Constant protests will hamper economic recovery | Sunday Observer

Constant protests will hamper economic recovery

12 March, 2023

It is a universally accepted fact that Sri Lanka is experiencing the worst economic crisis currently due to the mismanagement and wrong economic policies of the previous regime.

From the beginning of the year 2022 there was an extreme chaotic situation in the country economically, politically and socially which finally resulted in the vacation of position by the then incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

Following constitutional provisions, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invited Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to take over the premiership for which his response was negative due to the lack of confidence in accepting this enormous challenge and it was so with two other party stalwarts.

The leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe the sole UNP Member in the House boldly accepted the challenge to guide the nation in this critical hour displaying his political maturity and statesmanship.

However, the Aragalaya activists and radical opportunistic political ruffians intensified their protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and stormed the President’s House, Presidential Secretariat and some other State buildings with the intention of taking the President into their custody and driving the country to anarchy. In this situation President Rajapaksa was forced to flee the country for his life and tendered his resignation a few days later by email.

New President

Ranil Wickremesinghe was inducted as the 8th Executive President of Sri Lanka according to the constitutionally mandated legitimate procedure by a majority of Parliamentarians on August 8, 2022. Soon after becoming the President he made a very humble request from all Opposition parties to join him to form an All-Party Government (APG) leaving aside the petty political differences temporarily to save the country from this dire economic situation.

Quite a number of religious dignitaries from all faiths and some unbiased civil society leaders also requested the Opposition parties to support the President to form an APG. Already eight months have lapsed since then and proving their political opportunism, no party has come forward to support the President. Instead, they eternally object to every effort of the Government.

President Wickremesinghe was of the strong belief that the only way to get out of this economic catastrophe was to seek the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance for which he worked relentlessly during the past few months. He told the country very clearly that the people will have a tough time for about a year and everybody will have to sustain hardships until the economy stabilises. Some of the recent measures taken by the Government to boost the economy have affected the public purse. Electricity tariffs have increased, some subsidies have been curtailed while income tax rates have shot up considerably.

No other Government would have taken those steps if it was possible to circumvent them as they are well aware of the negative political repercussions. But with the precarious situation of the current economy there seems to be no other alternative. Besides, certain tough conditions have to be fulfilled to obtain International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance.

It is a proven fact that the country is already in a slightly better economic position in comparison to the latter stages of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime. There are no more queues for fuel, LP Gas or essential food items and electricity is available around the clock. Prices of essential food items such as rice, sugar, flour, potatoes, onion and dried fish also have decreased slightly, easing the budget of the ordinary masses.

Schools are functioning on all five days and the exams are held on schedule. Foreign exchange also has started flowing into the country by way of tourism, expatriate worker remittances and marginally improved export products.

Protests, strikes and demonstrations

It is a common sight to see anti-Government protests, strikes, demonstrations and social upheavals almost every day in the city and even in outstations mainly based on the tax revisions and some economic policies of the Government.

Most of these strikes and protests are conducted by radical political party trade unionists who are anxiously impatient to see the economic disaster in the country. They know very well that when the IMF facility is given the country could return to normality and that they will not be able to retain even their present position as a political force. Therefore, their main intention is to create a chaotic situation in the country so that the snail’s pace economic recovery that the country has achieved right now could be stalled.

The Government had formulated a comprehensive program to strengthen the economy from all possible avenues in addition to IMF assistance. They expect an improvement in the external finances but may face setbacks while the production of goods and services could be reduced if these protests continue to occur every now and then.

At the beginning of 2023 there was a significant improvement in the country’s earnings from tourism and inward remittances. Annual tourist earnings are about US$ 4 billion and inward remittances are about US$ 5 billion. These expectations may not be realised if the protests continue and hamper tourist arrivals.

Tourism is the most vulnerable forex earner for any country and unless a peaceful and affable public environment is found, foreigners will not be attracted to any country. With these political upheavals the country could be deemed an unsafe travel destination which would be a serious blow to the promotion of tourism and the country’s external finances.

The Government is threatened by multiple trade union actions in vital sectors such as health, education, ports, power and energy which directly affects the livelihood of the entire nation, mainly based on the tax revision of the employees.

It is very surprising to see that the members of professional bodies such as university dons, doctors , engineers, accountants and academics all of whom had free education and all facilities at State expense are also revolting against the Government despite its humble request to sustain some hardships for a limited period of time until the economy becomes stabilised. Many professionals have left the island already with no feelings whatsoever for the motherland at this crucial hour. It may lead to a long term adverse impact on the future economic situation in the country.

The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) appreciated sharply during the last couple of weeks against the US dollar which will bring down the cost of essential imported items. President Wickremesinghe recently said that if we make some sacrifices now, there will be a better tomorrow for our children. But this has to be a collective effort and all stakeholders should treat it as a national duty.

If the economy falls apart even the Opposition will have no country left to govern if and when they come to power. That is why we can no longer afford to engage in petty political bickering and street agitations which will not resolve the burning issues at hand.

Unruly university students

Radical extremist political parties have consolidated their position in the universities indoctrinating their ideologies into the minds of newcomers and almost every day these party leaders drag them to the streets to protest against the Government on issues not even relevant to them.

It is a well known fact that most of these undergraduates take part in these protests due to the sheer pressure exerted on them by union leaders who are well looked after by the political party hierarchy.

State Minister of Education Dr. Suren Raghavan recently said in Parliament that the Government is spending nearly Rs. 250 million on university education and this amount of money goes down the drain as the undergraduates are mostly on the streets rather than attending lectures on University premises.

These bankrupt political party leaders want to disrupt the slow economic progress of the country by way of these agitations and compelling the security forces to resort to severe measures where they could then shout saying that the Government is violating fundamental rights.

Public opinion

The public opinion is that political parties should shed their political differences for a short period and support the Government to get out of this economic catastrophe as the President has told very clearly that he would put the country back on track by the end of the year.

The constant strikes, protests, agitations and social upheavals will only lead to the termination of the snail’s pace economic recovery in the country, which will not benefit anyone.