Our 20/20 hindsight | Sunday Observer

Our 20/20 hindsight

14 May, 2023

Sri Lanka’s poverty figures have doubled says a spokesperson for an international lending agency, and this news comes on the same week it has been said that Covid is not officially a pandemic any more.

Poverty figures doubling is made more poignant by the fact that the Vesak crowds this year were muted. The numbers joining the throng in the streets were few compared to previous active years of celebrations before the Easter Sunday attacks and so on ensured a Vesak hiatus in the last three years.

But the poverty figures are now treated as a cypher. They are not. They mean that there was a failure in administration and governance that was of course tied to issues of debt and mismanagement. But those issues were ever present. It’s the pandemic and the botched response to it that triggered the immediate calamities that caused the decline into hitherto unprecedented poverty with the amount of people plunging below the poverty line doubling within a single year.

It shows policy can never be one dimensional. Doctors who urged the harshest of lockdowns during the height of the Covid contagion are now AWOL. A lot of them have migrated without notifying the authorities, causing a fresh health sector calamity of sorts. These doctors didn’t so much as stay back to take stock and perhaps assess what the Covid lockdown policy did to the country. In other words they contributed to the damage and scuttled off as soon as the repercussions started becoming dire.


If anything, it does show that leadership is not about listening to every Tom Pachaya and Haramanis. But the crashing of economies all over the world took place to the background noise of Covid related lockdown propaganda. It was axiomatic that economies would crash and burn if they are shut down without any plan, but that was made to be seen as a virtue.

Who is now going to write the book about how to reverse these negative trends in leadership? Nobody perhaps. The calling of the ‘truce’ on Covid came with a whimper when the World Health Organization announced last week that the disease will no longer be considered a pandemic.

But poverty of the order that has been spawned in this country is the poverty that has no fathers, and no authors. It’s a form of poverty that’s been foisted — if you ask the powers that be — by even greater powers that be, being those in the heavens. But the signs were there though few recognised them, and the warnings were given.

If there is to be one track focus on Covid only, there would be a calamity. But of course there is the attempt to father the inflation and the negative economic record of most countries post-Covid on bad policy rather than on the over-reaction to Covid. It’s being said that money infusions caused inflation. But nobody talks about the money that was spent to prevent stock market crashes in some countries.

This shows sleight of hand. The poor people were shortchanged. They were given a tuppence, but their businesses were shut down and their opportunities to succeed in entrepreneurship minimised. This is in most countries, but in nations such as ours the impact was worse due to the fact that we were saddled with debt, which is an old story now.

Notice that when there is a post-mortem about what happened in this country the lockdown policies are never spoken of. In the seminar rooms, that’s not fashionable. They’d rather talk about abstruse issues and statistical probabilities, and of course about how the politics of this country is responsible for everything.

Our politics has been putrid, but when there is bad policy the death knell sounds quicker. Nobody explains why there is a Covid-policy today that looks like a sudden about turn. The conventional wisdom has now all been turned on its head. There are no vaccine mandates or anything akin these days. Is it because it took so long for leaders to learn that these policies can’t quite be implemented the way they want them?


The real answer to these questions have to be found by looking at the havoc that was caused by unleashing anti-Covid policy that was not sustainable. There was a time run. There was always going to be a time run.

From the beginning it was figured out by the elite who foisted shortsighted policy, that they cannot sell these policies for an eternity. They had a limited window in time to carry out policy that was ill-advised.

With regard to the poverty that has been unleashed as a result, it’s also one of those largely unspoken aspects in assessing the economy, and the general state of the country. For instance with regard to Vesak, economists and others made some rather muted noises about how the celebrations have been kept to a minimum due to the economic crisis.

Who kept them to a minimum? The policymakers? That’s a moronic answer. People were unable to celebrate because they couldn’t by and large bear the extra costs. Ergo, token celebrations were undertaken because this was a proper Vesak after so many years and it had to be celebrated in some form.

It was not as if the people had to be told that they have to celebrate sparingly. That’s ludicrous. They cannot indulge in wasteful behaviours because they have nothing in their pockets they can waste, even for a bit of fun. It’s a small wonder that most people in the lower-middle-classes manage to get by in the first place.

Policymakers caused these problems which makes it clear that following the policymakers directive is not necessarily going to change the general economic outlook. Whoever the policymakers are in the future and whoever they are now, the people have to be rather wary about top-down wisdom. Top-down wisdom about Covid buried us, and now the physicians who imparted this wisdom have scooted off.

The people are made to bear the brunt of it all as if it was their doing in the first place that brought us to this pass.

A lifestyle of utter frugality has been foisted on the people. This is not good for the economy either but nobody tells people that. In any event people are not supposed to understand economics. They are told that economics is something that happens to them, which they have absolutely no control over.


That’s a fallacy. If people only have some control over the politicians they elect they can stave off most of the calamities that beset them. But people have no such control. It’s because the policies that are foisted on them comes at them from a strange place.

They are told that they have to follow certain policies because they know nothing about what’s happening. That was the mantra with Covid. Physicians said only they knew how to heal. But when they couldn’t heal the economy after the subsequent crash, they bolted.

Is there one lesson from it all? If there is, it’s that there is no such thing as accountability. Can the people hold the doctors who bolted to account? That’s impossible. It means that people have to get used to being wary, and should keep their own counsel.

But when there is a crisis, their good senses are often superseded by the herd instinct.

That’s what happened with misguided Covid policy. This was a common story the world over, but was particularly problematic in this country because our leadership at that time was completely one track and pig-headed.

What other consequences are there from certain policies that come with issues such as Covid which are of foreign origin? It’s like being given a drug with massive side effects. The side effects are never discussed or even spoken about.

Those who are administered the medicine exist in a bubble — they are ecstatic thinking they have managed to control the disease. That’s until the side effects begin to show over time.

Then they have to face new maladies altogether, but not even doctors are there to connect the dots. Our economy crashed in a similar way. But there is new medicine now, and nobody still talks about side effects.