Repo facility with US Fed amidst diminishing exports big risk
Militarisation of public administration system will not be permitted
by Zacki Jabbar
Former Prime Minister and leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe is hoping there will be a high voter turnout at the forthcoming general election, which, he believes, will prove advantageous to the UNP.
“The higher the number of votes cast, the better for the UNP,” Wickremesinghe said in an interview with The Island, while travelling across the country to address a series of public meetings.
Asked how the UNP would perform with the Samagi Jana Balawegaya vying for a share of its vote base he said, “We are the largest party. It all depends on how many come to vote. No party is sure of that. If there is no fear of the Coronavirus, more people will go to the polling booths. We hope a large number of persons would cast their votes. The higher the percentage, the better for the UNP.”
Wickremesinghe said the people, in a short period of eight months, had got fed up with the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration, due to the problems they were facing on many fronts including the home economy, as a direct result of leaders in what he called the Family Party––Podujana Peramuna, pulling in different directions.
The government had since last November been unable to secure any tangible international assistance, having isolated itself on the world stage due to the lack of an economic vision and plan, the UNP leader said. It is only the UNP that has a track record of raising the required finances through developing international relations. Economic mismanagement by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was the main cause for the suffering people were undergoing and not the Coronavirus pandemic, the UNP leader stressed.
The politicisation or militarisation of the public administration system would not be permitted under a UNP government, Wickremesinghe said when asked about the appointment of Special Task Forces packed with former military officers to run the government. The recent practice of delegating functions of the Police to the military would also be stopped and the military given its rightful role.
Q: How do you see the governments decision to pledge USD 1 billion worth of US Treasury Bonds held by the Central Bank and enter into a repo facility with the US Federal Reserve ?
A: It is illegal without parliamentary approval. Parliament is vested with the control of public finances. The monetary law does not make specific arrangements for this repurchase agreement. The government should explain the need for such an arrangement, how it would be repurchased and what would happen if Sri Lanka defaulted. How does a country with a shortage of USD 7 billion in export earnings repay over USD 1 billion to recover the pledged U.S securities. In this scenario the possibility of default is extremely high, with the country facing the likelihood of losing ownership of the assets pledged. Meanwhile, the MCC agreement has been finalised. The government has a duty to reveal the truth prior to the General Election.
Wickremesinghe said that new laws would be introduced to help protect businesses from bankruptcy due to lockdown caused by COVID-19 and steps taken to ensure that every citizen was able to own a piece of land and a home. It is estimated that the population of the Indian Ocean region would increase by 500 million by 2050. Our long-term goal for Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector is to see the county being positioned to produce the food requirement of the region. Local agriculture will be strengthened to ensure we are modernized and competitive on the global stage.
The UNP has always worked with the intention of developing the country as an operational hub in the Indian Ocean region. It will be with this plan in our sights that Colombo will be transformed into a financial centre, for which, legislation on financial cities will be enacted, he explained.
Highlighting the importance of ethics, Wickremesinghe said that a Parliamentary Standards Act would be enacted to ensure that Members of Parliament and Ministers were governed by a Parliamentary code of ethics. An independent commissioner to ensure the high standards of the legislature would be appointed to inquire into complaints made against parliamentarians.
“In order to minimise the level of corruption – a by-product of the existing Parliamentary electoral system, we will abolish the preferential voting system and replace it with a mechanism that will be a mixture of the proportional representation system and the first past-the-post system to elect members to the 225 seats in Parliament. Laws will also be introduced to control and limit the expenditure of politicians and political parties during election time. Similar laws that exist in the United Kingdom and other countries will be taken into account when formulating the relevant legislation.”
Explaining measures that would be taken to overcome the Corona virus challenge, the UNP leader said steps would be taken to prevent an economic downfall by implementing measures to revitalise the economy. The government’s attention would also be focused on minimising the adverse economic impact a second or third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic could have on the country.
“5,000 PCR tests will be carried out daily. At least 10 million facemasks will be provided to schools, higher education institutions and other such facilities.2,000 ventilators will be purchased for hospitals.”
Wickremesinghe says that under a new programme a special compensation payment would be made to any worker who died while engaged in battling COVID-19. Such individuals will be offered the same facilities offered to military personnel killed during the war. Personal Protection Emergency kits will be made freely available. The number of ICU beds will be increased. A special laboratory to conduct tests on diseases will be established and the Public Health (Emergency) Act will be enacted to legalize lockdown mechanisms and provide the required powers for disease control.
Asked what his government which served four and a half years had achieved, the UNP leader said that period had been marked by economic prosperity and strengthening of democracy by introducing independent judicial, police, elections, anti corruption, human rights and media commissions amongst others.
Wickremesinghe pledged to build on the economic achievements of his government such as improved relations with global superpowers, regained GSP+ resulting in concessionary duty for 6600 export items, increased import earnings by 35 percent by negotiating to lift the ban on fish imports to the European Union, enabling the country to pay off debts by working with Development Banks, enabling better fiscal management, ensuring the timely repayment of debt to avoid rollover risk, regained Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the Colombo Port City by converting freehold rights given to China by the Rajapaksa government into a leasehold agreement, transformed the Hambantota Port from a failure to a sustainable venture, free trade agreements to strengthen access to export markets, increased tourist arrivals to over two million by establishing the country as a safe destination, powered the boom of the tourist industry by increasing rooms by 30 percent, oversaw Sri Lanka being named best destination” by Lonely Planet. Steered Sri Lanka to be graded as an upper middle-income country, achieved a Primary Surplus for the first time since 1954, powered the highest ever direct investment in 2018 and ensured good governance and transparency.
He also promised to build on the last UNP-led government’s contribution to strengthening democracy such as curtailing the powers of the Executive President by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which included reducing the maximum term limit of the incumbent to two terms, ensuring that suitable persons were appointed to high posts by establishing the Constitutional Council and establishment of the various Independent Commissions that ensured the independence of the judiciary, free and fair elections, restoring the independence of the State sector, ending political interference in the Police service, withstanding the Constitutional coup and restoring the supremacy of Parliament, challenging the President’s right to dismiss a Prime Minister elected by Parliament, successfully challenging the Presidents right to unlawfully dissolve Parliament, introducing the Right to Information Act improving transparency, establishing the rule of law, whereby politicians and their families were subject to investigation, granting citizens the right to protest and voice their opinions, ensure media freedom with no journalist being killed or made to disappear as happened under the previous Rajapaksa government. A future UNP administration would rectify this tragedy as well, he stressed.
The UNP leader said that Sri Lanka was faced with the gravest economic crisis since independence and it was only the UNP that had the vision, a plan and the capability to address the present crisis, protect the people and the country, safeguard the nation and ensure a prosperous future. “We have a proven track record time and again undoing economic mismanagement by others and reviving our economy. In 1977, 2001, 2015 and again in 2019 after the Easter Sunday attacks, it was the UNP that led the country’s economies recover.
“It is estimated that Sri Lanka will lose USD 7 billion in foreign revenue this year having to pay USD 3 billion for debt servicing. We have revealed the need for USD 6 billion for the next two years of which USD 3 billion is required immediately. Many countries have already received international assistance to fund their immediate financial requirements. Countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Maldives, Egypt and Kenya have begun the process of securing financial support from the International Monetary Fund. We will raise US$ 6 billion utilising the assistance of the IMF and other financial sources including friendly governments.
(Continued on page 6)
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!