Sky’s no limit to clinch billion dollar credit line

Sky’s nhttps://www.sundaytimes.lk/220327/columns/skys-no-limit-to-clinch-billion-dollar-credit-line-478009.htmlo limit to clinch billion dollar credit line#

FROM INDIA WITH LOVE: Basil claims no strings attached to India’s billion dollar credit lifeline

Returning as the conquering hero who has brought home the Golden Fleece, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa tells reporters at the airport last Friday that thanks to India’s billion dollar credit line, the Lankan people can celebrate their New Year next month with the essential items freely available in the market.

Does he expect three rounds of ‘hip-hip hoorays’ followed by a chorus of ‘Basil’s a jolly good fellow’ repeated thrice, as the bringer of Avurudhu cheer to a people brought down to their knees by Government-made disasters?

Or has this nation so lost its basic values that, though neck-deep in debt to the world and fast sinking, it can  still find joy in its last grasping breaths to celebrate an annual ritual in grand style on further borrowings and hail the purveyor of Avurudhu items on loan as the new Avatar of the mythical Avurudhu Kumaraya?

And that’s not all we have to be thankful to India. To overcome the carbonic fertiliser shortage, experienced after the overnight policy shift in agricultural methods went terribly awry, the Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa said that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured Lanka that India would provide adequate quantities of nano fertiliser. Finance Minister Basil declared: “Modi is an organic farming enthusiast and he was impressed by the interest shown by President Rajapaksa in green agriculture. India had again shown that it stands by Sri Lanka in difficult times. India gave Sri Lanka a loan of USD 1 billion to purchase food and other essential items for the upcoming Sinhala Tamil New Year. Modi told me that India will help Sri Lanka with its economic and social needs.”

But before we all get down on all fours and thank Modi for his grace, were there any conditions, some invisible string attached to Narendra Modi’s largesse on loan, to India’s credit line generosity? Some secret clause of reciprocity involved that went beyond the repayment of the one billion dollar debt in three years, something hidden beneath the restriction that all goods must be bought from India which would help her producers and boost her economy?

At the Katunayake airport last Friday, March 18, the belittled, disparaged, much mocked Finance Knight of his brother’s Round Table, Basil Rajapaksa negated, in one fell swoop,  all the vicious canards and calumnies hurled at him in malicious disdain, when he revealed his true negotiating genius to the distraught nation. He told reporters he had secured this one billion dollar credit lifeline from India unconditionally. He said: “There are no conditions attached to the one billion dollar credit line that India has granted to us. Only that it has to be paid in three years by instalments.”

Phew! What a relief. Remembering the Trinco oil tanks and other deals done in India’s favour to obtain the USD 500 million Indian credit line earlier in January, the people had been dreading what next the Finance Minister would barter to clinch the new billion dollar Indian credit line he so desperately sought? Now, at least, they could spend the weekend, standing in line at the numerous queues for fuel, gas and other essentials without having to fear that another collection of vital public assets was on the block to be bartered for Avurudhu tucker?

The official word was: India’s sacred cow had not demanded its poonac fodder to yield milk from its cornucopian udder to the malnourished Lankan suppliant. Or had she?

Strings can take many forms, sizes and shapes. It can tie a Gordian knot or can be so thin to be finely woven into a tapestry of a master design, so fine that only a discerning eye can notice its binding presence.

On Tuesday, SJB MP Harin Fernando held a media conference to make his explosive claim that India plans to set up a series of monitoring stations on the Lankan coastal belt with its coordinating centre to be based right in the heart of Lanka’s Naval Headquarters.

He charged that a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of India and an agreement with Bharath Electronics of India to be signed for the establishment of Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC), and a grant of USD 6 million for it, had received Cabinet approval on Monday.  Sri Lanka Cabinet spokesman Ramesh Pathirana would only confirm on Tuesday that approval has been given to build an MRCC in Sri Lanka with a grant of $6 million from India. He said, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is also the Defence Minister has presented the proposal and an MoU is to be signed between the Lankan government and an Indian Government-owned aerospace and defence electronics company, Bharat Electronics..

Pathirana, however, denied selling of national resources to India and said the agreement would focus on increasing bilateral relations and training programme between India and Sri Lanka. He said the agreement would be submitted to Parliament before it is signed.

The setting up of a Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre in Lanka seems at first glance to be an innocuous project, with the word ‘Rescue’ in its appellation suggesting a worthy humanitarian venture to save souls stranded at sea.  Now it turns out that, despite the solid assurance given by Basil Rajapaksa on his return from India that no conditions were attached to India’s billion dollar munificence, not even the sky has been the limit for Lanka to gain it.

MP Harin Fernando made the startling claim that on the table waiting to be signed in return for the credit line, the MRCC agreement also envisaged the lease of Lanka’s airspace to India under the guise of a security system.

The Government has neither confirmed nor denied this shocking allegation. If true, however, — apart from providing rich material to a copywriter promoting Lanka as a tourist destination to pen the slogan, ‘Sri Lanka: The tropical paradise isle, set in the Indian Ocean under a blue Indian sky’ — it will generally be held to violate the international legal principal of a state’s territorial integrity and exclusive sovereignty over its immediate airspace.

Yet, in this particular case, it will not apply. It will be covered by the recognised exception which holds that ‘a state can lease part of its territory to another state on certain terms and conditions of the lease or pledge it to another foreign power as collateral for a loan.’

