Sri Lanka policy conflicts a sign of democracy: Finance Minister

Policy conflicts in Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition headed by headed by President Maithripala Sirisena is a sign of a strong democracy, Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

“This is democracy. Except for a dictatorship, within each government, there’s a difference in ideas. Don’t think of it as a weakness of this government, it is a strength,” Samaraweera told reporters earlier this month.

He was responding to a question on Sri Lanka’s policy conflicts caused by the Finance Ministry pushing for liberalization of markets through the budget, and President Sirisena pushing for protectionism allowing big and small businesses to exploit poorer consumers.

The Finance Ministry wants fully liberalized markets by 2020.

President Sirisena and his loyalists regularly make speeches promising to protect whole industries such as agriculture and logistics, and business interests of nationalist businessmen, with high import taxes, investment restrictions and licensing.

Policy inconsistency has been present since the unity government came into power in 2015, due to the ideological differences between the coalition partners.

Analysts have said that policy uncertainty undermines business confidence in Sri Lanka.

However analysts also say consistently restrictive policies, which favour businessmen over consumers, also do not bring long term prosperity.

Samaraweera assured that the final outcome for a policy will be a unified consensus of the unity government.

“Whatever different things we say, at the end, we say the same thing,” he said.

While reversing a liberal policy to bring in a more restrictive one will have long and short term negative effects on the people and economy, abandoning a restrictive policy in favour a one that brings competition will bring benefits.

President Sirisena’s banning of the weedicide glyphosate without a broad study causes Sri Lanka’s tea, produced using alternative chemicals, to be quarantined in foreign markets.

The ban is expected to be reversed.

His move to ban Russian asbestos imports resulted in Sri Lanka temporarily losing access to its second largest tea market until the ban was reversed.

When Samaraweera restored the freedom of women to have equal status as men in consuming alcohol, President Sirisena reversed the legislation.

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