Government takes its time as helpless people face blow after blow

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While a hapless people struggle with the daily dose of economic hardships, the Government for its part shows no urgency in taking steps to mitigate the woes of the people.

On the contrary the Government seems to take a lackadaisical approach to problem solving in the economic sector. When it eventually gets down to doing something, it is often too little too late. This is true not only of the economic situation but even right through the time it took office in November 2019.

Take for example the way it handled the pandemic. When signs were emerging that there was a threat to the health of the world including Sri Lanka, the Government turned a deaf ear to the calls of the health experts and the Opposition to obtain vaccines for the virus.  

Instead it busied itself with tonics made by local quacks and throwing pots of water into rivers as a means of curbing the spread of the pandemic. Finally when realisation dawned on the Government that vaccination was incumbent as a preventive measure, it was way behind in the queue of countries waiting to access the vaccines.

Fortunately with the help of various friendly countries and international agencies, Sri Lanka was able to overcome the delay and obtain the necessary vaccines to successfully immunise the people. Unfortunately we will not know how many lost their lives or were inflicted with the virus as a result of the Government’s delay.

Currently in the face of the worst economic crisis since independence, Government continues to adopt a casual approach towards governance notwithstanding the day to day struggles of the people.

The consensus among economists has for some time been that the dollar against the rupee conversion rate has been unrealistic and that the dollar should be allowed to float. The Government was eventually compelled to devalue the Rupee last week.

Well meaning economists and politicians across the political divide have been for some time urging the Government to engage in a debt restructuring programme and to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance in this regard. They have pointed out that this will give the country some breathing space with regard to international loan repayments and enable the Government to provide some short term relief to the long suffering people.

But the Government, true to style, has continuously refused to follow this advice of the experts. Finally however, yesterday’s Daily Mirror carried the news that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa was planning to travel to Washington DC in mid-April to begin talks with the IMF on a plan to resolve the crisis.

The Daily Mirror, quoting Reuters News Agency, said the proposed plan was aimed at obtaining assistance with debt restructuring and managing its foreign exchange shortage.

But adding to the confusion and lack of clarity with regard to Government’s intentions was another news item in the Daily Mirror quoting Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal which directly contradicted the earlier report that Sri Lanka would seek IMF help for debt restructuring and managing the foreign exchange crunch.

The Central Bank Governor was quoted as stating in a Twitter message that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s scheduled meeting with IMF in Washington DC next month was “not for the purpose of debt restructuring.”

These two contradictory news reports apart from highlighting that the Government was not of one mind as to how to address the economic crisis, also confirmed former Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s statement about the ongoing rift between the Finance Minister and the Central Bank Governor.

The announcement last week that a 11 member economic council had been appointed to take steps with regard to the economy further added to the confusion. Many thought that at long last the Government had woken up to the urgency of taking immediate steps to ease the situation. But a detailed article in the Daily News under the by line of Sugeeswara Senadhira portrayed a different picture.

According to the Daily News, the economic council, was set up “to fulfill the national requirement of a long-term national plan under the ‘Vistas of Prosperity & Splendour.’”

According to the Daily News which can be relied on to reflect the Government’s thinking accurately, the President had decided to convene the economic council weekly with the objective of accelerating the economic growth through the management of the entire economy by thoroughly discussing the local economic policies including macro-economic policies, the behaviour of the national economy after COVID-19 pandemic situation, economic restructuring as well as the major development projects that directly affect the economic policies and financial policies of the Government.

There was only a passing reference to short term damage control and it is clear that the economic council was meant to deal with long term issues. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath however ‘pooh poohed’ the economic council stating that it comprised the very people who had brought the economy to this impasse.

In the meantime the public anxiously awaits a statement from the Government with regard to the state of the economy. The Opposition continues to point out that the Finance Minister has not addressed Parliament since December 10 last year with regard to the economy.

Last week Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, told the House that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa had not spoken in the chamber of the House for the past three months or answered questions posed by the Parliamentarians.

“There is an economic crisis. It was on December 10, last year that the Finance Minister spoke in this House. For the past three months he has not spoken a single word. The Finance Minister should be here to explain to the House the country’s economic situation.”

The most recent indication of the Finance Minister’s thinking was contained in a media report in yesterday’s Daily Mirror where he stated that the Government was trying to provide as much relief as possible, despite the challenges posed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Commenting on the current economic debacle, he told reporters that the pandemic, increase in fuel prices and Russia-Ukraine war were external factors that impacted the crisis.

“However, we will try our level best to resolve the current crisis situation locally,” he said without elaborating what measures were actually being contemplated by the Government.

It is time that the Government takes the people into its confidence. If the Finance Minister is not willing to address the Parliament, at least the President should address the nation.

The situation is serious enough for one of them to rise to the occasion.

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Disclaimer: Government takes its time as helpless people face blow after blow - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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