“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to ensure that there are no earth slips while we go through the tunnel. That’s the problem”- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, delivering a speech at the ‘Conference on Sri Lanka’s Twin Crisis’ held at the Sri Lanka Foundation, on Friday, said: “We based ourselves on the British Constitution. The majority has the power, the minority starts talking and shouting, that’s all. But then we changed the first-passed-the-post into a PR system. Now, you’re going to abolish the Presidency, then do you want to go back to the English system, the Westminster system, or do you want to have one in which there’s more cooperation like the old Donoughmore system, the State Council system? This is one issue that everyone has to think of.”

Excerpts of the speech:

I’ve been asked to address you on Sri Lanka’s Twin Crisis. One has already started, the economic crisis in Sri Lanka. I need not go back to the past as to how we deprived ourselves of our foreign exchange, how we decided that we’d go on to do it alone and the facts were concealed not only from the public but from
Parliament, and from the members of the then government. And stemming from it is also a political crisis, the question of loss of confidence in a political system that allowed the country to go down to this level. So this is what we’re grappling with.

There’s a second crisis. The second crisis is the global impact of the Ukraine crisis. We’re only seeing the beginning of it, the increase in fuel (price). It will get much worse as it goes along. As it goes along you’d probably find that there’ll be a shortage of food.

The food shortage will go global till 2024. After all Russia and Ukraine, one is the largest producer of grain, the other is the fifth largest. You cannot import Russian grain, and in Ukraine whatever is left cannot be sent off.

Their ports are closed by the Russians, and their rail track gauge is different from that of Poland. So each carriage has to be lifted and put onto the Polish track. You can’t send food out there. And many of the fields of their agricultural area are destroyed. If the war stops even tomorrow, it will take Ukraine at least three years to get its cultivation back on track.

Then the rising price of fuel, the rising price of corn, again the shortage of fertilizer. So it hits the whole world. There’s a shortage of fertilizer in California, there’s a shortage of fertilizer in Brazil. How do you meet it? And there’s going to be a shortage of food. Already countries are banning the export of food. That’s the second one you have, that you’re facing.

There’s no Priority List. Even till recently different agencies were actually using the different credit lines to order what they wanted, there was no priority. If someone said ‘I want fertilizer’ that was the effort, if someone said “I want petrol’ that was there.

We had to establish a Priority Order and sort of centralize the access to the foreign credit lines. So this is just a start of what we have to do. The worst is still to come. As you know there will be no food, as in our food supplies will be enough until about September- October because we didn’t have enough fertilizer either for ‘Maha’ or for ‘Yala’.

Now we’re trying to get fertilizer for the next ‘Maha’ season. If we do, then we will be certainly self -sufficient by February next year. What do you do in between? As the economy fails, more and more jobs are being lost. More and more enterprises, big and small are collapsing. This is what we’re going for. A time will come when people will not eat three meals a day. They may eat two meals; that situation may come for some of our people.

We have to avoid hunger. Is there an end to it? Well, we’re talking with other nations, our friendly nations, to get help. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to ensure that there are no earth slips while we go through the tunnel. That’s the problem.

We cannot get through this year by ourselves. We need a few billion dollars to come from outside. Otherwise this country cannot survive. We need to reach out again to the people we rejected. The Japanese have been our friends from 1952 to date who are hurt by what happened. Which country rejects 3 billion dollars’ worth of aid, without a thank you, without even having a negotiation? Just said we don’t want it. How do you build back confidence with those people?

We’re lucky that India has come forward to help us, at the hour of our need. Other countries are chipping in. China has come with assistance, but someone in the government went and negotiated a loan, a swap, which we cannot use.
So we have to get ready to go through a tough time and to change the system. Changing the system and making this export oriented, I don’t think is going to help Hiran De Silva, Chairman – Rakimu Jayathu Lanka very much. But his sons and his daughters and his grandsons and his granddaughters are going to have a new Sri Lanka. That’s what we’re working for.

A Sri Lanka that is prosperous. Let this experience be our last experience with this bitter politics. Let’s think anew.

And that comes back to the Constitution. We based ourselves on the British Constitution. The majority has the power, the minority starts talking and shouting, that’s all. But then we changed the first-passed-the-post into a PR system. Now you’re going to remove the Presidency, then do you want to go back to the English system, the Westminster system or do you want to have one in which there’s more cooperation like the old Donoughmore system, the State Council system?

This is one issue that everyone has to think of. I’ve given some proposals to make the Parliament work together, but that is only the beginning. So think of it and remember, that this is the beginning of a new journey. So think of it, and start traveling along.

Courtesy:The Island