The people are in a dilemma, the government is groping in the dark and policymakers are in the worse predicament ever. The crisis in the economy and governance is unprecedented.

Yet, the bureaucratic bungling continues unabated.

The people are in a dilemma because of the ever-increasing cost of living. It has virtually pushed them to a position of being unable to keep the home fires burning.

The political authority is groping in the dark, unable to comprehend what went wrong and where.

The decision to ban synthetic fertilizer has caused immense hardship to the farmer who has been unable to cultivate their farmland to reap a good yield like in the past. There are 1. 8 million paddy farmers, not forgetting their families, whose lives are precariously hanging in the balance.  It is the same with the fate of the nation.  Agriculture experts predict a national food crisis soon. Their oft repeated slogan is that food security is national security.

People who voted overwhelmingly for this government are now regretting their decision. It never occurred to them that a government which branded itself as a choice of the proletariatwould subject them to an abysmal trek to arrive at such shortsighted decisions without considering in particular the larger picture of the economy and the agricultural sector. The government is ruthlessly riding roughshod over any opinion that stands in its way.

The government’s intentions are good in copybook terms and theoretically. But how pragmatic are they?

Nowhere in the world has a country converted itself to use organic fertiliser in farmlands overnight. Bhutan, even after years of advance preparation for the conversion had to extend its timeline.

Farmers are feeling the pinch of the government’s unrealistic move. As a result of not having fertiliser to cultivate their land, farmers will not have a robust harvest and money in hand. The farming community will eventually become a burden on the government and will be left in the lurch. The government has to be reminded of its promise to the farmer to give free fertiliser, which was a sweetener in return for his vote.

Despite the obvious fallout the government appears to be adamant with its resolve to go ahead with its decision to introduce organic fertiliser.  It has triggered a howl of protests by farmers and others who are of the opinion that a step by step approach and a gradual transition isthe way-out of the issue.

However, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told the media recently that ‘we will not hesitate to take a step back where necessary and that ‘synthetic fertiliser will be allowed in tea plantations.’ Realizing the implications of its shortsightedness by withdrawing synthetic fertiliser from tea plantations initially, the government is doing a complete U-turn now.

Agriculture experts say that the government, using a trial and error method, took a gamble with the country’s economy which is now showing a sharp downturn.

The people are apprehensive about the government’s gamble on synthetic fertiliser. They opine that either the government has no concern about the difficulties faced by the people, or the advisers are misleading the government towards a political abyss on the agricultural issue alone. One name which is being regularly linked to the government’s derailment is that of Anuruddha Padeniya.  A paediatric neurologist by profession whose leadership of the government medical officers trade union is also disputed now, Padeniya has assumed the mantle of a jack of all trades who advises the government on policy issues. In particular, he is widely slated for misleading the public about data on Covid-19 and also facts about the switch to the use of organic fertiliser. As early as June this year, 104 professors and doctors lecturing in state universities issued a scathing statement questioning his knowledge of agriculture and his authority to question the knowledge of agriculture specialists.  They said he should take full responsibility for any ensuing food crisis in the country. Meanwhile, the pro left Vasudeva Nanayakkara has apparently become subservient to the powers that be in a move to save his position as a minister in the government.  This may be his final term as a member of the Cabinet. The champion of the downtrodden at one stage in his political career has lost his motivation and vision in the face of ministerial privileges,which are being dangled before him by government leaders.

The latest in the series of irrational decisionstaken by the government is the removal of Professor Buddhi Marambe, a senior professor in weed science at the Department of Crop Science in the Agriculture Faculty, University of Peradeniya, from all duties connected to the Ministry of Agriculture.  The removal of Professor Marambe, who has more than 33 years of academic service behind him, has caused a storm of gripes among agricultureexperts. Professor Marambe unremittingly voiced his opinion against the importation of organic fertiliser from China to the country because of the associated hazards and its  potential to destroy Sri Lanka’s agriculture industry.  The decision to remove Professor Marambe lies squarely with Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, who brags of the exploits of the government’s every trivial success but lacks the mental faculties to see beyond what they deem fit is fair and equitable. Wikipedia does not list any higher education qualifications for Aluthgamage. In 2018, he was arrested for the alleged mishandling of funds when he was sports minister between 2010 and 2015.  

Aluthgamage gave an undertaking that the questionable fertiliser will not reach the shores of Sri Lanka”.  But there appears to be a concealed agenda between the lines of his assurance when he talks about new samples from China being tested by an independent laboratory. The question is whether the same load of rejected fertiliser will be dumped in Sri Lanka under a fake certification. No doubt the people will have reservations to believe what Aluthgamage says. Some moons back he made a similar declaration that rice will not be imported at any cost and instead, the government will make arrangements to export rice. This in particular is the nature of the government’sministers who are nothing but incompetent political minions of the administration.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa hadhowever voiced his disapproval to the Chinese ambassador when the latter met him for a tete-a tete. The Prime Ministers intervention was perhaps to save any embarrassment caused to the government over a diplomatic faux pas with China.

Nevertheless the Chinese were adamant and they moved swiftly to blacklist the People’s Bank which was prevented by an Order from the Commercial High Court to honour a Letter of Credit which had been opened for the disputed fertiliser consignment. In a statement which they issued, the Bank said they will act according to the law and judicial procedures as a corporate citizen and will honour the Letter of Credit depending on the Court order.

People may have to wait and see how far the government will act transparently and honestly to deliver as pledged during the pre-Presidential election era.

