The Sunday Times Editorial

4th August 1996

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Who's demoralising the forces?

Deputy Finance Minister G. L. Peiris has warned that Sri Lanka's economy is in deep trouble, though not completely out of control, because of burgeoning defence spending for the war. That the economy is in shambles is an open secret. But whether all of it can be put on the war is another matter.

The mixed signals and Cabinet conflicts over the Workers' Charter constitute a glaring example of non-war related issues that have hampered economic growth under the PA government. On the one hand they strained to show it was a worker friendly government. On the other it was more capitalist than the capitalists themselves with attempts at widespread privatisation and all that.

The stock market is plunging daily. Free trade zone factories are threatening to close up and quit because prospects are getting dimmer. Bad planning, indecision and bungling have brought about the worst ever power crisis in recent times, causing massive losses in industries. In addition, there are the election promises such as the reduction of the price of bread which the Government knew it can't keep. The Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is not on talking terms with the Deputy Minister of Finance of the Government of Sri Lanka. These and other factors have little to do with the war, though indeed the war is sapping financial resources more and more with each passing week.

In this context, what we wish to ask today is whether Dr. Peiris instead of inspiring the nation is projecting a defeatist attitude that might only encourage the terrorists. During the '80s the then UNP Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel also spoke as Dr. Peiris is doing now. He repeatedly warned that Sri Lanka could not carry on the battle against terrorists because the financial burden of the war was becoming too heavy. He kept saying the economy would collapse if this war continued for another six months - or that by the next year we would be all finished. That was in the 1980s. Talk like that was oxygen to the LTTE. The LTTE feels that all it has to do is to drag the war on for another year or two for the Sri Lankan economy to collapse and bleed to death.

When the security forces are fighting against an evil and monstrous enemy like the LTTE having suffered the worst ever military debacle in Mullaitivu a fortnight ago - they need to be encouraged and inspired rather than have to listen to depressing or defeatist talk from government leaders. It is like saying that, "we will give the money for the fight against terrorism but the economy will collapse if we continue to do it." That is exactly what the LTTE wants and is working at - a slow death for the economy and eventually for the state of Sri Lanka.

A censorship is clamped on newspapers on the grounds that things that would demoralise our Forces should not be published. What then is the punishment that should be given to the Deputy Finance Minister?

Perhaps Dr. Peiris spoke as he did with the intention of pushing through a devolution package that now appears to stand little chance of getting either a two-thirds majority in Parliament or approval by the people at a referendum. But Dr. Peiris must also agree that even the slight chance for the package would not be available until and unless the LTTE is militarily defeated.

At a time like this, defeatist speeches and attitudes will not give the country the inspiration needed to face the challenges ahead. Nor do we need excuses for an inefficient government that is presiding over an economy that is as stagnant as the Beira Lake next to the Treasury.

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