Lanka political chaos pushes economy to brink of anarchy
Colombo: Sri Lanka's current political crisis due to President Maithripala Sirsena's "irresponsible" action of sacking prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has left the country on the brink of an "economic anarchy" never experienced before, the ousted finance minister said.
On October 26, Sirisena, in a controversial action, sacked Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, plunging the island nation into political chaos.
Wickremesinghe has demanded a floor test to prove his majority. Sirisena's party did not cooperate with parliamentary Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to hold the floor test.
Ousted finance minister Mangala Samaraweera said: "As a result of these actions, Sri Lanka is on the brink of an economic anarchy and chaos as never experienced before".
"The cavalier and irresponsible actions of the president starting on October 26th based on personal animosities and precipitating a series of illegal acts, places at risk Sri Lanka's ability to meet its immediate debt obligations.
"In early January 2019, we have to repay $1 billion of Rajapaksa's debt taken in January 2014, the repayment of which is also under the purview of Parliament," he said Tuesday.
Samaraweera said as per Article 148 of the Constitution, Parliament shall have full control over public finance.
In the absence of a legitimate government, a grave situation has now arisen as there is no legal way to meet public expenditure and obligations of the state from 2019, he said.
"The Constitution does not provide for any alternative arrangements for public finance, even with the intervention of the executive envisaged under the limited circumstances of article 150(3) under which the President can only allocate finances for the first three months of a new parliament.
"Thus, under the current circumstances, from January 1st 2019 until a new parliament is convened, the spending power of the state ceases to exist," Samaraweera said.
A legitimate government with an adequate majority in parliament would have had the opportunity to present at least a vote on account which would have covered at least the first three months of the new year enabling payment of pensions, salaries and settlement of debts, he said.
Rajapaksa, at the time of appointing, said a vote on account would be presented. However, Sirisena suspended the assembly until November 16, seen as a move to allow Rajapaksa buy time to obtain majority by engineering defections from Wickremesinghe's UNP. He managed to win nine of them, leaving him at 105, still eight needed for a simple majority.
Later on realisation of lack of numbers, Sirisena dissolved the assembly and set fresh parliamentary polls for January 5, 2019. A legal challenge against this was temporary upheld throwing the whole administration into disarray.
"This illegal government has no majority and are pirating the government benches through force and violence, and they cannot muster a majority to even pass a vote on account, they are forcibly preventing the lawful government from taking the critical steps to provide funding for 2019," Samaraweera said.
Samaraweera said Sri Lanka had never defaulted its debt obligations.
"The actions of October 26 have irreversibly undermined Sri Lanka's credibility in global markets - risking our ability to service future debt as well. We are being pushed towards a state of economic collapse as we stumble on to a road of a Greece like situation," he said.
The only way to rescue Sri Lanka from this unfortunate and unnecessary crisis is for the President to recognise the Prime Minister and the government that was in place prior to October 26, he said.
It is necessary for all like-minded people, regardless of political affiliation, to come forward to save the country from an otherwise impending economic collapse by supporting efforts to reestablish the supremacy of Parliament and the Constitution, he said.
The purported government's spokesman Bandula Gunawardena dismissed Samaraweera's claims and said Sri Lanka was still capable of meeting its debt repayment due in January.
Last week, Parliament witnessed unprecedented violence as lawmakers threw furniture and chilli powder at each other after Rajapaksa lost a no-trust vote.
The political imbroglio has created much uncertainty with work in state institutions being hampered. Sirisena last week urged top bureaucrats to carry on as usual.
Wickremesinghe's United National Party has warned officials that carrying out "illegal orders" from an "illegal" government could spell trouble for them.