This is the second in a series of two articles. Click here for Part 1
COLOMBO (IDN) — What was never mentioned in connection with power cuts and soaring fuel and energy prices was the privatization of sale of the Yugadanavi power plant to an American New Fortress company in a corrupt mid-night deal in November 2021 by former US citizen President Rajapakse, before he took wing to New York to address the United Nation’s General Assembly to boast about his green energy and fertilizer policies that had bought Sri Lanka to the current disaster!
It was after the sale of Yugadanavi power plant in Kerawelapitiya that the island blessed with two abundant monsoons and considerable renewable hydropower generation capacity had long power outages with the cost of power generation skyrocketing!
In his second week in office, Wickramasinghe also announced that the privatization and sale of Sri Lankan Airlines was on the horizon as part of debt and economic restructuring. During his previous stint in office, Sri Lankan Airlines came close to being sold off to Texas Pacific Group (TPG), but the deal fell through as TPG got embroiled in court action by the Australian Government for asset stripping in 2017.
While Sri Lanka’s apparent US dollar shortage had resulted in multiple compounding crises questions arise: is this strategic Indian Ocean Island increasingly a cyber, trade, economic proxy war site for Disaster Capitalism, like Ukraine, between the American war machine and its greater Cold war adversary in the so-called free and open Indo-Pacific?
A list had already been prepared and released of strategic airports, ports, telecom transport and energy infrastructure to be privatized and assets stripped. A fire-sale of lands, transport, energy and telecom infrastructure, further compromising national security and policy sovereignty and autonomy was on the horizon as part of IMF reforms and austerity measures and re-structuring of debt-trapped State-Owned Enterprises. Was the implication of the threats of Famine and food riots, “worse to come” to facilitate and speed up the firesale?
It later emerged that PM Wickremasinghe would not accept grant aid from China which would have eased the crisis until a deal was worked out with the IMF, like his predecessors Mahinda and Basil Rajapakse who had also turned down offers of assistance from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia in order to stage the Default into IMF and the Paris Club’s arms. Never mind the plight of people languishing in food and fuel queues, unable to make a day’s living and impoverished!
Was there a deliberate attempt to deepen the crisis and distract the public with promises of “wore to follow” if the International Sovereign Bond traders that the IMF represents do not get their pound of flesh?
2 years of Covid-19 Lockdowns, Masks and Institutional decay
Former Minister of Agriculture Dr Hemakumara Nanayakkara has predicted ‘food riots’ and Famine due to seed and other plant material shortages at this time when sweet corn and maize seem to have replaced rice farming? Seed and planting material that the Dept of Agriculture used to produce are now scarce and need to be imported by private sector companies he noted. Clearly, lack of chemical fertilizer is not the only reason for poor harvest this year. Low production within the country is also due to use of imported hybrids seeds that are highly dependent on agro chemicals.
The Departments of Fisheries and Agriculture extension services were systematically disrupted over two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, privatization over two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, and marketization of all Agriculture Department and government functions.
Unlike in India where farmers fought new Farm Laws and multinational agribusiness corporate takeover of the agriculture sector, which were smuggled in during 2 years of Covid-19 lockdown, in Sri Lanka the corporatization of agriculture has been accompanied by the disruption of government institutions and the Agricultural extension services similar to the Health sector.
Agricultural and Fisheries Department extension services were guttered as datafication, digital colonialism and Disaster capitalism acceralerated with a stay-at-homework culture for Government servants cultivated in a Global South country, heedless of the Digital divide following the World Health Organization (WHO) hype.
At the root of the current dysfunctional government institutions and pandemic of corruption in the Agriculture and Fisheries sectors and extension services which impinge on food security at this time are two years of unnecessary and economically, socially and institutionally devastating Covid-19 lockdowns and the stay-at-homework culture they instituted.
It was capitalizing on this Covid-19 lockdown and masked culture precedent that PM, Wickremasinghe advised government employees to stay at home rather than report urgently to work and sort out the food and fuel supply chain and extension service disruptions. Rather than prioritize and restore transport, trade and food supply chains from farmlands to the cities to get the country and economy back up and running government employees were given holidays– was this deliberate sabotage of a limping economy?!
