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Thursday 4th May, 2023

Government politicians, save perhaps a few, and their backers are still cock-a-hoop over the IMF bailout which they naively think is a kind of economic panacea. They went so far as to paint the town red when the IMF approved the much-awaited extended fund facility, in March, lighting as they did firecrackers. In so doing, they only made a public display of their asininity.

Sri Lanka will not be able to achieve economic recovery if it fails to rebuild its foreign currency reserves urgently. Thankfully, remittances from expatriate workers have increased significantly during the past few months, but much more needs to be done to boost the forex inflow to shore up the ailing economy; foreign direct investment is the key. This is a tall order, given the country’s shameful debt default and appalling credit ratings.

China has come forward to boost Sri Lanka’s foreign investment. It has unveiled a plan to build a mega logistics hub at the Colombo Port. China deserves praise, but there is a pressing need for much more foreign investment.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has rightly sought to make Sri Lanka attractive to investors. He has taken steps to create a business-friendly environment here, his media unit says. Seven task forces consisting of 54 state institutions have been set up for that purpose, and their progress is under review, we are told. This is something long overdue. The entire state machinery has to be geared towards foreign investment promotion if a business-friendly environment is to be created here.

The task of promoting investment, however, is too gargantuan to be accomplished solely with measures such as the appointment of task forces. First of all, the government has to make itself business-friendly by ridding itself of corrupt elements in the garb of ministers and high-ranking mandarins. These undesirables drive many investors away by demanding bribes. Decent foreign investors are not willing to enter into Faustian pacts with the corrupt here. The prevailing culture of impunity has stood crooks in good stead, and unless it is eliminated urgently investment promotion will remain a pipe dream. A prerequisite for reimaging this country as an investor-friendly destination is to restore the rule of law.

A government, or a country for that matter, is known by its Cabinet of Ministers. Look at the kind of ministers we are burdened with, and if one cares to compare them with their counterparts in countries such as Singapore, one will understand why we have failed to achieve any progress and are in the current predicament. Most of these horizontally-gifted yet intellectually-challenged worthies cannot even read and understand the Appropriation Bill if the loads of unforgivably cringeworthy balderdash they come up with during budget debates are any indication. Who will want to do business with a country that suffers such fools and crooks gladly?

Those who are responsible for bankrupting this country, ruining its image, and inflicting so much suffering on its citizenry have to be brought to justice. But they have managed to retain their hold on power and the economy. Thanks to them, Sri Lanka has come to be known, the world over, as a bankrupt country run by a bunch of failed, corrupt politicians. How can any foreign investor in his or her proper senses be expected to park his or her money here?

The current regime is doing exactly the opposite of what it promised to do and secured popular mandates for, at the last two national elections. It lacks legitimacy, and is full of crooks, most of whom should be behind bars for their crimes. The least that can be done to make this country business-friendly is to enable its people to exercise their franchise and get rid of the crooks at the levers of power.

There is no way a country, where impunity prevails; crooks go places, and the people’s rights are suppressed, can make itself out to be business-friendly

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