NPP Economic Policy Council’s reluctance for a debate

Wednesday, 17 April 2024 00:09 –      – 18

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The media is abuzz with the challenges thrown by the SJB and NPP at each other with the two forthcoming national elections in mind. SJB MP Nalin Bandara initially suggested a debate between the Economic Policy Councils of the two parties. In response, Sunil Handunnetti proposed a debate among the two Presidential candidates: Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) and Sajith Premadasa. The former COPE Chief’s reply seemingly represented unwillingness on the part of the NPP Economic Council to accept the challenge posed by the SJB.

The economy is the defining issue of the approaching election cycle; hence, an open debate between the two parties would give the general public an opportunity to determine who is better equipped to take the nation forward. Nevertheless, although the SJB has unveiled its economic policy via a document titled Blueprint 2.0, confusion exists with regard to what the NPP’s economic policy actually is. This is because two prominent NPP members – Harini Amarasuriya and K.D. Lalkantha – had stated that their party has not yet compiled their manifesto for the upcoming election.

The economic policy published by the NPP coinciding with the last two national elections came into prominence when the feasibility of some of its proposals were questioned by the UNP Political Activist Waruna Rajapaksha during a television debate recently. The NPP representative in his response at the said discussion accepted there were certain inaccuracies in the policy document which was cited by Rajapaksha. Ironically, the NPP Leader has already made public remarks that fundamentally contradict with his party’s Economic Policy statement which was published in respect of the previous round of national elections. At the NPP Banking and Finance Sector Stakeholder Forum held in Colombo recently, AKD pledged to abolish the PAYE tax in addition to loosening the tax policy, which is at odds with its aforementioned Economic Policy document, which emphasised the need to develop a formal plan to raise the Government revenue to 20%-25% of the GDP.

Interestingly, some of AKD’s stances on the economic policy are in complete alignment with the views of the Rajapaksa family, particularly in respect of State-owned Enterprises. When AKD addressed an audience in Vancouver few weeks ago, he very confidently mentioned that SriLankan Airlines (SLA) must remain under the ownership of the State as it brings tourists into the island. He also stressed on the necessity of having a Government-owned budget airline apart from the national carrier to attract more travellers to the country. Why does the NPP want to continue with a practice which has failed again and again? It seems that instead of undertaking a system change what the NPP promises is the continuation of the status quo. The State running commercial enterprises is a medieval concept and it is paradoxical for the NPP – which promises a complete overhaul of the system – to champion such ideals that have been discarded worldwide.

No one is interested to find out whether the NPP Economic Council members attended so-called Pukka-Sahib public schools or their social backgrounds. The only matter of concern is their capacity to address the challenges faced by the economy. Some of the remarks made by the influential members of the NPP Economic Council raise serious question marks about their understanding of the challenges faced by the country. Professor Anil Jayantha, who heads their Economic Policy Council, last year at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit (organised by the CCC) insinuated that a future NPP Government would refrain from honouring what he described as odious debts that had been borrowed by previous Governments. Odious debt is not a concept officially recognised in international law and cannot be applied to overcome the debt obligations of Sri Lanka.

Given the confusion regarding the NPP’s stance on important economic matters, it would be in their best interest to accept the challenge of the SJB so the doubts and apprehensions about their economic policy could get clarified.