The President's latest policy to allow the private sector to import agrochemical fertilisers will only be somewhat successful if the necessary foreign exchange is released immediately, the Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Karu Jayasuriya said.
He pointed out that failing to do so will only result in further delays as encountered recently with regard to the importaton of LP Gas.
The former Speaker made these remarks at a press briefing held on Tuesday (23) at the NMSJ headquarters in Kirulapona.
Commenting on the fertiliser crisis faced by the farming community, he noted the contradictory viewpoints expressed by those within the government.
"While the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture recently quite publicly stated that permission will be granted to import chemical fertilisers ahead of the upcoming Maha season, the relevant subject Minister has now expressed a contradictory opinion. This has given rise to confusion among the farmers throwing them into further turmoil.
The government must realise that the presentation of two contradictory opinions by two persons party to the government itself can only be detrimental to its rule.
The President's latest policy announced yesterday to allow the private sector to import agrochemical fertilisers will only be somewhat successful if the necessary exchange is released immediately. If not, it will become a mere failure as seen by the delays in importation of gas in recent times.
We reiterate the importance of using organic fertilisers in farming. However, we also believe that the process needs a successful testing period of at least five years.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi recently changed a decision made on agriculture because it was not accepted by the people and as it is his duty to respect the opinion of the people. He was even humble enough to express his regrets for making such an unfavourable decision.
Sri Lankan farmers have suffered immensely since the introduction of the ban on chemical fertiliser in April 2021. I personally am aware of several instances where housewives had pawned valuables to engage in farming, only to receive an unsuccessful crop yield.
They have attempted to change the government’s decision by engaging in various forms of protests. Therefore, if the government realises the ground reality and if a decision is made to deviate from its policies, I believe it will bring some relief to the people. Meanwhile, the government must also understand that it is prudent to seek the views of experts and farmers prior to making such decisions in the future.
Now the government has a serious humanitarian duty before it. That is to provide fair compensation to the farmers who have been adversely affected due to the chemical fertiliser issue. We would like to remind the authorities that they must attend to this immediately.
In addition, we would also like to focus on yet another issue of national importance. It was a great relief to see all schools in the country commencing educational activities after a lengthy period of closure due to Covid-19. We were very pleased to see those photos in the press.
As we have mentioned countless times before, a child’s school life only comes once in a lifetime. We see it as a sin to deprive children of their rights. The most valuable resource we have is our next generation. Our aim should be to create a new generation that can face the modern world with the maximum knowledge and intelligence that can be provided while always protecting them.
The opening of universities should also be done without delay. It is the duty of all parties including the government, teachers and students, to work with mutual understanding and trust to provide the education that children were forced to forgo due to the pandemic. We sincerely hope that there will not be any further hindrances to education in the future.
We believe it is appropriate to take steps in the future to set aside at least 8% of the GDP for education in order to move forward as a strong nation.
Cost of living skyrockets in Sri Lanka
It must be noted that we refer to the immense difficulties facing our country and people now not as a critique but because we see the need for a better vision and plan as well as a national consensus to overcome it.
Essentials needed for home life, such as rice, sugar, gas, milk powder and vegetables, are in short supply or overpriced. Imports of essential food items and medicines have come to a complete standstill due to the lack of foreign exchange. This requires immediate action as a nation.
Tourism is a business that can strengthen us in the short term. We possess a more favourable location than the Maldives and Singapore and therefore we can work towards the development of tourism. But the support of the government is much needed here. However for this to be successful there should be a peaceful environment in the country.
It was recently reported that remittances from Sri Lankans employed abroad have dropped by about 50%.
This is because it is not possible to secure the exact exchange rate for the dollar or other foreign currencies in Sri Lanka.
We do not understand the government's lack of interest in obtaining support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There are many reliefs available when a country is in such a predicament. It is also perplexing as we have seen in the newspapers that there are divergent views within the government on this matter.
While presenting the budget recently, the Minister of Finance stated that a huge burden has been placed on the people due to various government institutions that continue to incur losses.
The following table shows how the people are burdened by the activities of several loss-making institutions within the 52 state-owned enterprises.
In the first quarter of 2021, loss-making institutions appear to have continued to decline. The huge loss of about LKR 115 billion by 2020 could have been spent on the people.
Is placing this burden on the people justified? It is the fault of the management that an institution suffers losses.
Many countries, including India, have launched new management methods and have transformed these great money guzzling ventures into profitable institutions.
What is needed is for the government to act within a plan with a vision. In order to attract foreign investment, we must earn the respect of the world as a country that is democratic, transparent, pursues consistent policies and upholds the rule of law. The government should understand this now.
It is a known fact that a lot of money has been wasted on unlimited luxury imports in the recent past. As a result, our export sector completely collapsed. We can move forward through small and medium scale industries. We can get examples from Germany. What is needed here is to introduce our entrepreneurs to the world.
Here we are reminded of EXPO 92, our first International Trade Fair in 1992, launched on the advice of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Nearly 5,000 foreign buyers attended the event. Not only was it a successful trade show, but many small and medium scale entrepreneurs gained a lot of inspiration and experience through it.
We can hold such an important exhibition in 2022 and introduce our entrepreneurs to the world. The theme at the time was "EXPORT OR PERISH". Every country in South Asia developed because of its focus on exports.
The concept of 'ONE STOP SHOP' and 'PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP' was introduced to South Asia by President J.R. Jayewardene. Few people know that the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad adopted the same concept that was applied in Sri Lanka at the time. This fact has been reported internationally.
We hope that our sincere ideas and suggestions will be brought to the attention of the Government."