Sri Lanka

The Banality of Julienism in Sri Lanka: Feeding Diplomacy or Diplomatic Feeding?

3 mins read

by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

Diplomacy requires tact and sensitivity towards other cultures and customs, and it is important to avoid behaviour that could be perceived as offensive or disrespectful. – Kofi Annan

An image circulated by the US embassy in Colombo featuring an American diplomat the incumbent US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Julie Chung feeding a hungry school kid in Sri Lanka shows the ugly side of the so-called American diplomacy. While the act of feeding a hungry child is undoubtedly a noble one, the image has raised questions about the ethics of using such acts for publicity and whether it is appropriate for foreign diplomats to involve themselves in such situations. Performing like a monkey with feathers to fly in front of the media and other social gatherings is nothing but a deplorable form of comedic entertainment.

For parents, the hardest thing is to see their children being fed by someone else. This sentiment is universal, and it is understandable that the image of a foreign diplomat feeding a child in another country is disturbing. The little girl’s face in the picture says it all. She is a victim of the entire scenario, caught up in something that should not have happened in the first place.

The embassy’s decision to circulate this image as a means of publicizing the diplomat’s efforts is questionable. Diplomacy is about building relationships and fostering understanding between nations, not using a child’s hunger to garner attention. It is even more disturbing to consider the possibility that this act was done with the intention of promoting a hegemonic image of the US in Sri Lanka.

Certainly, this incident represents something beyond diplomacy, perhaps even a new term should be created to describe it. Let’s refer to it as “Julienism.”  It is important to note that this incident does not reflect the behaviour of all American diplomats in Sri Lanka but the act of a disordered individual who does not know the limits of her diplomatic duties. The fact is that there have been many US diplomats who have done an excellent job during their tenure in the country, behaving with respect and humility. But quite contrary to her predecessors, she does not hesitate to point out small errors in signboards or take selfies to demonstrate her “artificial humanity” and use every possible opportunity to mock the island nation and its people.

It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka has politicians who are willing to act as western bootlickers and take the country down to such a low level. The incident involving the American diplomat and the hungry school kid is just one example of how the Western mindset works to undermine the morals and ethics of nations.

It is important to recognize that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a part of a larger pattern of behaviour from Western powers. They know how to manipulate and control nations to serve their own interests, often at the expense of the local population. The fact that a kid born into the Korean dissidents turned diplomat picked rice, certainly not by accident, is a prime example of how the West works to keep countries dependent on them. They create a situation where the local economy is unable to sustain itself and then swoop in with their aid programs to keep the population dependent on them.

The ultimate goal of this strategy is to turn Sri Lanka into a vassal state, where any external power can come in and exert their influence. This is a dangerous situation for any nation to be in, as it puts their sovereignty and independence at risk.

In order to counter this threat, Sri Lanka must strengthen its own economy and reduce its reliance on external aid. At least for basic foods. This will require a concerted effort from the government and the people, but it is a necessary step if the country is to thrive and prosper.

It is important to condemn the banality of the act of this US Ambassador in the strongest possible terms. The US government must take this issue seriously and take appropriate action to address the matter. It is unacceptable for any foreign diplomat to act in such an inhumane, insensitive, and disrespectful manner towards Sri Lanka, its people, and its future generations.

It is unfortunate that some media outlets, NGOs, and civil society groups are manipulated by the US and other Western blocs, and are hesitant to speak out against this triteness. This kind of behaviour is a clear violation of Sri Lanka’s nationhood and sovereignty, and it should not be tolerated by any means.

Although Sri Lanka is going through a difficult time, this does not give anyone the right to disrespect the country or its people. Sri Lanka is not a tool for anyone’s disordered mind to fulfil their brutal desires. Such actions are not only disrespectful but also degrading to the country and its people. As Henry A. Kissinger, once noted, “In diplomacy, actions speak louder than words, and it is crucial to avoid any behaviour that could damage trust and credibility.”

It is indeed an ugly show by those who claim to be the guardians of human rights and who often brag about the right to privacy. However, it is important to note that sooner or later, such diplomats will receive the same treatment, the famous shoe treatment, that George W Bush received from the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi.  This kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and it is imperative that it is addressed with the seriousness it deserves.

Sri Lanka: A Nation’s Quest for Identity and Unity

11 mins read

I concluded a previous article published  Sri Lanka Guardian on January 28, 2023 (Is recolonisation the final solution II) touching on the deplorable situation that innocent Sri Lankans have been plunged into not only by the current economic crisis but also by the so-called Tamil ethnic problem, both aggravated by unjust direct foreign intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, subversive NGO activities and various forms of imported religious fundamentalism, with the following words:

“The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.”

Now a large proportion of “the young of the country today”, unfortunately, are not aware of the unspoken truth behind the growing political instability and the artificial economic ruin that is engulfing the nation. The criticism often repeated these days that all post-independence governments mismanaged the economy, ruined everything through corruption and did nothing for nation building is not a valid one. It is deliberate disinformation chiefly peddled by anti-national political and religious extremists, that is, Tamil federalists/separatists, and Christian/Catholic and Islamist fundamentalist groups. Ordinary Tamils and Muslims have lived peacefully with the Sinhalese majority as equal citizens of one country for many centuries.  Although extremists are only a handful among the relevant mainstream minority communities, they are a power to reckon with in Sri Lanka’s current besieged condition.

The aforementioned misrepresentations and corresponding misconceptions are accepted as indisputable facts, particularly by the sadly uninformed credulous section of the young population today. They are largely ignorant of the origin of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem and its exploitation by the former colonial powers and their allies to destabilize our little island that is located in a geostrategically and geopolitically sensitive region. The future that the genuinely concerned young people envisage for the country could end up as a mere pipedream unless they make a serious study of what truly happened within the past seventy-five years of independence and shape their strategies, learning from the formidable challenges the older generations had to meet, and the admirable successes as well as the dismal failures that they had experienced in the course of the past three quarters of a century. 

Had these misguided young people including the yellow robed ones among them been properly instructed about the sharp political awareness and inspired activism that the brave youth of their parents’ generation involved in the second JVP insurrection of the 1986-1990 period displayed, they would be ashamed of themselves. Had they learned about the ideologically even more sophisticated fresh young men and women of their grandparents’ time who took to arms in the first JVP rebellion of 1971 against the popular, newly elected left-of-centre United Front government of Mrs Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike without any provocation except a self-denying revolutionary zeal to force a real system change in the country’s politics, the strange bedfellows of the so-called Galle Face Aragalaya  would have died of self-loathing. 

Of course, it must be remembered that the majority of the Aragalaya protestors were genuine. I would not include among them the handful of religious extremists who staged an ‘Aadaraye Aragalaya’ (Struggle of Love). The authentic agitators were similar to, if not identical with, the countless groups of spontaneously inspired young boys and girls from diverse communities who volunteered to adorn the city walls across the country with beautiful paintings (some with historical themes) to celebrate what they thought was the dawn of a new era with the eagerly awaited ‘system change’ made possible by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as president in 2019. The expectations of the youth of the country were dashed to the ground when president Gotabaya, earlier universally believed to be the iconic leader the country needed to salvage it from the mire of corrupt politics and the Yahapalanaya, Good Governance, misadventure (now conveniently forgotten), failed to deliver due to countervailing internal and external forces assisted, as suspected,  by the treachery of his family as well as his own lack of pragmatic political skills, in spite of his undoubted moral uprightness. These genuine protestors should be distinguished from the few political and religious extremists who wanted to hog media attention by making the loudest noises. 

