IMF, the only option for economic revival | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

IMF, the only option for economic revival

19 February, 2023
Ven. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera, Chief Incumbent of Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara and Chief Sangha Nayaka of Singapore. Pic by Wasitha Patabandige
Ven. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera, Chief Incumbent of Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara and Chief Sangha Nayaka of Singapore. Pic by Wasitha Patabandige

Ven. Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera is the current Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara. Born on December 13, 1938 in Bandaragama to Omanthage Paul Perera and Dona Buthsilina de Silva, the former Chief Incumbent of Raja Maha Vihara, the late Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera was his older brother.

He entered the Sasana at the age of 12 in 1950. The Thera was in Singapore at the time Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was rebuilding Singapore and leading it towards development. The Thera who lived in Singapore for over five decades, spoke to the Sunday Observer this week for a timely interview of his experiences during that time.

Q: You lived in Singapore for over five decades. What was it like?

A: The opportunity to travel to Singapore in December 1970 was pure chance. The invitation was first received by Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera. However, as he had just arrived from London, he presented me with the opportunity instead. I was to spend six months in the Mangala Vihara in Singapore. With no English language skills, I struggled at first. I spent one year there before returning to Sri Lanka. However, I went back soon after as I was invited to manage the Buddhist Research Centre established by a group of my pupils. I returned to Sri Lanka to take over matters of the Raja Maha Vihara only after the untimely demise of Ven. Wimalarathana Thera.

Q: Singapore was once underdeveloped. But today they have surpassed us. How did this happen?

A: Back then Singapore was looked down upon and had been destroyed due to the Second World War. When I first visited the country Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had begun rebuilding the country. He was law-abiding and implemented the laws strictly as well. He did not allow for the violation of laws in the name of democracy.

He identified the issues and implemented programs to resolve them. There were many slums at the time and he introduced the Housing Development Board (HDB) concept to resolve this. People were provided new houses on an installment basis. The combatting of corruption also contributed to their success.

Q: How did Singapore combat corruption?

A: Lee Kuan Yew set up a special unit on corruption in the Police. He had imposed a rule that he must be informed on all decisions or measures taken on corruption. What was most important was that he himself was never involved in any corrupt practices.

Q: What was his economic model?

A: He appointed Goh Keng Swee as the Minister of Finance. The Changi International Airport (SIN) was developed to support the economy. It inculcated in other countries a sense of confidence in Singapore. All of Lee Kuan’s plans were implemented by Goh. The Cabinet consisted of around 18 members. The Premier had a special system to closely monitor his Ministers. Those who committed any wrongs were never forgiven. Therefore, the Ministers worked hard.

Q: Was there no opposition to his methods?

A: Though there were some trade union and leftist struggles he quashed them. He set up a trade union called Anti UC and strategically obtained the support of professionals loyal to him. No other trade union activities were allowed and his loyalists were appointed to positions in the Anti UC. He was directly involved in the discussion with worker concerns that came through the Anti UC. He also quashed many of their demands through logical reasoning.

Q: Why could we not replicate the success of Singapore?

A: We took a wrong turn at the beginning itself. We gave trade unions too much freedom. They committed acts of corruption. The strength of the Colombo Port was ruined through trade union action and we suffered significant losses. Ships began avoiding us. The workers destroyed goods. As our Port suffered, the port in Singapore developed. Lee Kuan Yew made their airline (Singapore International Airlines) one of the best in the world and maintained quality service levels. Our airport at Katunayake has not changed much since I first went to Singapore 50 years ago.

Q: Do you mean to say that a Lee Kuan Yew has not emerged in Sri Lanka yet?

A: No such person has emerged in our country. Lee Kuan had a good team. The lack of such a team for past rulers also led to the country’s downfall. After the times of Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranjan Wijeratne no leader has had a good team to support their efforts. Today politicians do not carry out the tasks assigned to them.

Q: Why cannot Sri Lanka form such a team?

A: Perhaps it is our culture. No matter what wrong is committed we have a never-mind attitude. Lee Kuan Yew did not have that. He tasked people with work after much thought. If they did not have a sound background or knowledge he removed any person from their post(s).

Q: Some claim only our leaders are to be blamed for the current crisis. Your comment?

A: Not only Presidents, but those of us who choose them are also responsible. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a good Prime Minister among those we had. Had we continued with her decision to promote local production of crops and other goods we would have prospered.

Q: Do you agree with Sri Lanka’s decision to seek International Monetary Fund (IMF) support?

A: At times we are faced with impossible decisions. Currently, we have no choice but to seek IMF support. But if we do not use this aid correctly we will be in further trouble. I opposed the decision to seek IMF help but now there is no other choice.

Q: What is the solution to the issues of the North and the East?

A: I oppose the implementation of the 13A. It was a great wrong act committed following Independence. We must work together as one in brotherhood.

Q: What is your opinion on the performance of current President Ranil Wickremesinghe?

A: President Wickremesinghe is the best person to revive this country at this juncture. We cannot rebuild without the support of Western countries that worked to bring us to near collapse. Since the Bandaranaike Government came into power with Leftists such as Philip Gunawardena and William Silva, Western countries have been exacting this revenge on us. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also a Leftist and the West sabotaged his efforts and initiated his ouster. Therefore, only President Wickremesinghe can avoid this situation and rebuild Sri Lanka.