Oct 15, 2018

Coming out of this “Fools Paradise”

The dwindling Rupee has jerked the “Yahapalana” (Good Governance) government wide awake to face “the reality” they preferred to ignore. Since assuming office in January 2015 and promising a better managed economy and jobs, comfortable living and social stability, the “yahapalana rulers” are now told by a depreciating Rupee that they have completely failed. On a heavily depreciated Rupee, President Sirisena is now speculating whether to give into Rajapaksa’s demand to rule the roost.

Against this backdrop of the latest promise by SLFP rebels to form an “Interim Government” led by Rajapaksa after defeating the Budget 2019, “Yahapalana” economics have not been able to stem the Rupee fall. PM Wickremesinghe now says it is a global crisis, not just ours. That clears US President Donald Trump and Rajapaksa’s Chinese loans of any culpability. If Rajapaksa is able to win his gamble of an “Interim Government” without any backtracking by Sirisena , the blame for the Rupee decline would be left squarely on “Yahapalanaya rule” for Rajapaksa’s convenience.

Yet the story of the Rupee would not come to an end on that or any sooner. Since 1978 with the free market economy, the Rupee came crumbling too. In early 1977, the Rupee was 5.95 for a US dollar. After President Jayewardene devalued the Rupee in late 1977,it was 16.00 per US dollar in 1978. During the Premadasa era it was Rs.25.79. During Madam Kumaranatunge’s two terms as President the Rupee declined further from 34.92 in 1995 November to 44.39 in end 2005. At the closing of the year 2014 when Rajapaksa went to polls, the Rupee was 131.21. In less than four years of “Yahapalanaya” rule the Rupee has hit a devastating low of 170 for a US dollar. Despite small and short random appreciations twice or thrice during this whole 40-year period, the Rupee has continually depreciated by 284 per cent under every President and every Finance Minister in every government in this heavily liberalized free market economy.

This free market economy also left an ever widening foreign trade deficit all through 40 years. Ushered in when the foreign trade deficit in 1978 was 68.5 million USD, the deficit grew to 721.0 million,12 years later in 1990. When we stepped into the New Millennium, it was 838 million USD. When elections were fought in end 2014 to oust Rajapaksa the deficit was 8,201.66 million and three years of “Yahapalana” rule, further increased the foreign trade deficit to Rs.9,600 million USD at the end of 2017.

Against a growing foreign trade deficit, the export income could only cover around 50 per cent of the import cost.Though ‘experts’ speak of an “impressive export growth in 2017”, the revenue was only 11.4 billion USD, against an import cost of 21 billion.Success of the apparel industry that is said to earn around 40 per cent of foreign trade income is a total lie. All raw material and accessories for apparel manufacture is imported at around 18 per cent of our total import expense (based on data from World Integrated Trade Solution). In 2017, while apparel export income was boasted as 4.82 billion USD, the cost of imported raw materials was around 3.8 billion.This leaves only aone billion USD gain from apparels. Compared to heavy cost the tax payers incur to provide numerous concessions and benefits to these export manufacturers packaged with an uncivilized, unconstitutional leverage to axe trade union rights of workers, a nett gain of one billion in 2017 is actually a loss. The pathetic side of these much fancied export manufacture revenue earned through FDIs, is told by migrant labour.Young women who slave for a pauper’s wage in the Mid East included, migrant labour remitted 7.1 billion USD the same year,that amounts to over 60 per cent of the total revenue from all goods exported.

This continuing perversion in a free market for the “filthy rich” has left an expanding Colombo city packed with sprawling high-rise apartments, shopping malls, restaurants, private hospital complexes, jogging paths, car parks with snail pace vehicular traffic on all roads. Meanwhile, the vehicle import industry has grown into a disturbing but a high-profit trade. We thus had 1.09 million 3wheelers, 3.5 million motorcycles and 6.6 million vehicles on the roads, end 2016. It also means, an adult population of around 15 million has 11 million private vehicles of two, three or four wheels. High speed commercially expanding Colombo with two or three satellite urban centres around, has left 70.4 million rural lives without decent incomes. Micro finance companies have moved ruthlessly to exploit the desperate efforts of these men and women in finding livelihood opportunities. It had left people as beggars with no social right to beg. They have to struggle to “survive and exist”.

