Thoughts on the 2020 General Election
Let us try to get away from the rhetoric- the art of effective or persuasive speaking, often with an implication of insincerity or exaggeration”(Oxford Dictionary). Promises are many but it is quite evident that most promises cannot be easily fulfilled. President Gotabhaya’s promises are few but he has vowed to implement them. So far since becoming the President and from 2005 to 2015 he has been able to keep to his word.
The leaders, who stand a chance of getting elected are well known and more, in some capacity they have ruled our country for years, and perhaps more than what they speak, historical facts telling what they really did, when they were ruling as President, Prime Minister or Minister will reveal what we can expect of them.
It has become normal for foreign Superpowers to take action against countries that were following Socialist policies. The following excerpt from Professor Jeffery Sachs tells it all:
Notorious act of US unilaterlism include the CIA led overthrow of several governments-Iran, Guyana, Guatamala, South Vietnam and Chile, the assassination of countless foreign officials and several disastrous unilateral acts of war on Central America, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Iraq. The US has thrown out elections through secret CIA financing, put foreign leaders on CIA payroles and supported violent leaders who then came back to haunt the US in a notorious boomerang or blowback effect(including Sadaam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden), both once on CIA payroles”(Commonwealth Economics for a Crowded Planet, Allen Lane, 2008)
Sri Lanka has had its share of foreign influence in elections. It is well known that the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 was hatched at Harvard University in the USA.
It is up to the voter to decide which candidates are acting against the sovereignty of the country.
Important infringements on Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty.
The country survived the Fidel Castro type of one day attempt by the JVP to take over the country in April 1971, when it was found that the North Korean Embassy had a hand in the uprising and the Embassy was promptly shut down and the officials deported. Once the uprising was quelled and the JVP cadres decamped to the Sinharaja Hills, a European Ambassadorial jeep came several times and went into the jungles to meet them.
With the two uprisings in 1971 and 1987-89, with the functioning of kangaroo courts, the rich in the rural habitat– the rice millers, estate owners etc. who had made the rural areas their homes, decamped to the cities and were so frightened that they never returned to their rural habitat. It is they and their children when grown up that had invested in their rural areas. They sent their children overseas for study, never to return to the Motherland. The rural areas became dead.
Major historical happenings during Periods when the chief contenders at this election ruled or when they were associated with the rulers
Let us take the periods when the chief contenders ruled, when their political parties held sway and assess the major events of how the country was handled and the major changes made. This will easily reflect what we can expect of the present day contenders.
President Jayawardena 1977-
When President Jayawardena took over at the tail end of 1977, a major change was to liberalize the economy. Though President Jayawardena did whatever the IMF dictated, by 1986, the economy ended in shambles.
From 1948, when we achieved independence the economy was managed with the foreign exchange we earned. There were import controls to ensure that essential consumer goods were imported and allocations of foreign exchange were made for the import of luxury items, according to available foreign exchange. The IMF advised President Jayawardena to open up imports- not to have import controls and also to liberalize the use of foreign exchange- allow foreign exchange to be used freely for foreign travel, for educational expenses abroad. When the country had no foreign exchange to meet such increased commitments, the IMF advice was to privatize paying State assets and if that was insufficient, to raise loans. It is this process followed from the end of 1977 that led to the ballooning of the foreign debt to some $ 60 billion today. Though Ronnie de Mel, the Minister of Finance in his Budget Speech of 1978 hailed this : We cannot go round the world begging for aid like international beggars forever. We must get out of this vicious circle of no growth, stagnation and mounting internal and external debt”(Budget Speech: 1978), the result was the opposite. Using money that one did not possess and raising loans only worked to make us more indebted. In eight years, by 1986 the economy was in shambles.
