THE BIG PICTURE
Living on the Edge
What it will take to restore the perilous state
The headline news in the mainstream media in these crisis ridden times not only reflects an economy off the rails but the astonishing chain of statements made by our political bigwigs on both sides of the colourful divide.
It’s no secret that Sri Lanka’s economy is perched on a cliff edge; and one is inclined to surmise that we haven’t been as close as this to falling off it in a generation, and maybe more.
First, there’s a question of climbing down the mountain of debt that we have accumulated over the years; then there’s a forex crisis that has reached critical proportions in recent weeks; and despite the introduction of draconian measures (necessarily so perhaps) to curb the inflow of imports, the trade deficit continues to balloon out of the safety zone.
And to rub salt into the macroeconomic wound, Sri Lanka’s external reserves have been dangerously low for most of this year.
There are palatable reasons for the perilous state of the national economy on the one hand, and explanations that are simply mind-boggling on the other.
That the developing world has been hard hit by the financial fallout from the pandemic doesn’t come as a surprise. Here at home, it has to be said that the government’s vaccine roll out has been turned around from being pedestrian and in disarray in the interim, to one of the success stories of the region and on a par with the developed world.
And it doesn’t take rocket science to decipher that this has been a costly business, along with the massive opportunity cost of several protracted lockdowns, and the state’s efforts to prop up ailing businesses and the crucial SME sector.
On the contrary, there’s a question of corruption – meaning the cost of corruption for as long as one can remember. It is unlikely that anyone – except the corrupt! – will challenge the notion that Sri Lanka could well have followed Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore ‘From Third World to First…’ as the title of the former prime minister’s bestselling book suggests.
Beyond the rails of the economy, there’s an unwanted bedfellow we call ‘politics.’ And on this score, the pronouncements coming out of various corners of the house are mind-numbing to say the least.
The newly appointed finance minister’s recent ‘revelation’ in parliament that the economy is in need of urgent repair not only let the cat out of the bag officially but was followed by an eyebrow raising statement blaming poor economic management over the previous decades for the sorry state of affairs.
He may have suffered a memory lapse here, in that the incumbents have also been in charge of managing the economy in the past.
And equally mind-blowing was a recent call by the leader of the opposition for parties that sit on the other side of the divide to join forces to topple the government.
This not only flies in the face of the nation’s democratic traditions that he espouses but would also mean a return to super spreader political rallies, another costly election that we can ill afford and more of the same of what his government served us during its five year stint in office not too long ago.
If our precious nation is to come out of the multiple crises it is presently battling, the pressing need is a united front on the part of our politicians and indeed, the people. That such a call will fall on deaf ears is probably the one certainty in these uncertain times.