Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrating his 75th birthday
Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the Minister of Finance, celebrated his 75th birthday this week.
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the Presidential Elections of January 2015, it looked like his years in power were over and the island nation was entering a new political era. But less than five years later, he is back at the top – this time as Prime Minister.
For those thousands who celebrate him still for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, who fought a bloody civil war for more than 20 years for self-rule, 18 November is a moment to celebrate.
Mahinda Rajapaksa made history in 1970 when he entered Parliament as the youngest public representative to be elected into Parliament at the time. In his political career of 50 years he has held twice the office of Opposition Leader, served the country as Prime Minister four times, and led the nation as the President for two terms. He has now established one of the strongest political parties in the country under the name Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.
This is a lot of political capital for one man. It is very likely there will never be another Mahinda Rajapaksa. A man who has the guts to rise from the ashes and genuinely cares for his people as a true people’s leader.
When the Prime Minister rose up in Parliament on 17 November to speak it was the 10th Budget that he was presenting as the Finance Minister. The 2021 Budget presentation by the Prime Minister was done amid weak State revenues from a 2019 tax cut, and the pandemic.
Sri Lanka has also suffered serious downgrading of its credit rating by international rating agencies. Sri Lanka’s credit was downgraded to ‘B-’ by Fitch and Standard and Poor’s in 2020 as the rupee fell largely due to money printing in March and April this year. Moody’s in September downgraded the credit to Caa1 (CCC+), which is just above default level.
The 2021 Budget is aimed at steering Sri Lanka to 5.5% growth in 2021 from a huge negative base. Therefore the challenge for the Prime Minister is meeting the estimated revenue for 2021 of Rs. 1,961 billion, while keeping the total expenditure to Rs. 3,525 billion and finally bridging the deficit of Rs. 1,564 billion. The difference between revenue and expenditure without driving up inflation.
The inability of the Government to halt the spread of the coronavirus and the state of the economy are now the main theme of anti-Government propaganda. There are invidious comparisons made between the indecisiveness of the present Government and drawing comparisons to the previous Government which was also indecisive.
There are many examples of decisions being made and changed with regard to the extension of lockdowns and withdrawal food subsidies given to the consumer and manufactured items. There are now clear parallels to the period of the Yahapalana Government.
It is said the Yahapalana virus has hit the Government bureaucracy because many of the public servants of the previous era are now heading key ministries as secretaries and get very sensitive to the idea that they also called the shots in the Yahapalana Government headed by the SLPP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena.
Also the Prime Minister struggling to deliver his Budget speech also caused a bit of minor earthquake about his actual health situation. Some unfairly resorted to social media saying he should retire and some comments were totally unfair given the massive contribution the Prime Minister has made to the country. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan people forget very fast and are brutal with their comments when it comes to politicians.
The question now for the Prime Minister is, how will the Government seek to ensure the continuing confidence of the people in its governance and decisions it takes? The fact the 2021 Budget will allocate less money for health than the 2019 Budget did does not in any way augur well for the Government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Finance Minister is best positioned to make the decisions that call for sacrifice but which are fair by all communities. He has the maturity and the capacity to give the support to do what is right for the 20 million people without being politically partisan.