The Afterlife of Covid: Debilitated Institutions and ‘Stay home’ work culture
The lockdown and stay-at-homework culture along with digitalization and datafication were promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO), with Health Sector Unions and organizations like the GMOA, SLMA and P.C.R Kumudesh of the Union of Health Technical Workers. Many of these organizations funded by big Pharmaceutical companies, vociferously demanded economy, society and democratic institutions debilitating lockdowns, which were not based on any Country-Specific scientific data analysis of the Sri Lanka context.
At this time, amidst Aragla Protests and the puppet show of horse-trading in the Parliament while the local media is distracted with Constitutional reforms and the 21st Amendment, despite narratives of “medicine shortages” a fourth Pfizer Jab is being provided free of charge in a country where Covid-19 has disappeared. Because there are no PCR tests?!
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) which promoted economically devastating lockdowns, Covid-19 fear and militarized mass injection of the population in the past 2 years currently are setting up a joint Bank Account with the Ministry of Health to identify medicines and procure health supplies for Sri Lanka amidst a pandemic of corruption in the Health Sector.
Do we not live in a world that rewards high crimes? Wither National Health and Economic policy sovereignty and autonomy in this era of datafication, Digital Colonialism, Data wipes at the NMRA database on the GoSL Cloud, and the new Imperialism?
The WHO is also marketing a dangerous Global Pandemic Treaty at this time to abolish bodily autonomy and national policy sovereignty as part of the New Imperialism, although the Governments of India and Pakistan have challenged the data in the WHO’s report on Covid-19 excess deaths!
In the final analysis, it is clear that two years of World Health Organization (WHO) recommended militarized Covid-19 lockdowns which enabled a pandemic of corruption frame the current institutional crisis in Sri Lanka, and the spiral into debt and disaster capitalism that thrives on digital colonialism, as well as, on non-digitalized trade and supply chain and trade disruption in contexts of high corruption. After all, it is no longer a secret that the past two years of Covid-19 lockdowns saw the greatest transfer of wealth in human history.
Covid 19 lockdowns, fear and work-at-home culture debilitated government and civil institutions, policy processes and oversight systems, as well as, policy autonomy and institutional independence in a Global South country context where qualified and skilled officials to operate and analyse the data systems are scarce and the digital divide is a reality that no amount of datafication hype can overcome, further eroding national food security policy autonomy and sovereignty leading to the current crisis. The result has been the decay of government extension services, agencies and oversight institutions, culture of general apathy and “work from home” further decaying and hollowing out State institutions and supporting education, research and technical agencies.
From Staged default to Staged Famine?
As people stood in food and fuel queues outside government cooperative shops for hours or days, disoriented, distracted, fearful, in survival mode unable to see the big picture, Wickremasinghe’s narrative to crush them was worse would follow. This was repeated like a mantra by the Central Bank Governor, various Ministers for economics past and present, such as Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne and experts involved in IMF negotiations heedless of the pain and suffering of the people. In turn, the local media magnified the narrative.
The refrain that things would get worse before they improved made it abundantly clear that if Washington’s Conditions, austerity measures and proposed firesale were not duly conducted things would get much, much worse—part of the politics of fear and the rule by fiat?
Wickremasinghe like Rajapakse had also delayed accepting grant aid from China and unloading fuel shipments from Russia until after an IMF deal was struck and never mind the suffering of people. Was he more interested to please his Washington backers since his electorate is non-existent?
Is Sri Lanka becoming a different sort of proxy war site, like Ukraine, between the US/NATO/QUAD war machine and its greater Cold war adversary, China, in the Indian Ocean Region which the US calls Indo-Pacific? After all, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken recently said that China (rather than Russia), is the greater threat and strategic rival to the imploding American empire.
At this time questions arise as to whether a famine would soon be staged like the staged default to distract citizens and deliver strategic lands, transport, energy and telecom infrastructure and frequencies to Sri Lanka’s ISB debt holders include BlackRock and J.P Morgan Chase (which received massive US Government Covid-19 bailout funds to asset strip around the world), via an IMF firesale of strategic assets while people are distracted with the planned and hyped ‘food riots’?
Finally, who does Ranil Wickremasinghe represent? The interests of the people of Sri Lanka or his Washington backers and their legal firms lined up to asset strip this strategic Indian Ocean Island which was once called “valuable real estate” by a US Under Secretary for South and Central Asia?! [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 June 2022]
* Dr Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake is a social and medical anthropologist with expertise in international development and political-economic analysis. She was a member of the International Steering Group of the North-South Institute project: “Southern Perspectives on Reform of the International Aid Architecture”.
Photo: WFP / Mahmoud Zaza
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