Politics of #GotaGoHome protests and arrival of IMF
Present economic chaos is neither “pandemic” made nor “Gota” made crisis per se. It was in the making with the free market economy for decades, was accelerated on top gear during the second presidential tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa and continued with less noise through “yahapalanaya” of PM Wickramasinghe. The heavily corrupt and looted economy by then got stuck with the Covid-19 pandemic and was shattered into smithereens under President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, handled by a set of loony amateurs.
Initial collapse of the economy was spoken of in the agricultural sector with the total ban on chemical fertiliser and agri-inputs in end April 2021. By December 2021 there was growing resentment in the urban middleclass over quality of LP gas and its shortage with power cuts and fuel shortages bringing the forex crisis into the open in early January 2022. Towards mid-February, with urban middleclass life going haywire, Gota government was challenged by them at popular city locations. That led to the new middleclass protest culture at Galle face as the #GotaGoHome youth protest in first week of April with heavy campaigning on social media.
Youth groups that originally flagged the #GotaGoHome protest have now basically settled with unforeseen, unexpected double entry of Wickramasinghe as Executive President, heading a seemingly non-Rajapaksa government. #GotaGoHome campaigners have also gone silent on their initial public calls to reject the 225 Member parliament as corrupt. Recent appointments of 37 State Ministers have also left out 03 of the 04 Rajapaksas in parliament. With a few days pause on “power cuts” followed by a 01 hour plus tolerable cut with fuel queues out of sight, the urban middleclass has gradually gone back to their usual lifestyle, though with some uncertainty.
Political groups in the fringe who picked up on the protests from Galle face green took them out onto the streets as violent street fights inviting heavy repression from Wickramasinghe rule. Their call against arrests of “peaceful protesters” are being isolated from society, with the urban middleclass focussed more on “social stability necessary” and the would-be outcome of the “IMF bailout”. The repression meanwhile continues using the dreadful Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with President Wickramasinghe least concerned about UNHRC Sessions, their Reports and Resolutions over 12 years old and with nothing conclusive. They don’t play adversely anymore on Wickramasinghe in Sri Lankan politics.
Geo-politics of “regime change”
Wickramasinghe first brought in as PM on 12 May with the ouster of PM Rajapaksa, immediately lifted the submerged economic crisis out from its political pit, in very concrete terms. He was obviously expected to lift the economic crisis into the major platform of social concern to revive the shattered open market economy. With a very bleak picture painted on the immediate future of the country he assured, “our friendly nations will come to assist us, but that would take a few months”. The implied message was his presence is what brings in aid from “friendly nations” and he is indispensable.
This novel “regime change” now firmly established with Wickramasinghe as Executive President. leaves covert geo-political manoeuvrings more conspicuous for political beavers to tunnel through. It’s seriously unthinkable how Sinhala-Buddhist South with its very backward culture, would have coined a slogan in English as #GotaGoHome. History of protests in Sinhala South have never known any slogan or demand coined in English. The slogan “Go Home” is quite common in English-speaking Western bloc, that Wickramasinghe calls “our friendly nations”. Obviously, it was planted in social media through few FB savvy youth. The campaign was being planned elsewhere with youth given a new “peaceful” flavour in protests calling for a “regime change” they did not know. They were not even aware despite their #GotaGoHome campaign, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was not the real target. The regime change planned was a “personality change” with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa sent home to install Wickramasinghe as PM.
Wickramasinghe’s ascend was seen by the urban middleclass as positive. Their distancing from Galle face thereafter led to leadership conflicts with numerous youth groups claiming sole ownership for the franchise of #GotaGoHome campaign and protest that was fast declining.
When parliament met on 17 May after a long adjournment the TNA Jaffna District MP Sumanthiran presenting his No Confidence Motion (NCM) against President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in parliament, divulged a totally unknown connection between Wickramasinghe and the #GotaGoHome protest. He said Wickramasinghe vetted the NCM draft on 26 April and sent it to Galle face campaign organisers to obtain their approval before giving his consent to support the NCM. Sumanthiran for sure would not have let that cat out of the bag, had Wickramasinghe stayed with his previous promise to support the NCM in parliament.
