‘Waste, corruption and irregularities as devastating as corona’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera says the government lacked the wherewithal to provide those struggling to make ends meet sufficient financial assistance.
The decision to provide Rs 2,000 for a family during the current Covid-19 lockdown highlighted the deteriorating economic crisis, State Minister Jayasekera points out.
“In fact, the national economy is in such a bad shape the government found it difficult to pay that amount,” MP Jayasekera told The Island while warning of dire consequences unless the government and the Opposition reached a consensus on a strategic plan to save the economy.
Responding to another query, the Kurunegala District MP discussed the crisis in his pocket borough of Bingiriya electorate, where alone approximately 15,000 persons had been affected by the lockdown. The State Minister emphasised that it wouldn’t be fair to blame one administration or a particular person for the current crisis.
The SLFP group in the government consists of 14 members, including one accommodated on the SLPP National List. MP Jayasekera said that the government found it difficult to pay even Rs 2,000.
Successive governments over the years had allowed key public sector enterprises such as the Ceylon Petroleum
Corporation (CPC), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), SriLankan Airlines to bleed the national economy, MP Jayasekera said.
Noting Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s declaration in June that the entire banking sector faced collapse due to staggering amount of money owed to the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank by the CPC and CEB, lawmaker Jayasekera said that tangible measures were required to address the crisis.
The Presidential Secretariat subsequently estimated the amount owed by the CPC and CEB at Rs 737 bn.
MP Jayasekera said the public sector was a massive burden on the people. Instead of taking a political stand on the public sector, the government and the Opposition should at least now address the issue at hand.
The national income was primarily utilized to pay the salaries of the public sector and pensions, Jayasekera said, adding that the government lacked the financial strength to meet its obligations due to dwindling income.
State Minister Jayasekera said that further expansion of the public sector was unthinkable. However, the government and the Opposition should reach an agreement without further delay that they wouldn’t exploit the issue for political advantage. “Let there be a consensus on a workable plan,” lawmaker Jayasekera said. The unprecedented devastation caused by the raging Covid-19 pandemic had compelled all political parties represented in parliament to act swiftly and decisively, the former minister said.
“If we do not take meaningful measures to stop the rot in the wake of economic catastrophe the country will be bankrupt,” State Minister Jayasekera said.
Referring to the continuing failure on the part of the revenue collection mechanism to meet its obligations, lawmaker Jayasekera explained utterly irresponsible conduct of the Customs. The continuing legal battle between the Customs and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) over the former seeking massive rewards from the latter as regards a detection made a decade ago, MP Jayasekera said the case underscored the absurdity of the situation. “We are talking about a massive scam. Having allowed the SLPA to clear the equipment, the Customs imposed a penalty for non-payment of duties but the issue at hand is that the penalty money ended up with Customs officers,” MP Jayasekera said.
The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) that inquired into the scam, but hadn’t been able to resolve the issue yet, lawmaker Jayasekera said, asserting that even the Parliament seemed helpless as various interested parties continued to take advantage of an utterly corrupt system. There couldn’t be a better example than the Customs moving court against the SLPA under questionable circumstances to highlight the severe financial impropriety, the former minister said.
Explaining his role as COPA member, MP Jayasekera said that the revelations made at COPA as well as COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and Committee on Public Finance (COPF) proved beyond doubt that the parliament over the years had pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline. The lawmaker said that actually he was at a loss and felt so sorry over the failure of the parliament to address the situation.
The Customs, Inland Revenue and the Excise Department responsible for revenue collection operation owed an explanation, the former minister said, pointing out how the public suffered due to negligence on the part of those responsible for ensuring financial stability.
Lawmaker Jayasekera said that as a member of the parliament he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the overall failure of the parliament. Ensuring financial discipline and transparency were primary responsibilities of the parliament whoever controlled the parliamentary majority, MP Jayasekera said. “Another responsibility is the enactment of new laws. We seem to have failed in both spheres,” the SLFPer said.
The State Minister discussed how Inland Revenue bungled on numerous occasions. One occasion was IR’s failure to collect massive amount in taxes from casinos, lawmaker Jayasekera said, alleging in spite of parliamentary watchdog intervention remedial action couldn’t be taken.
State Minister Jayasekera said that the simmering controversy over Indian involvement in the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port and the offering of West terminal which is something only on paper to India revealed the crisis in the government. Some of those who talked about mega plans simply didn’t take into consideration the ground situation nor were they capable of what MP Jayasekera called rationale thinking.
Acknowledging the importance of using organic fertiliser and how it benefited the country, lawmaker Jayasekera said that the whole exercise was now in turmoil as a result of hasty implementation of the project. The former minister said that the systematic destruction caused by successive administrations that turned a blind eye to waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence was immeasurable.
According to him the economy is in such a bad shape preparing budget for 2022 seemed unrealistic. The annual debt servicing amounting to as much as USD 4 bn underscored the catastrophic environment the country was in at the time national economy withered under continuing disruptions caused by Covid-19.
If the country maintained financial discipline, Sri Lanka would have been in a much better position to face the current health emergency, the State Minister said. Pointing out significant assistance received from foreign governments, the private sector as well as various individuals to fight the raging epidemic, lawmaker Jayasekera said that the government and the Opposition needed to review the situation. “We have to adopt a national plan to restore financial discipline or be prepared to face the consequences,” the former minister said.
The MP said that the decision to do away with a range of taxes at the onset of the government that resulted in the loss of over Rs 500 bn caused a debilitating setback.
President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer
Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.
General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.
General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.
He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.
“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.
The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.
“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.
The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.
“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.
Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan
Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.
“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.
The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.
“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.
The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.
“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.
MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.
“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.
Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution
‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration’
UNHRC 48th sessions:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.
Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.
Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.
Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.
The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.
The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.
Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint
Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.
Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.
Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.
Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.
Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.
Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.
Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.
Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.
Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.
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