EconomyNext – Election manifestos in Sri Lanka have traditionally been scripts for fairy tales, but the common opposition candidate had taken it seriously and run away with the president’s policy plan even before it was unveiled.
President Mahinda Rajapakse was due to unveil his action plan on Monday the 22nd of December 2014, but the widely publicised event had to be postponed when it was discovered that Maithripala Sirisena had already published chunks of it.
Addressing a public rally in Ampara, the President said Sirisena’s manifesto was a copy of his 2015 budget proposals announced in parliament in October when the opposition candidate was still the health minister.
The January 8 election is no longer a test of rival economic policies, but a battle for ownership of spending sprees some economists estimate will cost the tax payers about 300 billion rupee annually.
The allegation of pinching proposals has already backfired on the ruling party which had initially tried to trash Sirisena’s 63-page document as a script for a Disney fairy tale, only to discover that much of it is already in the 2015 budget.
The Sirisena camp handled the foreign relations chapter very well hedging all bets by calling for balanced ties with both India and China, but when it came to gaming, Sirisena’s manifesto was as confused as Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.
The "Maithri governance, a stable country" got the names of proposed casino resorts wrong, dropped a third mega casino resort of Dhammika Perera and said different things in Sinhala and English versions. Watch out for the Tamil translation which may yet have another spin on casinos.
Sirisena could be forgiven because the government itself has been blowing hot and cold on gambling and he himself has voted for both the casino bill as well as granting tax concessions to "integrated resorts" which are actually casinos.
Only last month, some 17 million copies of a booklet against opposition leader Ranil Wickeremesingeh was said to have been destroyed because he pulled the rug under the government’s feet by pulling out of the presidential race.
The government bet on the wrong horse to be the main rival of Rajapakse only to find that the dark horse was their own health minister.
But all this is good for economic activity and the Central Bank governor could be salivating thinking of how the GDP growth rate would rise for the final quarter of 2014.
Presses are printing Rajapakse posters and manifestos faster than the central bank can print money.