Nothing has changed for the people despite the All Party Conference

As Sri Lankans helplessly watch in alarm as the country slides from one crisis to another, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s summoning of the All Party Conference (APC) last week provided a glimmer of hope.

However the APC turned out to be a damp squib and did not produce any outcome that could even marginally bring relief to the people in the short run.

The absence of the two major Opposition formations, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was badly felt as it deprived the APC of the benefit of their views in tackling the economic crisis.

Proceedings of the APC as reported in the media confirmed that there was no attitudinal change in the Government with regard to the situation in the country.

From the time the Government assumed office with 69 lakhs of votes in November 2019, the arrogance of the Government has manifested itself in its “api thamai hondatama keruwe” opinion of itself. The two-third majority at the August 2020 Parliamentary elections followed by the 20th Amendment further contributed to the alienation of the Government with regard to the peoples’ problems.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country there were widespread calls by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and veteran Sama Samajist Prof. Tissa Vitharana among others, to summon an all-party confab to face the health crisis. The Government chose to ignore these salutary calls and ambled along on its own placing its trust in various concoctions (pani) and dumping pots of water into rivers as part of its strategy.

It was only after several lives were lost and the situation began to deteriorate that the Government joined the queue for vaccines. Fortunately many friendly nations quickly chipped in with vaccines and the situation was brought under control.

During the developing economic crisis too, many political parties and leaders and independent economists provided unsolicited advice with regard to what steps could be taken to prevent it reaching crisis proportions. The Government chose to ignore, and sometimes ridicule, such advice and chose to act on its own. Even Parliament which is constitutionally vested with the power to oversee the country’s finances was by passed and not briefed with regard to the developing situation.

It was only after the exit of messrs Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara from the Government and the coming together of the 11 party alliance (in the making?) led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the consequent tremors in the Government that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa woke up to the situation.

The SLFP had handed over its proposals to resolve the current economic crisis to the Government several weeks earlier and sought a meeting to discuss the proposals but received no response. It was only after the coming together of the SLFP led group of parties that they were given a meeting. It was the proposal made by former President Maithripala Sirisena at that meeting that resulted in the All Party Conference.

The sequence of events that led to the APC being summoned and what transpired at the APC gave credence to the JVP’s description of the Government’s effort as one aimed at resolving the political crisis faced by the Government rather than the economic crisis that had gripped the country.

The APC itself got off to an inauspicious start with Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal resorting to the Government’s customary practice of blaming the country’s economic ills on the Yahapalana administration of 2015 to 2019.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took offence at the Governor’s statement and said their presence at the APC was to find solutions to the peoples’ problems and not to play politics by indulging in the blame game. He said, in reply to the Governor’s statements, he would confine himself to saying that under the Yahapalana Government people were not deprived of food, fuel or gas.

President Rajapaksa was quick to apologise if Mr Wickremesinghe’s feelings had been hurt. However it was apparent that Mr Cabraal was only giving expression to the President’s assertion in his recent address to the nation that the crisis was not of the President’s making.

The highlight of the APC however was the exchange of words between Mr Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. When the former explained the difficulty of discussing the economic crisis without the benefit of the country report issued by the IMF, which he had called for in Parliament several times, the latter denied that the report had been received by the Government.

When Mr Wickremesinghe suggested that President Rajapaksa immediately call the IMF Country Representative and ask for the report, the Finance Minister was compelled to admit that the Government had received the draft of the report.

Mr Wickremesinghe also called upon the Government to present a fresh budget that would address the immediate needs of the people. He urged all developmental expenditure be deleted (not reduced) and all funds be diverted to provide immediate relief to the people. There is no indication whether the Government would accept this proposal.

The APC only provided a platform for those who participated to make statements. There was no discussions on the proposals made nor were any decisions taken. Thus as at this point of time the APC seems to have been a cosmetic exercise which has not brought any relief to the people.

In the meantime the Government seems to be manifesting a total indifference to the difficulties of the people. The assurances and promises of the Government now mean nothing to the people.

The Government made a solemn pledge that power cuts would come to an end from March 5 onwards. With the end of March coming close, power cuts were only likely to increase if media reports were anything to go by.

Even if the Government is incapable of resolving the problem of milk powder, gas and fuel it can at least think of ways of minimising the suffering of the people. For example take the issue of gas supplies. The long queues for gas are because the agents were unaware when gas supplies would arrive and the people line up for long hours hoping to get lucky when the supplies eventually arrived.

This problem could be resolved if Litro Gas informed its agents when it would send its supplies and how many cylinders would be sent. On receiving this information the agents could issue an equivalent number of tokens and people could produce the tokens and obtain their cylinders without having to spend endless hours in queues.

The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) should devise suitable methods to reduce the peoples’ misery by looking into ways and means of delivering the items in short supply, with minimum inconvenience to the people.

(javidusuf@gmail.com) 

Mr Javid Yusuf received the Sepala Gunasena Award for Defending Press Freedom in Sri Lanka from Editors’ Guild President and Daily Lankadeepa Chief Editor Siri RanasingheJavid Yusuf honoured with Sepala Gunasena Press Freedom awardJavid Yusuf was honoured by The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka (TEGOSL) with the Sepala Gunasena Award for Defending Press Freedom in Sri Lanka at its 2019-2020 Awards ceremony held this week at the Colombo Hilton.By a happy coincidence, soon after leaving school, Mr. Yusuf was a freelance correspondent with the Sun and WEEKEND newspapers published by Independent Newspapers Ltd., owned by the family of the late Mr. Gunasena.Mr. Yusuf went on to become a lawyer, working as a state counsel in the Attorney General’s Department for a brief period and later became the Assistant Secretary of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.  He was also the Principal of Zahira College, Maradana for some years. The then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar handpicked him to be Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.He has been a member of the Constitutional Council and remains a longstanding member of the Dispute Resolution Council of the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka.The late Sepala Gunasena was himself the recipient of the Lord Astor Award for defending press freedom in the 54-nation Commonwealth. The prestigious award was presented by the Commonwealth Press Union in 1974 after his newspaper group was sealed by the then Government (in 1973) under Emergency Regulations and refused to reopen under conditions laid down by that Government.

https://www.sundaytimes.lk/220327/columns/nothing-has-changed-for-the-people-despite-the-all-party-conference-478166.html

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