ECONOMYNEXT – During his tenure from 2015 to 2019, Sri Lanka had none of the problems it is now facing, inflation was low, and the island nation maintained good international relations, former President Maithripala Sirisena said, criticising the government over a controversial organic fertilizer policy, among other issues.
“There is a big crisis in agriculture. There is no fertilizer for farmers to work. We’re very saddened by this situation,” he said, speaking at the Jaffna district convention of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLPF) Sunday (20) afternoon.
Sirisena, who hails from the paddy district of Polonnaruwa, has been critical of the government over the fertilizer issue which has caused an unprecedented erosion of the government’s popularity with Sri Lanka’s farmers who had voted for the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in large numbers.
According to the state-run Paddy Marketing Board, the island nation may see a 30-percent drop in the production of the main Maha rice harvest. Sri Lanka has sought a million tonnes of rice as a gift from China government ministers says which is expected to make good the expected crop loss.
Related: Sri Lanka seeks rice bailout from China after fertilizer ban
The SLPP and its coalition partner the SLFP have been increasingly at odds, with Sirisena and other SLFP stalwarts openly criticising government policy. However, the party has made no indication of planning to leave the coalition, which has led the opposition to question its sincerity.
The former president has also been on the receiving end of criticism for his government’s failure to prevent the 2019 Easter bombings which killed 269 and injured over 500. He has sought dismissal of cases filed against him by family members of the victims, also seeking acquittal from all charges . Meanwhile, his former coalition partners in the United National Party (UNP) accused him of betraying the mandate received in 2015 when he unconstitutionally removed UNP leader and then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2018 and appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place who led a 52-day SLPP government that was ruled unconstitutional.
Addressing the Jaffna district rally, Sirisena said: “During my tenure, people lived happily and well, and the prices of goods had come down. We also maintained good relations internationally, and I befriended all world leaders. All of them supported me in running this country.”
Inflation, which was at 4.4 percent in November 2019 when he handed over the country’s reins to then president-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had by January 2022 reached 14.2 percent. Food prices, meanwhile, have gone up by 25 percent. Sri Lanka has been printing money from around August 2019 which accelerated sharply in February 2022. The liquidity injections had also triggered a balance of payments crisis.
“Look what has happened to the fishermen in the north today. The government must intervene and immediately resolve these matters. It must talk to the Indian government and prevent this harassment of the fishermen. That is a duty of the government,” said Sirisena, referring to allegations of Indians illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters using bottom trawling, a practice banned in Sri Lanka since 2017.
Sirisena invited the youth of the country’s north to join the SLFP’s cause.
“I invite the young people of the north to join us for a new journey. The people of the north gave me 95% votes for the swan symbol. My victory in 2015 opened the eyes of politicians of all parties in this country. It was after those other political leaders of this country realised that development must be extended to the north too, the same way it is done for people in the south,” he said. (Colombo/Feb21/2022)
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