File photo by Chandana Wijesinghe

In good old days, debates in the Sri Lankan Parliament were rich not with nonsense, banality and filth but with substantive arguments, creative vision and humor. Also it is interesting to note that the debates were dominated by the left leaders.

Speaking at the Budget debate in the late 1960s, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, Pieter Keuneman, said that this budget and the policies of the UNP government had demonstrated clearly its “economic sterility, political impotency and administrative incapacity”.

In this column, I argue focusing more on the economic management that this description is more valid in portraying the policies and the performance of the government of the January 8 coalition than that of the UNP government of Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake. It is interesting to note that Comrade Pieter Keuneman did not talk about corrupt practices of the Dudley Senanayake’s government as widespread corruption was not a phenomenon in pre-1977 UNP governments.

Had a day time robbery like what had happened recently at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka occurred under his rule Dudley Senanayake would have resigned immediately from the post of PM. Of course, it is hard to expect that kind of moral behavior from the politicians in this neo-liberal phase.

Narendra Modi’s program
Let me come to my main argument. The statements by the spokesperson of the January 8 coalition who were later responsible for economic management had demonstrated without any doubt that they were clueless on the issues and had not possessed a clear strategy for economic development of the country. Prior to the Presidential election, I wrote in this column about this sterility of development thinking in Maitripala Sirisena’s election program. This was what I wrote: “Champika Ranawaka has a formula and Candidate Sirisena has just copied it in verbatim in his manifesto.

This formula has a close affinity with Narendra Modi’s program. Whether the economists of Modi government believe it or not, Modi gave a lot of publicity to the idea that bringing black money deposited in foreign banks would give substantial impetus to the economy.”

Candidate Sirisena proposes: “By stopping mega corruption and wastage alone I will act to provide the country with development ten times that of the last six years and provide relief to the people”. Anybody who knows ABC of economics or one with just common sense may not accept this theory even though one assumes that corruption and waste are substantial. Modiconomics is not working in India, so will be the Sirisenomics.’ The UNP spokesperson, Eran Wickramathne also reiterated the same logic of finding necessary capital for development by eliminating waste and corruption.

Prior to the election, besides myself, R.M.B Senanayake and Hema Senanayake had also pinpointed this shallow idea of developing country by transferring money reclaimed from the people who were engaged in corrupt practices to development projects. It is not necessary to tell time and again, the money that is recovered (which is a stock) does not provide a continuous flow of capital needed for development.

In the pre-election period, January 8 coalition supporters tried to inflate the amount money that could be reclaimed with the support of the international banking system. However, in the last six months, the UNP government failed to reclaim a single penny from this allegedly stolen money. Hence, it is not a surprise to see that the whole idea of economic development collapsed as a result of over emphasized faith on this shallow idea.

Benefits to people
Since January 8, the country has witnessed the sterility of this “strategy” as the so-called rainbow coalition had to depend more and more taking money even to run a day-to-day business of the government.

As I discussed in this column many a time, the UPFA government had simultaneously adopted two strategies of economic development. One I called ‘Jayasundara strategy’ and the other “Basil Rajapaksa strategy’. These two were combined into a single strategy by the Secretary to the Treasury. In my writings both in Sinhala and English, I have made an attempt to reflect critically on these two strategies and shown their inherent drawbacks. Overall, as I mentioned, UPFA strategy was a result of mixing ‘developmentalist state model’ with neoliberalism. Hence, it failed produce expected results.

On the other hand, the past six months, we have witnessed under the UNP regime a ‘strategyless situation’. Its entire policy package was based on ‘tactics’, tactics of winning elections. Eran Wickramaratne, in one of the TV interviews, accepted that the UNP government had not even thought about economic development as it concentrated on giving some benefits to people.

So the United National Party that placed so much faith on using wasted money on development had later turned into strategyless economic management. A movement from shallow strategy to strategyless policies. The outcome of this miserable situation was a decline of growth rate, rise in unemployment, falling living standards and half-done development projects.

Social market economy
The microcosm that funnily revealed this pathetic situation is the road that I used every day. It is in Kadirana and comes under Katana Pradeshiya Sabha. It was a gravel road that cannot be used in rainy season. And the people who use this road made many requests to repair it. Part of the road was redone placing tar just before the January 8 election. It was not a good job, a job hurriedly done. However, all works stopped after the election. We thought they might restart once the election fever subsided. Nothing happened. So the outcome, half tarred road with lots of bumps (UPFA economic program) and the second half with muddy holes (UNP economic program).

When I was asked by one of the newspaper journalists how I see the change that occurred in January 8. I cited this situation of the road that I use every day. Does the UNP led coalition now have an economic strategy? Not yet clear.

Champika Ranawaka on behalf of the United National Front for Good Governance has recently informed that they would in next five years adopt ‘social market economy’. I think that Champika Ranawaka borrowed this idea from Dr Harsha de Silva although he put it as its own creation. Social market economy was the right wing version of social democracy. It produced some positive results during ‘late capitalism’ especially in Germany. However, it is now an abandoned strategy and in the context of neoliberal globalization, it does not have practical relevance.

Pieter Keuneman’s phrase that the UNP’s vision and policies on economy is sterile and senile is also valid for today. It is the dominant party in the January coalition. It does not have an economic strategy that could take the country out of the economic mess. It will just follow the neoliberal agenda designed by the Washington consensus. The same measures that Germany has imposed on Greece. Chinese military strategist-cum-philosopher Sun Tzu wrote “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

(The writer is the Dean, Faculty of Management and Finance, SANASA Campus. He can be reached via email