President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka is in a critical state where its survival depends on an urgent corrective surgery. But neither the Head of State nor the Government has realised that. The Head of State and his Government have focused their full attention on pursuing a policy of cutting down the cost of imports to a maximum level and continue to disburse the instalments and interest payable on foreign loans obtained as a measure of avoiding the country plunging into a state of bankruptcy.
The President and his Government have failed to realise that the inevitable drop in the domestic production in this process and its adverse impact on the entire economy will invariably exacerbate the balance of payments crisis and in the final analysis make bankruptcy inevitable.
What should have been done was to create the necessary environment conducive to disbursing foreign loan instalments and interest without default, but in a manner so that the economic and manufacturing processes of the country would not suffer. In fact, what the Government should have done was to secure necessary credit facilities from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and calibrate the economy on its advice whilst at the same time directing the country towards adopting a program of structural reforms that would conduce to overcoming the collapse of the socio-political system and the state.
However, the Government led by President Gotabaya did not have such a broad vision about the crisis. As stated by the President himself, he was not aware that Sri Lanka was having a major balance of payments crisis until he was appointed the president. Though, as an army officer he was conversant with the war, he did not possess the knowledge gained through education or experience of the dire problems facing the country.
The fact that Gotabaya being a person upholding divisive ethnic attitudes and superstitious beliefs, a brother of a President who has done some good things for the betterment of the country as well as bad and corrupt things that had ruined the country; and also himself being one who is accused of human rights abuses during the latter part of the internal Civil War can be considered as significant factors that have affected, directly or indirectly, the limitations manifested so far in his regime.
Evidently, the withdrawal of criminal cases filed or being heard against him and his family members can be considered as the priority number one in his agenda of the seizure of Presidential power. It was implemented almost immediately after assuming power. In doing so, a policy was pursued in which court cases of several others connected to the Government who had been charged with serious criminal offenses were also withdrawn to impress that it was not limited to the members of his family only. The damage done to his reputation by this act has been immense. At the same time, it must be said that, if the Attorney General’s Department has had some recognition, this action has annulled it altogether.
Also, the way he handled the corona pandemic bragging that overcoming the epidemic was not a big deal for him who has overcome a powerful challenge like the LTTE reflected his arrogant attitude. In the first phase of the pandemic attempts were made to control it by using chanted water (Pirith Pan) and conventional medicines sans scientific basis. The cost incurred by the businessmen involved in the program launched to bring the incumbent president to power was much higher than that incurred by the cronies of other presidents to bring them to power. The President seems to be pursuing a policy that allows all of them to acquire wealth by illegal means. This was another factor that has tarnished the image of the President.
What is being pursued knowingly or unknowingly, in regard to the balance of payments crisis can be described as a stupid policy that leads the country to a catastrophic devastation that no other head of state has ever pursued. The way the Government deals with agriculture is foolish as well as ruthless. The import of chemical fertilisers and pesticides were banned despite the fact that they could have been obtained without affecting the balance of payments problem.
It was implemented with the belief that chemical fertiliser was a causative agent of chronic kidney disease and also on the stupid conviction that the agriculture could be pursued successfully using organic fertilisers and resorting to conventional occult practices known as kem sans chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It was an instance in which the President has made an intense display of his ignorance, arrogance and arbitrariness.
The popular belief rooted in the society that the chronic kidney disease which is prevalent in the Rajarata region is caused by the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is baseless and not true. Also, the notion that agricultural farming could be sustained successfully by using organic fertiliser and adopting conventional occult practices without chemical fertilisers and pesticides is not a valid truth.
Both these ideas were socialised by two ideological groups since the early nineties, and the story of kidney disease was socialised by a Sinhala chauvinistic school of thoughts which include a Professor of Mathematics and a young doctor. This ideology, which had no real basis, was more or less accepted by all political leaders in the country like the episode of surgery for infertility alleged to have been performed by Dr. Safi on Sinhala women. It was President Maithripala Sirisena who, for the first time, incorporated non-toxic organic farming as an integral part of the national agricultural policy of the Government.
The cost incurred by the Yahapalana Government on a non-toxic agricultural project proposed by Ven. Rathana Thera was immense. Neither the partners of the Yahapalana Government nor any of the other political parties represented in Parliament objected to this meaningless program which had wasted immense public wealth in vain. This was due to the fact that the leaders of those parties were more or less in agreement with this ideology. It was after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed power as the President that the official endorsement of this ideology reached its peak and put its success or failure to a decisive test.
