SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa – Pic by Ruwan Walpola
- Says June exports rebound to $950m, signaling strong resurgence
- Economy top priority post-polls
- As tourism remittances likely to continue struggling, focus on other sectors to spur growth
- Acknowledges exports will be crucial to earn forex
- Wants stronger efforts from banks to support COVID-hit businesses, says Govt. support will continue
- Backs going beyond rolling back 19A to bring new Constitution
- Opines two-thirds majority needed to formulate new Constitution without being “held hostage”
By Nuwan Senarathna
The economy will be the top priority of the Government after the Parliamentary Elections, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa assured yesterday, expressing hope that the country will experience a “V-shaped” COVID-19 recovery, after June exports recorded a major rebound.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the Parliamentary Election was announced, Rajapaksa was extremely confident of the party’s prospects at the upcoming vote, and of establishing a Government with a likely two-thirds majority.
Expressing his views on the country’s export earnings in the wake of island-wide lockdown, the SLPP National Organiser said high export earnings were recorded in June.
According to Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s exports managed to earn $ 950 million in June alone. He pointed out this was a positive sign that the economy was on the path to making a faster-than-expected recovery from COVID-19.
“This is a positive sign and a huge victory for us as a country. In April we only managed to earn $ 250 million from exports, therefore this is not a ‘U-shaped’ recovery, this is a ‘V-shaped’ recovery, which shows we are capable of doing well despite the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the global economy.”
He noted that this shows Sri Lanka was performing well, while the rest of the world was facing difficulties to continue their economic activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He emphasised that economic development was essential to achieve the goals set out in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto, and policies were needed to revive the economy that has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our main focus after the election will be reviving the economy and putting it back on track. We had a special plan when the President was elected. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, things have changed, but we are confident we can face these challenges. We are ready,” he said.
Rajapaksa reiterated the Government will continue its focus on improving domestic production and consumption to spur growth, as key industries such as tourism as well as the main foreign exchange earner, remittances, have been deeply impacted by COVID-19, and are unlikely to recover until the global economy also rebounds. He noted that Sri Lanka has limited capacity to impact the global situation, and must await developments, especially on the vaccine front. The best hope for earning foreign exchange lies with export-oriented industries, he added.
“We cannot expect the services sector to contribute to increased foreign exchange earnings, as we planned at the beginning of this year. The tourism sector and remittances are directly connected with activities of foreign countries that we cannot control, therefore we cannot expect bigger contributions from those sectors, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least for this year.”
He noted that the Government was able to reopen domestic industries as the COVID-19 pandemic was brought under control, with no reports of community spread being reported for more than six weeks. Rajapaksa emphasised the Government was committed to rolling out support for local companies impacted by COVID-19, and these efforts would continue irrespective of elections concluding next month. Rajapaksa also blamed commercial banks for what he termed as “failing to meet expectations,” of companies in their time of need.
“I feel they should have done more, and they should help the business community in this situation. If there is no business, the banking sector will not be able to survive. Everything in the economy is interconnected, and therefore banks have to step up now to support companies in need,” he added.
Rajapaksa also faulted the sector for not stepping up during the curfew period, and said the Government had to respond by Gazetting banking as an essential service, to open bank branches and provide access to senior citizens and others needing to obtain their pensions or withdraw cash.
Focusing on the forthcoming election, the SLPP National Organiser said that they were confident of winning a two-thirds majority, and pledged to not only roll back the 19th Amendment, but also bring in a new Constitution.
“The existing Constitution has been amended 19 times. I think it is time to bring in a fresh Constitution to address the shortcomings of the existing Constitution. This is why we need a strong majority in Parliament, so we can bring in a Constitution without undue influence, and we will not be held hostage by anyone.”
He backed a new Constitution, which has already been included in the President’s manifesto launched last year, and insisted it will help the country address long-lasting issues and expedite development.