What’s Going On In Sri Lanka?
An on the ground overview of the real situation
By India Briefing
Pictures of unhappy locals are making all the headlines of course. Basically, the country has run out of money so supplies are dwindling, bankruptcy looms, as do sovereign debt defaults and a complete restructuring by the IMF – if they are minded to do so without just handing over more cash destined for Switzerland or Delaware for a Government mentally incapable of managing the domestic economy without a kickback. The situation has largely been caused by Government incompetency, and corruption, both now unfortunately, deeply institutionalized. 50% of politicians have criminal records (some very serious) others are illiterate, having obtained power by basically providing small gift handouts to their constitutional villagers in return for a vote. Sri Lanka is a prime example of corruption in democracy.
Being an MP provides the right for pension for life, other free perks, status and the ability to import goods (such as a luxury car) duty free. (that subsequently get sold onto the market at the full, taxable value, a nice little earner when tax is 100%).
Such financial incentives, voted in of course by the local politicians themselves, need to be removed, people should be politicians to serve their country, not take from it. The Sri Lankan President has a US passport. Such vested national interests should bar people from office. Local Lankans are now clamoring for Rajapaksa to ‘go home’- to the United States. Before, visiting the US from Sri Lanka was a dream. Now Sri Lankan’s regard it as a retirement home for corrupt leaders.
Anyway. On the ground it’s not so bad, power cuts are staggered and about 4 hours a day, so manageable – Sri Lanka has hydro-electricity capabilities so can produce some power itself – and the monsoon is coming in a couple of months. Fuel is a problem, with huge queues – although it is available but at massively hiked prices. Some drivers don’t have enough income to fill up, fishing boats aren’t going out. A stupid imported fertilizer ban is wreaking havoc on crops.
With a population of 22 million, great fishing grounds and thousands of years of collective agricultural knowledge and expertise, Sri Lanka is crop productive but bad management and gross political interference with farming means annual productivity of most food crops has declined by about 25% since 2018. Fruit and vegetables are in the shops and available – but again prices have shot up. Milk and dairy products are becoming scarce, with families fondly remembering the cows they used to own before selling their land to developers. Even the national staple, buffalo curd, a product so much part of society that the prices are government regulated and subsidized – is rumored to be shortly unavailable.
Locals are now eating what they can grow in their gardens and sharing around any surpluses if they cannot afford to buy, meaning instead of buying and selling at market, much of the population is now subsistence farming, eating their gardens. But a lack of fertilizer and pesticides is decimating crops.
The President refuses to step down – he is democratically scheduled to remain in power until 2024. Being ex-military, he has army support. There have been calls for a United Sri Lankan all-party Government to be formed, but politicians are unable to agree on one. As right now, protests have been large but ineffective. The monsoon will allow some restoration of electricity, but fuel will remain short. Food will remain expensive. They are no medicines in the hospitals, doctors are warning the death total from untreated illnesses over the year will outstrip covid fatalities as prescription drugs and medical supplies are running out.
At present it seems to be the Sri Lankan people who will have to suffer, with no real alternative in sight – unless an unlikely military coup occurs. As for tourists, there are very few arrivals, Flying into Male last weekend (Maldives) with a packed 757, everyone deplaned except for 5 passengers remaining on board for the short hop to Sri Lanka. So, there is no, much needed tourism income either.
But to get to the points:
Is Sri Lanka safe? Yes, unless you want to join some protests. The Police have shot some protesters, with fatalities.
Is there food? Yes, but this is getting expensive for locals (foreigners can have some access to foreign currency, and the rupee has declined in value against that).
Is there money? Not much, and ATM machines are now only dispersing 100 rupee bills for a maximum of Rs4000 (US$11) a time. Even if you have it in the bank, it is hard to access it.
Are there power cuts? Yes, staggered, and managed, twice daily for about 2 hours each. They have been up to 14 hours a day at times.
Is there fuel? Huge, hours long queues for petrol and benzine (required for generators) and the price of wood (wood burning stoves) has shot up. So yes, but a daily hassle getting it.
So to summarize – Sri Lanka is basically operating on a subsistence level, but the population living here are having to endure plenty of frustrations with no real end in sight. It is a weird political world where to remain in power the President is praying for rain. In these days of global warming, these will not be the last.
The country has been marketing itself as “A Tropical Island Paradise”. But coming months may bring disease, starvation, and death. The coming monsoon may bring back power, but it won’t bring food.
Who will prevail? The President is ruling a country whose populations ability to stay alive has descended into one of foraging and food barter. Sri Lanka right now has declined, with all its natural resources, to be one of the poorest countries in the world, and certainly Asia.
But the President and his larger family – including several Sri Lankan Government ministers – will be all fine, thank goodness, despite the mess they have made. They have US dual nationality and citizenship – and the pertinent political rights and democratic freedoms to protect them. The remaining 21,000,970 Sri Lankan nationals do not.
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