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  • Writer's pictureRemon Ellegala

A broken Sri Lanka

In my last post we spoke about 'light at the end of the tunnel'. This was back in October when the worst of Covid was behind us. Well, it is heartbreaking to say this but Sri Lanka is now heading towards complete darkness.

In October we spoke about this island's incredible potential and how it was time for everyone to come together to show us to the world. The key is that it requires 'everyone' and unfortunately the leaders of this country have let the people down, again. This time to the point of starvation, violence and complete economic collapse.

For the past 70 years, ever since independence in 1948, politicians have abused and manipulated their people for their own gain. This endless greed for power and money has finally caught up at cost that will be irreversible. An overpopulated political system of 225 Members of Parliament, a President who has executive power and ministers who will prioritise power over their own people are all to blame for this.

So how did Sri Lanka become so helpless? Well, it is an accumulation of the past 70 years but the rapid escalation started in 2019 when the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was voted into power. It is important to mention that he was appointed by the people. He was seen as a 'Hero' for winning the 30 year civil war and being a patriot of this country at a time when there was division following bomb attacks in April of the same year. He didn't waste his time in dissolving parliament and appointing his brother and former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Their political party, the SLPP then became the majority in parliament. This brought about a right wing, pro Buddhist, so-called patriotic government run by the SLPP and the Rajapaksas.

What followed was the 20th Amendment which gave the president executive power. He slashed taxes including VAT which financial experts say was the turning point. There is no doubt that COVID only made matters worse as the country's two big earners, tourism and foreign employment became non-existent.

The next controversial and quite frankly bizarre decision was to move to organic farming overnight. Now, we absolutely agree that farming should be done organically but you cannot change an entire country's farming methods overnight. Chemical fertilizers were banned immediately without a transition period and sufficient organic fertilizer. Speaking from some experience, a transition like this takes 3-5 years! The impact of this reckless decision is yet to be felt as a huge rice shortage is to be expected in the coming months.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka only made matters worse when it controlled the value of the local currency. As global prices rose due to COVID, Sri Lanka tried to control prices by controlling the Rupee and printing more money. With foreign reserves decreasing day by day, importing essential items such as medicine, petroleum, diesel, etc became increasingly difficult.

To continue importing essential items, the Central Bank had to float the currency and prices spiralled out of control. Combine this with a weakened Rupee and you can see the disaster that is about to unfold.

To give you an idea of how prices have soared out of control, just look at a kilo of Dhal. It was Rs. 180 in May 2021. Today that same kilo is Rs 590. A litre of petrol was Rs. 157 in June 2021 and today it is priced at Rs. 420. Most items including basic food items are seeing prices increase by 50-150% from last year. Even though the official inflation rate is at an astonishing 34%, unofficial figures are much higher.

So, where do we go from here? Well, before we look at solutions it is important to realise that we are also seeing a global rise of prices and with the war in Ukraine, the problems are not limited to Sri Lanka. However, the leaders of this country have made some irreversible decisions that have brought this nation down to its knees. We are about to face a crisis of unimaginable proportions including famine, possible violence and further turmoil.

During the past few months, we have seen people take to the streets, mostly protesting peacefully and asking for change. Despite some violence caused by politically backed mercenaries, the protests have resulted in the Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning. If you visit Colombo you will likely hear of GotaGoGama which is the main protest site asking for the resignation of the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He has not resigned but instead appointed Ranil Wickramasinghe as the new Prime Minister. Like most politicians, he has been around for too long and is not the solution people are asking for. However, it is important to have some perspective. The country is on the brink of starvation. The immediate issue is not a system change. It is the immediate supply of gas, fuel, medication and essential food items which have not been available for months.

The new Prime Minister has brought a degree of fresh air by addressing the issues head on. There is clear urgency to help this depleted island and countries such as Japan, France and India have been quick to send immediate aid. However, it is a daily struggle and the financial aid needs to be long term until Sri Lanka finds its feet which is expected to take 4-5 years. Sri Lanka is now looking at securing a bailout from the IMF and hoping to secure foreign investment, especially into renewable energy which should have happened 10 years ago but still good news if done.

So what does the immediate future look like? Well, Sri Lanka has been through a 30 year civil war, a tsunami, terror attacks and COVID, but the next 3-6 months are going to be unprecedented. With a bankrupted economy and a depleted food production, the people of this country are about to face food shortages and price increases like never experienced before. We have not even discussed jobs yet. We are seeing big companies such as MAS Holdings cutting costs and potentially moving their factories outside Sri Lanka which will result in the loss of over 100,000 jobs. The construction industry is at a complete standstill and others simply cannot afford the increasing costs. The country is looking at months of unemployment, food shortages and unbearable prices. What have these wonderful people done to deserve this? It is truly hearbtreaking and we fear that their resilience has finally been broken.

The situation looks helpless. However, as a business in spices, agriculture, ecotourism and conservation we are blessed to be able to help. Through Polwaththa, Eko land Produce and The Forest Healing Foundation we will be supporting local agriculture, growth of vegetables and offering jobs wherever possible. We will work closely with farmers, providing equipment and training and providing families with essential food items.

If you would like to support us or find out how you can help the local communities in our area then please contact Nihal or Remon at The Sri Lankan people need all the help they can get.

Thank you,

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