Corruption among politicians is a fact. ‘Dealer politics’ is also a perennial issue. Mahinda Rajapaksa embodies a striking example of both. He, whose political leadership helped to rid the country of LTTE terrorism, has almost totally nullified the benign results of that success through his horse trading with extremists aimed at perpetuating his family’s ascendancy over Sri Lanka’s political landscape. Corruption charges against him remain yet to be substantiated. But the notoriety he has been already accorded in the media cannot be any worse if the allegations turn out to be true. These evils – corruption in high places and abuse of democracy for selfish gain – must be fixed by the enlightened youth of the country. But the present economic crisis and political instability cannot be totally attributed to these evils alone. Such simplistic generalization in itself is a grave error. It is a graver error, a crime against the nation in fact, to dismiss the history of the past seventy-five years since independence as one of unchecked thievery and erroneous policy making by unpatriotic politicians.   

Within the first two decades after severing ties with the British monarchy, thousands of pure-hearted idealistic young men and women (over 5000 in 1971 and over 60,000 in 1986-90, almost totally from the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community) paid the ultimate price, laid down their lives, in the name of their Motherland. They fought for the country, not for a particular race or community. Their battle cry was: “mau bima naeththam maranaya” “Motherland or Death”. The 1971 JVP rebellion provided a major stimulus for the government to introduce many progressive measures to build a self-reliant national economy through new state enterprises (such as the tyre and steel corporations, paper mills, sugar mills, and chemical fertilizer plants) as well as through increasing domestic food production. Similarly, the second JVP uprising of 1986-90 became a watershed for a profound change of course in Sri Lankan politics. The deluded, impractical modern day Aragalakarayas who are merely adding to the hardships of  the suffering masses by their exasperating antics must remember that they are by no means pioneers in the struggle for a system change in Lankan politics. (Of course, today’s JVP is not what it was then. Its new leaders do not seem to understand the meaning of simple concepts like nationalism, racism, secularism, religious fundamentalism, culture, and the rest.)

Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known to the outside world before 1972) was under Christian European domination for roughly four and a half centuries from the beginning of the sixteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. With the annexation (through conspiracy rather than conquest) of the Kandyan kingdom (or the Kingdom of Sinhale as it was called then) to the British empire in 1815, the whole of the country came under colonial rule. The British left in 1948 having granted Ceylon what was known as dominion status independence. That is, it became one of the “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. It is clear from the Wikipedia definition quoted in the previous sentence that the ‘independence’ given in 1948 was subject to lingering colonial restraints. Full independence was achieved in 1972 through the promulgation of the first republican constitution under the United Front government headed by prime minister Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike. 

In talking about the eventful seventy-five years since 1948, we need to take a quick retrospective look at the immediate pre-independence years. The minority leaders, particularly, Tamil leaders, feared that the majority Sinhalese would dominate the government on the basis of their superior numerical strength to their disadvantage when the proposed Westminster type parliamentary system would come into operation with the departure of the colonial British. It was to avoid such potential Sinhalese dominance emerging that the Ceylon Tamil Congress leader and lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam demanded a 50-50 allocation of parliamentary seats for the Sihalese and all the minorities put together, which was grossly unfair by the former. The proposal was scornfully rejected by the Soulbury commissioners who drafted the independence constitution. Sinhalese leaders headed by D.S. Senanayake assured a government representative of all the communities without discrimination. The aim of his United National Party founded in 1946 was for the various communities in the country to evolve into one Ceylonese nation living in unity. But Tamil leaders always thought in communal terms. They wanted the privileged status that the Tamil elite of the time had enjoyed under the British to continue. But they knew this was going to change after 1948 when the native Sinhalese majority would try to restore their long lost rights. So, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam founded the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi or Lanka Tamil State Party in 1949. They popularized it as the Federal Party. The misleading English name was meant to conceal the ultimate goal of the party, a separate state for Tamils within the territory of Ceylon/Sinhalay (since this was not possible to achieve within the strong gigantic Union of India where Tamil Nadu, Tamils’ real homeland, lies). 

At independence, the British colonialists left a country that was able to flaunt relatively high economic indices due to volatile external factors associated with the end of World War II in 1945 (such as the increase in the price of rubber exports from Ceylon). A 1948 UN report described the Sri Lankan economy as agricultural and industrially underdeveloped; low productivity and unavailability of resources relative to the country’s population hampered its economic development. The people were socially and communally divided as a result of the imperial policy of ‘divide and rule’. A minuscule minority of citizens that emerged as an English speaking, Westernized and generally Christian elite was privileged over the rest of the downtrodden population. (Today some members of the same class are looking forward to a return to the good old days.) The vast majority of the people lived in grinding poverty then. The reality was a far cry from what (probably the majority of) today’s young people have been brainwashed to believe through propaganda, a pre-independence Utopia of sorts.

The seventy-five year post-independence history of Sri Lanka is the  record of one long national struggle conducted according to democratic norms from the very beginning for the historic goal of building a Sri Lankan nation that stands on its own feet as a single sovereign state that is second to none in the world. In my opinion, six iconic leaders gave leadership to this struggle, whose approaches were different, though the goal remained the same. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake (1947-52) regarded all citizens as ‘Ceylonese’, not as Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, etc who were at loggerheads with each other. He began his national service decades before independence. As minister for agriculture and lands in the State Council in the 1930s, he brought in legislation to bring bare lands into cultivation through irrigation schemes. Under his multipurpose Gal Oya Development project, 250,000 landless peasants were settled in uninhabited areas in the eastern province. Some communal-minded Tamil politicians objected to this to no avail. It was Senanayake who proposed the use of hydroelectricity, as Sri Lanka had no coal or gas for energy production. He was popular among ordinary people of all communities as well as among the British who were leaving. His unexpected death in 1952 removed his sound leadership. Like D.S. before him, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1956-59) was elected at a parliamentary election to lead the nation as prime minister in 1956. He was a true nationalist like Senanayake. As such, he took steps to redress the harsh discrimination that the majority Sinhalese were subjected to under the colonial British. Communalist Tamil leaders vehemently opposed him. Tamil MPs opposed him even when he had the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21, 1957 passed. The particular act was  meant as a check on caste discrimination, a social evil that was especially severe among their own community. (Some hooligans among the Aragalakarayas at Galle Face wanted to pull down the Bandaranaike statue there for obvious reasons.) It was his widowed wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1961-65, 1970-77, 1994-2000) who was able to turn the Dominion of Ceylon into the fully independent Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which was the most profound system change that any post-independence leader ever achieved in the name of the Sri Lankan people (nation). She pioneered certain economic policies, that harked back to the D.S. Senanayake era of agricultural development just as well as they looked forward to a future of local industrial advancement. The austerity measures her government introduced were too much for the people. The opposition made use of the spreading public disaffection with her administration and the emergence of a streak of authoritarianism on her part in undemocratically prolonging the government’s term of office by two years. J.R. Jayawardane (1977-89), who was himself a staunch nationalist like his predecessors, had the second republican constitution promulgated by which he instituted the all powerful executive presidency. The institution of the executive presidency has to date protected the unitary status of the Sri Lankan state. J.R. saw to it that it survived even the Indian imposed 13A, at least tenuously. He introduced the open market economy model for national development. He implemented the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme, the largest multipurpose development project ever undertaken in the history of the country. It was the fruition of an plan proposed by Sirima Bandaranaike as (the world’s first female) prime minister in 1961. Following J.R. Jayawardane, R. Premadasa (1989-93) made history as the first ‘commoner’ to become head of state of Sri Lanka. He got elected as president at a time when the country was literally being torn apart by civil strife by the JVP in the South and by the LTTE in the North. The JVP violently opposed the UNP government of JRJ for giving into Indian expansionist intervention in Sri Lanka). Premadasa himself, though prime minister under Jayawardane, had demonstrated his angry disapproval of the Indo-Lanka accord by absenting himself from the signing ceremony between JR and Rajiv Gandhi. Premadasa put an end to the JVP insurgency in1989 through ruthless violence. The LTTE was mounting terrorist attacks on civilian as well as military targets in pursuit of their dream of establishing a separate state on Sri Lankan territory. On becoming president, Premadasa flatly asked India at a public rally to withdraw the Indian Peace Keeping Force. He was determined to resolve the Tamil problem peacefully as an internal matter. He made peace overtures to the LTTE. He was said to have given arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF. But finally, Premadasa was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to militarily defeat the LTTE terrorism through his political management skills. But he gravely mismanaged the aftermath through personal hybris as well as family bandyism. Even his nationalist credentials are in doubt now. But his past achievements cannot be forgotten.

