Senior citizens who have lived through the major part of the post Independence era confirm that they have never witnesssed dysfunctional governance of the current type. They claim that the citizenry have never had to face the consequences of what would best be described as a failed government. Inevitably when such a situation arises it [...]


National crisis—three options for the Government


Senior citizens who have lived through the major part of the post Independence era confirm that they have never witnesssed dysfunctional governance of the current type. They claim that the citizenry have never had to face the consequences of what would best be described as a failed government.

Inevitably when such a situation arises it is the poor and marginalised who face the brunt of the difficulties caused by inept governance. This is evident for all to see when one sees the never ending queues of people waiting to purchase scarce essentials and their comments regarding their predicament.

Gas explosions, gas shortages, milk food shortages, fertiliser shortages, sugar shortages, kerosene shortages and a shortage of dollars have become the order of the day. Vegetable prices have skyrocketed and have reached levels that have never been seen at any time within living memory.

The Government’s standard excuse is the pandemic which has also impacted Sri Lanka in a big way. However the primary cause of the sorry plight that the country has fallen into cannot be attributed solely and exclusively to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic has certainly contributed to the slowing down of the economy, one has to look elsewhere for the reasons behind the country’s plight.

The basic reasons are lack of prudent decision making and a trial and error style of governance. The phenomenon of gazzette reversals characteristic of this government is a clear reflection of this manner of governance. Many a time the Government has issued a gazette on a particular matter only to reverse the Gazette a few days later.

This shows that there had not been much thought before the original gazzette was issued and subsequent realisation that it was based on a wrong judgement and therefore had to be reversed.

Another major reason for the poor performance of the Government is the sidelining of the Cabinet when important decisions are being taken. Either such decisions are taken unilaterally or through Presidential task forces which do not have the benefit of adequate consultation.

Yet another reason for the Government’s predicament is the reluctance or refusal to heed the advise given by the experts. Three examples highlight this trait of the current Government.

The first is the colossal blunder made by the Government in attempting an overnight switch from chemical fertiliser to organic fertiliser in the agricultural sector. The former Agriculture Ministry Secretary Uditha Jayasinghe who played a lead role in drafting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto has repeatedly called the decision an ill advised one. He has also gone further to predict a food shortage in the near future as a result of such an ill advised decision.

This decision cannot in any way be attributed to the COVID-pandemic but rather to the Government’s own short sightedness.

The second example of the Government simply refusing to listen to experts was when it refused to permit the bodies of those who died due to COVID-19 to be buried and insisted on cremation despite the World Health Organisation guidelines permitting burials and Sri Lankan virologists and other medical experts endorsing burials.

Another example which directly impacts on the current economic crisis is the Government’s almost stubborn refusal to seek the assistance of the International Monetary Fund to help face the debt repayment crisis. Almost all economic experts have advised that it is in the country’s interest to go to multilateral agencies for economic assistance but the Government has so far resisted taking this step.

This attitude of the Government stubbornly refusing to heed the advice of experts has resulted in many such experts resigning or being removed from critical positions in Government during the past two years. The exodus of such officials and experts from Government within such a short space of time has been unprecedented in the post independence era.

No one can deny that the crisis faced by the country is one of epic proportions. A national effort harnessing the energies of all sections of Sri Lankan society is required to salvage the situation. The Government has no other choice except to choose one of the three options below if it has the people’s interest at heart.

(1) The Government’s record during the past two years has shown that it has completely failed to deliver the goods. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa abolished the 19th Amendment and enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and sought and obtained a two third majority in Parliament to strengthen his hand in governance.

Despite the concentration of power in the Executive Presidency the Government’s performance has been an abysmal failure. It is therefore best from the perspective of the national interest that it gracefully steps down from office.

(2) If the Government is not prepared to step down, the next option is to harness all sections of Sri Lankan society to face and resolve the crisis. One of the weaknesses of the current Government has been its reluctance to consult relevant stakeholders when taking decisions. An example of this is how it ignored the suggestion of the leader of one of its own constituent parties on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic when it first broke out.

The leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party Dr. Tissa Vitharana who has experience of working more than 30 years as a virologist with the World Health Organisation suggested at a meeting of the health consultative committee of Parliament that a multi party committee be set up to plan the strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only did the Government ignore his suggestion but he was left out from all Government discussions and working groups relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However the national crisis facing the country requires a coordinated response and a pooling of all resources. The Government should therefore set up a national multi party committee comprising representatives from all political parties as well as other experts including economists to handle the task in hand.

3. If the Government does not wish to adopt one of the above options, it should at least seek assistance from within its ranks to face the situation. One of the great drawbacks that the Government faces is the amateurish way the crisis is being handled. This is as a result of the lack of experience at the leadership level of the Government. The President himself has no political experience nor have many of his Cabinet and State ministers.

The Government has in its ranks several experienced ministers like former President Maithripala Sirisena, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Susil Premajayantha, John Seneviratne, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Dilan Perera, Chandima Weerakkody and Dayasiri Jayasekara to name but a few. If the President can enlist the services of these veterans and pay heed to their views, he may be able to effect a course correction that will benefit the country.



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