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How Sri Lanka: A Precious Pearl in the Indian Ocean Sinks in the Morass of Stagnation! -The Asian Age

 
A model island country in South Asia with an optimum size of 22 million population with high literacy rate, Sri Lanka could eventually stand parallel to Singapore with a tag of a developed country had it not been gripped in the ongoing turmoil cropped up from the failure of its present leadership to manage its economy to its right earnest. Dubbed as a preciouspearl resting in the lap of Indian Ocean enriched with sprawling vegetation and sandy beaches, bathed in crisp sunshine, coconut groves; Sri Lanka has been a heaven for the tourists from all over the world. With wafting aroma of spices grown in abundance in the region of Kandy and a Jet Ski resort , Golf Court placed in high elevation in Nuwara Eliya, beauty of Sri Lanka has been attracting the tourists over the years.

With right leadership in the right time, Sri Lanka had a success story of attracting foreign  investment  after setting up Export Processing Zones and economic zones for investment decades ago  which played a pivotal role in achieving  sharp rise of GDP growth in the Country's booming economy. Following success story of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh established Export Processing Zones in Chittagong and Dhaka followed by Khulna, Cumilla, Ishwardy and Lalmonirhut withsuccess stories which contribute directly to country's economy.

The progress Sri Lanka has made despite all her limitation and over a period of nearly 100 years up to independence, had been amazing, compared to other colonies ruled by the British. In terms of education and health, Sri Lanka was ranked first or second among other Asian Countries. It has achieved a significant improvement in  infrastructure  development also. By 1950, Sri Lanka remained second only to Japan in terms of per capita income among Asian Countries.

Alas! With the rise of insurgency of ethnic Tamil population which is equal to only 7% of the total Sri Lanka's population, Sri Lanka had to fight a long enduring war for 30 years with Tamil Tiger insurgency known as LPPE which ended a decade ago under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa after a long military crackdown spilling blood of tens of thousands of people across the island, particularly in the northern region of the Country.

As we know that political career of Mahinda Rajapaksa is long stretching. He was elected president of Sri Lanka's Freedom Party in 2005. Despite his predecessors failed to solve the LPPE insurgency, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave his indepth thought and attention to solve the problem with his firm hand and destroyed the insurgency with relentless military crackdown on insurgents; thus became a hero to Sri Lankan people which eventually helped him winning a landslide victory in the election held in 2010. Mahinda consolidated his position during his presidency from 2005 to 2015. With contesting an election with his cabinet colleague Maitry Pal Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015 election. Mahinda Rajapaksa again became the prime minister of Sri Lanka after his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the president of the country. The crisis has compounded by agitation and violence that we have been witnessing now in Sri Lanka is the reflection of the retribution and vengeance of political rivalry in a state of situation when Sri Lanka's economic crisis soared. Despite president Rajapaksa has sought support from all political parties in parliament to form a Unity government, an offer that many, including the ruling alliance's allies, have declined.

If we look back, we can see that after the LPPE insurgency was over a decade ago, however, Sri Lanka's economy started coming back to its shape under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa, when government initiated major development plans and Mega projects towards taking the country to the road to rapid economic progress. Funding of Mega projects like Hambantota Port City projects and other mega projects costing Rs. 6774 billion came from massive foreign loan from China and other countries at high interest rates, presumably, without carefully studying every nuance of economic viability of the projects. Having failed to make the Mega projects economically viable for the country, at the end of the day, Sri Lanka became a loan defaulter and gripped in serious financial risis over the past few years. Economic crisis has been compounded by whimsical decision of the present Rajapaksa government banning import of inorganic fertilizer which led to massive fall in production of crops, tea and other agricultural products creating a huge gap between demand and supply matching with the people's need. Moreover, in a pandemic situation Sri Lanka's tourism industry suffered a serious setback without any foreign exchange earnings. As a chain reaction to all the adversaries including its failure to service and return the installments of foreign loan particularly Chinese loan in time against Mega projects, Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserve dwindled to a dangerous level of USD 2 billion only with failing to pay the bills against  import of fuels, medicines and other essentials of day to day life. Rajapaksa has presided over the economy's undoing: It began with expensive tax cut soon after taking over office in 2014. Sri Lanka has now Asia's fastest inflation rate of 19%; widespread power shortage and nearly USD 5 Billion denominated borrowings due this year and next year with just little over USD 2 Billion foreign exchange in itscoffer. The recurring situation has given rise to country-wide outrage of the people whose lives have become miserable due to never ending crisis. Country-wide agitation as soared and turned violent claimed many lives. With the slogan of Gota-go-home-gama, agitators demand Rajapaksa brothers to resign. Having failed to with stood peoples' non stop agitation triggered by political rivals, at last prime ministerMahindra Rajapaksa has resigned with leaving his brother GotabayaRahapksa in the seat of power as the president of the country. To save himself from the wrath of agitating mobs, Mahindra Rajapaksa is reported to have fled his home under military escort and taken shelter in military installation. Hard nut to crack the mob is agitating in front of the military installation to get Mahindra Rajapaksa out from there. To quell the belligerent situation and bringing the law and order situation in place, of late, the government has clampedCurfew with instruction to shoot at sight  the agitator get into the frenzy of destroying public property.

Meanwhile, following resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, a new prime minister having in his credential of being a five time prime minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wicremesinghe has been sworn as the prime minister of Sri Lanka. On his taking over as prime minister he said Sri Lanka's economy is now dire. It will get worse before it gets better.

With situation turning increasingly bleak and volatile. Sri Lanka's fate is now hung in limbo with no coming back to normalcy soon unless the World Bank , IMF and countries of the world's  robust economy come forward with robustfinancial package to salvage the economy of Sri Lanka---a precious pearl in the womb of Indian Ocean from sinking in the morass of stagnation.

 
Mahbubar Rahman is a Bir Muktijoddah and former Civil Servant.