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Give us our daily rice and not Central Bank Report

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(April11, 2014, Bradford UK , Sri Lanka Guardian ) Let us get this right. Not only do we have virtual democracy but if Central Bank’s annual report and its governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal’s outrageous contradiction that the economy is doing very well indeed thank you is anything to by, it is an insult to the average Sri Lankan’s intelligence.

His economic theory is stranger than fiction and his projections match the fantasies of Hollywood movies or Dubya’s sunshine stories of America’s prosperity not to mention Obama’s healthcare plans which leaves out the larger US population beyond getting any treatment for curable illnesses.

Central Bank lost Rs24.2 billion last year down from profits of Rs66.2 billion but it had transferred Rs25 billion in profits for the state budget, according to its annual report. When gold prices fell last year CB suffered an unexpected loss on Rs27.8billion in foreign exchange assets.

All this is mumbo jumbo to an ordinary person but some wise guy wondered what earthly need Central Bank serves and would it not be better to abolish it. It neither lends nor liaises with ordinary people, its movements are mysterious and it prints money to cover losses thus causing the rupee to make itself as useful as the planktons on our waterways.

Meanwhile our President also assures us we need to wait till 2050 before we reap the harvest of his government’s labours (or losses). Is it too much to ask that every citizen is provided with three square meals a day with essential food items at prices he can afford, healthcare, education for his children to prepare for the 21st century challenges on par with the rest of the world and provide employment when they leave school, safe drinking water and roof over his head.

To hell with CB report. All we want is a semblance of normal life and fulfilment of basic needs essential for a person’s survival (not pleasure) such as food, shelter, clean drinking water, clothing and medical care.

We had these under Bunis Mama D.W. Dahanayake and our older politicians who made sure their populace did not go hungry. They came into politics to serve their people and sold their own inherited properties to do so which is a far cry from our pseudo-royal Rajapaksas and present day politicians who are plundering the nation’s wealth at speed more than that of light.

Even President Ranasinghe Premadasa despite his humble origin served the country and saw to it that the poorest of the poor were able to rise above their poverty in providing shelter by launching the one million houses scheme, free school meals and Janasaviya funds which enabled self-employment for those who had lost all hope of living.

Having said that, Sri Lankan bureaucrats are a very intelligent and innovative lot. Charita Ratwatte is one of the proponents of Janasaviya under Premadasa Government along with Susil Siriwardena. During an interview with him after Ms Chandrika Bandaraike Kumaratunga came into power he made a startling and honest revelation.

Janasaviya funds were virtual and its recipients could obtain loans against bonds issued. The crux of the matter is there were no physical funds for the recipients in the banks. It takes some ingenuity to let banks lend against non-existent funds. Where did the money come from to provide loans and was there accountability as to how the loans would be repaid. In short, banks were held to ransom and pay money which would never be repaid. The money for Janasaviya is a figment of imagination and existed on a virtual plane. It simply did not exist.

Janasaviya is equivalent to Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s take-over of lands in the early 1970’s by placing a ceiling on the acreage an individual can hold to 50 and issued bonds for the remainder. The bonds were not worth the paper it was written on. The suicides of landowners who inherited and toiled their lands is history.

Politicians under-estimate the intelligence of the common man; hence they are booted out post-haste when their skulduggery is exposed in the following election. Sri Lankan politicians have yet to gauge the pulse of its people.

Raj Rajaratnam pales into insignificance compared to Janasaviya fiasco.

Jansaviya was launched to help the poorest of poor start self- employment and how successful it was has never been researched or proved. Whatever happened to Janasaviya? Did it die a natural death leaving banks bankrupt and recipients high and dry after Premadasa’s demise. What happens when Leaders change; do their precedents hand over their development projects to follow on or do they wither and die until the new government creates another virtual project during election times?

Under Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka is opulently touted as the new Singapore with its flashy highways, airports and harbours in the backwaters of Hambantota, his family stronghold. The only niggardly problem is Hambantota, as depicted in Leonard Woolf’s Village in the Jungle is just what it is; an arid jungle with not much rainfall and too much arid lands. Mattala Mahinda airport is not enticing air traffic. The harbour hardly gets a fishing trawler never mind a shipping vessel in its dockyard.

The masses are first enthralled with new projects but soon get fed up when they realise the government is hoodwinking them through and through. The two PC elections have come and gone with more promises for the future and as Aluth Avurudhu and Puththandu approaches Central Bank’s fairy tales and government assurances that food items would be sold at nominal price so as not to burden the people is another lie the people have to put up with.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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