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Coming out of the abyss of governance

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To say Sri Lanka is in the worst economic crisis, since independence, is not an exaggeration. To begin with, the economy was in the doldrums, in 2014, thanks to the mismanagement of the ‘yahapalana’ government. Then came the Covid, affecting tourism, foreign remittance and the garment industry, the three main foreign exchange earning industries. It has not been possible for these industries to return to pre-Covid state yet, for Covid is still active and there is no sign of it abating.

What is worrying is the nonchalance and lack of concern of some of the ministers and high officials regarding the need for thrift, reduction of waste, and control of corruption. If what is reported by the “watchdog” Committees of the Parliament, COPE, etc., is true, there is very little hope for Sri Lanka; unless everybody concerned gets together and does what has to be done to stop corruption, waste, and financial mismanagement.

We are told Parliamentary sessions cost the taxpayer Rs 100,000/- per minute. One may ask why should the show, that parliamentarians put up, that includes verbal filth and physical violence, which is most degrading as it happens in the highest echelons, be so expensive! Instead, one could watch a Bollywood or Tamil Nadu film, on any TV channel, after lunch. Anyway, should so much money be spent for meetings; cannot the thrift begin at the Parliament, which would set an example for other government ministries and offices to follow? Rent for some ministry offices had been in the range of billions, not millions, in the past, and there may be similar rackets of a lesser type, which, however, need to be controlled if the government would like to be seen as serious in controlling wasteful expenditure of public money.

Similarly, if the government goes for provincial council elections and brings back the PCs, it will be putting another burden on the poor people. Apart from the huge expenditure that these bodies incur, just for their maintenance, the bribes that people have to pay to get their legitimate work done at these joints is unbearable for the people. When you add up the impediment cost, to rapid development, these white elephants entail, the question arises why do we have them? Why cannot the Tamil problem be resolved by other less expensive means?

There seems to be only a very few ministers who work. Others like to live in clover and be oblivious to the woes of the country. MPs are worse. Cannot they at least monitor the work that has been recommended by the President on his visits to the villages, and see to it that they are implemented on time? Cannot they meet the people who come out onto the streets and loudly voice their genuine grievances, which has now become a common sight? Cultivators of paddy, vegetables, turmeric, pepper, etc., have problems that have to be solved if the government is to succeed in its efforts to control imports. These noisy demonstrations are not always politically contrived. People really feel they are helpless and there is no one to look into their problems. These protests could make the government unpopular and could have future repercussions. Governments may fall if people’s grievances are ignored.

Is the government serious about controlling corruption? Is there a fear that if action is taken against errant ministers and others, there could be a rebellion against the leadership and the unity of the government would be further weakened? Is there a tendency in the leadership to turn a blind eye to corrupt practices, due to this reason? This had happened in the past, and was one reason for the government to fall in 2014. These are issues that the leadership of the government will have to address urgently. It must realize that corruption takes a heavy toll on development, and finally would worsen poverty. In this regard, the Mafias in rice, oil, sugar, etc., that seem to operate with impunity, have to be brought under control; and the government’s inability and delay in taking action will result in the government losing its popularity.

There seems to be a lot of corruption in tender procedures. One example is Lanka Mineral Sands Corporation, which has granted a tender to a lower bid and caused a huge loss to the country. Why had the Minister, under whose purview this institution functions, allowed this to happen? Wasn’t he aware of what happened and if not why not? Ministers must have a knowledge of what is going on in their own ministries. They are responsible to the people, and when the country is going through a bad period and every cent matters, this kind of lapses are unacceptable.

Customs is another place where major irregularities take place. It is reported that huge sums of money have been paid to officials who detect malpractice in imports. Rewarding honest officials is one thing, but replacing one type of malpractice with another type would amount to gross corruption. The Customs Department seems to have adopted the idiom “set a thief to catch a thief” in its literary meaning! Is the Minister in charge aware of what is going on under his nose or has he got to wait until COPE detects these rackets?

One of the most inefficient departments seems to be the Inland Revenue Department. It is reported that uncollected income tax arrears run into Rs. 107 billion. How could a government meet its commitments in payment of salaries, run a free health service, provide free education, and spend on maintenance of infrastructure, etc., when its coffers are not being replenished, particularly at a time when its economy is down? What is the Minister responsible for income tax collection doing about this matter? Is he waiting for the President to visit the IRD and sort things out for him?

