Parliament did it again. They proved that they just cannot get together and agree on almost anything, except duty free permits and petrol for themselves. On Tuesday, the election of a Deputy Speaker was a contemptibly inadequate performance by the elected representatives of the people even at a time when their pitiful conduct is already [...]


Viva la Republica


Parliament did it again. They proved that they just cannot get together and agree on almost anything, except duty free permits and petrol for themselves. On Tuesday, the election of a Deputy Speaker was a contemptibly inadequate performance by the elected representatives of the people even at a time when their pitiful conduct is already under the public microscope.

Both sides of the House adopted parochial attitudes despite the larger issues facing the country and its people. Each side — the Government benches, the Opposition and those in-between — was merely interested in showing off its colours in the midst of a people facing arguably the gravest economic crisis in modern times. It was as if they couldn’t help their DNA.

While the Opposition came a cropper for a second time with its nominee after the ‘naadagama’ performed by an MP who contested, resigned, re-contested and resigned again for the same post, the Government’s conduct was equally deplorable. It put forward its own candidate purely to score a point, pulling the rug under the feet of the newly anointed Prime Minister, embarrassing him for indicating only 24 hours earlier that he would like to support a woman for the job, meaning the Opposition candidate. The sudden decision by the ruling SLPP High Command sent a clear message to the Premier not to get too ahead of himself. Rather, to know that he is where he is by the grace of the ruling party. Whether or not the Prime Minister will allow himself to be a mere puppet of a beleaguered SLPP leadership still believing they can control the apron strings of governance is to be seen in the high octane politics prevailing in the country.

With that farce out of the way, the rest of the parliamentary day was a litany of Members lamenting the violence that was unleashed on their properties on that fateful Monday, May 9, at the hands of arsonists and anarchists in sheep’s clothing. Most of these Members have only themselves to blame as the Police Chief who came under fire for inaction by his men to stop the mayhem retorted giving the number of OICs of police stations appointed on the recommendations of MPs themselves — 182 out of 184. They clearly reaped what they sowed.

The PM gave a chilling account of the perilous state of the economy. The fact that the country was unable to meet a foreign loan and didn’t have USD seven million to pay for a shipment of gas; that ships are anchored out of the island’s territorial waters waiting for Cash on Delivery is surreal. How can a country descend to such an economic malaise, especially when for over a year many saw it coming?

The country is not only short of Fx (foreign exchange), it is even short of local rupees to pay salaries to a bloated public service. It is not that the country is that broke, but those who have the Fx are parking it elsewhere because of the trust deficiency vis-à-vis the Government. The Central Bank is continuing to chase behind these dollars and the more it regulates the greater the parking of funds in Dubai and Singapore. This trust deficiency cannot be fixed due to the volatility of local politics and policy inconsistency.

The appointment of a new PM from the UNP, which has only a solitary National List seat in Parliament, is being scoffed at as selecting a politician and his party rejected by the voters at the last elections. The 6.9 million voters who voted for the current dispensation are openly admitting they made a very serious mistake. Many who were elected, thanks largely to the proportional representation system, are only looking towards the next election, not at accepting the immediate challenges. At least someone, whether bravely or naively, took up the challenge of steering the ship of state that has hit an iceberg and is sinking with 22 million people on board. Some may even argue that the ship has sunk and it’s a salvage operation that is going on now.

Though the Constitution provides the Legislature responsibilities over public finance, Parliament has fallen down on its expectations. The Parliamentary Oversight Committees, COPE, COPA, COPF must take part of the blame for the collapse of the economy without ‘passing the buck’, so to say, entirely to the Executive Presidency. Not a single individual responsible for corruption or financial mismanagement that brought about this situation has been punished. The Prime Minister told Parliament that the accounts books of the Government have been “cooked”. And so? What is Parliament doing about it?

This week, for the first time ever, Sri Lanka could not pay back two foreign lenders what they had loaned to the country, acquiring the dubious distinction of being the first country in Asia-Pacific to have been unable to pay back its loans. Bloomberg which provides business news to world markets has cited Sri Lanka as a bellwether for emerging economies that have outstanding debt while the world itself faces “surging inflation” — and possible food shortages to come. The G-7, the grouping of the world’s richest economies said in Germany this week that it would help Sri Lanka find long-term solutions in negotiations with the IMF. Hopefully, India will speak on behalf of Lanka at the Quad summit in Tokyo next week for similar support.

A new model of cohabitation Government has been created. It is only the next best thing to a National Government even if the new Cabinet is a second string team cobbled together. Such marriages of convenience have not clicked in the past, at least not in Sri Lanka. The President has palmed off his immediate troubles to a Prime Minister buying time for himself from the angry public baying for him to leave office. The PM is eager to put the country back on track, and reset his own legacy in the process. This is the fourth Executive President he is working with. Parliament and the host of political parties in it can either swim together, or sink separately.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the day when the country became a Republic, breaking away from the last vestiges of 400 years of colonial rule. Today, its leaders are running behind every conceivable foreign donor with a begging bowl. Viva la Republica! Long live the Republic!

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