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Top Buddhist monks slam Sri Lankan govt’s privatization plan

In a letter to President Wickremesinghe, they warn against selling state-owned enterprises to foreign companies
Ceylon Electricity Board trade union activists hold placards during a protest in Colombo on Nov. 1, 2023, to condemn a hike in electricity tariffs, taxes and moves to restructure the state-owned electricity utility.

Ceylon Electricity Board trade union activists hold placards during a protest in Colombo on Nov. 1, 2023, to condemn a hike in electricity tariffs, taxes and moves to restructure the state-owned electricity utility. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 20, 2024 08:44 AM GMT
Updated: February 20, 2024 04:14 PM GMT

Chief Buddhist prelates in Sri Lanka have criticized a government plan to sell key state-owned enterprises to foreign entities and warned of potential social, economic, and political instability.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that his government is looking to raise US$ 3-4 billion via the sale of certain state-owned enterprises to boost foreign reserves, accelerate economic growth, and address the ongoing economic crisis.

However, the privatization plan has met with strong opposition from opposition parties and trade unions. The chief prelates of four Buddhist chapters expressed their deep concerns in a letter to Wickremesinghe on Feb. 18.

The letter was signed by Ven. Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera, Ven. Warakagoda Gnanarathana Thera, Ven. Dodampahala Chandrasiri and Ven. Makulewe Vimalabhidana Thera.

The prelates warned that selling these institutions under the guise of restructuring “could harm public welfare and national security.”

Selling crucial institutions such as Sri Lanka Telecom and the Ceylon Electricity Board will impact people's lives, they said.

“We have observed how the majority of trade unions in this country express their displeasure with the government” in this regard, the prelates added.

Rights activists called the proposed sell-off to comply with International Monetary Fund-imposed conditions a “dangerous decision.”

It will lead to the state losing its monopoly in strategically vital sectors like power and energy, said Surin Mallawa, a rights activist.

A Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Colombo stressed the need for public oversight, transparency, and credible management of state-owned enterprises instead of a sell-off.

“These institutions should be turned profitable. There is nothing wrong with introducing various reforms for that. But the government is working to sell even profitable enterprises to foreign investors,” said the priest speaking anonymously.

Referring to the case of the Ceylon Electricity Board, Sri Lanka Telecom, and Sri Lankan Airlines, he said these institutions have become insolvent due to inefficiencies in management and widespread fraud and corruption in government.

“They are now being considered for sale to foreign companies, potentially driven by political motives,” he added.

Sri Lanka’s government claims to have made progress on bilateral debt restructuring despite mounting economic challenges. The country's economy is expected to grow in 2024.

The World Bank estimates that Sri Lanka's economy contracted by 3.8 percent in the previous year but is expected to grow by 1.7 percent in 2024.

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