That revealed links between Galle face protest, a politically scheming Wickramasinghe and the regime change the US had always wanted with them counting shots in a free market economy. US Ambassadress in Colombo Ms. Julie Chung was seen hurrying to protest against oppressive security intervention at Galle face on 09 May afternoon but had no interest in condemning attacks on public and private property and private residences of government politicians the following day. It took Ambassadress Chung hardly one hour to wish PM Wickramasinghe in a tweet after he was sworn in as PM promising the US would support Sri Lanka with IMF negotiations. PM Wickramasinghe’s decision to work along with IMF, was decided in Washington DC, before Colombo.
Next morning, first to meet PM Wickramasinghe were the Indian High Commissioner and the Ambassador for Japan in Colombo, two of the 04 “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” (QSD) partners, others being the US and the Aussies. The US and India have always been overly concerned about China in Bay of Bengal and in Indo Pacific region that leave Sri Lanka as everyone’s pet pawn.
Then came the historic event of US Ambassadress Chung meeting with JVP leaders Anura Kumara and Vijitha Herath on 14 May at their party headquarters. While the JVP still pretends indifferent to that crucially timed surprising meet, Ambassadress Chung tweeted the same evening, “I continue to meet with a wide range of political representatives to encourage the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to move toward sustainable, inclusive solutions to the economic crisis,”. She had begun her campaign with no loss of time to ensure Wickramasinghe will not be adversely pressured by Opposition political parties.
Meanwhile new protests began with the Sinhala generic “aragalaya” by the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) with ferocious outbursts using their politically monopolised Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), their party cadres and affiliates in semi-rural society brought to the streets against President Gotabhaya. This compelled the JVP to keep abreast of the vociferous FSP protests to satisfy their now mellowed party fans. Thus, forcing President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to vacate his official residence and subsequently the presidency. That in turn gave Wickramasinghe the executive presidential power he was always denied through elections.
US has always been an important political ally for all who wanted the Rajapaksa regime ousted. One should also keep in mind it was the US and its Western lobby that created and funded the anti-Rajapaksa campaign on HR violations with elite Colombo based non-governmental organisations till 2015 January ouster of Rajapaksa government. These HR campaigners were shuttling between Geneva and Colombo twice every year till 2015, though not seen or heard now
Can Wickramasinghe sustain himself?
There is in Colombo middleclass society, more within the traditional and especially the globally exposed bi-lingual urbans, a subconscious feeling Wickramasinghe would be the leader who could muster international support to get Sri Lanka on its feet once again. For most Sri Lankans “International Community” is nothing but the Western power bloc. Within the traditional business community too there are corporate heads who prefer Wickramasinghe to most others. Their need to have a Western looking liberal leader, make them ignore the fact he miserably failed twice before. His reputation as an efficient and an effective political manager was proved a “tailored image” with faulty measurements that went beyond his capabilities. During his second tenure from 2015 January, he also failed to prove he is “Mr. Clean” as projected in urban middleclass circles.
Brought to replace the two top Rajapaksas in power and to work in tandem with the IMF, he is deep in a political crisis, while being tasked with the major responsibility of getting the dismantled economy put together. Interlocked, the two crises also provide him space though uncomfortable, for a political move or two. He has to ensure the SLPP parliamentary group stays with him, loyal or not. He also has to show the world he is in control of State agencies, including police and the defence forces. And then develop trust in urban society and in the private business community, he can negotiate an IMF bailout to revive the local economy. In short, he has to show the local and the international community, he is “not Gotabhaya”.
His initial effort was to keep the SLPP group pacified with a “Rajapaksa loyalist” (a Royalist too) appointed as Prime Minister with a small group of 18 more as cabinet ministers, to also impress People he is not wasting public funds on a jumbo cabinet. His attempt to please the People had to be abandoned to please SLPP and SLFP MPs in government. He has to make sure of a stable majority in parliament to push through bills and enactments as required by IMF conditions. He was thus compelled to compromise with the SLPP majority and some in the SLFP to provide 37 more positions as State Ministers.
