Sri Lanka: Who will handle the repayment of the countless billion-dollar debts?

Politicians are rightly identified as the main culprits. But what of others—the teachers, principals, and religious leaders who piggy-backed on the politicians for prestige or other favours?

3 mins read
Houses and Apartment Complexes seen from the top of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on August 7, 2023. The current metro area population of Colombo in 2023 will be 633,000, a 1.12% increase from 2022. The metro area population of Colombo in 2022 was 626,000, a 1.13% increase from 2021. The metro area population of Colombo in 2021 was 619,000, a 0.98% increase from 2020. (Photo by Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto)

This columnist’s living memory stretches over many decades, with jokers on platforms at every given opportunity pledging their solemn commitment to do their utmost and invest in the development and welfare of the nation’s children. Their commitments were made not only on political platforms but also on school-prizegiving stages, before the religious faithful, and of course in the press, radio, and TV since the ‘70s.

We are now in the ‘departure lounge’ of our lives, with billions of dollars of debt on the heads of every citizen to be paid through taxes in various forms and over 50 percent of the savings being wiped out by inflation. But the jokers keep saying that they are making great sacrifices for the sake of Lanka’s children; some of the ‘children’ are now in their eighties!

Politicians are rightly identified as the main culprits. But what of others—the teachers, principals, and religious leaders who piggy-backed on the politicians for prestige or other favours?

High-ranking religious dignitaries, wittingly or unwittingly, may have contributed to the financial and political debacle of Lanka.

The rogues of the nation are often featured in the media, especially on TV, undergoing a live media resurrection with blessings being conferred on the rogues by the high-ranking religious dignitaries of the land. Clad in holy white ‘national’, they crawl on their fours, make their offerings and arise as saints in white. The conversation with religious personalities is not on confessions of their notorious performances of the past but on some inane subjects.

Certainly, religious dignitaries should grant audiences to any kind of criminal who seeks their advice and blessings. But why should publicity be given to this resurrection, recorded by the TV crews of the visiting criminals and shown on prime-time TV news? Soon after the resurrection, crooks are on TV and other media, preaching to us about the need to care for the nation’s children and how to govern the country, if Lanka is to progress.

The original sin of the debacle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is, of course, with the sovereign people. They adopted the system of electing alternating packs of failures. It’s different from electing two alternate political parties where the parties purge undesirables, but here we have almost the same characters—except for the dead—coming back. One set of undesirables thrown out of power returns to replace the alternate undesirable pack.

The talk of the town now is that two undesirable packs may join together for the next general and presidential elections if such elections are held.

The Baby Boomers, the generation born after World War II and Malaria ended and remained in Lanka, will pay for the billion-dollar debts till their time comes, but their children are now fleeing the country in a massive exodus. So who will pay the billion-dollar debts? The poor farmers whose fate was sealed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s disastrous foray into organic fertiliser, and now with wild jumbos destroying even their homes, low prices for rice with imports, and faulty marketing practices? Tea plantation workers are not paid enough for increased production. Tourism, yes, but not enough to sustain the economy despite ‘Badulla’ lady Diana’s efforts of exporting Ganja for medicinal purposes, casinos, and keeping bars open till midnight.

Not to worry, say Indian lovers. Already, 4 billion dollars have come, and more are yet to come. China, our time-trusted friend, too, has said that it will give us time to pay the billions. Japan will give us money for friendship’s sake, as they always did, and dear Julie Chang is giving free soybeans and Triposha to our kids.

All we have to do is sign some defence agreements with the US, some of which were signed by Gotabaya, and much more Yankee aid will be forthcoming. Already, we are with the Yanks, with India being a member of the Quad Defence Alliance against China, and it is apparent that India is the proxy power of the Quad for South Asia—the Indian Ocean islands, particularly Lanka, in immediate focus.

But who will pay back the billions of dollars in debt to India, China, international monetary institutions and investors in our Treasury bonds who are now threatening legal action?

Gautam Adani—the world’s richest man one day and the 25th richest the next day after an adverse investigative report that questioned the investments made by his family group offshore?

He has recovered from that, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to provide him with investment opportunities in India and even in countries like Sri Lanka, although the Indian CBI (Central Bureau of Investigations) is reported to be investigating his business ventures.

India today is being proclaimed a world power by Narendra Modi, and he is not shy of projecting himself as a future world conqueror in finance and international power.

This planet has seen world conquerors before, from Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan to more contemporary ones such as Napoleon and Hitler, and their rise and fall. Will Modi be an exception?

India has changed from the Gandhis and Nehrus to Narendra Modi in 75 years. Will Modi’s India remain unchanged till eternity?

These are philosophical problems we are reflecting on in our Hansiputuwa. But one problem defies an answer. Who will pay the debts of billions of dollars: our children, grandchildren and their progeny?

Gamini Weerakoon

Gamini Weerakoon is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island, and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.

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