In the words of the World Bank:
By 1986…the deterioration of the economy had become evident. The growth rate of the GDP slowed to under 4 %, unemployment rose to about 17% and gross official reserves declined to less than 2 months’ imports”(World Bank:Trends in Developing Economies,1990:496)
While the foreign debt of Sri Lanka was negligible in 1977, by 1986, it had ballooned to $ 4,063 million and it increased to $ 5100 million by 1989. Comparatively when Jayawardena commenced following the IMF prescriptions of the SAP at the end of 1977 Sri Lanka had a negligible foreign debt- only $ 750 million. The country slumped to become an indebted nation. In other words the IMF had through its advice made Sri Lanka a sovereign nation that had a negligible foreign debt to become a heavilyindebted country with a foreign debt of $ 60 billion today. Currently Sri Lanka has to meet a payment of $ 4 billion in 2020 purely to service the loans it owes. This is the legacy that President Jayawardena of the UNP has left for Sri Lanka- a situation of indebtedness from which Sri Lanka can never redeem itself.
Even since President Jayawardena followed the prescriptions of the IMF, though the rich in the country benefitted from relaxed foreign exchange controls- could go on foreign holidays, send off their offspring to study abroad and enjoy imported goods, the country slumped into foreign debt and the masses- the vast majority of the people could not afford even to buy consumer goods as the prices had escalated. This caused poverty and inflation. The Structural Adjustment Programme(SAP) of the IMF contain an economic system that would lead the countries to become indebted in the process of servicing the loans as the loans were non developmental.”(From Karunaratne: How the IMF Sabotaged Third World Development(Kindle/Godages: 2017)
Since gaining independence in 1948 Sri Lanka had developed and implemented an intricate and effective development infrastructure to enable development. One of the conditions laid down in following the neoliberal policies imposed by he IMF was that the Government had to accept the Private Sector as the Engine of Growth and in keeping with that proviso, the Public Sector should not have any development incentives. This meant that the development infrastructure had to be abolished. In order to help agricultural production, the Government implemented a Guaranteed Price Scheme for paddy and other cereals in short supply. The aim was to enable cultivators earn a premium price for their production. This Scheme was abolished and along with it the godowns and Rice Mills which were very valuable- were sold for a song or left to rot as scrap. This was a great loss. The producers were thereby denied a reasonable price for their produce. It is the authors contention that this was purposely imposed on Third World countries to destroy their agriculture development so that they would have to depend on wheat from the USA and Europe.
Another Scheme was the Vegetable and Fruit Purchasing Scheme, run by the Marketing Department, which provided a high price for local vegetables and fruits. The Marketing Department also had a Cannery, to make Jam, Juice and Sauces out of local fruit. The IMF insisted that the Cannery should be privatized and the Vegetable and Fruit Purchasing Scheme should be scrapped. This was done and the Marketing Department was abolished. While this enabled imports of jam and Juice from Developed Countries like the USA it did cause poverty in that the producers could not sell their produce.
Sri Lanka had a very successfully run Public Transport Scheme- a fully equipped coach making unit at Werahera. The country was producing its own coaches on imported chassis. This fully equipped unit at Werahera was closed down and the valuable state of the art machinery sold for a song, Thereafter Sri Lanka had to import all its coaches.
The Railways had developed machinery to make all coaches at Ratmalana, This was also closed down and thousands of carpenters lost their jobs. Thereafter rail carriages were imported.
The scrapping of this development infrastructure was agreed and done by President Jayawardena of the UNP.
Education Sri Lanka had concentrated on having a highly developed school system, where children were taught free. The UNP Government introduced Private International Paying Schools which taught the children of the rich for foreign exams and this ruptured the comprehensive system of education that had been highly developed with Central Schools. The UNP is totally responsile for ruining the education system and actually creating a youth that shun Sri Lankan culture and values. This was a major retrograde creation of the UNP. Ranil Wickremasinghe of the UNP happened to be the Minister for Education that ruined education in Sri Lanka
Another major incident during President Jayawardena’s period is how he caved in to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and agreed to enact the 13 th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The Constitution of a country is a sacred document and any change has a bearing on the sovereignty of the country and President Jayawardena caving into the Prime Minister of India to change the Constitution marks a great failure of President Jayawardena. The 13 th Amendment with Provincial Councils and decentralizing subjects was not suitable for a small country like Sri Lanka. The Provincial Council system is very costly and it is an unnecessary expenditure. Decntralization of important subjects like agriculture had a detrimental effect.
