A clear path for the new administration | Sunday Observer

A clear path for the new administration

23 August, 2020

Sri Lanka has offered a mandate that no other government received in the recent past. The voice of the people was loud and clear in their preference. The winners came out with an unmatchable and overwhelming victory. They have been offered more than was expected, with a higher percentage than that received at the 2019 Presidential election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly said that he will do his job if the citizenry does theirs. At this point, the citizenry has done their job and eagerly await the President to fulfil his pledges.

At the outset, it would be pertinent to glance at the newly appointed Cabinet and State Ministers. A noteworthy feature is that most of the State Ministries were assigned tasks aligned with chapter five of ‘Vistas of Prosperity’, the Presidential manifesto, under the topic, ‘People-centric economy’. Many of the subjects discussed in this chapter have been included in the scope of State Ministries. This is an encouraging sign that the Government is on the right track.

President Rajapaksa was consistent in reminding everyone that he will monitor the progress in their respective assigned tasks. As practised in private sector organisations, he has given time frames to all to reach their goals. The results will be tremendous if performance indexes are introduced to Ministries as in successful private sector organisations. To initiate such a practice, the President can obtain the assistance of the many top rung business leaders available in the recently appointed presidential task force units.

Immediately after the ministerial appointments, the President issued two important directives through his secretariat. The first is to refrain from removing or changing any present heads or directors of Government institutions of any of the State Ministries without the prior concurrence of the President. The second, the appointed Ministers should assume duties within four days. The public witnessed that most of the Ministers started their duties within the first two days, ahead of the set deadline and in simple ceremonies.

Firm control

These acts prove that the leader has taken firm control over the matter. Not only that the usual practice of dumping public funds to organise extravagant ceremonies was curtailed but also the move has put a stop to the removal of government officials at the whims and fancies of the Ministers. It is no secret that Ministers, soon after assuming their portfolios, recruit their families or acquaintances, ignoring whether they are suitable or not for the job. The public, through social media, has welcomed both moves as necessary. The current economic situation, in reality, is in dire straits as anyone can understand, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in massive foreign revenue losses and the containment measures.

Foreign revenue of approximately US$ 17 Billion earned through foreign employment, apparel exports, and tourism was lost, giving a sucker punch to the economy. Some experts say that the worst of the crisis is over and the economy is gradually picking up. The operating conditions in the manufacturing and services sectors suffered huge drawbacks. Duty and tax loss due to import restrictions added to this issue, although the move was hailed by the majority as it encouraged domestic business. So far, according to research, only domestic retail trade has returned to almost near normal. The presidential task force appointed for economic revival and poverty eradication under the versatile Basil Rajapaksa has maintained a silence in the past few months, probably due to the August 5 elections. Now that the election is over and seemingly they have more authority from the public, it is the best time for them to initiate appropriate action.

The elite panel comprising a cross-section of political, business, and administrative leaders will have a daunting and un-enviable task, though no doubt they will succeed.

Restructuring economy

The most important task of the Government today is to engage everybody concerned actively and devise methods to face the imminent challenge of restructuring the economy before it gets out of control.

The Government would otherwise face many issues on both, the foreign and domestic fronts. The President has already initiated several actions including appointing a number of task force units.

The President, as the Defence Secretary, and the tri-forces defeated terrorism due to the leadership, vision and the decision making freedom given by his brother the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Similar to the battle against terrorism, leaders and field commanders should be given authority to make executive decisions in the battle for economic revival. The Government is directed in the right path by President Rajapaksa, which fact has been evident since his taking over of office. Nevertheless, the issue is the speed of economic recovery and the efficiency of those involved. The President, as any other successful leader can only provide leadership and the liberty to perform, apart from motivation.

Knowledgeable citizens hope that the newly appointed Finance Ministry officials, headed by the capable State Minister who is a financial expert will appoint the right people to the right place. The country witnessed the gross inefficiency of the appointees of the previous government and how they abused power and allegedly pilfered colossal amounts of public funds.

Government spending

The control over Government spending was haphazard and totally out of control during the past five years due to the weak leadership on the one hand, and the tug of war that existed between the then President and the Prime Minister on the other. It was revealed in many forums that even the Presidential candidate of the main Opposition was on a spending spree by way of campaigning for the election, in the guise of providing houses, with billions of rupees from the government coffers.

The management of the economy is complex at this crucial juncture in history. Covid-19 has dealt a blow of unimaginable magnitude to the whole world. No one can offer immediate solutions to improve the three main foreign revenue earners in a short time. Sri Lanka’s main markets for apparel, the USA and Europe are not even close to controlling the pandemic. While the United States never got it under control, currently Europe is suffering from a bad second wave. According to industry stalwarts, they are managing with the orders placed before the Covid-19 breakout and on the verge of completing all those orders. None of them has a clear idea when the two main markets would bounce back.

Tourist arrivals will not be possible for a considerable period and, therefore, the anticipated revenue cannot be expected in the next few months in the least, although the industry expects a surge in business when the pandemic in the world is controlled. This is due to the reputation earned by Sri Lanka in controlling Covid-19 effectively, thus making her one of the most desirable destinations.

Foreign employment earnings are also declining at an alarming rate as many expats are trying to return. Therefore, controlling and managing domestic finances is the only solution and hope. As the practice in the private sector, cost-cutting and waste management at this juncture is the key solution until the foreign reserves return and the world gets back to normalcy. Hence, the simplicity introduced by President Rajapaksa will continue to pay dividends as his team also, taking a cue, follows in his footsteps to reduce expenditure, cut costs and stop wastage whereby millions of rupees can be reverted to the coffers to help improve the prevailing financial situation.