Sri Lanka economist wants culture of open dialog on economy after elections

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) –  With Sri Lanka heading into presidential polls Thursday, a senior economist and head of economic policy think tank Institute of Policy Studies said the country must foster a culture of open dialog.

“Whoever comes to power we need to foster a culture of dialog and debate," Saman Kelegama, an Oxford-educated economist told EconomyNext.

"There is thesis and antithesis and these create synthesis. Without this we cannot fully understand the economic problems the country is facing, come up with meaningful solutions and take the economy forward.”

Intolerance towards debate on economic policy has been growing in recent years.

Senior economists, including a former deputy governor of the central bank, who had sounded the alarm on the balance of payments problem of 2011/12 were publicly vilified by authorities, charging that they were making statements with the intention of destabilizing the economy to fulfil personal agendas.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is looking for an unprecedented third term based on the war victory over Tamil Tiger separatists, who plagued the country with suicide bombings for over three decades, and infrastructure led growth.

Opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister and former general secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, has based his campaign on combating wide-spread corruption and nepotism.

In 2013, the Sri Lanka Economic Association in a letter to Ministry of Finance and Planning called for better governance, rule of law, a Right to Information Act and an independent central bank.

The 2014 annual sessions of the same association highlighted the need to regain the credibility of official data.

Last week at a forum launching the central bank’s monetary policy road map for 2015, the bank’s governor spoke for over two hours on recent economic gains and treasury secretary P. B. Jayasundera speaking for a little over an hour called for a continuance of Rajapaksa’s rule.