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Looking for a Way Out of the Abyss

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Photo courtesy of NDTV

Our country has collapsed. Government spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena announced that fuel supply has come to a standstill and fuel will be available only for essential services. These is no one to blame, no one to look up to.

When Ranil took over the government, as there was no one else to do so, people had hopes that he would be able to bring in much needed dollars to the economy. Some people gave up protesting and withdrew support for the aragalaya, anticipating that things would gradually get better.

Whoever comes the situation will be the same. Leaders can make fancy proclamations about an export oriented economy, digital economy or knowledge based economy but none of these will bring in dollars in the short term. More and more borrowing is not the answer to the economic crisis. Debt would have risen at least by 10% since the beginning of this year. We need to stop borrowing now.

Production is in crisis and as a result the exports are dwindling. There are only two sources of income that we can depend on in the short term; one is tourism and the other is foreign remittance from expatriates.

When Ranil was interviewed by Sky News after taking office as the prime minister he was asked whether it was safe for tourists to visit Sri Lanka. He answered that they could have an exciting time by taking part in demonstrations. When the interviewer pointed out that it was a serious question, Ranil replied, “We are not discouraging people from visiting but we understand with the shortage of foreign exchange, the demonstrations that are going on and shortage of essentials that they may not visit Sri Lanka at this time”. When a prime minster makes such statements who would want to visit Sri Lanka? Tourism income has dropped to a record low of $54 million, half of what we earned in March.

The government must focus on tourism from the time of arrival until the tourists leave; every detail has to be looked into to make sure that tourists feel welcome and looked after. A separate minister can oversee the welfare of tourists to make sure there is fuel, food and other facilities provided as required. There should be an emergency call service facility to attend to tourists’ needs and encourage them to visit rather than saying this was not the time to come. Politicians should learn how spectators at the last cricket match against Australia showed their gratitude to the visiting team and how the Australian players responded.

Foreign remittances have been one of the important avenues of getting dollars. However, since last August there has been a steady decline in remittances to a record low of $205 million in February 2022; the figure has risen slightly to $250 million dollars. This source is a lifeline. The government is trying to send abroad as many people as possible to earn the dollars. There are two main reasons for the decline in remittances; one is artificially fixing the dollar and the other is the perception that there is rampant corruption among the politicians and state officials.

It is no secret that corruption is widespread in the system. Politicians have been cited as defaulters of bank loans. Taking commission for all forms of transactions, including during the present crisis, is well known. We need to put this right to increase confidence among expatriates. If we cannot assure this, we are doomed as a nation. There is no point in changing governments and changing parties in every election. People had much hope when the yahapalanaya government came into power but ultimately that government also encouraged corruption and did nothing to prosecute corrupt politicians, protecting them instead. When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came into power, too, there was hope that the country would get on the correct path but the reverse happened.

In the Sky News interview Ranil spoke about the “books being cooked” regarding rampant corruption during the previous regime. However, it is worth remembering that the many promises given during the run up to the election that brought in the yahapalanaya government came to nothing; Ranil’s track record proves him to be an unreliable person.

Do we need an election to change the situation? An election might make matters worse. What we have at present is a new government, a form of selected government that is comparable to a new elected government. What have they done? Practically nothing. This country is our future we need a system change to make it a better place to live.

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