The great nationalist achievements of the past seventy-five years, which belong to all the communities that make Sri Lanka their home, are a memorable part of the country’s history, whatever its future is going to be. This truth must be revealed to the global powers – the America-led West, India, and China – who have remained our friends throughout the last seventy-five years and helped us generously in their different ways in spite of their own conflicting national interests. Sri Lanka is indispensable for each of them because of its geostrategic location. The highly cultured peaceful Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities have been living in peace and harmony for centuries. Disinformation by the few separatists and the handful of religious extremists who are exploiting the misplaced generosity of charitable international donors should not be allowed to prolong the suffering of these innocent people, who pose no threat to any of those powers. All Sri Lankans want the geostrategic location of their island to be a blessing for them, not a curse.

Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Celebrates International Women’s Day

1 min read

With International Women’s Day 2023 centred around the theme of #EmbraceEquity, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, as a forerunner in promoting gender equality in the private sector and beyond, continues its longstanding pledge to support and empower women in business and societal spheres, through numerous initiatives and partnerships.

A workshop to facilitate women entrepreneurs to become export ready and expand their businesses to the global market was the most recent of such initiatives. Conducted in Ratnapuraon 3rd March, by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Centre for SMEs in collaboration with Seylan Bank and the Sabaragamuwa Chamber of Commerce, 65 women entrepreneurs from diverse sectors were coached on consolidating and adding more value to their product ranges, identifying opportunities and attracting international buyers.  

A staff workshop on decoding and identifying nutritional information on food labels will also be conducted on 8th March, coinciding with International Women’s Day, in order to promote better health and food choices amongst individuals and families and contribute towards a healthier nation.

The Chamber is the principle implementing partner of the International Labour Organization’s South Asia Leadership in Entrepreneurship (SALE) programme, which promotes youth entrepreneurship, and aims to address challenges such as gender bias and inequality among other challenges in this field. Other initiatives such as joining the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign annually, is further demonstration of its commitment to ensuring female empowerment in all spheres.

Adhering to the maxim that change must first begin from within, the Chamber has long been a champion of female empowerment and gender equality, demonstrated by its workforce composition, with women accounting for 59% of all employees, and a significant presence of 83% at the senior leadership level.

Deputy Secretary General and Chief Operating Officer of the Ceylon Chamber, Mrs. Alikie Perera said, ‘we believe that empowering women is essential for creating a more inclusive and prosperous economy, and we are committed to supporting women entrepreneurs and leaders in Sri Lanka’.

Election Manoeuvring Is a Blessing in Disguise

4 mins read

The manoeuvrings of the president of Sri Lanka who came to power abusing a constantly hackneyed and worthless paper called the constitution have made the election commission postpone the local government elections. I view this postponement as a grand opportunity for the NPP to regroup and battle it out better prepared or as at least an opportunity to turn the presumed disadvantage into an advantage. Ranil’s ascendancy to the throne is unconstitutional and unethical. When the Pohottuwa and the UNP fought the general election, they promised people different policies. Ranil was defeated. People celebrated the defeat of Ranil’s campaign and consequently his policies could not be implemented. Suddenly he becomes the president and starts implementing his policies that were rejected by people en masse. Perhaps some legitimacy could have been attached to his appointment, at least if he declared that he left the UNP and joined the PJP to be nominated for the presidency. The opposition missed this point, that they should have argued that he had not been elected by people, but he could join PJP and be elected to be the president by their vote. Ranil could have been trapped in his own trap.

Regroup with higher sophistication, better technology, and much vigour.

Until the ‘Aragalaya’ opened the eyes of everyone to see that the country is ready for a significant political change, even NPP had not believed that they could lead this change of power with just three members in the parliament. Since then, until now, they, encouraged by the new belief have worked hard to turn the tide to their side. The results are visible everywhere in the country. The undemocratic actions of the government in fear and agitation of a possible victory of NPP is proved by the hideous manoeuvrings aimed at a postponement or a cancellation of local government elections. While it is imperative to win the demand for holding elections, NPP cannot undervalue the opportunity offered them by the grace of God.


Election speeches should not be restricted to the well-known speakers. People have seen them and heard them time and again. There is a plethora of educated, experienced and skilled speakers in their ranks to go on stage and speak, reserving the veterans behind the scenes to appear at peak times. Speeches must refrain from traditional attacks on opponents and show a sophisticated trend of oration that should show points of facts, make counter arguments, and raise hopes for a disciplined rule and a bright future.

Better technology

The use of modern technology in the election rallies would be a much more effective weapon than a speaker screaming from the back of his throat with damaged vocal cords. If NPP can focus an old picture onto a screen on stage with severed heads that were placed on the culverts of the University of Peradeniya, it would be much more effective than someone telling the people that Premadasa murdered sixty thousand youth who were not necessarily JVP supporters but political opponents of the then ruling UNP and dragged this country backword by at least twenty years. Photos, video clips and other visual or auditory aids can be used to remind people what others have said and done in the past.


NPP must use its supporters to work individually more vigorously. Train them to go from house to house highlighting that this is the last chance for people to make the system change that people were clamouring for throughout the aragalaya. They must target still loyal traditional voters who have been constantly deceived by both the UNP and the SLFP and their splinter parties.

International recognition

Now, time is on their side to prepare better counter arguments backed by some proof. For example, when interviewed, a toothless man said “JVP has no  Jathyantharaya”. He meant to say that NPP does not have internationally recognised people in its ranks. In fact, the man has no understanding of what is meant by the term international. He just repeated something he had heard from another uneducated person. This is where the raising of awareness takes centre stage.

What is international support? Most people think that international collaboration can be drawn by people who wear suits and speak some English. For example, Ranil and Sajith. NPP should dispel that myth and make people understand that NPP is not a one-man party but a consortium of people and in that they have numerous people who can speak better English than what Ranil speaks.

None of the Sri Lanka’s current politicians have international recognition. To achieve international recognition, they should have raised the living standards of people and the reputation of the country. On the contrary SL politicians have sent what was once a relatively prosperous country of Asia to the bottom of the world ranking of every possible index and impoverished its people beyond recognition with the sole hope of getting their votes by offering metaphorical two measures of rice. Only to a beggar two measures of rice is a lottery drawn.

In the United Kingdom for example, all British citizens are proud of their individual and collective status on the world stage and no politician would imagine bringing that status down even by a shred. With their knowledge of what the current SL politicians have done to their own country and people, if a British politician privately meets one SL politician, he will get a fat spit on the face let alone international recognition.

