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Sri Lankan PM should heed more expert advice, rather than voices of politicians

Sri Lanka’s governance should be guided by technologists, engineers and economic experts, and not by politicians at the present time

N S Venkataraman Jun 03, 2022
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Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

It is said that Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to take over the finance portfolio also since no MP was willing to take up the challenge of managing the country’s finance.  Instead of looking at the scenario in such a negative manner, it would be appropriate to think that the Prime Minister taking over the finance portfolio is a progressive step as the work requires maximum attention at this stage.

The Sri Lankan government is negotiating with the IMF to get financial assistance. Colombo has also approached the World Bank and it is said the latter ruled out any new assistance until an adequate macro-economic policy framework is in place. The World Bank has said that it was working with the IMF and other development partners to advise appropriate policies to restore economic stability in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is losing time as the shortages in fuel and other essentials are creating restive conditions amongst the people.

Sri Lanka has reportedly decided to seek fresh assistance of $500 million from India to augment its fuel imports. India has responded to Sri Lanka’s needs with a great sense of urgency and goodwill. But there is a limit to the capability of India to help since she herself is a developing country with a huge population.

Contingency plans

Obviously, the Sri Lankan government, instead of thinking that external loan and grant would be the only solution, has to look within and examine all possibilities to augment the country’s resources and earnings. It must develop a time-bound contingency action plan on the economic front. However, it seems that such plans are yet to be evolved and announced to the people with clarity.

What Sri Lanka urgently needs is a short-term action plan as well as long-term action plan.

There are some announcements such as plans to advertise plots for studies on oil exploration in the Mannar basin, privatization of loss-making Sri Lanka Airlines and printing more money to pay state sector employees. These steps will not happen anytime soon and do not create the confidence that Colombo is capable of solving the economic issues. Printing more currency is not an elegant way of solving Sri Lanka’s economic woes.

There are several short-term plans that can be quickly implemented. For example, its tea production is estimated to be lower by around 18-20 percent. Sri Lanka caters to much of the global market to supply tea including Iran, Iraq, Libya and Russia. Tea production efficiency can be increased in quick time and Sri Lanka can seek advance payment for tea exports. Similarly, Sri Lanka has several mineral deposits which are currently exported. Their mining can be stepped up. There are so many other opportunities and avenues.

Enough of politics

The problem today in Sri Lanka is that there is more talk about politics than about technology solutions. Politics in Sri Lanka is now becoming counter-productive and many politicians seem to have a prejudiced approach. They do not seem to think that national interest must precede personal interest.  It is sad that even at this critical time, politicians from different parties in Sri Lanka have not come forward to offer unconditional support to the Prime Minister in implementing strategies to overcome the crisis.

The utterances and behaviour of so many politicians in Sri Lanka are so disgusting that international agencies like the IMF and World Bank are suspicious about political stability in the island nation. They do not get the confidence in the capability of politicians in Sri Lanka to stabilize the economy.

Now,  the initiative and responsibility have to be with the Prime Minister rather than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose leadership qualities and capability are in question. The country expects more from the Prime Minister and the country wants the President to give a free hand to the Prime Minister.

Given the ground realities in Sri Lanka, whatever decision the Prime Minister takes and implements will be questioned by some politicians and political parties. Wickremesinghe should take the people into confidence and build a climate wherein people develop confidence in the government and give it time to try escape the present messy situation.

Consult experts

Sections of politicians may continue to whip up passion amongst innocent people and organize protests.  It causes concern that even religious heads are interfering in the matter without confining themselves to matters concerning religion. There is, however, a silent majority in Sri Lanka who will respond to positive governance.

The Prime Minister should talk more about technological solutions, industrial ventures and give greater prominence and importance to the views of experts in different fields.

Sri Lanka’s governance should be guided by technologists, engineers and economic experts and not by politicians now. This is possible only if the Prime Minister recognizes the talented people in Sri Lanka publicly and gives them prominence and organizes a task force of experts to guide the country.  So far, there is no indication that technologists and experts are heard in Sri Lanka adequately.

(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. Views are personal. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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