Eventually, the young doctor and the Professor of Mathematics who can be considered as the two leading theorists instrumental in socialising this theory were appointed as a Minister and an Ambassador respectively. The President banned the import of chemical fertilisers and pesticides without experimenting whether the agricultural crops could be sustained only with organic fertilisers without chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Murdering the agriculture
The effect of the ban of chemical fertiliser on the agricultural sector was extremely destructive. This policy had a devastating effect on all agricultural crops. It also provoked strong protest from the peasantry as well. However, the President in his speech made recently in Anuradhapura remarked that he did not admit that he had committed a grave error by banning the import of fertilisers and pesticides. With that remark, the President has painted an unpleasant picture of himself before the people of the country, projecting an image of an irrational and stubborn ruler.
Even if the damage caused by the ban of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is estimated at 30%, the overall loss might amount to Rs. 250 billion approximately. Some farmers had a certain quantity of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their possession when the ban was imposed, which they had used during Maha season. So much so, the ban of chemical fertiliser and pesticides will have a prominent and devastating effect in the next season (Yala).
The kidney disease in the Rajarata area is not caused by chemical fertiliser and pesticides. The notion that has been socialised that the chronic kidney disease is an outcome of the exposure to chemical fertiliser is a false fabrication which has no scientific basis. On the other hand, Sri Lanka cannot be considered as a country that uses chemical fertiliser at an optimum extent compared to the other countries.
According to the Mundi Index, Sri Lanka is ranked 68th out of 161 countries that use chemical fertiliser for agriculture. Sri Lanka uses 132.92 kg of chemical fertiliser per hectare. Fertiliser consumption of Malaysia is 1,723 kg per hectare which is 13 times more than Sri Lanka. Ireland uses 1,247 kg which is nine times more than Sri Lanka. Consumption in China is 503 kg, nearly four times and that of Vietnam is 429 kg which is more than three times compared to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is ranked even lower in the use of pesticides where it is ranked 73rd in the global ranking. The amount of pesticides used in Sri Lanka is as low as 0.7 kg per hectare while North Korea, Japan and Malaysia consume 12.4 kg, 11.8 kg, and 6.7 kg respectively. If kidney disease is caused by chemical fertiliser and pesticides, there should be a bigger kidney disease problem in countries that use them on a larger scale than Sri Lanka.
This shows that the problem of kidney disease in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka cannot be attributed to the use of chemical fertiliser or pesticides. Also, a haphazard experiment made at the national level using organic fertiliser of Sri Lanka and India following the ban on chemical fertiliser and pesticides by the President, have proved that agricultural farming cannot be pursued only with organic fertiliser without using chemical fertiliser and pesticides.
If the President does not accept this reality and thinks that more experiments are needed for that, it should not be pursued at the risk of the very existence of agriculture in the country, and instead create a situation in which the chemical fertiliser and pesticides are available at a reasonable price and allow the farmers to choose either of the two types of farming at their wish while experiments are being conducted using organic fertiliser in a selected number of GN divisions, subject to that the farmers are paid compensation if the experiment fails.
The leader becoming an impediment
The biggest obstacle to overcoming the crisis facing Sri Lanka is the President himself, the head of state. He lacks experience. He lacks the minimum knowledge that a ruler ought to have. Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike also lacked experience at the beginning. She did not have much education either. But she had a competent team of Cabinet Ministers and a band of qualified advisers. She derived inspiration from all of them and was able to play the role of a relatively skilled stateswoman.
But President Gotabaya has not been able to reach the level achieved by Sirima Bandaranaike in statecraft. The worst feature of President Gotabaya’s style of governance is that he relies on the quasi-experts of his choice without consulting the real experts on the subject when he does things that he is not conversant with, and refuses to admit serious mistakes that occur in the process and tends to repeat them.
One of the most important principles that the President does not seem to understand is that the mandate he has received as President from the people is only a temporary custodianship and not the ownership of the country. A temporary custodian should govern the country in such a way that there won’t be space for the plunder or destruction of public property; he should safeguard the internal unity, dignity and existence of the country. Being a temporary caretaker, he has no right to pursue policies that put the things that lie in his custody in jeopardy. But the President, knowingly or unknowingly, is dealing with the crisis in Sri Lanka in an arbitrary manner that could jeopardise the very existence of the country and its people.
The manner in which he is dealing with the balance of payments crisis is dreadful and destructive as much as the policy on the use of fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture. In this backdrop, it is likely that Sri Lanka will soon be declared a bankrupt country. With that, the failure of the state will be perfected and Sri Lanka will end up being anarchic. As a result, Sri Lanka will be plunged into a constitutional crisis that is not easy to resolve.