The manner in which the 13 th Amendment was passed in Parliament is also of great importance. It indicates the extent to which President Jayawardena and the UNP disregarded the interests of the country and compelled the elected representatives- the Members of Parliament to be forced, like at gun point- by incarcerating them in a hotel, keeping them under lock and key and marching them to Parliament to vote as he pleased. The President also held letters of resignation signed by all MPs (except for Ronnie de Mel, the Minister of Finance), which he held as ransom to use in case any MP refused to carry out his instructions. This undemocratic method of ruling by President Jayawardena remains a major scar on the UNP.. Up to date in implementing the 13 th Amendment Police and Land Powers have not been decentralized.
The Samagi Bala Vegaya where Sajith Premadasa is the main candidate has already declared that the 13 th Amendment in full- with police and land powers will be implemented. Sri Lanka will be without any doubt balkanized into provincial regimes and that will be the end of Sri Lanka.
Prresident Premadasa 1989-1993
President Premadasas when he was president helped the LTTE, the Tamil rebels who wanted to carve out the north and east of Sri Lanka as a separate state. President Premadasa even provided weapons to the LTTE, which they ultimately used against the Sri Lankan Army.
President Premadasa in Peace Talks with the LTTE agreed to hand over the Eastern Province to the LTTE and the police personnel in all the police stations in the Eastern Province were instructed to surrender to the LTTE cadres in the area. This was done and the LTTE instead of providing them safe passage to Colombo as agreed, marched 600 police personnel to the jungle where they were murdered. This action of President Premadasa is a crime that can never be forgiven. ..
It was during th reign of President Premadasa that there was a reign of terror and many people went missing, A well known lyric writer, poet Richard de Zoysa is supposed to have been abducted and killed by the armed forces. In the days of President Premadasa there was compulsory acquistion of land in Colombo, without any rhyme or reason. One land owner could not even find a lawyer to file a petition in the Supreme Court to stay the acquisition of her land.”(Karunaratne: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka: 2006: Godages)
Sajith Premadasa who leads the Samagi BalaVegaya, evidently a splinter group of the UNP at this General Election, only quotes the good deeds like rural development which was done by President Premadasa
Kumaranatunge during her period tried to defeat the LTTE but miserably failed. It was during her time that the LTTE attacked the Colombo Airport destroying a number of aircraft.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa 2005-2015
The major achievement during this period was the defeat of the LTTE.
The LTTE had a reign of terror for 30 years, developed the idea of having child soldiers and suicide bombing and had a reign of terror in the entire island
President Rajapakda vowed to defeat the LTTE and commenced military action. The LTTE ruled the North of the island for close on three decades ,but was militarily defeated by President Rajapaksa in 2009. The cat was out of the bag at the last moment when the Superpowers, including France, the UK and the USA, came forward and insisted that Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE should be spared. President Rajapaksa did not give in and finally the LTTE was routed and the leader Prabhakaran killed in 2009.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had once served in the Sri lanka Army as a Lietunenant Colonel was the Defence Secretary and played a key role in the defeat of the LTTE. This defeating the LTTE shows their mettle.
The major achievement of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the defeat of the LTTE. Earlier as Minister for Highways under the reign of Chandrika Kumaranatunge, he saw to it that Sri Lanka had developed a network of well built roads..
President Gotabhaya Rajpaksa played a major role in the development of the country. He singlehandedly developed the City of Colombo, equipped it with walkways, and various amenities. Under him Colombo could even aspire to have been the best city in South Asia.
