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Post-Tsunami to Now: Why Can’t Sri Lanka Catch a Break?

Post-Tsunami to Now: Why Can’t Sri Lanka Catch a Break?

Sri Lanka was struck by a tsunami resulting from the Indian Ocean earthquake on boxing day in 2004. My wife’s paralyzed mother got swept away from her room and had to be hoisted to the concrete platform of the water tank. Her brother also got swept away in the currents and got stuck in a tree. That tsunami killed at least 225,000 people across a dozen countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, and Thailand. Funds flowed into Sri Lanka to help the victims and the affected families. However, over US $500 million in tsunami aid given to Sri Lanka went “missing.” The ruling family at the time, the Rajapakse family, is believed to have abused these and other funds. Mahinda Rajapakse stole 83 million rupees of Tsunami relief funds and used them for his personal gain,” said the late former foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera at the time.

Then came Easter Sunday of 2019. Attacks on three Catholic churches and three hotels killed more than 270 peoplePope Francis urged Sri Lankan authorities to reveal who was behind the Easter Sunday bombings. The island’s Catholics suspected it to be a plot to propel President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a brother of the previous president Mahinda who was the president during the tsunami, in his 2019 election.  In January 2023, the Sri Lankan supreme court ruled that the then President Sirisena, who was also the Minister of Defense and Chief of the Armed Forces, must pay 100 million rupees in damages from his personal assets.

Poor Sri Lankans could not catch a break. Then in 2020, COVID-19 hit the island, and the Gotabaya family, and their friends cashed in on that as well through various scams including rapid antigen tests and forced quarantine in their friends’ overpriced hotels. Corrupt rulers made the island nation hit economic rock bottom.

The World Bank has reported that Sri Lanka has lost over $4 billion in public money due to corruption since the start of its civil war in 1983. Additionally, economic mismanagement and embezzlement by former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and his successor Maithripala Sirisena are estimated to have cost the country an additional $3 billion. ‘Until an adequate macroeconomic policy framework is in place, the World Bank does not plan to offer new financing to Sri Lanka’ they said in May of 2022.

Now in 2023, the current Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremasinghe, who people refer to as Ranil Rajapakse, while trying to take tough measures to uplift the economy, is getting ready to form an alliance with the corrupt Rajapakse family to put the death nail on the Sri Lankan coffin. Ranil, who has failed six times as prime minister and got around 30,000 votes in the last election, came to parliament through the backdoor with the support of the Rajapakse family and their corrupt allies. He is also linked to the central bank bond scandal but continues to crush the peaceful protests against his regime that have triggered human rights concerns internationally.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission led by Mr. Peter Breuer and Mr. Masahiro Nozaki visited Colombo from August 24 to September 1, 2022, to continue discussions on IMF support for Sri Lanka and the authorities’ comprehensive economic reform program. While the corrupt are still in power in Sri Lanka, the US and the other helpers may not get their help to reach those who are really in need of help.

On September 11, 2022, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, to her credit, urged Sri Lankan authorities to tackle corruption and introduce governance reforms alongside efforts to uplift the country’s economy as a way out of its worst crisis in recent memory. On January 10th, 2023 Canada imposed sanctions on former presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa over gross and systematic violations of human rights during the war from 1983-2009.

As the US is trying to protect democracy at home and abroad, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, although a diplomat, can disclose through the State Department the true nature of the current and past Sri Lankan rulers who brought the country to these economic depths through mass corruption and oppression.  Chung can follow the lead of U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who introduced a Senate Resolution calling for a comprehensive international approach to address Sri Lanka’s current political and economic crises in September of 2022.

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