Writing to the world’s leading op-ed page Project Syndicate, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe says Sri Lankan business leaders no longer need to fear takeovers or shakedowns by the president’s greedy family members and cronies.
“As we liberate all of our citizens from fear, we will rebuild Sri Lanka as a free society. The authoritarian model of capitalism that Rajapaksa introduced to our country, and that much of the world seems to be embracing nowadays, is not for us,” Wickramsinghe wrote.
During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, a draconian expropriation bill was passed in Parliament making way for the government to acquire over 35 privately held businesses on leased out government lands on the bases of ‘underperformance’.
Former Ceylinco Group Chairman Lalith Kotelawala in recent TV interviews charged Rajapksa cronies for robbing his wealth.
The financial sector consolidation plan mooted by the Central Bank during Rajapaksa’s time forced owners of many well-run small finance companies to sell their stakes to bigger finance houses.
Prime Minister Wickramasinghe also mentions about neighbours who are advising him and his government not to worry too much about re-establishing political freedom but to reform the economy.
But he writes, “Our experience with authoritarian rule, however, is that it undermines the goal of post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction by its need to maintain our society’s divisions artificially. The best way to avoid a relapse into conflict and arbitrary rule is to ensure that Sri Lanka’s leaders are held accountable through representative institutions.”
However, Wickramasinghe points out that the country cannot turn the page on authoritariaan rule, restore democratic freedoms and, rebuild the economy in an inclusive manner on its own as it lacks enough resources to undertake the great task of reconstruction. He says that too much of country’s wealth has been damaged by war, taken flight abroad or siphoned off through corruption.
Wickramasinghe therefore calls for assistance from world democracies in demonstrating to the people that reconciliation, democracy, tolerance, and the rule of law constitute the only route to long-term peace and shared prosperity.
He says that autocratic forces are waiting in the wings to return to power in the coming parliamentary elections.
However, Sri Lanka’s premier trade chamber Ceylon Chamber of Commerce last week urged the new government to end the sense of prevailing uncertainty by holding the general elections as soon as possible.
While commending the new government and the President for steps taken towards constitutional reforms, law and order, good governance, international relations and, reducing cost of living, CCC said the much needed long term economic policies have been put on hold pending a general election and a stable government.
The chamber further stressed that the prevailing uncertainty impacts negatively on the economic and business environment.