The Helping Hambantota cheque incident is held against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. During the Tsunami Invasion in 2004, it was brought to his notice that a cheque has ben received as a donation and he ordered that it be banked. It was banked and forgotten. Later on it was raised as a charge of misappropriation and the cheque was traced lying unused in a bank account. This incident has to be taken in context when some 30,000 citizens had perished when the Tsunami struck and in the absence of the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the PrimeMinister, was running everywhere in a helicopter issuing instructions. There was no time to record events and keep notes. It was a time when the earth was turning on its head. Take the matter out of context and one can say that he should have ensured that the cheque was credited properly. The author too has had an inkiling of serious days when it was a matter of life or death, when there was an action sequence every minute and there was no time to write down and check whether orders had been carries out. This cheque incident must be taken in the context of handling an unprecedented national calamity.
Prime Minister Mahiunda Rajapaksa has faced many problems. He has never run away like President Chandrika when the Kolonnawa oil tanks were in flames- an attack by the LTTE. She was emplaning at the airport when that incident happened. She continued leaving the island, leaving the Presidential Secretariat to be manned by his Secretary. The one time Mahinda Rajapaksa ran away was in 2015, when he realized that the voters had rejected him. Then he left Temple Trees abruptly and stopped only at Medamulana. That indicates his adherence to the democratic process of governance and elevates his standing in democratic politics.
Maitripala Sirisena cum Ranil Wickremasinghe 2015-2019
The Yahapalane Government of 2015 was actually a Government that was established by foreign forces. The USA played a key role. It was the sequel to President Rajapaksa refusing to follow the dictate of all the Superpowers not to harm and spare Prabhakaran the leader of the LTTE. True to his form President Rajapaksa refused to accede to their request and the LTTE was totally defeated with the leader too being killed in 2009.
Though Maitripala Sirisena was implanted as the president, the Yahapalana Government was ably run by Ranil Wickremasinghe of the UNP who was the Prime Minister.
Sacrificing the sovereigny of Sri Lanka was clearly evident in the Yahapalana Government co sigining and agreeing to a UK sponsored submission to the Geneva Council of Human Rights. By this the Government of Sri Lanka agreed to many provisions put forward by the Superpowers including foreign judges participating in Sri Lanka on investigations against the Sri Lankan Army defeating the Liberation Tigers.
The Period 2015-2019 was marked with an increased foreign debt. The Central Government debt, as a share of the GDP had increased to 102.5% when the UNP ended its term in 2005. President Mahinda Rajapaksa handled the economy prudently and reduced the debt to 72.3% by 2015. However from 2015 to 2019, under the Yahapalana Government the debt increased to 86.8%. This speaks of mismanagement during UNP rule and prudent management during President Rajapaksa’s rule.
Earlier in 2001-2004 Ranil Wickremasinghe as the Prime Minister, sided the Liberation Tigers and had to be removed by the President Kumaranatunge in 2004.
The MCCCompact. The United States pressurized the Government to sign an agreement with the MCC(Millennium Challenge Corporation) for allowing the USA to have a stake in Sri Lanka in return for a grant of $ 480 million. This was supposed to be spent on a transportation and a land project. An agreement was to be signed but due to protests the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said that the agreement will be signed after the UNP nominee Sajit Premadasa wins at the presidential election. Under the transport project some roads and traffic lights etc were to be developed , to easen traffic congestion while under the land project, all crown land including land on colonization schemes, alienated under restricted conditions, were to be given full saleable rights. These lands were alienated on specific conditions meant to ensure that this land will remain within the peasantry. This was decided during the State Council days. The intention of the MCC proposals was evidently to enable multinationals to get control over land in Sri Lanka.
This MCC agreement divides Sri Lanka into three segments with a corridor from Trincomalee to Colombo, including both ports. This major corridor comprised 28% of the land mass of Sri Lanka. This section was to be given to the USA for a period of 200 years. Comparatively the British ruled Sri Lanka only for a period of 133 years- 1815 to 1948. This section would come under US jurisdiction. In short the land would be US territory coming under US laws..
A map distributed by MCC team Leader Steve Dobrilovic showed this 200 mile corridor between Colombo and Trincomalee to be awarded to the US authorities coming under US jurisdiction where an electric rail track was to be built effectively dividing Sri Lanka into a southern and northern region. It was a plan for Sri Lanka to be handed over to the US Government and for the North to get into the hands of the Ltte rebels who today are planning subversion in secret.
