“The overall situation is so bad and ominous that the Yahapalanaya Government looks like the best any country could ever have had and its head Ranil Wickremesinghe is looking like Lanka’s political Einstein”
Inept: Government and Opposition both
Governments anywhere can lose their way. They are eventually driven out by the wrath of the people. That is how basic democratic forces work in any land-even in the land of dictators and autocrats. For this political process to take place, however, there must be credible opposition forces in the background, ready to mobilise.
In Sri Lanka, we have a Government that has totally lost its way with a President who is not up to his job and a Prime Minister sick and doddering. At the same time, we have an Opposition that is unable to garner a united oppositional force; the political leadership of the SJB lacks national stature and an inspiration derived out of an alternative vision and conviction.
The alternative vision must embody radical systemic change and not tinkering. It needs a system that attracts better quality legislators, a system that lets private enterprise flourish and boost economic prosperity, a system that puts education at the centre, a system that can prevent the abuse of power of media, a system that imposes effective checks and balances on the abuse of executive power and so forth. SJB promises not system change but tinkering with what there is.
United National Party
Mahinda Rajapaksa had stature build around public hallucinations. Ranil Wickremasinghe also has stature and still has the capability and integrity but how long can that last? The Grand Old Party, which has historically been a politically stabilising force in Sri Lanka, was splintered by the mean fox Sirisena who means no good ever. Sirisena boasts that he can “set fire while departing”. He did that to the Grand Old Party and he is threatening the same to the current Government.
Can the Grand Old Party be brought to life, re-energise itself and resurrect? The retrieval of the UNP is a broad necessity from the point of view of the future of Sri Lanka’s body politic. The party has had a great record and a string of admirable leaders. It needs continuation with new generations of skilled leaders bearing good integrity.
The Rajapaksas hacked Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party-led Yahapalanaya Government during election time. “Dan Sepada?” [are you feeling fine now?] was his famous rhetorical bit of oratory. That bit of rhetoric is now tragically boomeranging with multi-fold magnitude on the current Government that is running helter-skelter with no solutions for underlying problems. Like the Fire Brigade, this Government is trying to put off even the dollar crisis, meeting it when it comes up seriously and not able to build a business environment that can produce export dollars.
The outcome of this total mismanagement is there for all to experience in Sri Lanka. The overall situation is so bad and ominous that the Yahapalanaya Government looks like the best any country could ever have had and its head Ranil Wickremesinghe is looking like Lanka’s political Einstein.
Gas availability is a daily worry. Now, even the personal security of gas cylinders has become a worry. So is petrol a worry. The Government is living from hand to-mouth. Ships are gathering in the harbour unable to offload as dollars are not coming. Farmers who were promised free fertiliser at election time are having no fertiliser at all. There is a lot of bluff about organic fertilisers. Vital medicines are not available. Trade union unrest is gathering
The helpless cluelessness of this Government is seen best in the latest Budget.
Says Nimal Sanderatne, respected economist formerly of the Central Bank, writing for the Sunday Times: “The annual budget of a country is the cornerstone of the country’s economic strategy and policies. It should outline the state of the country’s economy, highlight its problems, spell out the solution to them and indicate the ways and means by which the government would finance its expenditure. The forthcoming year’s expenditure must be laid out and the manner in which it expects to find the revenue to finance it should be disclosed. The revenue proposals in particular should be realistic and clearly explained.
“The 2022 Budget was conspicuous in the omission of a comprehensive discussion of the country’s economic conditions and the state of the country’s foreign reserves that are at a dangerously low level of less than $ 2 billion.” (End quote)
Of what use is a budget that does not address the most important, urgent and fundamental economic and fiscal problems facing the island? A worthless scrap of paper. Typical of Rajapaksa bluffing, too. The Rajapaksa style of government is bluff and mumbo jumbo. It won the elections by bluffing nationalistic sentiments and deceiving ignorant monks and the narrow educated.
State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are currently losing Rs. 1,000 billion annually and the Treasury has to come in to save these useless undertakings. The Finance Minister complains about Government services being too big. Yes, that is fact. But why not start with SOE? No reference to a solution. More and more Government servants are being recruited for political purposes and more and more money has to be allocated for their pensions. Isn’t the Minister’s complaint hypocritical?
In this way, the Budget cannot cut losses; nor does it have proposals for increasing revenues. A stupid proposal is to rob profitable businesses of income they earned in 2020. This is very bad retrospective legislation resorted to only by some African and Latin American countries. Such moves are sure to kill new investment as investors hate working in unpredictable environments that would put their earnings in capricious jeopardy like this.
In this way, the long-awaited Budget from Basil Rajapaksa becomes a hollow product. It is more a political statement. True enough the parliamentary debate that ensued treated the Budget as an exercise for political mudslinging. Nobody seriously discussed economics. A country that bypasses economics is bound to fail.
President has poor management skills
Gotabaya Rajapaksa thrived politically on the false claim that he had played a strategic role in winning the war. Looking at his poor and indecisive managerial performance despite the power of the 20th Amendment is the most practical way to assess if such a claim had historical validity. So it was with Mahinda, his brother.
How could men who have messed up like this ever have contributed to strategic management of the war victory? Of course, Gotabaya did some roads and walking paths in Colombo. But that is municipal work and not the output of national statecraft.
Plato’s ship of fools
Plato argued for the need for persons with knowledge of statecraft to head the administration of state. Likening the state of a democracy in Athens to a ship of fools, Plato realised this quality of leadership cannot happen in a democracy where everybody thinks he can take over the helm and where they are able to sway the people to support them in their bid to win the position of ship’s captain. Thus democracies are irrational, said Plato. This is what one observes in Sri Lanka.
We need not, however, be in the hopeless plight that Plato predicted if we had a critical and educated population and a competitive and healthy media. Developed Western countries have proved that.