Rest is now history with numerous interpretations about the #GotaGoHome Galle face protest, Wickramasinghe’s entry and the “aragalaya” thereafter. Now its IMF and Wickramasinghe who are in control of reviving the SL economy on their own terms. But what of the IMF bailout package itself with conditions not clearly spelt out? Will they lead to a new round of social protests outside everything that was mapped for Galle face? With just 01 vote in parliament and compelled to depend on SLPP vote bloc can Wickramasinghe hang on to the next 02 remaining years in power? IMF bailout package in a way would be the deciding factor of his stay.
– Kusal Perera
21 September 2022
Part II is to follow…
The consequences brought about by the political and economic crisis occurring in Sri Lanka
It is very important to carefully see how the course of action of events played out and their essential impact on the country’s system. All this, while we observe the commemoration of Sri Lanka’s Politics and its budgetary crisis. In appearing to hate its excellent ordinary environment and wide social legacy, Sri Lanka is overseeing a multifaceted emergency.
The crisis began in the year 2022, enveloping the nation in an all-encompassing obscurity that brought to light the weaknesses within Sri Lanka’s political and economic spheres. The merging of challenges spanning politics, economy, and society coalesced into an ideal tempest, prompting worries about the nation’s stability, prospects for regional cooperation, and the possibility of extensive consequences. This piece delves deep into the crucial occurrences during the crisis, its roots, its aftermath, and the steps undertaken to initiate recuperation.
Unfolding of the Crisis
One year earlier, the emergence of the crisis in Sri Lanka stemmed from an intricate interplay of political instability, regulatory uncertainty, and economic adversity. The power struggle among key stakeholders needs clarification, as it rendered the government incapable of making informed decisions. Simultaneously, economic indicators plummeted, leading to a surge in unemployment, inflation, and strained fiscal circumstances.
The economic crisis gripping Sri Lanka is deeply intertwined with the fusion of its political and economic elements. Political disagreements, corruption allegations, and a lack of cohesive governance have strained the foundation of the nation’s democratic structure. Financial mismanagement, high inflation, escalating debt, and a weakened currency compounded the situation, intensifying public discontent and hardship.
At the heart of this crisis lie longstanding issues that have simmered beneath the surface for years. Ethnic and religious tensions, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, and ineffective governance mechanisms have all contributed to the maelstrom. The once unifying factors of the country have now become potential fault lines, widening divisions and impeding efforts at reconciliation.
Consequences and Impact Unveiled
The aftermath of the crisis rippled across a wide spectrum, yielding intricate and far- reaching effects. In the realm of politics, the erosion of public faith in Sri Lanka’s democratic framework has bred discontent and skepticism among citizens, casting shadows of doubt upon their leaders’ competence to navigate the nation toward stability. Economically, the nation’s global standing suffered a blow, deterring foreign investment and straining its balance of payments.
The human toll exacted by the crisis is substantial: job security is disrupted, and individuals find themselves enveloped in social unrest and a fog of uncertainty. Many, particularly those in vulnerable situations, bear the aftershocks of the crisis.
Political upheaval: Sri Lankan politics has been characterized by power struggles, shifts in government, and a dearth of political cohesion. This instability has hindered effective decision-making and eroded public trust in the governance.
Financial turmoil: Escalating inflation, unemployment, and a weakened currency have impacted households and eroded investor confidence. Mounting government debt and discrepancies in public finances have constrained the government’s ability to implement growth-oriented strategies.
Social turmoil: Owing to economic adversity and ethnic divisions, social tensions have contributed to widespread protests and demonstrations. Left unaddressed, this discontent threatens to escalate further.
Impact on the South Asian Region
The repercussions of the Sri Lankan crisis transcend its borders, exerting a broader influence on the South Asian region in manifold ways. Given Sri Lanka’s strategic position within the Indian Ocean, its internal instability has the potential to disrupt regional equilibrium, impacting trade routes and maritime security, particularly concerning neighboring nations like India.