Sri Lanka, since Independence, has not been able to solve its economic woes and come out of poverty due to three main reasons; enormous waste, rampant corruption and gross mismanagement. A columnist of this journal has said “delays, failures and shortcomings seem to be deliberate and well-calculated” in reference to the affairs of the government and its departments. Delays, failures and shortcomings are contrived to facilitate corruption. In addition to facilitating corruption; delays, failures and shortcomings directly affect people’s lives, slow down the economy, and discourage investment. No wonder the countries in the region, including the Maldives, are overtaking Sri Lanka in economic performance.

Sri Lankan citizens seem to be gradually waking up to the fact that they are being shortchanged by their politicians. Voters are quickly realizing that they may have made a mistake, and are ready to take up positions in defiance. They had got rid of whole political parties that ruined this country beyond repair, and they could do that again, in the future. It is in this context that the talented Rajapaksa leadership, on whom people had placed so much hope and faith, and on whom depend the safeguarding of national interests, must take stock of the situation and use all their ability and acumen to take the country out of the abyss it has fallen into, before they lose their popularity and charisma.

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Nelum Kuluna poses danger to aircraft

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The top of Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower) stands 350 above sea level in the heart of Colombo City, as the air navigators of old would say, sticking out like a ’sore thumb’. It has to be lit up in accordance with the Aircraft Obstacle Lighting recommendations contained in Annex 14 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention originally signed by Ceylon in 1944.

A free-standing tower of that height is required by international law to be lit up not only at night with red lights, but also with high visibility white strobe lights during the day.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be on always during the day. The authorities concerned must realise that the strobe lighting during the day is not for beauty but for air safety, especially these days, when the air quality and visibility are low during the day.

Have those in charge of the tower been briefed properly on the legal requirement and the use of proper lighting? In case of an accident, this certainly will have implications on insurance claims.

I wonder whether the ‘Regulator’, Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka would like to comment.

If not rectified, it will be just a matter of time an aircraft will be impaled by the Nelum Kuluna.

I M Nervy (Aviator)

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Opinion

Simple questions to Sirisena and Gotabaya

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If Sirisena had not been informed of the plans to explode bombs on 21st of April 2019, as he has claimed, shouldn’t he have taken immediate action to call for explanation from Nilantha Jayawardena, then head of State Intelligent Service (SIS), who had been notified several times about the impending attack by the Indian intelligence.

Sirisena and Jayawardena should be prosecuted for allowing a mass murder to take place. Further Sirisena should be made to explain his famous uttering, “I will reveal everything, if somebody tries to implicate me”.

Why did Gotabaya, who announced his candidature for presidency almost immediately after the Easter Sunday attack and promised to punish those who were involved in it, pay no attention to Nilantha Jayawardena’s failure in taking necessary action with regard to information he received, instead he was given a promotion?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a meeting with USAID Administrator Samantha Power on September 11, 2022 had said that Scotland Yard had been requested to review the reports and reach a final conclusion on claims that there was a hidden hand behind the bombings.

We do not need Scotland Yard, just get an honest set of Sri Lankan police officers to question Nilantha, Sirisena and Gotabaya to find the “hidden hand behind the bombings”

B Perera

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Opinion

Open letter to Sirisena

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Y you were in Singapore when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. You claimed that you had not been informed of the intelligence received by your intelligence officers. However, the Supreme Court has ordered you to pay Rs 100M as compensation to the victims of the terror attacks. The reasons for the decision are stated in the judgement.

Acting on a claim that there was a conspiracy to assassinate you and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya you caused the interdiction and arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, who was held in custody without bail for a long time.

In his testimony to the Presidential Commission  of Inquiry, Silva said that he had been interdicted while plans were in place to arrest Zaharan.

Due to the arrest of DIG Silva, Zaharan escaped arrest. Silva was never charged. Zaharan continued with his plans and the rest is history.

After the SC order you have been claiming that you have no money to pay the Rs 100M as compensation. You are asking for public help to pay compensation to Easter carnage victims. You even accepted some money collected by a person called Sudaththa Tilakasiri, who begged from people.

You have said publicly that you submitted your asset declarations. I suggest that you sell all your assets declared in the declarations before asking for funds from the public.

Hemal Perera

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