Mud attacks

NPP can turn the appearance of Hirunika the loose cannon on stage who screamed that Anura cannot resist but wants to shoot them down when he sees people and wants to burn them when he sees buses, to their advantage. Newly baptised Damitha who said she wanted to help the son of a man who crushed the JVP in the 1980s. She forgot that she was inadvertently highlighting a mass murderer whose son is promising buses in place of his father’s promise of a coconut not half a coconut. Instead of delivering coconuts, Premadasa delivered bullets indiscriminately.

Prabhu class

Buddadasa Vithanachchi explained that none of the modern rulers descend from real prabhus except Sirimavo Ratwatte. They were wannabe prabhus. It is true that those families earned wealth by obeying Western rulers. In other words, by betraying locals and licking the foreigners’ boots. Ranil is the epitome of cunning, deceit, shamelessness, and lowliness that their ancestors possessed. The young generation should stop promoting them as prabhus or radalas. Prabhus must have dignity, respect, honour, and the sense of shame on the forefront of their personality. Ranil clan has none.

Sri Lanka: Ranil Faces Hobson’s Choice

4 mins read

February ended as a month of discontent for the public after the government raised power tariffs for a second time on February 15. It was said to be the last of 15 conditions to be met for the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of $2.9 billion. But the uncertainties over the EFF are not over as the IMF is yet to receive assurance from China as India and the Paris Club have done. China has offered only a two-year moratorium on its debts.

Opposition SJB MP and economist Dr Harsha De Silva, while strongly condemning the raising of power tariffs for a second time, said Sri Lanka could technically still receive IMF support. He said it can be done through Lending into Official Arrears Policy (LOAP) with support from the US, if 50% of debtors have agreed to restructure their facilities. He suggested that if loans from the China Development Bank can be moved under commercial loans instead of bilateral loans, this could be achieved.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at various forums has focused on economic recovery. While addressing a Rotary gathering on February 18, he emphasised the importance of economic recovery and improving citizens quality of life. He said democracy depends on the maintenance of public order which requires law and order. Following the country’s economic recovery, next year it would be able to decide on the future it wants, with the use of the ballot (italics added), clearly indicating he was against the LG election.

Addressing Tax Forum 2023 on February 21, he strongly defended the current tax policy, as a rescue operation and not a normal tax policy. If the policy is disrupted, Sri Lanka will not be able to join the IMF programme and lose the opportunity to do business with foreign countries.

The President is applying his masterly skills at obfuscation to handle questions on the long overdue LG elections. The election scheduled for March 9 stands postponed as the Election Commission had been facing a number of structural and financial issues to conduct the elections. The air has been thick for the last two months with questions on LG elections from all sides, ranging from semi literate politicians, sensationalising paparazzi, sanctimonious but erudite civil society leaders and sermonising do-gooders who shun responsibility.

The President’s speech on the LG election issue in parliament on February 23 is an eloquent example of obfuscation. He said “There is no election to be postponed. I have so far not got into this debate on elections as I kept out of it on the grounds that I will not get involved in politics. However, today, we hear the Election Commission will inform Courts that the election cannot be held since an affidavit has been submitted. I will speak on it, as otherwise it will be unfair on the part of the Treasury Secretary. The Commission has been informed by the Treasury Secretary that they are unable to provide necessary funds to conduct the elections. That is not true. It was I who first informed the Election Commission in December that due to the economic situation, it was not possible to hold the elections.

President Wickremesinghe appears to be a votary of 50s British humourist Stephen Potter who authored Lifemanship series of books. In that era of self-help manuals of the Dale Carnegie variety, Potter focused on books with less exalted goals of survival issues like: “winning without actually cheating (Gamesmanship), “creative intimidation (One-Upmanship)”, and “making the other man feel that something has gone wrong however slightly” (“Lifemanship”). The President seems to be using all the ploys of Potter to confuse the nation reeling under unmanageable price rise of daily necessities. Obfuscation is the erudite man’s quibbling in action. Oxford Languages explains it as “the action of making something obscure, unclear or unintelligible, when confronted with sharp questions they resort to obfuscation.”

Successful politicians develop their skills at the art of obfuscation to difficult questions from the paparazzi, awkward questions from the informed audience and perhaps, to handle embarrassing moments with their girlfriends. If there is an award for obfuscation in politics, President Wickremesinghe will win a platinum award. Perhaps, he can’t be faulted for it because probably that came, when he earned the President’s chair without a popular mandate after a severe drubbing in the general elections.

But time may be running out for such gamesmanship, if we go by the mood of the people in the thousands who had gathered in protest in Colombo on February 26. The National People’s Power (NPP) led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) held a massive protest against the postponement of the LG elections by the government in Colombo. NPP and JVP leaders including MP Anura Kumar Dissanayake and NPP MP Vijitha Herath had joined the protest. Prior to the protest, magistrate courts concerned had issued orders preventing the protests. Orders were also issued against 26 persons including Dissanayake from marching towards Galle Face Green and the Presidential Secretariat. When the protestors gathered in strength and wanted to march towards Colombo Fort area they were stopped by the police. Meanwhile, reinforcements of police in riot gear and army personnel joined the police.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the restive crowd which were shouting anti-Wickremesinghe slogans. In the melee that followed more than 20 persons were hospitalised. One of the NPP candidates for LG election who was hospitalised succumbed to his injuries. Police action in crushing the public protest has been condemned by civil society and even political parties not supporting the NPP-JVP combine.

Meanwhile 15 unions of the Ceylon Electricity Board employees are already protesting against the structural changes and tariff revisions. Trade unions of several sectors are scheduled to go on strike on March 1 against the recently introduced tax policy. Meanwhile, President Wickremesinghe has signed a gazette notification declaring several services related to ports, airports and passenger transport services as essential services.

Clearly the President faces Hobson’s choice.

Tailpiece: Resurrection of Prabhakaran on February 13, 2023, Tamil nationalist movement leader Pazha Nedumaran resurrected the ghost of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader who was slain on May 19, 2009 towards the end of the Eelam War. The aging former Congress leader from Tamil Nādu claimed Prabhakaran was still alive and would appear in public shortly. He said the LTTE leader was “hale and robust” and urged the Tamil people to rally behind him. The news failed to animate anyone.

Sri Lanka: Karannagoda Report — A Flawed Investigation?

5 mins read

by Our Defence Affairs Editor

The measure of a man is what he does with power. – Plato

The concept of a state is a crucial component of modern society. A state is essentially a structure that is based on a chain of command. This chain of command is what provides the state with its ability to function, as it enables those in positions of power to issue commands that are then carried out by those below them in the hierarchy. The strength of this structure is therefore essential to the success of the state, and any weakness in the chain of command can ultimately lead to the state becoming fragile.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, many people do not understand the difference between the state and the government. The government is a temporary body that is elected by the people to govern the state for a certain period of time. Those who are elected are bound to fulfil the public aspirations, but in Sri Lanka, this relationship between the state and the government has become increasingly blurred.

This issue has been highlighted in the recent inquiry report into whether there was any lapse on the part of State Intelligence, Police, and the Armed Forces during the massive anti-government public protest on May 9th 2022 which eventually kicked out the elected president for the first time in history. Strangely, only 65 witnesses were summoned by the committee to have evidence on such a landmark incident. However, the report was issued by a committee comprising former tri-forces commanders and was headed by Sri Lanka’s first-ever Admiral of the Fleet, Wasantha Karannagoda. The 17-page report was first handed over to the President at the end of last year and was later submitted to the Appeal Court on February 23rd. However, the head of the committee, Karannagoda, made a strange move by submitting the report himself to the Appeal Court. Later, a selected number of pages were leaked to the media by an “unknown” party, but the essence of the report has yet to be made public. From what has been reported, the report openly alleges that the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who was then the Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, had abandoned his responsibilities, which had caused chaos during the protest. Instead of highlighting the overall shortcomings of the whole incident, the focus of the report has been directed towards CDS as the main target.