Moreover, the interdependence of economies across South Asia implies that Sri Lanka’s economic challenges could reverberate among trade partners, potentially impeding economic progress across the region. The instability and financial hardships linked to the crisis might also trigger heightened migration, posing dilemmas for neighboring countries grappling with refugee inflows and integration issues.
Furthermore, the crisis might strain Sri Lanka’s relationships with other South Asian nations, potentially hindering collective efforts on vital regional matters such as climate change, and trade. Concerns also arise over the potential exploitation of the crisis by external entities, potentially exacerbating existing regional rivalries and geopolitical tensions.
“The interrelated nature of these challenges emphasizes the requirement for joint endeavors, encompassing stability and economic approaches, to benefit both Sri Lanka and the wider region. This contemplation underscores how the crisis serves as a crucial juncture for Sri Lanka’s revival and the progress of the entire South Asian arena” Kamil Kuthubdeen, Chairman of Global Business Trust LLC, Dubai said.
“In a bid to curb inflation and foster a degree of political and economic stability, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented much needed fiscal reforms” Kamil Kuthubdeen added.
Initiatives encompassed the establishment of institutions, combating corruption, reinstating investor trust, and fostering social unity. The global community, too, contributed by providing aid and technical proficiency. In the following years, Sri Lanka embarked on a challenging journey of reconstruction and resurgence. Its objectives included fortifying democratic structures, fostering amity among ethnic communities, and pursuing sustainable economic advancement. Despite gradual strides and hurdles, the unwavering determination of the Sri Lankan populace remained evident.
Sri Lanka stands at a pivotal juncture in its narrative. The lessons assimilated from history should navigate the country toward a future characterized by stability, prosperity and harmony.
– Luxman Peiris
Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of www.srilankamirror.com
NHDA’s controversial actions cast a shadow on new investments in the country
The National Housing Development Authority (NHDA), established with the aim of accelerating housing development in the country, finds itself entangled in a web of controversies that has become a major deterrent for new investments into the nation. Despite its mission to expedite progress, the NHDA’s actions have raised concerns and led to legal battles, hindering the growth of vital projects. This article delves into four specific cases where NHDA’s high-handed approach has resulted in legal disputes and examines the potential impact of these actions on the country’s investment climate.
Projects in Limbo
1. Darley Road Project: In a puzzling turn of events, the NHDA seized possession of land despite the developer holding the title deed and fulfilling financial obligations. The developer, having paid the full land price along with a profit share to NHDA, was still subjected to forceful eviction. The matter reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of returning the land’s possession to the developer until the case reaches a conclusion.
2. Eco Homes Project: The NHDA’s actions cast shadows over the Eco Homes Project, where the developer had completed piling work and paid the necessary land costs to NHDA. Despite these efforts, NHDA assumed control of the land, leading to a legal battle that now resides in court. This incident underscores the complexities arising from NHDA’s intervention in project ownership.
3. Bambalapitiya Flats Project: Another troubling instance comes from the Bambalapitiya Flats Project. NHDA’s attempt to terminate a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement was met with opposition from various quarters, including the Attorney General’s department and NHDA’s own legal team, who advocated for a settlement with the developer. Disregarding these recommendations, NHDA’s decision has now escalated to International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration, with the developer seeking substantial damages.
4. Edmonton Flats Project: The Edmonton Flats Project further exemplifies NHDA’s turbulent track record. By prematurely terminating an ongoing project, NHDA compelled the developer to resort to arbitration. The recent shift in stance by NHDA to seek a compromise demonstrates the agency’s inconsistent handling of critical development projects.
Stifling Investment Prospects
The NHDA’s actions not only jeopardize ongoing projects but also present a significant challenge to attracting new investments into the country. The development landscape is marred by uncertainties and disputes that make potential investors wary of committing their resources. The prevalent atmosphere of harassment and roadblocks faced by existing developers raises concerns about the government’s commitment to providing a conducive environment for investment.
The Need for Resolution
If the country seeks to attract and retain investors, it must address the concerns raised by existing developers. The unresolved issues surrounding NHDA’s actions highlight the need for clear and consistent policy directives. Without transparent guidelines and prompt resolutions to disputes, the country’s investment climate is likely to remain stagnant, with investors hesitant to engage in projects that could potentially be marred by bureaucratic hurdles and legal battles. A thorough examination is underway by our team.