These negotiations took place in absolute secrecy between representatives of the Yahapalana Government and the MCC team from the USA housed within the Temple Trees Complex used by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.”(Lanka Web10/1/2019) This was highly irregular.
The grant was to be given to be managed by a MCC Company under US Government procurement rules and regulations”(Lanka Web: 11/01/2020)
It is important to note that similar agreements to divide Sri Lanka were also proposed earlier by the Asian Development Bank an the Export Import Bank of Korea, but these were all based on loans. In the case of the MCC it was a grant. However the grant was to be given to a company- which will work with theMillennium Challenge Corporation.
It is to be noted that the valuable phosphate deposits of Eppawela as well as the illmenite deposits at Pulumuddai were within this corridor to be handed over to the USA.
It is correct to state that this MCC Compact will impringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Once granted this area will come under US, managed under their laws.
The UNP Yahapalana Government of 2015-2019 was at first to get Minister Mangala Samaraweera to sign this MCC Compact Agreement but this was put off due to protests.
The aim of the MCC as the alleviation of poverty is only a façade to get this agreement signed. Instead the MCC Compact will enable foreign multiinationals to gain control over the land.
It is the opinion of Neville Laduwahetty that in the case of the MCC Compact, the issue is that an Act that affects an asset that is an integral part of the sovereignty of all the people and held in trust by elected representatives of governments should not be passed by a simple majority but ONLy by a special majority of two third approval of Parliament and approval by the people at a Referendum.(The Island: 16/7/2019)
The UNP insisted that they would sign the MCC Pact and when they found it impossible to sign, then declared that they would sign the agreement on the day after their candidate Sajith Premadasa is victorious at the presidential election That did not happen and now they shout out that the Government of President Gotabhaya will sign it. On the other hand President Gotabhaya has subjected the MCC Pact to a Report by experts led by Professor Gunaruwan and the entire Report has been released to the public. The Report states in definite terms that the MCC Pact infringes on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and spokesmen of the Government have stated that it will not be signed. The President Gotabhaya method is upright with nothing to hide while when it was handled in 2015-2019, by Prime Minister Wickremasinghe everything was swept under the carpet. It was definitely wrong to house a US Company the Millennium Chaallenge Corporation drafting and scheming to get the Pact signed housed in the hallowed sacred premises of Temple Trees.
Sajith Premadasa was a leading minister of the Yahapalana Government of 1995 to 2020 and has to take responsibility for Government misdeeds as he was a senior minister in the Cabinet.
It is sad that the US Embassy resorted to many tactics to get the MCC Pact signed. Though the MCC Pact is couched in terms of poverty alleviation- it amounts to a sweetened pill to drag Sri Lanka more into the orbit of the US hedgemony in South Asia.
My frank opinion is that the MCC Compact is an attempt to carve out a separate State for the LTTE, this time in a sheep’s clothing. It is a task that was earlier attempted by the ADB and the Eximm Bank of Korea. Then the offer was a loan. In the MCC Compact it was a grant.
Our Sri Lanka has the ability to develop our own resources as proved just at this moment by the restoration of the Valachenai Paper factory accomplished in a few months during President Gotabhaya’s regime. It is reported that Valachenai Paper will be offered for sale within the next month. This is an indication of the economic development that can be expected under President Gotabhaya. The manner in which President Gotabhaya handled the Corona virus epidemic , by deploying the army to check and provide quarantine has enabled Sri Lanka to become the foremost country that handled the Coronavirus epidemic in an able manner. This alone speaks volumes about President Gotabhaya’s ability to tackle a calamity. In his able hands Sri Lanka will inevitably prosper.
The historical facts detailed above enable the voter who may have forgotten our history, to act as a patriot and save Sri Lanka at the General Election 2020..
Author of How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternative Programmes of Success(Godages :2006)
How the IMF Sabotaged Thord World Development(Kindle/Godages: 201
By Garvin Karunaratne, former G.A.