As mentioned above, this case study is an exemplary one that highlights the importance of understanding the difference between the state and the government. It also highlights the need for state workers to exercise their duties without taking political bias decisions. The state and the government have different functions, and it is crucial that those in positions of power understand this. The government may be temporary, but the state is a permanent fixture in society.

In addition to criticizing the behaviour of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the report also pointed out the behaviour of the Secretary of Defense. However, the Board’s handling of the legal procedures that should have been followed by law enforcement agencies during the public protest has been largely ignored. This has led to criticism of the report for singling out the Secretary of Defense, while largely ignoring the responsibilities of the Secretary to the Law and Order Ministry. It is the Inspector General of Police who should be responsible for requesting the Secretary of Law and Order to deploy the army with the authorization of the Secretary of Defense when the police are unable to handle the situation. We don’t understand how the inquiry board came to the conclusion that CDS has been empowered with such power.  Therefore, the responsibilities of the Board should have been to investigate the nuances of the series of incidents without targeting selected individuals for whatever reasons.

When public outrage erupts against the government, it is the government’s responsibility to address the seriousness of the situation and punish the perpetrators who are responsible for plundering public assets. However, this inquiry report has been criticized for showing indifference to the wrongdoings of legislators within the government while attempting to silence and undermine the voices of the public. This is not only irrational, but it is also a sign of deliberate ignorance of the fundamentals of governance. Despite the report elaborating on the root causes behind the public outrage against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which was unfortunately hijacked by certain political parties later, the commission has pathetically tried to whitewash the injustices of those who first instigate the violence by humiliating the defence apparatus. This has led to further criticism of the report and the Board’s handling of the investigation.

The important issue that has arisen in relation to this inquiry report is the credibility of the report itself. The fact that the report was headed by a person who was arraigned by the court of law for allegedly abducting and killing 11 innocents for ransoms has raised serious questions about the report’s credibility.  The person in question, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda, was implicated in the abduction and killing of 11 young men during the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The case is still ongoing, and Admiral Karannagoda has been accused of interfering in the case and intimidating witnesses. Given this background, it is reasonable to question whether Admiral Karannagoda was the appropriate person to lead an investigation into the conduct of the state intelligence, police, and armed forces during the May 2022 public protest.

The fact that only selected pages of the report were leaked to the media has also raised further questions about the report’s credibility. Without access to the full report, it is difficult to determine whether the leaked pages accurately represent the findings of the inquiry. Furthermore, the leak of selected pages has created the impression that certain individuals or groups may be trying to manipulate the narrative to suit their own interests.

It’s possible that someone is scheming against CDS General Shavendra Silva by defaming him, especially since he has taken some controversial actions that have challenged the status quo. As Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Silva’s actions, including his leadership during the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War and his involvement in various post-war initiatives, have made him a polarizing figure. While some may appreciate his efforts to bring about change, others may view his actions as threatening to their interests. Nevertheless, it’s important to evaluate any accusations against him objectively and without bias, to ensure that justice is served fairly and impartially.

As Jesus once said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The holy words of the son of the Lord highlight the idea that none of us is without fault, and that we should approach others with humility and compassion, rather than judgement and condemnation. This sentiment is particularly relevant in the context of the inquiry report being discussed, which is facing questions of credibility and impartiality. While some may be quick to criticize and assign blame, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect and that everyone is capable of making mistakes. Rather than casting stones, we should strive to approach this issue with a spirit of understanding and a desire to uncover the truth, without allowing political biases or personal agendas to cloud our judgement. Only by approaching this issue with humility and an open mind can we hope to achieve a fair and just outcome.

Sagala at 55: Navigating Complexity of Social Upheaval in Sri Lanka

3 mins read

by Our Political Affairs Editor

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill

Today, February 27th, Sagala Gajendra Ratnayaka celebrated his 55th birthday. As a Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe, he is a man of commitment and dedication, hailed from the deep South of Deniyaya and was educated at Royal College Colombo. Before entering politics, he had a career in banking following his completion of an Economics degree from Lewis & Clark College in the USA. But Ratnayaka is not just any politician; he is a rare kind of politician who stands out in a sea of politicians who play the race card, are more interested in pandering to the public, and manoeuvre the country towards bankruptcy.

Sagala Ratnayaka is not a pseudo-nationalist; rather, he is an internationalist who tries his best to think outside of the box. He does not play racial elements to climb up to power. Instead, he is a politician who understands the importance of building a united and prosperous Sri Lanka. He is not a usual actor who cuddles infants in front of the public for photo opportunities, but someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes to navigate the country out of national calamities. He is a navigator who has the ability, courage, and skill to transform the country for a better future.

In today’s political climate, it is rare to find politicians who have a genuine interest in the well-being of the country and its people. Ratnayaka is one such politician. He understands the tribulations facing the country and is working hard to find solutions. His dedication to his work is admirable, and he has proven himself to be a man of integrity.

Sagala Ratnayaka’s journey from banking to politics is a testimony to his commitment to the people of Sri Lanka. He realized that he could use his knowledge and expertise to make a difference in the lives of the people. His willingness to put his skills to work for the betterment of the country is a reflection of his selflessness.

In times of social upheavals, it is crucial to have politicians like him who work silently for the betterment of the country as the country needs leaders who can navigate these challenges and come up with sustainable solutions.  His ability to work silently for the betterment of the country is a quality that is much needed in today’s political climate. Often, politicians are more concerned with their public image and how they are perceived by the public. This leads to a lack of action and solutions to the problems facing the country. Sagala, on the other hand, focuses on finding solutions to problems, regardless of whether or not it benefits his public image.

Furthermore, Sagala’s dedication to his work and his commitment to the country are qualities that inspire trust and confidence in the people. His work ethic and his ability to navigate the country through difficult times have made him a respected figure in Sri Lankan politics. His contributions to the country have not gone unnoticed, and he is seen as a valuable asset to the country.

Sagala’s success as the Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe is not only due to his dedication and commitment to the country but also his thoroughness as a reader and keen observation skills. These qualities have enabled him to stay informed and aware of the events and people that shape Sri Lankan society, politics, and economy. In this turbulent time, he navigates the country’s top forces and intelligence agencies towards new dimensions where national security strengthens and social order is maintained. His focus on economic revival as a means of keeping social order intact is a testament to his ability to think strategically and address multiple challenges facing the country simultaneously.

Sagala’s ability to navigate complex issues, his dedication to the country, his thoroughness as a reader, and his keen observation skills make him an exemplary leader who Sri Lanka needs. His contributions to the country and his efforts to strengthen national security and revive the economy should be celebrated and recognized on his birthday.

To conclude, Sagala Ratnayaka is a unique politician possessing qualities essential for tackling the obstacles confronting Sri Lanka. His astute awareness of events and people, unwavering commitment to the nation, and strategic mindset exemplify his leadership abilities. As he celebrates his 55th birthday, let us extend our warmest wishes and continue to acknowledge and endorse his contributions to Sri Lanka. His noteworthy accomplishments warrant our recognition and appreciation, and it’s incumbent upon us to create a conducive environment for more politicians like him to thrive.

Sri Lanka: Taxing Times

8 mins read

“…we emphasise that we won’t hesitate at all to unite with all health workers and take tough measures which can paralyse the entire hospital system against this unfair wage cut.”

