Blame and futility | Sunday Observer

Blame and futility

16 October, 2022

The tendency has been — after those Geneva sessions in particular — to blame some of the countries that are seen as ‘usual culprits’ in certain ways, for various crises in this country.

There were articles appearing in newspapers and journals that blamed the Indians particularly with regard to the ethnic issues so called, there were those that blamed the Chinese with more stridency this time, and then there were those that blamed various Western actors including the Americans.

It’s not the most inspired moment, to put it mildly, to start blaming the rest of the world for Sri Lanka’s current woes when it is rather clear that this country has had an economic meltdown that was almost entirely of its own making.

It’s in this context that the blame-game sounds so lame and unconvincing particularly this time around. The economic crisis may have been owed in part to Covid-19 and the global economic slump — and this must be the six thousandth time any writer is saying that — but it’s gravity could have been averted completely if certain actors didn’t walk into the crisis as if they were walking blind onto a brick wall.

None of these offenders are foreigners or agents of foreign countries, least of all those that are spoken of by the various commentators and sundry experts, as well as the politicians who seem to have too much time to spare. Local politicians and domestic bureaucrats eschewed going to the IMF on time.

They kept the dollar pegged at an artificially low rate despite all the signs that this would be detrimental to the economy, particularly when worker remittances were concerned. This is old hat really, and does not even bear repetition.


But, the blame is on the foreign elements and with some people it’s business as usual. Let’s pretend that there was no economic meltdown, let’s just assume that these little inconveniences are all due to the grand design of evil foreign powers. That’s the smug dictum.

Parliament is not exactly concerned about the economic issues it appears, and there is the usual blame game and merry go round in the talk show circuit. It’s as if nobody was awake when the economy tanked in the middle of this year, and people were in mile long queues.

It’s true that Sri Lanka is among the countries that need immediate debt relief — and that there are some fifty other countries in that list. This debt has to be restructured not only by international lending agencies, but also by various nations from whom we have borrowed.

While there may be a case for reconsidering the debt of developing countries as a whole due to the debilitating nature of such loan-taking, notwithstanding the way this money was given and taken, it’s a fact that this and many other countries of its ilk are in massive debt.

As long as that’s the case, being mindful of that debt — to put it rather mildly — is the job of those who run the finances of these respective countries. We have incurred our debt and there is not much point in practical terms arguing over the fairness or otherwise of the international lending system when we are saddled with this burden.


Whether we like it or not we have to deal with it and transference of blame is not good policy. It’s as if we are missing the elephant in the room, but why we are doing so particularly in this instance is bewildering. Is it because we do it by force of habit?

Its usually from the developing world that the most strident demand for economic rights to be recognised as human rights emanates. But are economic rights taken seriously in this country as part of the domestic agenda?

Not if we are to take the events of this year as any example. Nobody was in any mindset to enforce economic-rights and leave those responsible accountable until it became imperative to do so. But even after the meltdown, there is no desire to find out what happened, and more importantly any serious effort to ensure that the type of economic mismanagement that took place in the earlier part of this year does not happen again.

Why beat ourselves to a lather trying to enforce economic rights in global forums when we know for the most part that we are paying lip service to the eventual goal of ensuring that people have the most elementary needs met — such as housing, basic health and so on?

If we can’t hold our own accountable for enforcing such rights, how can we hold the rest of the world accountable for it?

Even if the dice is loaded against developing countries at this time, when a global recession is expected, there is nobody quite reconciled to the fact that we don’t get any free lunches and have to work for our own salvation at the worst of times.

But there are many numbers of folk blaming foreigners for everything from the economic crisis to the ethnic issues that have bedeviled the country for as long as we can remember. With these issues have come the attendant problems of accountability and so on. but we are not helping ourselves here too sometimes with the way some rights issues are handled with regard to the economic meltdown and the ensuing protests.


Now, the country is saddled with higher corporate taxes and so on that is rightly seen as a further dampener on the private sector’s potential ability to turn things around.

But what alternative is there, other than to raise the taxes? None whatsoever. This is due to economic mismanagement as well, and what’s preventable was the totally debilitating crash landing even if we consider that some of the earlier economic policies of the then Government may have been well intentioned.

While the country recovers — a full recovery of any sort is perhaps going to take years or at least half of a decade or so it’s estimated — we are back to the lotus-eating eighties when pundits of the day blamed everything on the evil foreign influences.

There was no let-up. This blame shifting has been the cry ever since, and of course which country is being blamed is dependent on the political camp that a commentator swears allegiance to at a given moment.

Perhaps, to take recourse in pop psychology if political science does not explain any of this, it’s a subconscious Sri Lankan trait. A default position that we seek somebody else to blame for our own inability to cope, adapt and thrive.

But the recent crises — on multiple fronts — is the most potent reminder that notwithstanding the fact that the dice is loaded against countries such as ours — perhaps due to historical reasons as well — there is no alternative other than self-reliance.

Some seek to blame countries for strategic reasons — on the assumption that it would serve our cause to pit one country against another but such game playing has limited purchase in terms of how we are helped on the economic front in particular.

At present we have no choice but to collectively rise to the occasion and that is a cliché, but it’s a necessary one.

We are falling back to the default position at least in some quarters. That’s to blame somebody else. It is good thinking in the minds of some — some feel it’s easier this way to get foreign powers to twist the hands of the locals to get certain things done on the short-term.

But no foreign power is that committed to our welfare. They can’t be because they have domestic imperatives too, and see it as pointless to get involved in the minutiae of policy in smaller nations such as ours — unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

Playing the foreigner card in this context seems to get us nowhere. Even one commentary in a newspaper on those lines in this context is one too many.