Posted on July 26th, 2022

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

People waiting in a queue to purchase cooking gas. Picture by Sulochana Gamage

The current economic crisis is exacerbating day after day. People line up in extended queues, although the Government advises not to line up in long rows. The general public does that because they may lose their place in the queue once they leave. Therefore, desperate folk stand in queues day and night and sleep wherever possible because of this problem. The Sri Lankan people have never seen such a predicament in the last 74 years since ‘Ceylon’ gained Independence.

Ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left Sri Lanka and is in hiding, initially in the Maldives. The latest news is that he has travelled to Singapore, but his permanent residence is still unknown. Also, that US immigration rejected his visa to enter the U.S.! Meanwhile, Basil Rajapaksa, who attempted to flee the country was blocked at the Katunayake airport and had to return.

According to the Minister of Transport, the current problem is due to the wrong fiscal policies followed by the respective Governments since Ceylon gained Independence. The fundamental problem is that Sri Lanka’s budgetary policies were mistaken; as a result, expenditure was more than the income. That is why Sri Lanka’s budget showed a deficit every time. Sri Lanka’s loan payments have increased tremendously due to the dollar fluctuation and the lack of foreign exchange.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on its foreign loans. As a result, one of the creditors filed a Court action against Sri Lanka. It was caused because the officials in high-ranking positions had used Sri Lanka’s Foreign Reserves in a boundless fashion. It is crystal clear that the majority of the Sri Lankan administrators were unenlightened or naïve on such issues.

Insensitive attitude of all

What is needed now is to increase the Government’s income by exporting goods to overseas countries. It shows a complete lack of enthusiasm by the Government officials who make such decisions on innovations. Every innovation seems to be limited to television exposure only. There was an interesting interview on the YouTube channel: ‘Truth with Chamuditha’ on the fate of the first man who introduced electric cars to Sri Lanka, Anuruddha Lihinikaduwa.

Anuruddha Lihinikaduwa said: Including the Minister of Finance at that time, during Yahapalana regime, and officials of the Customs wanted commissions to release his 37 cars from the port.” He was a person who did not believe in bribery and corruption. So, he closed down his plants, including ‘charging stations’, which were imported from Sweden at expensive amounts and he became a cultivator! He said that ‘the age of the battery life of the electric cars is only five years. The Yahapalanaya regime did not allow him to import batteries and officially but increased the import tax’.

Instead, the opportunity was afforded to the ‘black-market dealers!” So, the cars imported over five years ago do not have batteries for replacement, forcing the owners to abandon the vehicles after paying expensive sums. Fortunately, another ingenious attempt by a Sri Lankan to convert electric cars to hybrid models is in the market, but at an additional cost to the owners. This is the fate of Sri Lanka.

United Kingdom

The U.K. Government encourages the public to go for electric cars in the future. As an incentive, the U.K. Government authorises electric vehicles to be exempt from Road Tax. There are ample charging stations spread across the country. However, for any person who intends to drive his electric car on a long destination where there are no charging stations available, the agents are supposed to give the owner an alternative vehicle, which runs on petrol. The Westminster Council allows electric cars to enter the Central London area free of the congestion charge, which is expensive.

In Sri Lanka, people are faced with a fuel problem. Had the previous Governments inclusive of the Yahapalana regime, not concentrate on bribery and corruption, it would have been an excellent choice for electric car owners to travel up to 300 km before it needs charging again. It would have served in the present fuel crisis to transport , at least schoolchildren to school and back. Anuruddha Lihinikaduwa intended to promote the electric car as a second family car in Sri Lankan society. He was so fed up with the officials then that he hadn’t approached the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime either!

Corruption and bribery are the biggest problems in Sri Lanka. Corruption exists from top to bottom! Various innovators and latest novelties are introduced often, but such inventions are confined to television displays only. The Sri Lanka Government does not seem to stretch any helping hand to any new originalities!

In the writer’s article on June 10, 2022, the Daily News highlighted how to increase the Dollar income in Sri Lanka. The writer went into detail on a company that manufactures Silicon semi-conductors out of Tiruwana power. In this regard, the writer mentioned a company in Castle Street, Colombo 8 (using journalistic ethics) that earns dollars by exporting ‘Tiruwana’ power to Japan, Korea, Israel, Malaysia and the USA to the tune of US$ 15,000 dollars a year.The writer went into detail about this particular organisation currently producing 2,000 tonnes, and they can increase the capacity to 5,000 tonnes by expanding their output by 33%. That would have augmented the Government’s income, automatically by doubling the revenue. The firm states there are numerous Government-owned lands full of Tiruwana stones. Still, administrators who control these lands have become a hindrance rather than extending a helping hand to the company and the country to bring more dollars, especially in the present economic crisis. The Chairman of this organisation wished to meet with the Prime Minister or the President (who now fled the country) to explain in detail the company’s current predicament. There was no response from the Government or even to the writer to find out about the company!

Current economic crisis

There is no political solution to the present economic crisis. The Government needs to find more avenues to earn foreign exchange. Just printing alone creates more money in a haphazard manner. Printing money will not help, but it increases the Cost of Living. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka projects the Cost of Living may go up to 70% in the future. Multiple causes aggravate the current economic crisis. The primary roots are corruption and tax reductions by the ‘chased’ out Government at the initial stages when they came to power.

Regarding the textile trade, all garment exporters need to import most of the raw material from abroad, which reduces the net amount of dollars they earn from their exports. They are compelled to purchase and import quality textiles and accessories such as thread, labels, which reduce the dollar earnings.

There are two aspects to the current crisis – domestic and foreign. Apart from it, Sri Lanka managed to earn apprx. US$ 600 million per month from expatriate workers. Still, with the COVID-19 pandemic, such incomes have gone down to US$ 250 million. During the current economic crisis, a few Opposition members of particular political parties urge foreign workers not to send money to Sri Lanka! Little do they realise by punishing the Government it is their kith and kin in this country who are made to suffer more and more. The ‘Aragalaya’ means a peaceful demonstration against the rulers, but such statements contradict the thuggery and looting. Such information will not help any foreign nations to help.

It would be advisable for the new ‘Citizen-friendly Government’ to introduce new regulations to ban all ‘petrol-guzzling’ cars. These luxury SUVs consume 3-4 litres per kilometre! Another area would be to restrain the qualification of the MP’s pensions after five years.

The Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) constantly requests to give more ‘teeth’ to COPE to bring those who are found and proven guilty to entrap them into the legal framework. The COPE Chairman pointed out that the whole country is in a huge crisis today due to the decisions of a few officers who led the economy in a haphazard way; it should be considered a crime and investigated immediately.’

What is the purpose of appointing the COPE Committee without facilities to bring those guilty and responsible for fraud and corruption before the law? A new ‘people friendly Cabinet’ should consist of young brains and not the same ‘old senile pensioners’!

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