Task of uplifting economy and multi-party governance | Sunday Observer

Task of uplifting economy and multi-party governance

14 August, 2022

The political turmoil that prevailed in the country has subsided to an extent since the appointment of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. His attempt to form an All-Party Government or Multi-Party Government is being discussed among the vast majority of active political parties currently. Although the final result is yet to be seen, this writer cannot recall any leader who could muster support from Opposition parties similar to this in recent history.

However, as anticipated, the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) has already announced their disagreement, although they are due to meet the President and discuss it shortly. All the same, the result is apparent.

According to many neutral observers, in his policy statement at the opening session of the new Parliament, President Wickremesinghe made a realistic analysis of the economic crisis and the deep-rooted causes of the downfall of the economy during the past several years. Even according to his political opponents, the President has proposed pragmatic short-term solutions and appears to be firmly committed to the promises he made.

Customary approach

Nevertheless, some of the political parties, in particular, Jahika Jana Balawegaya (JJB), in accordance with their customary approach, have started criticising the proposals presented and the steps described to come out of the crisis. Historically, since the 1970s, the same political party has only managed to criticise and disrupt any positive attempt by any Government without presenting any constructive suggestions.

Throughout history, they have opposed almost all foreign investments; foreign-funded development projects; restructuring of loss-making state-owned enterprises; or cost-controlling of Government institutions. Any such move was nullified by them through protests. Due to the fear of losing their voter base, they have intentionally ignored the negative impact of such moves on the country and its citizenry.

So far, these dubious elements have not made a significant positive contribution to the country, nor have they offered any progressive proposal to uplift the economy at this crucial time. They vehemently attack whoever tries to put forward an optimistic suggestion without offering a shred of solution on their own.

With no parliamentary representation and an insignificant and tiny vote base, they continue to obstruct any and all attempts by successive governments to address public issues, ignoring the heavy burden on citizens for cheap political mileage.

The “Aragalaya” or the genuine resistance movement that prevailed at the beginning, has evidently come to an end with the withdrawal of the few participants this week. The protest campaign that started with genuine intentions was unceremoniously hijacked by the JVP and Kumar Gunaratnam-led Frontline Socialist Party at later stages, making many participants and sympathisers abandon the event from time to time.

Realising that they have lost public approval, the two factions are currently trying to regroup by using some of the original initiators. Regrettably, some of the key players who kept declaring that the “Aragalaya” was non-partisan have joined hands with these political parties.

Everyone agrees that the burning issue at this moment is the shortage of foreign revenue. The main reason for most of the ongoing public issues and the unrest is the severe shortage of foreign currency for essential imports. Hence, it is obvious that bridging finance and IMF assistance are extremely important at this juncture.

With the impending political stability (although such consensus is still uncertain due to the typical behaviour of Sri Lankan politicians), bilateral financial assistance from friendly countries and international agencies can be secured. Therefore, as many social and religious leaders point out, any attempt by opportunistic politicians, political parties, or people with hidden crafty agendas must be crushed at all costs.

While the country is struggling to settle down and yearn for peace, some treacherous elements are attempting to revive recent unruly incidents that occurred around the country. These scheming politicians, spearheaded by a retired military man turned politician, intend to disrupt peace and destabilise the slowly recovering society.

However, all such requests were blatantly rejected by the masses, and the attempt has miserably failed. The general public has not forgotten that these politically instigated unlawful assemblies and uncontrollable occurrences not only inflicted severe damage to private and public property but also took the lives of innocent bystanders. Hence, they keep away from unwanted political moves.

Common citizens are not aware of the methods of developing an economy. That is the very reason they elect politicians to represent them in parliament. The public chooses representatives of their own free will, expecting these elected men to behave intelligently and genuinely help them and the country, although a majority of the time the intention fails. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, the sole intention of politicians is to gain political mileage.

Political leaders

However, the entire perspective has changed to a certain extent after the recent incidents that took place throughout the country. People have started to realise that the country needs political leaders who can make unbiased but strong decisions on common issues, even when they may be unpopular.

Sadly, for the past many decades, any politician or political party that ruled the country, from the day they came into power, aimed at the next election result rather than a people-centric agenda. On the other hand, the Opposition, throughout history, started pulling down the ruling party from day one with the intention of retaking control.

Although Sri Lanka’s main hope of recovery is IMF assistance, the conditions they will likely set down will be bitter for some factions. While they will impose generally positive conditions such as cutting down State expenditure, restructuring loss-making Government institutions, and more transparency in financial transactions, they will most probably ask the Government to cut down on some of the existing public welfare programs.

In this context, the new President will be forced to face the litmus test as to how he will confront such a challenge without being subject to public wrath.

He has already indicated that the country will have to swallow the bitter medicine before getting the cure. How people will react to bitter medicine is yet to be seen.

Sri Lanka needs to balance its revenue and expenditure with extreme caution. The practice that prevailed where imports were way higher than earnings will have to be readjusted.

The current desperate situation in the industrial sector and small and medium business sectors must be addressed and brought back to normal as soon as possible in order for them to contribute to the national income. Everything possible to uplift the tourism industry must be done without even a slight delay.

More ex-pat remittances must be encouraged by offering whatever possible incentives. The hugely loss-making State-owned enterprises must be restructured or sold to the private sector to stop wasting public funds.

Political manipulations of Government purchases must be completely stopped as a priority, perhaps through a new mechanism.

Nefarious activities

On the other hand, the general public must be made aware of their own civic responsibilities. The current trend is to blame everything on politicians and officials when a segment of the general public is also engaged in various anti-social and nefarious activities.

The recent fuel fraud committed by some of the corrupted citizens is a textbook example of a breach of civic responsibility. They must be made aware of the ghastly repercussions of breaking the rule of law in a country.

For the new President, the challenge is enormous but different to his previous terms in politics at various ministerial levels. Due to the prevailing gruesome conditions, people expect much more results from him than any of his predecessors. He has to literally perform miracles to continue considering the current dreadful situation.

The new President has limited time to perform and pull the country out of immediate danger without offering lame excuses. If he pulls it through, he will be a hero and a formidable opponent to any other competitor in the next election. If not, it will certainly be the end of his vivacious political career and perhaps the party he leads as well.