Or call it ‘The Great Escape” or like last year when we termed it “That lonely feeling … again!” I am referring to that time of the year when the delightful Koha’s (cuckoo’s) singing is our morning wake-up call, the days get hotter and, most of all, when Kussi Amma Sera and Co. prepare for [...]

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Avurudu: The Great Shutdown


Or call it ‘The Great Escape” or like last year when we termed it “That lonely feeling … again!”

I am referring to that time of the year when the delightful Koha’s (cuckoo’s) singing is our morning wake-up call, the days get hotter and, most of all, when Kussi Amma Sera and Co. prepare for their sojourn to the village for the traditional Avurudu or Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

I was reminded of this, rather noisily, by the racket KAS was making in her room on Thursday morning after a sweaty night’s sleep, filling her old ‘tung-ka-pettiya’ (an old suitcase) while humming ‘Avilla Avilla Sinhala Avurudda Avilla (It’s here…it’s here, Avurudu is here)’ song, made famous decades ago by singer Mohideen Baig.
“Mama yanawa Mahattaya (I’m going),” she says happily, with a jig in her stride as she brings the morning tea. And, as if to remind me that she would be away for a “loooo..ng” time, comes the noisy packing in the room!

It’s that time of the year when the city of Colombo shuts down, virtually, as Colombites flee – in droves – to the cool climes of Nuwara Eliya with children on holiday and probably most people taking ‘off’ on April 12 and returning on April 15th or 16th. The bakeries are closed for a few days along with most restaurants; the supermarkets close for a day. Want to meet politicians, businessperson or the movers and shakers in the country, then walk the streets of Nuwara Eliya town and you’ll probably bump into one of these ‘famous or infamous persons’. Many decades ago, it was not so obvious, but today with their bodyguards and catchers-on in tow, you can spot them a mile away.

Nothing has changed over the years, not even the politics or the troubled atmosphere during Avurudu ‘kalaya (period)’. Read my lips or what I said in the Avurudu column on April 16, 2017: “The economy is in the doldrums. We are not saying it; the Government is saying it and warning about the borrowing cost per citizen owing to the enormous borrowing by the previous regime. So we borrow again and again to pay off earlier debts. In today’s economy borrowing seems to be the right thing to do. I wait for the usual verbal barrage from KAS but there is silence from the kitchen.”

Here is another para from last year: “A couple of months ago, the talk of the town was that a Cabinet reshuffle was on the cards and was to take place after the President or the Prime Minister would be returning after an overseas trip. That didn’t happen because when the President is back, the PM flies away and vice versa. Now attention has been drawn to a post-Avurudu reshuffle.”

Planned post-Avurudu reshuffle in 2017, planned pre-Avurudu reshuffle in 2018! Some things never change; that’s Sri Lanka for you. Old wine in a new bottle with the United National Party and Maithripala promising change for the better after the disastrous showing at the local government elections and successfully fending off an effort to oust Ranil at this week’s no confidence motion.

The rambunctiousness nature of our politicians, proving that position and power [read Nimal Siripala de Silva’s and Dilan Perera’s lips “I want to hang on (come what may)”] is far more important than ‘country first’, is predictable. An entrapped President is also on the same wave length.

Amidst all this uncertainty (mark my words, you don’t need an astrologer to predict that Avurudu 2019 will be a worst scenario for Sri Lanka with presidential elections due at the end of that year); comes some rational thoughts from Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy.

Mind you, Indrajit has been flagging warning signals for the past few months in every public speech he makes. His concerns about ‘political instability’ in measured tones have prefaced a lot of the positives in the economy. The general gist of his argument is that political instability is not good for growth; not an incentive at all for foreign investment.

Fellow columnist, Sirimal in his ‘Down to Earth Economics’ recently referred to the story of the unsuccessful entry of Motorola into Sri Lanka in 1980, as explained in a book by two other eminent economists, where the US multinational invested in a new production facility in Malaysia instead of Sri Lanka. Why? Because of political instability. This can take many forms including indecisive decision-making and frequent tax changes.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then and Sri Lanka is not the only country in the world with political risks for investors. However, some of these countries have succeeded in attracting foreign investments while Sri Lanka has not met with the same measure of success.

Perhaps resigning to the fact that Sri Lanka is unlikely to come to grips with its warring political factions – and at a time when huge foreign debt payments are piling up — Indrajit spoke of a more realistic scenario; that is if the politicians are listening.

While stating that the need of the hour is “to overcome the current political instability quickly as prolonged instability will bring disaster to the country’s economic consolidation”, the Central Bank Governor is pinning hopes on a mechanism or framework for some serious work being done in service delivery, policy formulation and development.

“Let the politicians fight; but let the work continue,” seems to be his message, suggesting a framework for this structure in a fiery political climate that is not getting any better.

“Whatever political configuration in the coalition government, the policy, basic services and development programmes should not be hindered,” he told reporters this week, alluding to some positive-decision-making in recent times amidst the hoo-ha.

He referred to the enactment of new tax laws, the Hambantota Port project deal and several other foreign-funded development programmes as initiatives despite the differences of opinion among the government’s coalition partners.

Opinions might differ on whether these were the right decisions or not. But the point is that decisions are taken and implemented.

While this is easier said than done, given the political infighting in the coalition government, in a gloomy economic environment, small things matter. So if the government can get its decision-making apparatus on track and implementation mechanism fast-tracked, then there is some hope particularly for foreign investors waiting on the fringes of Sri Lanka’s shores to wade in. Another positive is the speedier business registration process which has been reduced to just one day from the earlier six days with the new online registration process. Silver linings, however small, in a disruptive environment, are welcome.

The singing has stopped, the noise has quietened down and Kussi Amma Sera is ready to leave. “Mahattaya, mama yanawa … ta,taaa (Sir I am going, byeee),” she says, carrying her oversized ‘tung-ka pettiya’ with clothes jutting out from the sides, and making her way to the gate where, she is joined by her comrade-in-arms Serapina on their joyful return to the village.

I can only say ‘bye’ in return, watch them as they walk out of the gate and wishfully think of that perennial classic ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day’. No way. My mind is warped with the political shenanigans or reflecting on how to pay the bills (a common grouse by everyone, even the government). Anyway – Happy Avurudu!

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