The skyrocketing cost of living has pushed the people from a bad economic situation to worse within two years following its election. Rice prices are sky rocketing while long queues to buy basics such as milk foods for children, sugar and other essentials are becoming the norm.

There is no solution in the foreseeable future to the cost of living (COL) issues. Sooner rather than later, people may begin foraging for food especially with the fertiliser crisis engulfing the country. The government should take cognizance of the situation and find a practicalformula to bring the COL down.  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s announcementthat the people did not elect him to look at the prices of commodities but to create innovative ways and means to take the country to new heights, was a thought provoking one. The President made these remarks after inspecting an organic fertiliser based cultivation in the Kurunegala area.

It brought to mind several of the President’s past actions where he was directly involved in resolving issues by introducing price controls and appointing military men as competent authorities to implement his plan. However this time, the President appears to have taken a different stance on commodity prices.

Besides all these intricate issues the Moody’s rating agency caused ripples in the administration by down grading Sri Lanka. Compounding Sri Lanka’s crises was the decision by rating agency Moody’s to downgrade Sri Lanka as a country that lacks financial capability.  It disturbed the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) which sent a strong rejoinder. The CBSL reply stated:

The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) wishes to express strong displeasure on the recent assessment by Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) that led to the rating action, after being placed under review for downgrade three months ago in a similar fashion. Once again, Moody’s irrational rating action with regard to Sri Lanka comes a few days before a key event, namely the announcement of the Government Budget for 2022, and this apparent hastiness and the view expressed during discussions with Moody’s analysts that the nature of the Budget is irrelevant to the financing plans of the Government clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of such analysts.

The Central Bank statement also stated:

Improving performance of merchandise and trade in services in a fairly short period of time has shown the economy’s ability to reach its potential despite misplaced fears raised by Moody’s. It is deeply disappointing that Moody’s seems to be attempting to derail this potential of the country by downgrading Sri Lanka’s rating based on a static methodology, which is irrational, particularly at the time of a global pandemic. The Government’s commitment towards fiscal consolidation through expenditure rationalisation would complement the gradual rise in government revenue with normalising activity, thereby narrowing the fiscal deficit, that has not been recognised by Moody’s.

The pro-growth reforms implemented by the Government has laid the foundation for a domestic production led export-oriented economy over the medium term, despite some adjustment costs in the transition. Ignoring such ability and commitment of the Government has led to ill-informed conclusions by Moody’s.

Against this backdrop, the Government wishes to re-assure all stakeholders, including the international investor community, that Sri Lanka remains committed to honouring all forthcoming obligations in the period ahead. The Sri Lankan authorities welcome direct engagement with investors and invite investors for regular one-on-one discussions without being distracted by such unfounded announcements by external agencies.

The Central Bank is trying to project a rosy picture despite a dismal economic situation ahead of us. Be that as it may, its governor AjitNivard Cabraal has achieved what he wants to appear as a super bureaucrat at the political helm. In the order of precedence, his status is now on par with that of the Opposition Leader, Ministers and Supreme Court Judges. There are a number of issues surrounding Governor Cabraal.  One of them is his suitability to hold the position after holding a ministerial position in the government immediately before his appointment as governor. Many academics have posed questions about his integrity and independence as the Governor. There are few cases in the apex courts challenging the validity of his appointment and the pension he is eligible as the Governor.

While these factors have contributed to Sri Lanka’s downslide, citizens and trade union activists are up in arms over the sale of the 40 percent share the Treasury held in the Yugadhanavi power station to New Fortress Energy, a US based company. Several constituent parties of the government including that of Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila and many others had a meeting with other party leaders at Temple Trees, the prime minister’s official residence, about the privatization. The meeting ended inconclusively after heated arguments between the parties. The danger now is that trade unions affiliated with the Ceylon Electricity Board are threatening a two day power outage if the government fails to reverse the agreement with the American company.

Elsewhere in Ratnapura people are protesting against police hooliganism after a Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police RanmalKodituwakku, who is among several others who are tipped to be the next Inspector General of Police, was involved in the assault of a young motorist. The incident also raised questions about the perennial problem of the excessive use of force by police. Though the DIG concerned was transferred immediately, the Inspector General of Police is under an obligation to hold a fair an independent inquiry into the DIGs conduct. Police hooliganism is rampant in the country. Many cases have been reported from the East and Colombo as well. It is time for the minister in charge of law and order to stop the police from taking the law into their hands. This can be a test case for the police to show that it is genuinely interested in establishing a disciplined police force that has to work with the people to maintain law and order.

The government has lost all credibility in the eyes of the people with its continuous policy gaffes the most recent being the appointment of Ven. Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero to lead the task force to draft and implement a law on the concept of “One Country One Law”. The monk, notorious for his vitriol and foul language, was convicted by the Court of Appeal for Contempt of Court and sentenced to six years imprisonment but walked free after a presidential pardon. Human rights activists are of the view that his appointment to head the Task force is an insult to the people. A dossier on the Ven. Gannasara is doing its rounds on the social media platforms and elsewhere.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a thinktank on good governance, has called on the appointing authority to rescind the gazetterelating to the appointment of the Taskforce immediately.  It wants closer scrutiny of the intricate issues that are involved. Many point out that the Taskforce lacks proper representation without Tamil intellectuals.  The consensus however is that it is another political project of the administration to incite communalism just before the provincial council election.  The government promised India to schedule the election for March next year. The final draft of the One Country –One Law is to be submitted to the President in February.


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