Economy across the political divide 

After a meeting between several prominent politicians representing both the Government and Opposition parties, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman President’s Counsel M.A. Sumanthiran on Sunday (30 January) urged the Government to restructure Sri Lanka’s external debt obligations, and focus on protecting economically disadvantaged groups from the prevailing economic crisis.

“The Government’s emphasis on avoiding a default at any cost appears to be downplaying a fundamental question – can our people eat? After all, a country’s pride rests not only in repaying its loans, but also in ensuring that no citizen goes to bed hungry,” he said in a statement.

While the sentiments conveyed by Sumanthiran after talks with other politicians are much appreciated, restructuring external debt obligations and reducing the economic crisis impact on the people are not really new ideas. During the past few months, especially since the time the people felt the true impact of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced economic and health sector crises, these matters have been discussed in various contexts. However, whether they were seriously considered by the Government, remains unknown. In fact, the Government keeps claiming that the economic crisis is under control, and that within the next few months, it will be able to address the main economic issues, including the external debt obligations and the foreign reserves crisis. There were also times in the recent past where the Government seemed excessively confident of its capabilities and plans, although the results of the Government’s plans and actions have not been promising thus far.

One of the plethora of lessons the prevailing crisis, which has now turned into chaos, thus affecting almost all sectors of the country, has taught us is that rebuilding the country is a collective effort, and that the Government is merely one part of that whole mission. It was evident especially during the peak of the pandemic, where the people’s support was necessary, even though it was the Government that made sure that the country had adequate resources. The Government has the biggest responsibility, and the fulfillment of that responsibility, which comes in the form of decisions, discussions, plans, and fund allocations, determines how much the other stakeholders can contribute to the national economy. 

Constructive opinions of other stakeholders, including those of political parties that are not part of the Government, matter. In fact, the only thing that should matter with regard to governing a country is how prudent, practical, and beneficial a suggestion is, and not who comes up with the suggestion; and a Government should be flexible enough to consider suggestions from individuals outside the Government. However, Sri Lankan Governments, including the present Government, are not known to be receptive, mainly due to power struggles that never end, and for the most part, any suggestion or opinion that comes from outside the Government is conveniently disregarded. This culture has to change. Those in the political arena, regardless of the party or agendas, must acknowledge the fact that even though it is the Government that has the ultimate law-making powers, the Opposition parties are also part of the main law making-body, i.e. the Parliament, and that saving the country is a collective endeavour and responsibility. 

Practical and beneficial suggestions for the country’s betterment should receive due attention, and any person should have the space to put forward such suggestions in whatever capacity. At a time like this, it is more necessary than before, as the Government does not have the time or the resources to take risks, do experiments, or protect its pride with the economy hanging by a thread.

Moreover, politicians of different parties engaging in discussions about the country’s situation without waiting for the Government to invite them for such, is a commendable move. Even though how many of their suggestions will be considered by the Government remains a question, bipartisan endeavours are something Sri Lanka rarely saw unless in the case of an election.

Therefore, these discussions should continue and improve, and the Government should take an active role, perhaps leadership, in these discussions and actively consider Sri Lanka’s options.