Sri Lanka

CBK’s volte-face

Sep 23, 2017
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has taken late President J.R. Jayewardene to task for introducing the open economy to the country. Speaking at a function to commemorate the late minister Hector Kobbekaduwa, in Kandy, CBK said, J.R. ruined politics after coming to power in 1977. He had thrust an open economy on the country.
 
Rather late in the day, for CBK to now lament on the repercussions of the open economy, one would have thought. Besides, she had ample opportunity to reverse the JRJ policies. She was Head of State of the country for a full eleven years, and there was nothing, or no one to prevent the Executive President from doing as he/she pleases. She certainly did not need a second invitation to turn things around and revert back to the economic policies of the SLFP of yore, of state control, as against the laissez-faire free for all market economy, introduced by the Old Fox.
 
But, even CBK, with her socialist bent, and her strong anti capitalist views, acquired during her student activist days in Sorbonne, knew that the country had too far gone on the road of the new social and economic order, spawned by the market economy. She was also too shrewd a politician to jettison a system that replaced the era of ques, shortages and stagnation, which saw her mother’s government booted out in the most ignominious fashion. She also was well aware that the UNP lost the election in 1994, chiefly due to that government becoming moribund, after a long 17 year rule and not due to people’s opposition to the open economy.
 
Besides, the new economic order had become a fait accompli and there was no turning back, which reality was accepted by CBK, herself, when she declared, during her campaign, that she would continue with the open economy by giving it a human face, whatever she might have meant by it. On winning the election, she also famously proclaimed that, she, who had been a good socialist, would now be a good capitalist.
 
And, true to her word, she went about the business of taking forward the open economy with the zeal of a convert, which she really was. The privatization programme was continued in a manner that would even have made the UNP blush. Nay, she outdid the UNP in this respect. The Shell Company which was shown the door by her mother was invited back to set up business in the country. Not only that, she retained the economists, professionals and experts who served the UNP to propel the market economy. A. S. Jayawardena the Central Bank Governor, under the UNP, continued, unscathed by the regime change, and personages who may sound alien with the SLFP’s culture, such as musician Alston Koch was got down from down under to head the newly carved out Southern Development Authority, along with the likes of Navin Goonaratne, who had strong affiliations to the UNP, though subsequently estranged from the party.
 
CBK’s dalliance with the new political, social and economic culture, inherited from the UNP also drew the remark aanduwa vamata signal dala dakunata haravanawa (the government is signalling to the left and turning to the right) from parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma, a strong left of centre politician, from the south.
 
However, to Chandrika goes the credit of transforming the SLFP from a retrogressive, xenephobic and isolationist political party to what it is today where the blues have largely succeeded in shedding its backward, ‘frog in the well’ existence to an entity that is in tune with the modern world and the international economic trends and ramifications.
 
The much reviled open economic policies of JRJ had come to stay.The SLFP has come of age and has assimilated with the new order. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa, for all his nationalist and socialist rhetoric, had come to terms with it, and continued with the system, entering into public/ private partnerships with foreign entities, welcoming foreign capital, though, now, hurling abuse at the UNP for “selling the country”.
 
It was only the other day that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recalled that it was J.R. Jayewardene who was among the first Asian leaders to introduce an open economy. India and China picked up from us and has today become not only economic giants but also military superpowers, after adopting the open economy, the Premier noted.
 
Speaking at the J.R. Jayewardene 111th birth anniversary commemoration, the PM said; “He (late President Jayewardene), was bold enough to do so in 1977, just a few months after coming to power. Later China, India, South Korea, Vietnam etc, opened up their economies, after studying developments in Sri Lanka. Special representatives came to Sri Lanka to study how we brought in foreign investments, he said. The Premier also said, most Asian countries achieved economic development, but Sri Lanka could not yield the best results due to terrorism, which plagued the country.
 
It is hoped that, with terrorism now a thing of past, the country will make up for the lost opportunities and surge forward in all spheres. 
 
Daily News, September 23, 2017

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