If it is not one thing it is another. For quite some time now the current Government and its Viyath magarians have found a reason which some might call an over dramatised excuse, to blame the Covid pandemic for the country’s speedy descent to economic chaos. One was made to think that before President Xi [...]


Beware, economic whizz-kids at work


If it is not one thing it is another.

For quite some time now the current Government and its Viyath magarians have found a reason which some might call an over dramatised excuse, to blame the Covid pandemic for the country’s speedy descent to economic chaos.

One was made to think that before President Xi exported his Wuhan virus this Resplendent Isle was indeed resplendent, that Sri Lanka was flowing with milk and money (plenty of it ill-gotten, a lot creamed off the top from Government deals and other morally-uplifting means such as import monopolies for the faithful and the pious).

But the economy had started back sliding before the virus arrived in Colombo as another gift from the great descendants of China’s Ming dynasty which was nasty enough.

After all had our brethren from the deep south not sat by the seashore and, like Ozymandias, watched all they could survey such as the passing ships traversing the international sea lanes.

Miles away from the shore, others of our citizenry would gaze at an almost empty airport with a rare aircraft intruding into the airspace usually travelled by peacocks and rare birds and wondered at what would surely be future archaeological sites.

Not too far away a wandering elephant would look with wonderment at a huge white elephant and ask himself whose bright idea it was to introduce cricket to passing pachyderms.

But what was kept from the Sri Lanka people was that much of this was in hock to the Xi Jinping dynasty, so to say, and the new seaport was on a 99-year lease because we could not pay the bill as some contend.

All this began with recent governments and before the pandemic served as a convenient diversion to excuse mismanagement handled by inexperienced persons whose knowledge of governance was superseded by overpowering ignorance of civil administration.

Not that the pandemic did not contribute to debilitating the economy. But with Covid subsiding from the rampant spread it was and people are still dying of it back in this country like no other it has largely been downgraded from the front pages of the media and the economy is still going downhill, another reason needs to be found to explain away the policy failures that have brought the economy to its nadir.

As though on cue out steps another autocratic ruler to whom international laws seem of little consequence unlike to Sri Lanka which is a great respecter not only of such laws but also the rule of law as was made clear to the UN Human Rights Council a few days ago.

Not only that; Sri Lanka reportedly received “overwhelming” support of the global south at the Geneva sessions — if one is to believe our Foreign Ministry which is a tough ask in the absence of the texts of those speeches which were is several UN languages. But this must await another occasion.

In the meantime, one might add that not all of these “supporters” are confirmed supporters of international human rights conventions, international humanitarian laws, the rule of law and democratic norms as we tell the world we are.

On the subject of support for Sri Lanka at the UN and its agencies, two of our “all weather” friends are from the Security Council — China and Russia. With the pandemic fast fading and many countries now suggesting that their peoples must get accustomed to living with Covid we have found another excuse to lean on and blame for our policy indiscretions that have brought the economy to its knees.

Thanks to President Putin, the second of our Security Council faithfuls, who at the time of writing has bombed some hospitals including the maternity hospital in the Ukraine city of Mariupol killing children, expectant mothers and medical staff, as the seemingly unhinged former KGB Colonel and militarist continues his invasion of Ukraine.

As I write I hear the price of bread and wheat flour products have been jacked up. Before long we would also jack up petroleum products as the market prices of Russian petroleum and gas reach for the skies.

But if one is to believe what Sri Lankan ministers and officials say the good days are round the corner. Even as Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who parliamentarians complain have not been seen in the House for a couple of months or so, there will be no power cuts after March 5. Hardly were the words out of his mouth when somebody pulled the plug and shut off the power except where ministers, powerful politicians and retired military men playing civilian administrators live, leaving another Rajapaksa (Namal this time) to yell conspiracy. Which, by the way, has now become a regular cliché in the Government’s political lexicon.

While all this goes on apace, Sri Lankans have been told not to worry about any shortage of fuel with queues at filling stations due to disappear by Monday.

The Energy Secretary expended most of her energy a couple of days back to assure Sri Lankan citizens harassed all round by shortages of this and that and cuts of the other that ships would be queuing up, their tanks full of fuel, hoping of course, we would have the dollars to pay of it.

Minister Gamini Lokuge went one step further saying all queues will be cleared by Friday or Saturday. So if the minister is to be believed Sri Lankans will be motoring to holiday spots come today, this Sabath Day.

Now one understands why President Rajapaksa with timely anticipation appointed another ex-military general as chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals some days back.

I mean if there was no fuel to fill the storage terminals ex-major general De Zoysa would be sitting in his office twiddling his thumbs, wouldn’t he?

So here we are hoping desperately that Putin would not blow the daylights out of Ukraine with biological weapons or other Weapons of Mad Desperation (WMD) and send us to hospital over here which fortunately have necessary drugs and medical equipment unlike State Minister Jayasumana’s medicine cupboards.

Meanwhile President has rounded-up some leading thinkers to form an Economic Council that is due to meet weekly to put the economy out of this abyss. One has only to read the list of names to see how much brain-power has been accumulated. It includes ministers under whose watch Sathosa scams were said to have been happening while Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena was walking the streets determined to unearth hidden stocks of this and that.

There is also Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage who ventured into organic manure and insisted no chemical fertilizer would be imported- not a bag of it.

And then the maestro at the head of the country’s Central Bank, accountant Nivard Cabraal, resisted calls from genuine economists and business sectors to change the dollar-rupee exchange rate upward and stop printing money and creating more inflation.

Would his insistence on not turning to the IMF to pull Sri Lanka out of this unholy mess come true? Or would it be another capitulation like the exchange rate fiasco?

Await the next thrilling episode of this “tiger at the gate” drama.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was
Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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