(Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Morning” of April 5th 2022 Under the Heading “The Interim ‘change’ of Government faces”)
The spate of independent and organised protests taking place throughout the country demanding the Government, especially President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to resign, continue to grow.
This is in a context where the Government seems to be doing everything it can to contain the protests, including imposing curfews and the declaration of a state of emergency, and deploying defence forces and the Police. When these measures did not reduce the protests, the Government has now resorted to a much more democratic but ineffective step, i.e. instructing all ministers to resign from their posts as the first step of appointing an Interim Government.
The people are not happy with this decision either, and their protests continue despite the Government’s decision. They refuse the Interim Government, and they raise concerns as to how much of a change the country can expect with the same old members of the Government whom the people feel are not competent to save the economy.
One of the concerns of the people is the Interim Government including ministers who just resigned, some of whom – namely Dinesh Gunawardena as the Education Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris as the Foreign Affairs Minister, and Johnston Fernando as the Highways Minister – have already been appointed to their former ministerial positions, while President’s Counsel M.U.M. Ali Sabry, who formerly held the Justice Minister portfolio, has been appointed as the Finance Minister, thus replacing Basil Rajapaksa. The President has also invited other parties representing the Parliament to join this Interim Government.
As far as long-term changes are concerned, there is a huge question as to whether this would lead to the change that they wanted, because it is only a change of faces, not the system. The system change which the people demand, which has been demanded from Governments for a long time, includes the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the abolition of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and thereby giving the Parliament more powers.
At the same time, this change of faces not including the President and Prime Minister is a grave concern, because all new ministers, although they are not really new, have to work under the duo. In fact, more than the ministers’ resignations, it is the President’s and the Prime Minister’s resignations that the people demand, mostly due to the unwise decisions taken by the duo during the past two years. What is more, the people question as to how much progress the country can expect from a Cabinet of Ministers under the two leaders, whom the people feel have failed during the two years that they governed the country.
This is not the change the country needs and the people demand, and the country will soon see what this supposed change can do to change the country’s situation. Appointing new ministers and changing ministerial portfolios of ministers who just resigned, as some who commented on social media platforms claimed, is a Trojan horse that is intended to save the positions of the President and the Prime Minister, because they are the only individuals who get to keep their positions despite their resignations being the most demanded.
At the same time, even though there are doubts as to whether the President looked at such, the reason for the appointment of an Interim Government should be looked at. The country is going through the worst economic crisis in recent memory, and there is an urgent and undeniable need to appoint to this Interim Government, people who are capable of supporting it, not just those who extend their support to the Government at the Government’s open invitation to other parties.
It should be noted that Ali Sabry’s appointment as the Finance Minister in the Interim Government, which is a crucial one at a time when the country is going through the worst economic crisis in recent memory, is quite interesting, as he has not gained a name as someone who has experience handling economic affairs.
This appointment is bound to be more interesting when dealing with international financial bodies and countries that have lent Sri Lanka money, as the next few months are going to be an era of negotiations with such parties.
There is no time to waste, and every day and opportunity that is wasted has the potential to affect Sri Lanka negatively. In this context, if this is just another drama to stop protests and be in power, instead of saving the deteriorating economy, that will have an unfathomable impact on the country’s economy in the foreseeable future, perhaps a bigger impact than the economic crisis in itself would have caused. The country can only hope that the Government has a good plan.