / October 23, 2019
Gota and Mahinda are cheating the Sinhalese masses once again. they never accepted that they were wrong when they were in power. Particularly, they took law into the hands, justice on their hands and freedom of speech on their hands. The country never faced such a dictatorship in its history. You can’t deny Lasantha was murdered? You can’t deny the removal of Chief Justice? You can’t deny the murder of Muslim Rugby player? You can’t deny that you put the army commander in jail?
Gota lied to Sinhalese by denying that they don’t accept UNHCR resolution on Srilanka by both Srilanka and UNHCR. It is to cheat Sinhala Masses. His family is still in USA. He will take next flight to US if he loose the election. He must be a CIA agent now
Douglas / October 23, 2019
This “Presidential Candidate” is by no means a “TRUE” Sri Lankan candidate. I would say, he is for all purposes , a “Candidate” planted by USA. This, UNHRC Resolution was moved by USA and Sri Lanka became “Co_Sponsor”. The next event was, USA withdrew from UNHRC. Now, just imagine, this “Candidate” to “Declare” that he will not honour it. I am sure it cannot be that “Dutch Courage” but ONLY the “Backing” he has been “GIFTED” by USA. Even the USA Courts have “Recognized” his “Immunity’ , while being a “USA Citizen” in committing “Crimes” in an outside country. So, on “16t November, 2019” the voter population will line from morning till evening to make their valued decision to elect a “President”. Will they make the “Correct Choice”? Hope so. If not, be prepared to undergo the future “Tragedies” that would come in a chain of events and be prepared to “Live With It”.
JD / October 24, 2019
I heard, sri lanka has $46 billion debt. Out of that, we owns 4 10 billion to China. The balance is to western countries.
anon69 / October 24, 2019
“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt”
― Mark Twain
This should be the policy of GOTA. More he talks more stupid he sounds.
Gamini / October 24, 2019
MR&Co cannot be trusted in anything they do as their sole objective is capturing & wielding power to their own benefit (e.g. 52 day fiasco). They will do and say anything to achieve this end. Lies, corruption and deception are their forte. They would care less about what happens to the Country and its Masses. That is the sad truth and only the gullible, the slaves, the corrupt and those with extremist views will support their brand of Politics.
NGR is an alleged criminal, an airhead and a murderer and it’s clear he does not know whether he is coming or going! He should go back to where he came from (USA) and leave us in Peace.
Nimal / October 24, 2019
Once again alarm bells from NGO proxies. Didn’t you ask for mercy for Prabhakaran during the last stage of war. Jehan is serving his NGO masters.
PARAGON / October 24, 2019
Talking about rejecting the joint UNHCR resolution is to playing to the gallery.It will not be that easy like making all files missing regarding all court cases in srilanaka.He cannot decide against an international pact is not that easy.ONLY POSSIBILITY IS BUYING SOME TIME OR BEG FOR SOME ADJUSTMENT even that will depended on who will be MAHINDAS Foreign minister and his talent hope it will not be MR.G.L.BILA PEIRIS OR NAMAL BABY RAJAPAKSE.
Google Me / October 24, 2019
Yes, the costs of this stupid commitment has been and will be immense.It needs to be revoked in order to remove further foreign fingering of our national sovereignty through hybrid courts, prosecution of war heroes and other entrapments.
The deal was entered in to undemocratically, secretly, by Mangala Samaraweera, under his ‘special’ understanding with Samantha Power on the issue of gay marriage. This is the first reason why it should be revoked. Secondly, the Palm Sunday Muslim atrocity was a direct result of this bastadry.
So, while the NGO industry might want to keep this structure on, it needs to be thrown out quickly by the new president.
kali / October 24, 2019
Unilateral Withdrawal From Geneva Commitments Can Be Costly
*** Gotha is a desperate man . His motto is first things first and winning the election at any cost is the ultimate life line to escape charges from US Courts and ICC which is now brewing.
He may think that he has weathered the storm in the US but little does he know that the Hurricane is gathering speed and about to hit mainland .
The Judge in his Judgement has made the following observations ( unlike Sri Lankas COA)
“If an SOI was not issued, the Court should determine whether the ground of immunity is one which it is the established policy of the State Department to recognize. The Stated Department had not issued an SOI in this case. Hence, the Court had utilized the second step to determine if Rajapaksa is entitled to foreign official immunity.
Ahimsa if you are reading this take heart from the fact that the Californian Court has left a window of opportunity open for you and your Lawyers to utilize so capitalize on that.
It doesn’t matter when Gotha is brought before the Court preferably before he causes immense harm to Sri Lanka but if people are stupid to vote for a Criminal they have to live with it for the next 5 years taking “Vanavasm”. Even if it happens after he is elected President he will be tagged like we Tag Criminals before releasing them with Freedom of Movement limited. So Gotha will be confined to Wilpatthu with his buddy Karuna the butcher.
UN Has taken action with Shavendra and US State Department has fired the warning shot with the same appointment and so we know which way the wind is going to blow.
The only country which can rescue Gotha will be India and it will be Costly. Gotha will have to succumb to Indian pressure and do whatever India says and play to the tune of A R Rehman “ Kuruku Siruthavale “
Siva / October 24, 2019
Jehan, even with all this UN and World Bank “support” what did we achieve during the last 4 years?
Power of NGO’s will diminish if Gota gets in.
Jey / October 25, 2019
For political and economic minnows, Sri Lanka. You all talk big but go with a claps hand to international communities begging for funds. Have you guys ever looked at the debt to GDP ratio? It is above 80%, it means you will be in the gutters for a long time, unless your economy is stimulated and tax is increased. How long you silly Sri Lankans want to be in the doldrums? China is not going lend money all the time unless they have greater say in the way Sri Lanka is run and they will buy up half of Sri Lanka. They already have the Harbour City and the Hambantote Port.
For heaven sake, wake up and think critically the issues and do not form opinion based on sentimentality. Think beyond, race, religion, fundamentalist mindset, etc. Otherwise, enjoy the terrible dark days which are going ensue, pathetic lot.
N. Ethirveerasingam / October 25, 2019
The sad part is, on the issue of unhrc resolution, Sajith echo Gota and the Mahanayakas. Whoever is elected President Tamils cannot expect SL prosecuting any one. Not even those who caused the death of Prabaharan’s child while in their custody. At least the police should have started the investigation. What will the GOSL do if Tamils start wearing T shirts with Balachandran’s last picture taken probably by a soldier with a conscience?
Sach / October 27, 2019
Why should SL prosecute anyone for killing Prabhakaran child ? Didnt you Tamils funded LTTE supported LTTE and did propaganda for LTTE when Prabhakaran and his Tamils thrashed Sinhala babies on trees ? When sinhala children were hacked to death ? Even when unborn sinhala babies were hacked into pieces after stabbing the pregnant mother ?
Abhaya Premawardena / October 25, 2019
This is a joke. What has abiding with this UN nonsense gotten us? Nothing other than the yearly drama.
GulSiri Lal Nanda / October 27, 2019
UNO and their agencies of Human Rights has ignore that we are sovereignty country of members of that organization
We pay fees for UNO, but is NOT that organization has a respect and accepts that we are an Independence country ..Sri Lanka.!
The line of UNO that thinking that we are still British or USA colony ?
This is where UNO cannot move forward ?