Avurudu Ganudenu With Gota

Rashmi de Alwis

Under normal circumstances, the people of Sri Lanka would celebrate ‘Aluth Avurudhu’ today. It is an age-old celebration packed with rituals.

It is celebrated after gathering the harvest from the paddy fields. This year our farmers did not pick a yield sufficient to feed themselves and produce a surplus that would have allowed them to send their kids to school, look after their elderly and survive until the next harvest. Our President has ruined the nation’s agriculture. He had made our paddy cultivators, who were essentially petty commodity producers, into penniless paupers when the country progressed to a middle-income country.

Avurudhu is also a time for rituals such as cleaning up the household, lighting the hearth, and exchanging money (Ganu Denu) with someone propitious. The day before ‘Avurudhu,’ the government announced that Sri Lanka would suspend all ‘Ganu Denu’ with its international lenders.

Instead of reconnecting with family and friends, our young are gathered in front of the President’s house chanting “Gota Go Home’. The President inside has raised the draw bridge and is deaf to the din outside.

In the past, this has been a time for celebration for the citizens of Sri Lanka. It is a time for us to reflect on our past year, make new resolutions, reconnect with our family and friends (near and far), and most of all, it is the time for us to await the dawning of a New Year that we hope is blessed with happiness and prosperity for all.

2022 marks a different kind of a year ahead for us Sri Lankans; our existing government has officially declared its inability to pay off our foreign debt.

They call it a “Soft” default. There is nothing “soft” about this. Our politicians, and here I signal out/call out the current administration and past administrations that have gone before-hat, have also contributed to this failure of epic proportions that has successfully bankrupted our beloved serendipitous tiny island. This is a failure of great magnitude. We are a nation ravaged by a 30-year civil war, but even in those past dark times – we never ran out of fuel, food, electricity, or dollars. This is not a result of the global pandemic of the war in Ukraine. This results from corruption and mismanagement at a level that none of us thought possible.

So the 51 billion dollar question for my fellow Sri Lankans is who is to be blamed? The Ugly Truth is that we must own up to our hand in this. We voted for these people. We turned a blind eye to their indulgences. We surrendered our dignity. WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR WAYS. WE NEED TO OWN UP TO OUR PART IN THIS MESS. And we need to be realistic. The next five years are going to be crucial to Sri Lanka. It will determine whether we come out of this in the next 5-10 years or spiral down this tunnel even further with no hope of returning. We need to challenge our business leaders to do better.

So far, no business leader has come forward to tell the Sri Lankan president what Cromwell told the long parliament.

“You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart. I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”.

It is strange that the mighty wizards of industry and commerce who applauded him at his ‘big do’ at the Shangri-La (no underscore) now opt to remain ‘Hangila’ (close the quote) – in hiding.

As late as the 17th of March, this President was firmly off track. A communique from his office was emphatic. The President and the Government have the most confidence in the CBSL Governor (Nivard Cabraal), and there is no reason to seek his resignation.

Our business community needs to stop pretending that this will blow over. THIS IS NOT blowing over. A population of 22 million people has inherited a foreign debt of approximately 51 billion US dollars. OMG, 51 billion dollars in debt, and the government say this is a “SOFT” default. There is nothing soft about this situation.

With the current government in place, no one, I mean NO ONE, will come to us with a bail-out plan. It makes sense, right? Cause lending this government money is like throwing money down the cliff at World’s End.

It defies essential common sense to keep giving money to a regime profligate as a habit, devious in mind, and crooked in reasoning.

The IMF or lenders will not agree to restructure loans without a clear and concrete plan for recovery and debt repayment. The IMF will talk to a government that enjoys the confidence of its core constituency – the people.

In the world of international refinances, PEOPLE’S CONFIDENCE IS CURRENCY. And today, the Sri Lankan government has zero value in that. And sadly, our corporate sector (business leaders) is no different. We must collectively be the change we want to see.

So this new year, my prayer for Sri Lanka is the gift of liberation from a system of corruption and abuse, an opportunity for the younger generation to rebuild our nation. Given that we have given you “politicians” our hard-earned money and our dignity for most of the last two decades, this is a small price for you to pay.

I have spent the last decade working outside Sri Lanka. I have seen the appeals on social media calling ex-pat Sri Lankans to send dollars home through official channels. I hear that calling. I want to answer that call to help my country. But I wonder, should I send my hard-earned money to my land currently being held hostage by a corrupt government? So, Mr. President, listen to the people’s voice; they have spoken – please go home, GOTA.

The parliament will meet again on the 18th of April. The useless and hopeless 225 should be reminded of another Cromwellian adage, ‘a few honest men are better than numbers.

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