Following the mutiny that we witnessed in Downing street after members of the Johnson’s cabinet successfully forced him to resign over accusations of incompetency and the culture of inappropriate conducts in his cabinet, the people of Sri Lanka have also succeeded in chasing out their President, G. Rajapaksa, out of office over his contributions to the collapse of the country’s economy. This blog is a brief commentary on some of the latest events in Sri Lanka.
Since assuming office in 2019, the government of Rajapaksa has always been indicted of excessive borrowing, mismanagement of the country’s economy, and applying for international loans that are often difficult to pay back. With the country’s debt currently standing at $51bn, some of these loans, is claimed to have been spent on unnecessary infrastructural developments as well as other ‘Chinese-backed projects’, (see also; the Financial Times, 2022). Jayamaha (2022; 236) indicated that ‘Sri Lanka had $7.6 billion in foreign currency reserves at the end of 2019. However, by March 2020, it had exhausted its reserves to just $1.93 billion.’ One of Rajapaksa’s campaign promises was to cut taxes, which he did upon assuming office. His critics faulted this move, claiming it was unnecessary at that particular time. His ban on fertilizers, in a bid for the country to go organic (even though later reversed), had its own effect on local farmers. Rice production for example, fell by 20% following the ban – a move that eventually forced the government to opt for rice importation which was in itself expensive (see also; Nordhaus & Shah 2022). Critics warned that his investments and projects have no substantial and direct impact on the lives of the common people, and that what is the essence of building roads when the common people cannot afford to buy a car to ride on those roads? The fact that people have to queue for petrol for 5 days and only having to work for 1 day or where families cannot afford to feed their children simply shows how the government of Rajapaksa seem to have mismanaged the economy of the country. Of course, the problem of insecurity and the pandemic cannot be left out as crucial factors that have also impacted tourism levels and the economy of the country.
Foreign reserves have depleted, the importation of food is becoming difficult to actualise, living expenses have risen to high levels, the country is struggling with its international loan repayments, the value of Rupees has depreciated, there is inflation in the land, including shortages of food supplies and scarcity of fuel. Those who are familiar with the Sri Lanka’s system will not be particularly surprised at the nationwide protests that have been taking place in different parts of the country since May, because the Rajapaksa’s regime was only sitting on a keg of gun powder, ready to explode.
In an unprecedented fashion on July 9, several footages and images began to emerge online showing how protesters had successfully overpowered the police and had broken into the residence of the President. Their goal was to occupy the presidential palace and chase the president out of his residence. In fact, there are video footages online allegedly showing the motorcade of the president fleeing from his residence as the wave of protest rocked the capital.
Upon gaining entry into the innermost chambers of the president’s dwelling, protesters started touring and taking selfies in euphoria, some of them had quickly jumped into the presidential shower, others helped themselves to some relaxation on the president’s bed after days of protests, some were engaged in a mock presidential meeting in the president’s cabinet office, some preferred to swim in the president’s private pool while others helped themselves to some booze.
Indeed, these extraordinary scenes should not be taken for granted for they again reaffirm WB Yeats classic idea of anarchy (in ‘the second coming’ poem), being the only option to be exercised when the centre can no longer hold.
Of course, some may ask that now that they have invaded the presidential villa, what next? In my view, the people of Sri Lanka seem to be on the right direction as President Rajapaska has eventually bowed to pressure and agreed to resign. The next phase now is for the country to carefully elect a new leader who will revive the sinking ship, amend the economic policies, foster an effective democratic political culture which (hopefully) should bring about a sustainable economic plan and growth reforms.
Importantly, this is a big lesson not just for the political class of Sri Lanka, but for other wasteful leaders who continue to destroy their economies with reckless and disastrous policies. It is a lesson of the falcon and the falconer – for when the falcon can no longer hear the falconer, scenes like these may continue to be reproduced in other locations of the world.
Indeed, things fell apart in Colombo, but it is hoped that the centre will hold again as the country prepare to elect its new leaders.
Here is wishing the people of Colombo, and the entire Sri Lankans all the best in their struggle.
Financial Times (2022) [Twitter] 20 July. Available at: https://mobile.twitter.com/FinancialTimes/status/1549554792766361603
Jayamaha, J. (2022) “The demise of Democracy in Sri Lanka: A study of the political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka (Based on the incident of the Rambukkana shooting)”, Sprin Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 1(05), pp. 236–240. doi: 10.55559/sjahss.v1i05.22.
Nordhaus, T & Shah S, (2022) In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong, March 5, FP. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/05/sri-lanka-organic-farming-crisis/
Sometime last week, I was amid a group of friends when the argument about the Pandora papers suddenly came up. In brief, the key questions raised were how come no one is talking about the Pandora papers again? What has happened to the investigations, and how come the story has now been relegated to the back seat within the media space? Although, we didn’t have enough time to debate the issues, I promised that I would be sharing my thoughts on this blog. So, I hope they are reading.
