‘Reconciliation and wealth’ go hand in hand is the message conveyed by President Maithripala Sirisena in his Independence Day speech of 4 February.
Sirisena in his address spoke of building bridges between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ and of eliminating poverty which he said was at 6.7%, a figure probably thrown up by the controversial State controlled Census and Statistics Department (CSD), which figures however, are disputed by the Sirisena regime on the basis that the country’s economic data was doctored by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa Government in order to paint a rosy picture of the country’s economy.
This newspaper was not immediately able to gain access to the CSD website to verify this poverty statistic thrown up by Sirisena. Nevertheless, Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), which figures too are being questioned by the new regime, because it too was a puppet of the previous government, went one step better, by saying that poverty had come down to 6.5%. This was in its 2013 Annual Report, where CBSL said that, that number was garnered from a preliminary survey conducted by CSD.
On the eve of the 8 January, 2015 presidential poll, the then CBSL Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, another political appointee, had what was known as CBSL’s Monetary Policy and Financial Sector Stability Review (MPFSSR), at the BMICH. MPFSSR was introduced by Cabraal after he assumed office in 2006.
MPFSSR was an annual event and was previously held at the CBSL auditorium, except this year, where it was conducted at the BMICH. Cabraal’s excuse for holding this year’s MPFSSR at the BMICH was because of the larger crowd. Breaking protocol, another speaker at that event was the then Treasury Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera.
Meanwhile, Cabraal in his speech, averred to similar poverty statistics as also said in his 2013 annual report (CBSL hasn’t yet released its 2014 Annual Report). The MPFSSR was also posted on CBSL’s website. However, after the new Governor, Arjuna Mahendran, assumed office due to the 8 January regime change, he deleted the MPFSSR from his website.
Nevertheless, CBSL’s 2013 Annual Report still remains on its website (see also this newspaper’s editorial of 5 February, 2015).
Nonetheless, after the election of the new regime, which principally was built up in a coalition comprising Sri Lanka’s two main political parties, that is the right of centre UNP and the left of centre SLFP, and the appointment of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as its Premier, both CBSL and CSD have since been brought under his wing.
Previously, these two State institutions functioned under President Rajapaksa, who was also holding the then government’s Finance Minister post among several other Cabinet portfolios he held, a seeming record in the annals of Sri Lanka’s short, political history, post independence.
Nevertheless, cooked statistics or not, Sirisena chose to stick to those poverty numbers or thereabouts, dished out by the previous regime’s controlled CSD/CBSL, in his independence day speech.
But the new President’s message, which message he didn’t spell out in so many words however, is that to build unity, one has to first eliminate poverty, a common perception also held by several in the West, vis-à-vis Islamist terrorism which is currently plaguing that part of the hemisphere.
Nevertheless, there may also be several other steps too that may have to be taken in the interim to make what Sirisena inferred to, to happen.
Among those is the importance of building a communication channel between the two major communities. Those are, ipso facto between the majority community of this country, the Sinhalese who live in the ‘South’ and the Tamils of the ‘North,’ where the Tamils comprise the largest minority community in the island.
It was this divide, fostered by politicians from both sides of the divide, underlined by poverty that led to Sri Lanka’s 26-year long Tamil terrorist war which virtually bled the country white, in terms of both human and economic costs. Sri Lanka cannot afford to go through that cycle of human violence again.
Understanding and accepting Sri Lanka’s plurality by its own people may be achieved by first eliminating poverty, hand in hand with prosecuting those guilty of committing war crimes, built on the foundation of good governance, to achieve national reconciliation.
And last but certainly not the least, building the bridge that is English, which is useful in more sense than one, to connect the North with the South, is as important as the rest, to bridge the ‘national reconciliation’ divide.