Sri Lanka is in a crisis. A triple crisis in politics, economics and a pandemic, say many. The word ‘Crisis’ has lost much of its meaning: Fear of an impending disaster that manifests itself or not but goes away. But our ‘Crisis’ has gone  on from day to day since that day called Black July [...]

Sunday Times 2

Prof. Lakshman blows away clouds of doom and gloom: Happy days are here again ?


Sri Lanka is in a crisis. A triple crisis in politics, economics and a pandemic, say many.

The word ‘Crisis’ has lost much of its meaning: Fear of an impending disaster that manifests itself or not but goes away. But our ‘Crisis’ has gone  on from day to day since that day called Black July in July 1983 when a leading terrorist, Kittu staged a deadly ambush  at Tinnevelly in Jaffna, killing a convoy of 13 soldiers sparking off a civil war that went on for 26 years. The end of the war did not end Lanka’s ‘Crisis’ but proliferated many crises continuously and even 37 years after that Black July the country is still grappling with three crises — economic, pandemic and political.

Now comes the best news we have had for a long time. Sri Lanka’s foreign debt which is considered to be the Sword of Damocles  hanging over our heads is no threat at all and the clouds of doom and gloom will soon roll by, says Prof. W. D. Lakshman, the Central Bank Governor and the Colombo University’s former Vice Chancellor.

Doomsayers had predicted that the country’s (Sri Lanka) debt would be unmanageable but that is not the case, he has told a local newspaper. Several countries, including Japan, Singapore and the United States, have debt levels far exceeding their GDP. Firstly, this shows that even such high levels of debt could be sustainable when domestic debt is the predominant component in the debt portfolio. It can be shown through external indicators that even foreign debt is more manageable than doomsayers indicate.

We can’t reproduce the entire Lakshman Thesis on the Foreign Debt Bogey but will mention just one quote to make things clear. ‘Import restrictions on non-essential goods working along with low oil prices have provided with the country with a saving of US$ 4 billion in import expenditure in 2020. This saving is almost equivalent to foreign currency debt service payments we settled during last year.

While we did raise three hearty cheers for Prof. Lakshman for driving away these fears of gloom and doom, a question arose in our untrained economic minds about the low price of oil. Oil, we have experienced, fluctuates wildly but last year it remained low for most of the time, but in Sri Lanka the price of fuel was not reduced by the Government despite demands being made by Opposition political parties.

Besides why did international credit rating institutes such as Fitch, Moody and Standard and Poor quite recently downgrade Sri Lanka’s economic standing?

The learned Professor Lakshman is a harbinger of good news. Why on earth did he not point out to the well-known fact that the United States is heavily indebted to China by trillions of dollars but carries on as the mightiest country on earth?

No doubt learned economists will educate us — mere observers of the passing political and economic scenes — on this aspect soon.

If Prof. Lakshman is correct, the 36-year crisis, which we referred to earlier in these comments, will end and the dark clouds that engulfed Sri Lanka so long will soon be over.

It was certainly good news as at a time when a devastating cyclone that developed over the Bay of Bengal was hurtling towards Sri Lanka.

Mahara jail riot

The Mahara jail riot last week brought a feeling of déjà vu to past prison riots such as the one that occurred soon after Black July 1983. But fortunately there was no racial issues involved and number killed much less. This riot is undeniably linked to the Covid crisis that grips the nation.

Undeniably overcrowding  of the prison and the outbreak of COVID-19 infections would have been contributory causes even though Industries and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa, an outstanding ‘political conspiracy theorist’  lived up to his reputation alleging that the prison riot was a pre-planned event to cause murder inside a prison during the tenure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discredit him internationally.

Weerawansa’s allegation was of a conspiracy to launch a prison riot at the Welikada Prison, but intelligence reports foiled the deal. ‘Unfortunately, the back-up plan of the Welikada Master Plan was orchestrated at the Mahara prison’, he claimed while inssiting that overcrowding or congestion was not the cause of the prison riot.

Minister Weerawansa has alleged in public many international conspiracies being formulated against the Rajapaksas while in the Opposition and also when heading governments but there had been no follow-up made. Now that he is a leading Cabinet Minister, this allegation should necessarily be followed up.

Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha said in Parliament: Minister Weerawansa has said that there is an international conspiracy. When he says so, it is the duty of the Government to investigate it given his experience in international conspiracies.

With national security being the top priority of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, the allegations made by Minister Weerawansa on the floor of the house, we expect, will be pursued.

A special committee has been appointed to inquire into the riot.

We will refrain from making any comments on the riot but will highlight the plight of remand prisoners who have not been found guilty of an offence and are awaiting trial for months on end while the deadly virus is spreading within the walls of a prison. It needs no elaboration.

At media conference held by prison officials it has been stated that the prison dispensary had been broken into and prisoners who had fought among themselves were found to be drugged.

It is alleged that 21,000 pills prescribed for mental disorders and sleeping pills had been stored in the prison dispensary.

How does all this square up with the Wimal Weerawansa international conspiracy theory which involved smuggling in of a special drug to be distributed among prisoners? 

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)

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