With Sri Lanka facing a major financial crisis —largely due to apparently reckless, massive scale borrowings by the former regime— the National Government is holding crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a standby loan of US dollars 1.5 billion or USD 2 billion. Government leaders say they are confident that an agreement beneficial to the country could be worked out by April 10. While IMF loans and other sustainable, all-inclusive and eco-friendly development projects will be helpful, President Maithripala Sirisena last week disclosed another important dimension for stable growth in a just society.
The President, addressing a meeting to mark the opening up of a new Treasury building said, that after taking office on January 9 last year he had reduced the expenditure for the Presidential Secretariat by as much as 60 percent, mainly through cost cutting at personal and official levels.
The President reiterated he was the chief servant leader of the people and therefore committed to the hallowed Sri Lankan concept of Alpechchathawaya or a simple and humble life style.
In line with this principle there is a need to reject wasteful expenditure, luxuries and extravagance, which sometimes reach vulgar levels, with some people having a five-star meal for Rs. 5,000, while about eight million of our people are suffering below the poverty line. The President said the cost cutting at the Presidential Secretariat involved the giving up of hundreds of non-essential vehicles and the transfer of hundreds of non-essential staff, including highly paid consultants.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other leading Ministers were present, when the President made this proclamation and appeal. We hope all Ministers, MPs, Provincial Council members and top officials, will also follow this example to reject wasteful expenditure, luxuries and extravagance, while living in a simple and humble way.
We are happy that the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is being restructured and streamlined by a committee headed by the Prime Minister, has taken an important step to cut down hundreds of millions of rupees in non-essential expenditure.
Our sister paper the Sunday Times reported yesterday in its front page lead story, that Sri Lankan envoys are to be named for countries, where there is no diplomatic representation now, but they will be required to operate from an office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the envoys to be appointed would be personalities with some financial ability and would operate from an office in the Foreign Ministry. Apparently they would use modern digital technology including the Internet and Skype —for hi-tech teleconferences from Colombo, instead of spending million as rent for huge office buildings overseas, in addition to million more as payments for staff, transport, maintenance and other factors. These hi-tech diplomats will make about two visits a year to the countries they are accredited to.
According to Mr. Samaraweera the same practice is followed in Singapore, where its High Commissioner to Sri Lanka is resident in Singapore. Among the countries to which the Government will give priority in the appointment of hi-tech diplomats, who will conduct operations through modern remote controlled methods, will be Eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic.
Mr. Samaraweera said this new arrangement would ensure that Sri Lanka had a footprint in all important capitals of the world. This would also obviate the need for the Government to spend millions of rupees in setting up resident missions. The envoys would be competent enough to advise the Government, while monitoring developments in the respective countries, Mr. Samaraweera told the Sunday Times.
We hope other Ministries, State Departments and Corporations would take urgent and effective steps to follow the example set by the President and the Foreign Ministry, so that Sri Lanka could save an equitably distribute billions of rupees, which we now bust up on wasteful expenditure and luxuries —with the worst case scenario being the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, which has dragged itself and the country from paradise to hell.