An Open Letter & Appeal To The IMF
By Senthil Nadarajah –
I am writing this open letter to the International Monitory Fund (IMF) as a tax-paying United States (US) citizen and former Sri Lankan. Copy of this letter will be sent to the US Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Mr. Andrew P. Baukol who is the acting Governor representing the US in the IMF. I am aware about the talks for bailing out Sri Lanka from bankruptcy that include creditors’ representatives Clifford Chance and others now shifted to Singapore.
I am also very much aware that neither the IMF, the World Bank, nor their sponsoring countries have any business in meddling with the domestic politics of other countries (mostly), however given the role of the US as the largest stakeholder within the IMF, my own status as a former Sri Lankan who was forced to flee due to the war and the IMF’s commitment to democracy and transparency, I believe it is appropriate and acceptable for me to ask the IMF for accountability and the wise spending of every penny they lend towards the planned bailout of Sri Lanka.
As you are most likely aware, the Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, during the most recent parliamentary election, was nominated to represent his party, and was not directly elected by the people. This nomination was allowed by the Sri Lankan constitution under proportional representation even though his party earned less than 3% of the vote of people.
To reiterate, his election campaign in the Year 2020 was rejected by the people outright – both by the former leadership of his own party and his constituents. His Party had only secured a mere 2.15% of the national vote, which allowed him to be nominated to the lonely seat allocated to the United National Party. In summary, he was not elected by the people but he hitchhiked himself into the Parliament using an undemocratic flaw in the constitution.
Afterwards, former President, an accused war criminal, appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe to the position of Prime Minister, because the previous government resigned after bankrupting Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe is a friend of the former President and his family which controlled the previous government. The former President run away from the country, resigned in exile and now a fugitive.
He is Parliament’s President, not the People’s President
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is a legally elected president by the parliament and hence he is considered the President of the current Parliament regardless of undemocratic flaws in Sri Lankan constitution that allowed his opportunity.
The people of Sri Lanka rejected all current Members of the Parliament (MPs) who bankrupted the country. Instead of resigning from the Parliament, these MPs elected Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was rejected by the people in election, as the President of the country. The current MPs have vested interests in slowing or stopping any anticipated corruption investigations. Corruption is one of the primary factors caused bankruptcy of Sri Lanka. Therefore, I request the IMF to demand complete and thorough corruption investigation against all accusations as a precondition for any bailout approval.
Another reason for MPs to elect Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe instead of resigning is to remain in office for another two years, so that they can secure their pension which is a larger amount in Sri Lankan standard. The Sri Lankan constitution requires MPs to hold their employment for five years continuously in order to qualify for pension. Therefore, those who have not completed their five-year term wholeheartedly elected Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe regardless of political affiliation. Therefore, I request the IMF to insist Sri Lanka to change the law so that, the entire Parliament must resign under any of the following situations with retrospective applicability:
* The country declared bankruptcy.
* The President and the cabinet resigned within a stipulated short period, for example within three months.
Selective Amnesia and Retroactive Interference
When the Sri Lankan Civil War broke out, all transportation to Jaffna (Northern Sri Lanka, Tamil/ethnic minority stronghold) was cut off or bombed and destroyed (the train services in particular), and the electricity was cut off, Northerners lived in total darkness and endured hardship to travel to Colombo to conduct any business activities under the centralized government.
After the Civil War ended in 2009, electricity and train services were restored to the North. When people asked about the situation, the government had one standard pre-written answer: “everything is back to normal, see the train is running and we have electricity.”
Coming back to 2022, after bankruptcy the people’s upraising (Aragalaya) started as spontaneous protest after each and every house – regardless of their job, income, or location within the country – were faced with a shortage of food, fuel and cooking gas, and medications. The People’s uprising has demanded the elimination of Corruption, Nepotism/wastage by the government, and for new leadership which has no vested interest in the politics of re-election.
The uprising was nick-named “Gota Go Home” as it implied that the former President of Sri Lanka Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa came from the United States and asked him to leave. It also demanded that all the other Rajapaksas who held ministerial or parliamentary positions to leave the government. In addition, the people asked an interim government which would include a ruling council run by professionals and academics who would have collaborated with the IMF efficiently.
The people demanded Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign when he was appointed as the Prime Minister by former President, so that a new system would have been in-place to work with IMF. Once elected, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered the military to crush the people’s uprising. The military and police assaulted the people including attorneys and journalists including a BBC journalist. Many ambassadors, including the US, EU, UN condemned the assault, and the US ambassador met the President Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe sternly told him this is not acceptable.
However, ultimately, the same bunch of former ministers have been reappointed. Now the people have to focus on their safety with no end to the gas queues and no chance of overcoming misery to sustain their day-to-day livelihoods.
I am aware of the austerity measures that the IMF is requesting from Sri Lanka. There will and must not be any complete bailout, but the current government and MPs will be mostly focused on their re-election. Because of the focus on re-election and perception of impact of these austerity measures, it is unlikely that any such measures will be actually implemented.
The money of the IMF will either be embezzled or given away via costly, unnecessary social programs that are started/refunded to turn the attention of the people away from Parliamentary fiscal mismanagement.
Due to these situations, as a United States tax-payer and given the role of the US as the IMF’s largest financial contributor and plurality stakeholder, I am requesting that the IMF:
* Do not lend any money as long as the current administration in office.
* Only lend money to Sri Lanka, after electing a new Parliament for next five years.
Although it is true that holding elections might not completely solve the problem as many of the current corrupt MPs will likely be re-elected, more likely the new Parliament will implement proper austerity measures. Most importantly however, is that the new Parliament will also have a popular mandate.
Weakness of People’s Uprising (Aragalya)
Aragalya started as spontaneous protest due to the inept and corrupt government of former President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa. However, this uprising failed to address the ways forward to deal with the corruption in an effective manner as well as the alternative measures to overcome the bankruptcy. There exists a current power vacuum that Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe has manipulated towards his favor, using the current constitution.
The people’s uprising failed to present an effective and alternative leadership or a council of professionals who could formulate a plan and negotiate with creditors and the IMF for a smooth exit strategy and economic restoration.
This has led to Sri Lankans being in a quagmire with a leadership vacuum where no one has any solutions, but simply empty promises.
What Must Be Done
The IMF should only allow a bridging finance for a period of 3 to 6 month where:
1. Temporarily restore the shortage of essential items such as food, fuel and cooking gas and medicines
2. Draft a new constitution that will be inclusive to all communities which is non-religious/secular-based and eliminate hefty pensions for Members of Parliament unless they serve more than 15 years (and also start the payment only after 65/retirement age). Eliminate or scrap all white elephant projects while simultaneously addressing the safety net for people below the poverty level. Reduce the number of Members of Parliament and eliminate the bonus MP system.
Reduce the number of Ministers to 10 or 12 to merge the all ministries within that frame work and avoid entourage of members travelling with ministers and MPs on their trips (regardless of if they be locally or overseas)
3. Announce the Bailout agenda that tied with the austerity measures to be implemented by the new government without the fear of facing re-election prospects.
If for any reason that IMF issues the bailout with an interim government in place, I also request a monitoring body not from the government of Sri Lanka but from other IMF members or an independent auditing body on weekly basis to account for every penny they have spent.
People will have selective amnesia and politicians will utilize retroactive interference to deviate from the original issue. As we have seen time-after-time, this game by politicians has been well played in Sri Lanka in the past and will be played in the future.
I am afraid that the tax dollars of the tax-payers of IMF member countries will be siphoned by another corrupt group of people, unless a new government comes to power with a clean slate and with systems in place for monitoring transparency and accountability.