UN expert advises Sri Lankan government about social impact of austerity measures


UN expert advises Sri Lankan government about social impact of austerity measures

Saman Gunadasa

25 September 2018

UN Human Rights Council official Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky ended a nine-day visit to Sri Lanka earlier this month. Bohoslavsky, whose job title is “UN Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights,” offers “advice” to indebted governments in less developed countries.

Bohoslavsky’s visit and his preliminary “end of mission” statement are an indication of international concern about growing popular opposition to Colombo’s implementation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) dictated austerity measures. According to the Central Bank, Sri Lanka will have to pay $4 billion per year until 2022 just to meet its current external debt liabilities.

In the past year, protests and strikes have involved railway, postal, health, power, university and plantation workers for higher wages and improved working conditions. Poor farmers and fishermen have also demonstrated against cut backs and increased fuel and production costs. University students are involved in ongoing protests, in particular against the privatisation of education.

Bohoslavsky called on the government to assess “the human rights impact of both its economic reform policies and infrastructure projects” and warned that “social spending should not be cut to repay growing debts.” Spending cuts, he said, “should at least be compensated through cash transfers targeting those in need.”

The UN expert said recent IMF directed “reforms” slashing energy and farming subsidies, “might have an adverse effect” on the livelihood of fishermen, farmers and rural communities. Electricity prices have been deregulated and the cost of fuel is determined by an automatic…

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