Statement by the GMOA (23.2.2023)

Sri Lanka’s poorest of the poor, their lives devastated by economic collapse, may face a killer blow soon: a crippling of the public health system.

That GMOA is planning to ‘paralyse the entire hospital system’ in protest against a government decision to institute a ‘wage cut’. Needless to say, ‘the hospital system’ they are planning to paralyse is the public one, used by those Lankans who constitute the bottommost layers of the income totem pole. The fee-levying private health care system, used by middle and upper layers of society, including politicians, will function smoothly. The very doctors who refuse to treat patients in government hospitals will attend to their private practices with usual assiduity.

Hippocrates and our own physician-king Buddhadasa, who, according to legend, stopped a royal progress to treat a sick cobra, would turn in their graves at the conduct of these medical merchants.

We excoriate politicians, and rightly so, for their unconscionable and irresponsible conduct, for their greed and their willingness to risk the safety and wellbeing of citizens who sustain them. Are the doctors, who threaten to hold the poorest of the poor hostage to win a wage demand, any better?  

The UNP president and the SLPP government will probably condemn the doctors’ strike because they are in power. Had they been in opposition, they wouldn’t have.

Will the SJB, the JVP, and sundry opposition parties have the moral and political courage to ask the doctors not to penalise the already pulverised poor in order to win a wage demand? Will Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Dulles Alahapperuma possess the decency to tell the doctors to find another weapon to attack the government with?

The doctors’ demand may be just. But their tactic is supremely unjust. Weaponizing poor patients is heartless and malicious at any time, doubly so in the midst of a calamitous economic crisis. The strike won’t hurt politicians. It will hurt the fiscally impoverished 36% of the population who are missing meals and missing school, the 600,000 families who might lose access to power thanks to the recent electricity hike. The very people, who through indirect taxes, helped fund the medical education of these doctors. 

When President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa reduced health expenditure in the midst of a pandemic, the GMOA doctors remained mute. They were too busy enjoying the rich fruits of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 tax cut, the first step in Sri Lanka’s fast-track to bankruptcy. The GMOA bosses were probably among those who whispered sweet lies about tax cuts and instant growth into the ignorant ears of the former Lt. Colonel.

In Sri Lanka’s avoidable tragedy, the only bad guys are not the politicians. The rot in the political class is a reflection of a widespread and deep-going societal malaise. The politicians are the most culpable. But none of us voting age citizens are completely innocent. If any solution is to work, if any change is to be effective, it must move beyond the simplistic formula of bad politicians and good everyone-else and confront special and vested interests, from monks and military to professionals and privileged trade unions.

Are there other predators apart from politicians?

According to the latest IHP survey, while no political leader has a net favourability rating, in a general election, the NPP/JVP and the SJB will win a plurality.

Stirring oratory and pie-in-the-sky promises apart, how will a NPP/JVP or SJB government apportion the economic and social costs of recovery? The answer will depend mostly on how the tax burden is distributed. And on this seminal matter, the SJB and the NPP/JVP fudges at best. The SJB talks about reducing direct taxes for the uppermost bracket, while remaining silent about which income segment/s will have to pick the extra tab for that tax break. The NPP/JVP criticises the current imbalance between direct and indirect taxes, promises to correct it, but says nothing about how.

The reason is obvious. Neither party wants to anger those professional groups who are demanding tax cuts for themselves.

The demonstrating professionals are not saying they don’t want to pay higher taxes to fund such government waste as the silly Janaraja Perahara or the huge stable of cabinet, deputy, and state ministers. The government – any government – must be held to account about how public funds are used. But that is not what the protesting professionals are doing. They don’t want to pay higher taxes, period; irrespective of the identity of the president or the hue of the government. Their reasons have nothing to do with how government borrow and spend and everything to do with how they themselves have lived beyond their means. They too, like successive governments, have borrowed heavily to sustain an unsustainable lifestyle. They want to continue that lifestyle, even as the poorest of the poor are starving. That is the burden of their tax-song. And their tax song will remain unchanged irrespective of who sits in the president’s chair and who forms the government. What is Ranil’s headache today could be Sajith’s or Anura’s headache tomorrrow, if either leader achieves his presidential ambitions.

The Australian TV channel, ABC News did a feature on Finland’s education system. Arguably the best in the world, it is completely free. Not just the teaching, but also lunches, books, and excursions. Teachers are highly paid; teaching is one of the most sought after professions, and one of the hardest to get into. As a school principal told the interviewer, “Schools can’t raise private funds or to charge fees from parents. All schools are equitably funded from taxation” (

Finland has one of the highest direct tax rates in the world. And this high rate came into being not after the country became developed but before. From 1945 to 1951, when Finland was dirt-poor and war-devastated, about one third of public revenue was generated through income and wealth taxes. ( That money was used to build free health and education systems of the highest quality, which in turn helped the country to escape poverty without falling into the debt trap.

Taxation, argues Thomas Picketty, in Capital and Ideology, played the leading role in West’s economic triumph over the East. Based on a wealth of data, he points out that by the end of the 15th Century Oriental and Occidental powers were evenly balanced. The West took its great leaps upwards firstly from 1500 to 1800 and secondly from 1930 to 1980. Both were enabled by increases in tax income. Chinese and Ottoman empires declined because their tax revenues remained low. Japan was the only exception, Prof Picketty points out, with higher taxes being a major pillar of its Meiji reforms.

Taxation is not the only issue. The recent electricity hike which disproportionately burdens the poor was caused not only by political corruption but also by the wasteful way in which the CEB was run for decades. Wages for excess workers, bonuses despite huge annual losses, and other privileges all added up to push the unit cost of electricity sky high. Now more than half a million poor families might be pushed back into the kuppi lamp era in consequence.

State owned enterprises (SOEs) were supposed to rescue consumers from exploitative practices of private entrepreneurs. But in Sri Lanka, SOE officials and trade unions have themselves turned predator, preying on citizens. Several recent directives provide examples of how these groups battened themselves on public funds. One ended the practice of top government officials taking their official vehicles home at retirement. Another prevented officials from holding their retirement parties at state expense. A third directed all officials to travel economy class and not business. Are these unearned and unjust privileges only the tip of the iceberg? How come no trade union screamed about these high-way-robbery type practices? Is their silence indicative of a mutually beneficial understanding of the plunder-and-let-plunder variety?

 ]          When rulers are hegemonic, they transplant their own values and beliefs on to the society they rule; and by doing so successfully, they manage to maintain their moments of hegemony longer. From an addiction to unearned privileges to tax phobia, from anti-compassion to indecency, we are still Rajapaksa children.

During a recent parliamentary debate, when MP Rohini Wijeratne was speaking, a parliamentarian was heard scolding her in filth. The Speaker remained silent, during and after. Not a single opposition parliamentarian intervened to defend their colleague. This is what the Rajapaksas have brought the country down to. Unless the President orders the miscreant to apologise publicly (and removes him from his ministry if he happens to be the education minister), unless the opposition in one voice demands such action, then, even if the last member of the Rajapaksa clan departs politics, Sri Lanka will remain a Rajapaksa land.

Why elections?

Mahinda Rajapaksa is correct, for once. The real reason President Wickremesinghe scuttled the local government election was not economics but politics.

In 2020, the timing of the general election became a bone of contention between the Rajapaksa government and the Opposition. The government, knowing it was on a winning streak, wanted to hold elections as soon as possible, despite the pandemic. The Opposition, citing the pandemic, wanted the election to be postponed. The Opposition’s argument was more factual; having an election in the midst of a pandemic was risky. But the real reason the Opposition wanted a postponement was the fear of losing.