The larger majority though used as voters to periodically elect governments are left in the periphery of the urban centred market. Free market also leaves education, health and public transport almost in chaos with governments not taking responsibility. With judiciary and law enforcement accepted as inefficient and corrupt,justice and fair play remains a distant dream without big money or political power to lean on. Free market “democracy” is not for the two million plus workers. Fundamental right to form trade unions and become members guaranteed by the Constitution under 14(1)(d) in Chapter III is consciously and ruthlessly denied to workers on terms and conditions laid down by employers. This now brings the added threat of losing employment to cheap labour brought from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.The type of bonded labour the Britishers brought for the plantations, a Century and a half ago.

That’s what “development” is in this free market economy. The passed forty years has proved that “development through FDIs and export manufacture is a horrible false promise.Free market performance has only been far worse year on year and cannot even provide for half of our needs. It has also proved that all what the people sacrificed in terms of tax revenue, debts incurred and dwindling rupee with violations of fundamental rights have only led to mega corruption all round and mayhem in governance.

Forty years is no short life in a nation. Forty years of plunder and looting in this free market has left a country, no one can honestly say “I am proud to be Sri Lankan”, unless paid for commercial advertising. This situation demands, and the people must demand at least a basic programme for socio economic and cultural improvement of life that would reach rural society as well. People should demand a new paradigm in development from political leaders, before listening to their stupid promises about change of governments “to save the country”. People need to demand a development paradigm based on:

1. Implementation of the APRC Final Report in full within 06 months, after making it a public document for social discourse

2. Ensuring Chapter III, Constitution 14(1) is effectively guaranteed in full with trade union rights included in BOI guidelines as mentioned in the Constitution

3. A five-year national socio economic and cultural development programme with due importance for environmental safety and improvement included and also clear identification of areas that FDIs should be sought for, made public for social discourse before parliament approves it for implementation

4. A disaster management plan for districts identified for possible earth slips and floods with environmental safety nets and development/improvement of the national green canopy

5. An educational reforms committee mandated to propose within a year through public consultations, far reaching reforms in all aspects of formal education including higher education

6. Develop a national health policy with greater emphasis on preventive and community health services,giving provincial administration the power to administer and implement

7. Public commuter transport, both rail and road, to be the responsibility of the government and developed as efficient, comfortable and affordable, combined commuter service

8. Complete ban on vehicle import permits and import of vehicles to be strictly regulated for public and State needs

9. The construction of high rise apartments, condominiums and shopping malls to be immediately controlled and regulated with serious and important focus given to neighbourhood social space and common utilities

10. New cess levy (Rs.10 per litre) on all imported fruit and synthetic beverages/cordials/drinks to be channelled to a legally constituted state of the art Agri Research Centre that should develop new post harvest technologies, value adding processes for shelf life, new crops for commercial farming (Wood apple, Beli fruit etc,) within agreed time frames

11. Develop freshwater fish culturing through cottage level farming with a floor price slapped on ‘fingerlings’ and a cess levied on all imported (though locally canned) fish to be used for promotion of fresh water fish farming

12. Abolish the present annual decentralised budgeting for members of parliament with equal allocations provided to provincial councils with special development projects with proven feasibility

If society does not take the responsibility to hold political parties and their leaders responsible for holistic development on a clear programme agreed upon through people’s participation, the crumbling Rupee may see the “yahapalanaya” government crumble too. But that would definitely not bring answers to a crumbling economy and a continuously fooled society living in a ‘fool’s paradise’.