We can all agree that for many years, the issues of financial delinquencies and malfeasants have remained one of the major problems facing many societies. We have seen situations where Kleptocratic rulers and their associates loot and siphon state resources, and then stack them up in secret havens. Some of these Kleptocrats prefer to collect luxury Italian wines and French arts with their ill-gotten wealth, while others prefer to purchase luxury properties and 5-star apartments in Dubai, London and elsewhere. We find military generals participating in financial black operations, and we hear about law makers manipulating the gaps in the same laws they have created. In fact, in some spheres, we find ‘business tycoons’ exploiting violence-torn regions to smuggle gold, while in other spheres, some appointed public officers refuse to declare their assets because of fear of the future. Two years ago, we read about the two socialist presidents of the southern Spanish region and how they were found guilty of misuse of public funds. Totaling about €680m, you can imagine the good that could have been achieved in that region. We should also not forget the case of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, both of whom (we are told) amassed over $10 billion during their reign in the Philippines. As we can see below that from the offshore leak of 2013 to the Panama papers of 2016 and then the 2017 Paradise papers, data leaks have continued to skyrocket. This simply demonstrates the level to which politicians and other official state representatives are taking to invest in this booming industry.
These stories are nothing new, we have always read about them – but then they fade away quicker than we expect. It is important to note that while some countries are swift in conducting investigation when issues like these arise, very little is known about others. So, in this blog, I will simply be highlighting some of the reasons why I think news relating to these issues have a short life span.
To start with, the system of financial corruption is often controlled and executed by those holding on to power very firmly. The firepower of their legal defence team is usually unmatchable, and the way they utilise their wealth and connections often make it incredibly difficult to tackle. For example, when leaks like these appear, some journalists are usually mindful of making certain remarks about the situation for the avoidance of being sued for libel and defamation of character. Secondly, financial crimes are always complex to investigate, and prosecution often takes forever. The problem of plurality in jurisdiction is also important in this analysis as it sometimes slows down the processes of investigation and prosecution. In some countries, there is something called ‘the immunity clause’, where certain state representatives are protected from being arraigned while in office. This issue has continued to raise concerns about the position of truth, power, and political will of governments to fight corruption. Another issue to consider is the issue of confidentiality clause, or what many call corporate secrecy in offshore firms. These policies make it very difficult to know who owns what or who is purchasing what. So, for as long as these clauses remain, news relating to these issues may continue to fade out faster than we imagine. Perhaps Young (2012) was right in her analysis of illicit practices in banking & other offshore financial centres when she insisted that ‘offshore financial centers such as the Cayman Islands, often labelled secrecy jurisdictions, frustrate attempts to recover criminal wealth because they provide strong confidentiality in international finance to legitimate clients as well as to the crooks and criminals who wish to hide information – thereby attracting a large and varied client base with their own and varied reasons for wanting an offshore account’, (Young 2012, 136). This idea has also been raised by our leader, Nikos Passas who believe that effective transparency is an essential component of unscrambling the illicit partnerships in these structures.
While all these dirty behaviours have continued to damage our social systems, they yet again remind us how the network of greed remains at the core centre of human injustice. I found the animalist commandant of the pigs in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell to be quite relevant in this circumstance. The decree spells: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. This idea rightly describes the hypocrisy that we find in modern democracies; where citizens are made to believe that everyone is equal before the law but when in fact the law, (and in many instances more privileges) are often tilted in favour of the elites.
I agree with the prescription given by President Obama who once said that strengthening democracy entails building strong institutions over strong men. This is true because the absence of strong institutions will only continue to pave way for powerful groups to explore the limits of democracy. This also means that there must be strong political will to sanction these powerful groups engaging in this ‘thievocracy’. I know that political will is often used too loosely these days, but what I am inferring here is genuine determination to prosecute powerful criminals with transparency. This also suggests the need for better stability and stronger coordination of law across jurisdictions. Transparency should not only be limited to governments in societies, but also in those havens. It is also important to note that tackling financial crimes of the powerful should not be the duty of the state alone, but of all. Simply, it should be a collective effort of all, and it must require a joint action. By joint action I mean that civil societies and other private sectors must come together to advocate for stronger sanctions. We must seek collective participation in social movements because such actions can bring about social change – particularly when the democratic processes are proving unable to tackle such issues. Research institutes and academics must do their best by engaging in research to understand the depth of these problems as well as proffering possible solutions. Illicit financial delinquencies, we know, thrive when societies trivialize the extent and depth of its problem. Therefore, the media must continue to do their best in identifying these problems, just as we have consistently seen with the works of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a few others. So, in a nutshell and to answer my friends, part of the reasons why issues like this often fade away quicker than expected has to do with some of the issues that I have pointed out. It is hoped however that those engaged in this incessant accretion of wealth will be confronted rather than conferred with national honors by their friends.
BBC (2021) Pandora Papers: A simple guide to the Pandora Papers leak. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-58780561 (Accessed: 26 May 2022)
Young, M.A., 2012. Banking secrecy and offshore financial centres: money laundering and offshore banking, Routledge