Dr. Jehan Perera wants democracy and development to prevail in the New Year

The Tamil polity has responded positively to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s declaration that he will talk to Tamil leaders and find a solution within the course of 2023, which is also Sri Lanka’s 75th anniversary of independence. However, they are aware that the promises made by successive govern­ments since the 1960s were never delivered in full.

Apart from seeking a political solution to the ethnic conflict, Wickremesinghe is also giving leadership to a new truth and reconciliation process. He had met with the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa and discussed obtaining South Africa’s support in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission in Sri Lanka.

Speaking in parliament, spokesman for the TNA M. A. Sumanthiran said that since the president had reached out to them, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

Wickremesinghe also allowed the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations of the LTTE and its slain leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to take place without incident. Previously, scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked people from participating in public events. However, this time the security forces didn’t attempt to stop the commemorations.

There are reports that the government is planning to send a delegation to South Africa to study the South African truth and reconciliation process. Such studies have been undertaken in the past as well but what’s important is actual commitment. Furthermore, truth and reconciliation can’t be compartmentalised, and offered only to the Tamils and not to the Sinhalese and Muslims.

Meanwhile, the growing economic crisis is showing no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November and now January is being targeted.

Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank Nomura Holdings, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk.

The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable for the masses.

Wickremesinghe is also on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it gets better.

In this context the general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are indignant at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques.

The IMF has made anticorruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout and is calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anticorruption legal framework, and conducting an indepth governance diagnostic supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that Wickremesinghe is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. Obtaining international economic support will also be more forthcoming if there is an assurance of a government that controls corruption, which is not yet being seen.

But notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time, the belief still persists that Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements by him have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has said that he does not want to leave this problem for the next generation to solve.

As a first step, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Secondly, Wickremesinghe needs to bite the bullet on elections.

Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018.

Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. By ensuring these elections are conducted without further delay, Wickremesinghe will be able to work in partnership with elected political representatives and their leaders who have received a mandate from the people for change and development.