But how it will affect a government vis-à-vis the people who had elected it to office? Can a government, though constitutionally empowered to act on behalf of the people whose sovereignty is inalienable, keep its disposal a secret from the people? Or part with it without the people’s consent?

It behoves the Government to either confirm or deny whether this is truly the case, whether the people have been denied even the sky overhead. The best way to do it is to lay the MRCC and other agreements with India before Parliament and the people. And, thereby, lay the nation’s fears to rest.

Advice claptrap galore on the experts’ merry-go-roundIn view of the economic catastrophe, the President appointed a grand National Economic Council on March 7 comprising government ministers and public officials. Their formidable task was to accelerate growth through economic management, render advice and provide guidance to ministries, departments and state institutions. They were to meet every week and the appointments were approved by the Cabinet.Leading the expert economic pack was Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, followed by Ministers Bandula, Johnston, Mahindananda, Pathirana, and, on the public officials’ side, CB Governor Cabraal, President’s Secretary Senarath, Treasury Secretary Attygalla, and CB Deputy Governor Nanayakkara.In the hands of these economic experts reposed Lanka’s hopes of a miraculous economic turnaround.The only snag was that everyone on this grand economic panel had been active participants who had presided over the nation’s economic decline and ruin that had left Lanka beggared beyond belief. To ask the architects of economic chaos a new design for economic order would be akin to asking a creep of tortoises for a tuft of feathers.Exactly a week later, the Cabinet approved an experts’ advisory panel made of businessmen and a few academics. Named as the Advisory Committee to the National Economic Council, the task of this 16 strong businessmen heavy panel was to render advice to National Economic Council on solving the current economic crisis.BUSINESS THINK TANK: Advisory Committee presents 5 point plan to National Economic Council to pull Lanka out of the economic bogSeven days seem to have sufficed for this business cartel to find the sure-fire economic solutions for the nation’s economic crisis that it was ready to render its considered economic panaceas to the National Economic Council for immediate implementation.The Committee and the Council met this Monday for the Committee to advise the Council which in turn would advise the Ministries, Departments and State Institutions.This Advisory Committee of business acumen exuded the confident air of having done their research well and analysed the situation scholarly. As a shocking eye opener to all of what is happening in Lanka, they noted with aplomb that “Sri Lanka has to face the repercussions of the adverse impact on the economies of many countries around the world. The foreign exchange crisis is the main reason for this situation.”As a summary, how’s that for starters? But hang on, the best is yet to come.The Advisory Committee expressed it is “confident that the economic crisis can be solved in the short term by properly managing the challenge”. Then they presented the crucial 5-point plan to pull the nation out from the economic mire.1   Their first proposal is a Technical Team consisting of Central Bank and Treasury officials to be appointed immediately. The duty of the Technical Team will be ‘to formulate programmes proposing international financial assistance.’But — not to take the shine out from their hard thought 5-point plan –  hasn’t this avenue been explored before by the Central Bank and the Treasury? And hadn’t it been found that, with Lanka on the verge of bankruptcy, no other foreign country, apart from India and China, was willing to lend a dime to Lanka? That recourse by the Government to seek an IMF bailout, with all its severe conditions, as a last resort last week, was exactly due to foreign funding drying up completely?Would the miracle of finding new donors work merely because a new Technical Team tag is affixed on a few of the same CB and Treasury officials and sent marching again to seek the nation’s economic Grail? Unless, of course, unbeknown to others, these jet setting business experts know of some far flung foreign States outside the circle of the UN’s 193 member States, rich enough to lend Lanka their dough?2   Their second proposal is ‘to appoint a financial adviser immediately and a legal adviser?From where? Is it from the same old stagnate CB and Treasury pool? Or is it one to be plucked out from a magician’s rabbit hat, the sort CB Chief Cabraal appears to wear so often? And if begging for funds entails a legal dimension, isn’t the Attorney General the Government’s lawyer?3   Their third proposal was that ‘the Technical Team should immediately come up with a reform programme to propose international financial assistance’.Is there any substantial difference between their third proposal and their first proposal, except the addition of the word ‘reform? Had the Advisory Committee exhausted its stock of ideas that the same proposal is couched slightly differently to add a touch of respectable length to their list?4   Their fourth proposal is ‘to identify an expert team to assist the Finance Minister’.Isn’t this easier ordered than done? Is the business Advisory Committee unaware that the Finance Minister is Basil Rajapaksa who single handedly founded the ruling party, the SLPP? Did the business experts not know of the driving force behind the SLPP’s triumphs when they funded the party’s outings at both the presidential and general elections two years ago?To identify an expert team may be hard enough but to have it assist the Finance Minister will be nigh impossible. Why, even to suggest that Basil Rajapaksa needs assistance of any sort, to dare insinuate that he could do with some expert advice, borders on the blasphemous.It will be nothing more than to add another hue unto Basil’s rainbow or seek, with tapir-light, ‘the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,’ and, what’s more, in the present bankrupt state Lanka is in, it will be ‘wasteful and ridiculous excess.’5   Their fifth and final proposal is ‘to focus on confidence-building measures after solving supply related issues’.This seems a failsafe clause, suggesting that, if all 4 prior proposals fail to deliver the expected goods, refuge must be taken in the many motivational messages – so rife on Whats App – to strengthen the nation’s morale in the face of certain doom. In other words, it’s time to start praying.But all the effort has not been in vain. The exercise has, at least, proved the truth of age old adages. Firstly, old brooms do not sweep well. Especially defective ones which had never swept well. Secondly, never choose square pegs to fit round holes. 

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