The NHDA’s role in promoting housing development in the country has come under scrutiny due to its controversial actions that have culminated in legal battles and a lack of investor confidence. The cases of Darley Road, Eco Homes, Bambalapitiya Flats, and Edmonton Flats projects underscore the urgency of establishing a conducive environment for investment. By rectifying these issues, the government can demonstrate its commitment to fostering growth, encouraging both existing and potential investors to contribute to the nation’s progress. Clear policy directions and a transparent dispute resolution framework are imperative to pave the way for a thriving investment landscape in the country.
– Lakshman Fernando
Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of www.srilankamirror.com
Media ‘regulation’ is people’s business not Government’s
Except in Opposition political party leaderships, there is not much interest in the ‘Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act’ the Government plans to present for parliamentary approval. Most vociferous media activists and media organisations are not very conspicuous in protests against this piece of law that reads terribly nasty on democratic life of people and society. In summary, the Act would provide the “commission” the power to act against any broadcaster through its “investigation committee” on its own initiative or on a complaint that claims violation of the act itself, violation of the code of ethics prepared under this Act, violation of conditions laid in the license and in anything that threatens “national security, national economy and ethno-religious amity.”
To consent to these clauses, one should first know what the “code of ethics” contain, what conditions are laid in the license and most importantly definitions and demarcations of “national security.” There can be no justification also in keeping anything labelled as “national economy” outside the scrutiny of the people. Media therefore should have freedom to review, critique and report any protest against economic policy of the Government. Ethno-religious amity in present day Sri Lanka can be anything the law enforcement authorities would wish to understand as, and interpret as they interpret ICCPR provisions. Thus to have them with no clear and precise definitions in the Act would leave massive discretionary space with the authorities in applying the Act as they wish.
That noted with heavy resentment, more disturbing is how the Opposition in parliament avoids the question whether “broadcasting” should be regulated or not. Major concerns raised by Opposition ranks are about provisions of this Act, and not on “regulating broadcasting”. On what was berated in parliament by some Opposition MPs on this proposed regulatory commission, it is quite evident they know nothing about broadcasting and digital frequencies.
Quite different to “print media”, all broadcasting that includes telecasting, is solely dependent on “digital frequencies”. It is therefore important to know the difference between “printing paper” used in print media and “digital frequencies” used in broadcasting. In print media, everything from the whole establishment, editorial resources, printing and printing paper to distribution and sales is owned and managed by the investor(s) with the exclusive right to decide what type of a newspaper s/he would publish. The investor(s) also has the right to decide “editorial policy” of his or her newspaper.
Newspapers nevertheless have to be within accepted journalistic ethics and within the law of the land. For instance, when “criminal defamation law” was in force, newspapers had to abide by that law, while they had the freedom to campaign against it. They have the right to decide whatever political party they would wish to support or any social issue they would stand for. But they cannot for instance, contribute to ethno-religious hatred and divisions in their newspapers. That being the theoretical and legal position, what is practised in this Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka is quite the opposite.
In theory, that freedom of a newspaper owner is not allowed for broadcasters. Fundamental reason being “printing paper” used as conveyor of news and information in print media is privately owned, while “digital frequencies” are publicly owned. They are neither owned by the “State” nor can they be sold. The State is only the “custodian” of frequencies on behalf of People. The Government as the political leadership that manages the State becomes decision makers in how frequencies could be used for public good and benefit. It is for that reason the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) was legally established.
Yet, the TRC cannot sell licenses outright for use of “permitted frequencies” or issue on long-term lease. Nor can licenses be transferred, leased or sold to others by license holders. Licenses issued therefore have to be slapped with “terms and conditions” on use of the license and on conditions for broadcasting. As property of the people, everything about licenses including conditions, should be made public no sooner they are issued.