Now the opposition wants an immediate local government election because it believes it is ahead politically. The wisdom of spending so much money on an LG election in the midst of an economic devastation is not even considered. In truth, their much shouted fidelity to democracy is but a cover for power. If the SJB was clearly ahead and the NPP/JVP trailing way behind, the latter wouldn’t have been so averse to a postponement and vice versa. And Ranil Wickremesinghe would have found the money for the election somehow, if he thought the UNP could come first. This is how real priorities are decided. This is why Sri Lanka is unlikely to do better in the future than it did in the past.

Elections are necessary for democratic health. But democratic health cannot be reduced to periodic elections. Moreover, if there are powerful groups with vested interests who claim that they have the ultimate right in deciding how a country is run, a democracy’s health becomes precarious, with or without periodic elections. In many countries, it is the military which arrogates unto itself such political veto powers. In Sri Lanka, so far, it is the Buddhist clergy.

During their anti-devolution demonstration outside parliament, several monks argued that the president should not implement the 13th Amendment in full because the chief prelates are opposed to it. In a subsequent interview with a You Tube channel, two leading political monks, Ulapane Sumangala thero and Akmeemana Dayaratne thero reiterated the argument. The former said, “Even if the entire parliament agrees we won’t allow the 13th to be implemented. If 13th is given the country will become a lake of blood.”

Sri Lanka’s bloated military might become a threat to democracy in the future (especially if politicians continue their constant bickering, making an exhausted public turn to the Uniformed Man for salvation). The Buddhist clergy is an actual threat to democracy now. They insist on having the final say in every matter, from how much devolution Tamils should be given to how much sex education children should be taught. (The answer to both is none; no devolution, no sex-education, we are Sinhala Buddhists). The monks obviously think Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist Iran and they are the Sinhala-Buddhist ayatollahs. If every measure needs saffron sanction, why bother with elections or parliaments? Why not save a lot of money by asking the chief prelates to run the show?

Given the key role political monks played in Ceylon/Sri Lanka’s downward trajectory right up to the re-election of the Rajapaksas in 2019 and 2020, their undiminished determination to interfere in governance poses a real danger to the prospects of recovery. If political and societal leaders lack the courage to stand up to rampaging monks and other vested interests (civilian and military), what hope for the future, irrespective of which party comes to office and which politicians hold power?

To Overcome Economic Crisis, Sri Lanka Needs “Less Democracy” For Sometime

3 mins read

What to make of the mindset and approach of these politicians in Sri Lanka?   Is it their  case  that international intervention is necessary to ensure local body elections?

by N.S.Venkataraman 

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suggested that local government polls in Sri Lanka  should be postponed, in view of the economic crisis faced by Sri Lanka. The government has explained the   difficulty in mobilising necessary funds to hold elections.  The Government Printer, too, informed that it was unable to print ballot papers due to lack of funds.

Instead of appreciating the issues and cooperating with the government, some political parties  and some activists in Sri Lanka are demanding that local body election should be held as per the schedule.  They are threatening to organise protests and launch agitation to demand elections.

The entire world knows that Sri Lanka is facing  unprecedented level of economic crisis , bordering bankruptcy The country is  facing  humiliating condition of having to ” beg”   for   loan from international financing institutions  and appeal to those countries which have earlier extended loans to defer the repayment schedule, so that Sri Lanka will not end up as a loan defaulter. 

In such circumstances,   Mr. Wickremesinghe  was  elected as the country’s President  in July 2022.  With long years of exposure  to political and economic scenario  in Sri Lanka and with reasonable level of personal   credibility, the President has been trying his level best to sail Sri Lanka out of the rough water and restore it’s dignity as a vibrant nation in the global arena.  The task is not easy, as the President has to start virtually from a scratch.

In such conditions, in a matured democracy, all political parties and citizens in various walks of life are expected to show understanding and support to the President, as the urgent task and challenge is to retrieve Sri Lanka from the brink of economic collapse.

Several elections have taken place in Sri Lanka in the past and delay of one more election for a few months in  such adverse scenario   should not be viewed  in any irresponsible manner as to state  that  “such attempts to prevent elections mandated by law represent an unprecedented attack on democracy and the rule of law and pose a grave threat to the electoral process in the future”

The ground reality is that democracy in any country can not thrive on  “empty stomach”.  Therefore, giving precedence to   exercise people’s franchise, at the cost of national economy which is on the brink   and is facing distress conditions impacting day today life of millions of poor people ,is  absolutely unacceptable and against the national interest.

The commitment of some politicians and civil society members and  the members of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to   the  nation’s interest  and their capability to appreciate and understand the grim situation,  has created some doubts   about them, in the view of discerning observers not only in Sri Lanka but across the world. 

It is particularly disturbing to note that some politicians have written to Colombo-based diplomats seeking their intervention in ensuring the timely conduct of   local body elections.  What to make of the mindset and approach of these politicians in Sri Lanka?   Is it their  case  that international intervention is necessary to ensure local body elections?  Can there be more humiliating act for the people of Sri Lanka than such approach of such politicians who want global intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs?

It is seen in many democratic countries that the politicians are not the best of people among the citizens and they occasionally cause havoc due to self centredness, parochial approach and sometimes even adopt  unethical methods to grab power.  In such circumstances, many thinkers  and political researchers  across the world are veering to the view that a controlled democracy will do world of good particularly to developing countries ,  in place of uncontrolled and chaotic democracy.

Today, if the elections were to be held in Sri Lanka, there would be acrimonious debates  , hate politics, corrupt  methods to win elections and perhaps even violence due to political clashes. These are the  possible developments that

Sri Lanka need to avoid at any cost. 

The focus of the country has to be on economic development  and economic development only. 

Sri Lanka has the most experienced person as the President and he needs time and support  to restore Sri Lanka’s glory.  This is the time for less democracy in Sri Lanka. If postponement of local body polls would mean less democracy, let it be so and it is in the interest of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: Why not tax the informal rich rather than the formal poor?

7 mins read

While levying an income tax on individual earnings to supplement government revenue is a necessity to meet government expenditure, the issue in question is the perception and/or the reality of its unfairness and the lack of confidence and trust that people have about the way the tax they pay is spent by the government. There is no evidence that just and equitable approaches have been taken by politicians to address revenue raising and the curtailment of unaffordable expenditure in a systematic manner.

On the question of unfairness, many are of the opinion that there are a significant number of individuals who operate in a cash economy, with black and/or white cash, who either do not pay any tax or pay a minuscule amount by declaring an income far less than their real income. Big guns in this group are said to include some specialist doctors, architects, engineers, lawyers, customs officials, tuition teachers, and officials of the department of motor traffic among others. A report of a specialist doctor who charges a huge amount of money in cash per patient for a procedure that takes less than 15 minutes underscores the massive earnings of some and the underreporting of income by professionals and government officials, the latter category obviously making their money via bribes, depriving the government of much-needed revenue. There is anecdotal evidence of properties and luxury motor vehicles purchased for large sums of money, and extravagant expenditures incurred for weddings and other functions by individuals who apparently pay for these with cash.

On the same side of the coin of lost revenue, but on the corporate side, the Morning newspaper reported on the 13th of February that the government lost Rs. 560 mn in revenue due to tax concessions for listed companies in 2021/22.

