Why is there no “aragalaya” against Sri Lanka’s top business community?
The slogan of the 2022 aragala activists was against “corruption” and the allegation of “collapsing the economy”. These chants were parroted by a majority of youth who were cheered by groups of elite personalities at Galle Face Green adding a colorful presence to the media reports transmitted internationally. Little did these youth know that the corporates that were present at the aragala, even encouraging their staff to attend, were actually part of the problem, if not the main cause of the problem.
Mismanagement of Sri Lanka’s economy is to be put to the doorstep of all governments & unplanned open economy commenced in 1977 is one of the key faultlines. “Open” was connoted to mean everything foreign and little or no place was given to encouraging innovative entrepreneurship within Sri Lanka except for a handful of lucky one’s who excelled because of the shenanigans of political connections.
Nevertheless, the fault lay in thinking that Sri Lanka’s business could thrive only from foreign investments & investors. How far these investors and investments have actually helped Sri Lanka’s economy or even socio-politically is important to statistically find out against all of the incentives, tax holidays and other handouts given for the upfront “investment” shown on paper. Why could same incentives not be offered to local SME’s by successive governments and make them shareholders in Sri Lanka’s development?
Be that as it may, with open economy came the LTTE and those years were periods of bombs, suicide missions and ambulances carrying dead soldiers. It was also a period where JVP were equally running amok and the entire state apparatus was held to ransom from both North & South. Many seem to have forgotten this gruesome period.
We have also forgotten the imbalance in our national profit-loss sheet and presume everything to be attributed to corruption. Ever since 1977 our revenues have been lesser than our expenditure, our imports more than our exports & to bridge this gap, governments have turned to taking loans & people & corporates have always demanded luxury imports to satisfy their needs & any decision to prevent such has always led to companies either sponsoring regime change or not supporting elections. This is the ugly side of politics that get little attention. The role of companies and business tycoons in sponsoring elections & their demands thereafter is little discussed or debated. It is a key reason why political parties can never implement what they present on their manifestos.
Identify the groups that openly supported the maithri-palanaya. It was during this period that for no reason $12.5billion ISBs was taken & no one knows what was done with this money. The Hambantota Port was given for 99 years to China, no one knows what happened to this money. A string of dangerous Acts were passed including the co-sponsorship of the UNHRC resolution unfairly insinuating crimes by our war heros. It was immediately after regime change that the international architect of coloured revolution landed in Sri Lanka who also has stakes in the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing vaccines for covid. It was also in 2017 that the Foreign Exchange Act was changed allowing companies to open foreign accounts and keep their money overseas. All this taken together – with repayment of ISBs falling in 2020, with Sri Lankan companies not bringing back their profits to the tunen of $53billion, the covid & associated losses to state coffers took place. How many are able to understand this larger picture?
People have forgotten – Covid, lockdowns, foreign remittances declining, job losses, govt expense increasing to take care of covid patients buy vaccines and run various covid centres across Sri Lanka. Tourism came to a virtual halt and that meant revenues also came to nought. Ironically, the President who is accused of collapsing the economy came to power in November 2019, in March 2020 the country faced lockdowns, only in September 2021 that everything returned to normal though no one thought to take stock of the situation that led to decline in foreign reserves.
Then gas cylinders started to explode, hiccups in corporate controlled food supplies, medicines & other essentials and even probable sabotage in state apparatus. These are centainly case studies to ascertain whether these incidents were natural or manmade and part of what was to lead to public unrest & public outcry & eventual public protest.
It is a good time to ask if the very companies that parked their profits overseas were the one’s that stalled supplies of essentials to the people to anger them and spur them to protest at the grounds where some of these top personalities were present to cheer the people on.
Much of the money that came to support the aragalaya was via undial & hawala systems made worse by aragala asking expats not to send money home foolishly implying that the govt was stealing money sent to personal accounts. People actually fell for these silly canards & so-called intellecuals and ‘educated’ were seen promoting this notion as well. The arguments and topics that surfaced during the aragalaya seriously questioned the quality of Sri Lanka’s education system & the end-products though some of the main players were all foreign educated!
Somehow the corporate controlled media are not giving emphasis to the fact that $53billion is kept in overseas banks & not brought back to Sri Lanka. Some of these very businessmen were seen holding placards at the protest site demanding Sri Lanka go to IMF for the paltry $2.9billion in tranches with conditions.
We have to wonder where is the patriotism in the companies/businessmen that are keeping their profits overseas to the tune of $53billion if not more and remaining mum & not even coming forward as a group to negotiate to provide what Sri Lanka has begged from the IMF with conditions?
Why hasn’t the elite business community come forward to bail out Sri Lanka, where they have prospered? Why are some of these companies now selling their business units to foreign companies/govts & opening new business units overseas?
Have people looked at the figures?
$2.9billion in tranches from the IMF with conditions
$53billion belonging to elite Sri Lankan companies being kept overseas without depositing in Sri Lanka because of the 2017 Foreign Exchange Act.
The question is why is the Governor Central Bank or the current Govt not making any efforts to nullify the 2017 Act and demand the companies to bring back what they are keeping in overseas bank?
The aragala activists claim to know everything about the political landscape to be pointing fingers at all & sundry but why are they not highlighting this $53billion kept in overseas banks and demanding this money be brought back & even protesting for it to be brought back?
Why are they not protesting against the elite businesses keeping this colossal amount overseas?
Where is the aragalaya against the business community to return the $53billion?
Shenali D Waduge