Once again this being Sri Lanka, nothing regarding issuing of frequencies and license holders are being published. Everything about issuing of frequencies are held secret by the TRC itself. Reality being, people nor the parliament is aware how many licenses have been issued for what frequency bundles, who holds them and on what conditions. Thus broadcasters have come to treat frequencies as owned by them and use them as they wish. This has led to a pathetic breakdown of rights and ethics within media itself, including the State owned.
As with every State owned entity, State owned media institutions are treated as political property of the government in power. Neither the minister in charge nor the personnel placed for management of State owned media know, frequencies in use are public property and they are bound to respect social impartiality and independence of broadcasting.
All private broadcasting owned by the filthy rich in this nauseatingly corrupt free market economy, are far worse than even the State. No private broadcaster allows his/her employees the fundamental right of forming a trade union and becoming a member of a trade union as guaranteed under Article 14.1(d) and ILO Conventions 87 and 98 ratified by the GoSL. Worst is the role of the Labour Department that behaves as if they are not aware of such violations of fundamental rights.
To make everything bad in media far worse, no media organisation, no media activist group demands the right to form trade unions and be members of a trade union of their choice. This timid acceptance of a grave suppression of rights, has turned media personnel into caged parakeets of colour. They are definitely not aware they are also bound by social responsibility in using frequencies owned by the people. Instead they believe their role is to serve the owner of the media company and may be achieve some popularity as a “screen face.” This slavish mentality especially in electronic media has denied professionalism in our media.
Media workers with no professional ethics sitting in front of cameras and microphones owned by private dealers cannot in any society contribute to social awareness and to decent entertainment with aesthetic and educational value. The result is quite evident. All “stations” compete with each other in broadcasting cheap and primitive programs; on astrology, feudal traditions and primitive values, bull fights like political brawls, fancy imitations of reality shows and the like with racist campaigns in between. Over decades of such broadcasting has left a selfish society with warped attitudes and devalued mentalities. In brief, media, especially the broadcasting media that is exceptionally penetrating is part responsible for the political and social rut this country is in.
That is ample reason for “regulating media”. Especially “content” regulation in Sri Lanka. Regulating does not mean “controlling, suppressing or throttling dissent.” It only means laying down specially demarcated areas the media, especially the broadcasting media should be cautious in handling “content” with responsibility. Lest they trespass forbidden ground as ethno-religious frictions, ignore or being negative towards marginalised and vulnerable social groups, social ethics and such.
In the UK and in France with far more advanced societies not only economically but culturally too, “regulating media” is in practice. In France, even commercial advertising comes under strict regulation with media owners required to publish their charges; “global price of advertising campaigns and the unitary price charged for each advertising space.” Copyright regulation is another with provisions for far more regional access allowed within the EU.
In the UK to quote Article XIX, “The print media is entirely self-regulating in the United Kingdom and operates free of any specific statutory rules. The profession has established the Press Complaints Commission on its own initiative, and this body has developed a code against which to measure journalistic standards. For the broadcast media, two broadcasting acts set out broad categories of material which should be covered by codes of conduct but leave detailed elaboration of these categories to regulatory bodies. These acts provide for the establishment of various independent regulatory bodies which undertake a variety of roles visà-vis broadcasters, including monitoring and applying the codes.” (Article XIX – Media Regulation in the United Kingdom)
Here lies the difference. Deciding parameters for media regulation is not the responsibility of the Government and the State. If the Government and the State is allowed to decide “regulation of media” as they wish, the important active presence of the media as social “Watchdog” over governance would be completely lost. Why “regulation” of media is necessary is to guarantee its independence in playing such a role.
Moreover, as frequency owners the public has the right to decide how frequencies should be used by those who obtain a license for broadcasting. Conditions and restrictions relevant for monitoring and regulating especially broadcast media has to be therefore agreed upon in a healthy social discourse. That should be the ownership all media activists and organisations must work for, instead of demanding amendments to what the Government has proposed in draft form. What it means in short is, the proposed Act for establishing a “Broadcasting Regulatory Commission” should be rejected in whole with media activists and organisations taking over the responsibility of drafting a new “media regulatory” statute through social dialogue including all social partners, accepting the fact digital frequencies are owned by the people, and therefore have to be “leased” in an open process.
– Kusal Perera
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