A debt ridden Sri Lanka and a desperate President seeking debt relief

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President Ranil is expected to visit India from July 20 to 30 and a meeting with Prime Minister Modi is scheduled for on the 21st July 2023. So far neither the agenda nor the issues to be discussed between them has been made public. It is highly likely that focus will be mainly on financial assistance for the desperate Sri Lanka. It is to be noted that the external debt of Sri Lanka now stands at more than $5 billion. Ranil’s statement while serving as a Prime Minister expressed his appreciation of India’s role when he acknowledged on June 19, 2022 that “India has really helped Sri Lanka in its reforms to cope with the Island’s economic crash” and added that “aid coming from different sources has put Sri Lanka in the middle of geopolitics” and further said on June 06, 2022 that “no country except India is providing money to the crisis hit nation for fuel”.

It is to be noted that India has provided emergency assistance of about $4 billion during the financial crisis in 2022 and already $1 billion credit line for Sri Lanka for a period of one year to back up infusion of dollars for essential imports. It is to be noted that Sri Lanka owes $7.1 billion to bilateral creditors with $4 billion owed to China, $2.40 billion to the Paris Club and $1.4 billion to India which had already provided nearly $4 billion as food and financial assistance to Sri Lanka in 2022.

With these commitments pressing Sri Lanka, Ranil made a conciliatory gesture when he visited Jaffna to celebrate “Thai Pongal” where he said that his government hopes to fully implement the 13th Amendment not only in the Tamil’s North but also in the South”. This is nothing but a gesture of appeasement to the international community.

Earlier during India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s visit to Sri Lanka in January 2023, Ranil assured him that “provincial council elections would be held and the devolution of powers would begin in all sincerity and seriousness”.

Above all, India’s moral and legal obligations to Tamils in Sri Lanka who possess cultural and historical ties with Tamil Nadu can never be forgotten, ignored, discarded or denied.

India’s commitment to implement the Indo-Ceylon Accord 1987 remains statutory and legally binding and it is India’s unshakable obligation and duty to ensure its full implementation to vindicate it’s role, standing, reputation and status while cementing the relationship with Sri Lanka.

However, it is disappointing to note that most of the provisions of the Accord remain on paper and unfulfilled, almost ignored like the provisions of internal or external investigative mechanism, release of all political prisoners, release of civilian lands occupied by security forces and has to be mentioned about the non-implementation of most of the UN and UNHRC Resolutions and their Recommendations passed since 2012.

It is a question, with no answer in sight whether Ranil would keep his promise to implement all the provisions of the 13th Amendment and fulfill Sri Lanka’s obligations and commitments.

Past experiences with Sri Lanka’s past generous and readily granted promises and undertakings to UN, UNHRC and international community and how most of them have been discarded while some being flouted and some allowed to remain untouched except some piecemeal measures all of which show lack of seriousness and sincere commitment including genuine good-faith and intention. As such a complacent attitude should never be adopted by the UNHRC, UN and international community regarding Sri Lanka’s past and present numerous undertakings, promises and commitments.

With Sri Lanka carrying a $2.5 billion debt to the IMF, $5 billion to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, Sri Lanka is in dire straits economically and financially coupled with a politically unstable government headed by a president un-elected by popular support but by members of parliament, most of whom belonging to the Rajapaksa group. As such it is just a hope against hope that Sri Lanka will emerge unscathed successfully by beating out is economic and political pitfalls and uncertainties.

In conclusion, it can be stated that unless and until all the Sri Lanka’s political parties and their leaders unitedly get together to discuss and hold talks on the all the issues afflicting Sri Lanka particularly the festering 70-year-old ethnic problem which is the core and the root cause of Sri Lanka’s continuing malaise and reach a consensus with a written unanimous agreement, Sri Lanka’s economic and political survival will most likely remain a distant day dream if not a pipe dream. In this respect, India’s role and participation in reaching this goal is crucial and it is hoped India will play its role to maintain Sri Lanka’s political and economic stability, progress and prosperity ensuring equality of all its citizens and their rights.

Thambu Kanagasabai LLM (Lond), Former Lecturer of University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.


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