Imesh Ranasinghe writing in the Morning stated that “the Government of Sri Lanka missed out on Rs. 560 million in corporate income tax in the financial year 2021/22 from 13 companies that enjoyed a 50% tax concession for being listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2021, financial statements of the listed companies revealed. As per the financial statements of the said 13 companies to which the concessions were granted for being listed on the CSE between May-December 2021, First Capital Treasuries PLC and Capital Alliance PLC recorded losses for the financial year 2021/22, while Lanka Credit and Business Finance PLC LOLC General Insurance paid deferred taxation charges. Some of the major companies that enjoyed higher taxation benefits include LOLC General Insurance PLC, which had earned a profit before tax (PBT) of Rs. 1.2 billion and had only paid Rs. 170.6 million under the concessionary tax rate after paying Rs. 413.5 million as taxes in 2022. Prime Land Residencies PLC had made a PBT of Rs. 1.8 billion and had paid Rs. 162 million as taxes from Rs. 289 million in 2020 and Cooperative Insurance PLC paid Rs. 97 million as corporate income tax from a PBT of Rs. 933 million after paying Rs. 260 million as taxes in 2020”. 

This example of loss of tax revenue from 13 companies may be the tip of the iceberg as there could be other companies, smaller and bigger, who have paid less tax although their revenue was higher and their profit before tax was higher, and companies which are unlisted who may have not paid or paid fewer taxes although their revenues and profit before tax were higher than previous years.

In the context of the individual and corporate situations noted, increasing income tax from those at the bottom end of the income/revenue scale cannot be regarded as a fair proposition. As per the International Monetary Fund, Government Finance Statistics Yearbook and data files, and World Bank and OECD GDP estimates, the tax revenue in Sri Lanka had dropped to 7.7% of GDP in 2020 from 19% in the 1990as illustrated in the graph below. The revenue in 2022 was reported at 7.6 % of GDP in Sep 2022. As the graph depicts revenue has been steadily declining since 1990

Economynext in an article state that quote “Sri Lanka has aimed at increasing tax revenue by 69 percent to fund government spending in the crisis-hit economy, but analysts say the 2023 budget failed to address core issues on excess spending and articulate strong policies on restructuring loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The budget has aimed at increasing tax revenue by 69 percent to 3,130 billion rupees next year from this year’s 1,852 billion rupees while bringing down the budget deficit to 7.9 percent in 2023 from this year’s revised 9.8 percent. The high tax revenue target comes as millions of Sri Lankans face the impacts of the ongoing economic crisis – 66 percent inflation, job losses, and shrinking disposable income, unquote.

These factors portend even more of a difficult period in the coming years as no one appears willing and/or able to take the difficult decisions that must be taken to yield an effective course correction that will take the country out of the economic mess it is in. However, the pain of such decisions cannot fall unjustly on ordinary people who are already in great pain, while some segments of society enjoy a largesse that is both embarrassing and unkind to those who are struggling to find their next meal.

The following table on tax revenue estimate and collection by tax type (2019) published in lankastatistics gives an insight into the contribution to tax revenue from different categories. As can be seen, value-added tax and income tax comprise nearly 90% of the tax estimated and collected.

 The value-added tax also contributes to the unfairness of tax because of its regressive nature. The Tax Policy Centre, is a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution made up of nationally recognized experts in tax, budget, and social policy who have served at the highest levels of government.

A briefing book, states,because lower-income households spend a greater share of their income on consumption than higher-income households do, the burden of a VAT is regressive when measured as a share of current income: the tax burden as a share of income is highest for low-income households and falls sharply as household income rises. Because income saved today is generally spent in the future, the burden of a VAT is more proportional to income when measured as a share of income over a lifetime. Even by a lifetime income measure, however, the burden of the VAT as a share of income is lower for high-income households than for other households. A VAT (like any consumption tax) does not tax the returns (such as dividends and capital gains) from new capital investment, and income from capital makes up a larger portion of the total income of high-income households”.

If Sri Lanka is serious about an equitable and fair tax system, it needs a complete overhaul of the system and not patchwork changes at the behest of external agencies. The morally and politically bankrupt politicians and special interest groups may not wish for such an overhaul and the country would continue its debilitating slide into further trouble despite the best efforts of a few.

Firstly, if as suspected, a significant number of high earners are either not paying their fair share of income tax or not paying any income tax, that loophole needs to be fixed. There are measures that could be considered. The idea of levying a tax at the source could be considered for professionals who deal in cash payments. For example, unless a law exists, a new law could be brought in to make it compulsory that doctors see patients only in hospitals or certified medical or home practices, and that ALL cash or credit card transactions are recorded as auditable, legal documents. If patients are seen or treated at a hospital or a similar medical institution, the attending doctor SHOULD be paid by the institution and no direct patient transactions should be permitted. The hospital in these instances could be compelled by law to deduct a percentage of the doctor’s fee as a tax, with the doctor permitted to disclose this payment in their annual tax returns. A similar methodology could be adopted with some variations to other high earners by way of a registration process where and all such registered individuals are required to submit periodic returns to the Inland Revenue department.

Government officials who become high earners through bribe taking will be harder to rope in although in their case as well as in the case of professionals, strict asset tests conducted by the tax office, and also bank disclosures on ALL cash deposits over a given amount, plus a tax levy imposed when deposits are made, for deposits over a given value, could be some of the plugs that can be used to close loopholes. 

In all cases it is vital that penalties for violating existing and new tax laws are very stringent and they include jail terms and confiscation of assets including any unlawfully held cash assets in the name of the individuals. As suspected, if such assets are written in the name of relatives or friends of the individuals concerned, such persons should be called upon to explain and justify how they managed to acquire such assets.

Secondly, value added taxes needs to be revised and redress given to individuals when they purchase essentials. Instead, a tax overhaul could investigate increasing value added taxes for functions held in hotels and function halls. It is no secret that vast sums of money are spent on these functions. Many such spending is unconscionable and an affront to the hundreds and thousands of ordinary people who do not have money for their basic, routine meals. However, rather than focusing on the morals and ethics of such high spenders, as that would be more or less water off duck’s backs, charging a high value added tax would at least allow the government to support the most vulnerable with such funds. To the best of the writer’s knowledge, no surveys have been carried out to ascertain the revenue to hotels and function centres from such functions.

The tax office could undertake such a survey to ascertain the current and potential value added tax collection from such venues.A tax overhaul should naturally include corporate taxation and a re look at concessions provided and how a situation reported in the Morning newspaper described earlier could be addressed. CEIC Unlimited states the following

  • Sri Lanka Tax Revenue was reported at 6.562 USD bn in Dec 2021.
  • This is a decrease from the previous figure of 6.566 USD bn for Dec 2020.

The decline in tax revenue is shown in the illustration below. The corporate tax component and individual income tax component is not mentioned here, and this is something that needs to be examined to ascertain the contribution from the corporate sector and if the Morning article is to be taken as perhaps the tip of the iceberg, the potential loss of income tax from the corporate sector.

Clearly, it appears that there are some individuals who earn vast amounts of money but hardly pay reasonable income taxes, corporate earnings and profits are not consistent with taxes paid, there is no assessment of the income of some individuals who purchase high-value properties and other assets and whether they have fulfilled their tax commitments. On the other hand, successive governments seem to have and still are taking the easy way out by taxing wage earners.

If the country is serious about increasing its revenue base from taxes, it should engage in a complete overhaul of the tax system, strengthen the hand of the tax department by way of suitable legislation and introduce serious punitive measures to punish individuals and corporate entities who firstly do not declare their real income, and secondly who do not pay their fair share of taxes. The VAT system too should be revised in such a way that the most vulnerable are safeguarded from the regressive nature of the VAT system.

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