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Economic meltdown and kleptocracy



Monday 2nd May, 2022

The government has gone into overdrive to form an all-party interim administration in response to people’s protests, and a request from the Mahanayake Theras. It however has chosen to remain silent on protesters’ demand that their stolen money be returned. Gomi Senadhira, a former diplomat and public servant has, in his article published on this page today, put forth a cogent argument anent politicians’ assets and liabilities. He has highlighted a landmark ruling by the Indian Supreme Court; a candidate’s constitutional right to contest an election should be subservient to the voter’s fundamental right to ascertain information about him or her.

Sri Lankans are not without information about politicians. However, they have been electing governments apparently on the basis that the best way to catch a thief is to set a thief, perhaps for want of a better alternative. This modus operandi has not worked because thieves cooperate to safeguard their interest. In 2015, people voted out of power a group of politicians they considered as thieves, and elected a government, whose members turned out to be kleptocrats. Having elected the previous bunch of thieves again, they are now in the streets, demanding that their stolen money be returned!

Most members of the political families, in the current Parliament, have never been gainfully employed, but they are living in clover and spend billions of rupees on electioneering alone. They sport wristwatches worth millions of rupees each besides very expensive designer wear, live in palatial houses, have epicurean feasts, and move about in super luxury vehicles. These politicians must be made to explain how they are enjoying lifestyles that may even make the billionaires on the Forbes list feel a twinge of envy. They should be made to answer only a few questions if it is to be proved that they are living off stolen public funds and wealth amassed through illegal means: how much have they spent on their houses and vehicles? If they claim that they have earned what they possess, they must be asked if they have declared their assets and paid taxes over the years? If they claim they inherited their wealth from their parents, they must be asked whether their parents or grandparents declared the wealth at issue and paid taxes?

Now that the people have wised up to the fact that the theft of public wealth is one of the main reasons for the current economic meltdown as well as their predicament, they ought to determine themselves to reject the candidates from the political families as well as others believed to have amassed wealth through questionable means. Such characters are found on either side of the political divide. Therefore, nothing is stupider than to elect them and demand that they declare their assets and liabilities. It is said that politicians are like tortoises on fence posts; it is the people who elevate them to such heights. So, the people who are out there, calling for the ouster of all 225 MPs, will be left with no moral right to raise questions about stolen public funds if they do not go flat out to defeat the candidates who are known to be corrupt, at future elections. There are a few good men and women in the current Parliament, and only they deserve re-election.

The members of the current Parliament are not likely to get together and pass tough laws that will prevent them from concealing information about their wealth. There may be a few of them who are willing to do so, but others will not consent to endanger their own interests lest they should be exposed for their corrupt activities. Even if such laws were ever made, perhaps they would not help trace ill-gotten wealth of politicians and their kith and kin, who are adept at covering their tracks. Until last week, they had not taken any action against illegal fund transfer schemes such as undial and hawala as they have benefited therefrom at the expense of the national economy.

Meanwhile, let the state intelligence agencies, and the police be urged to ensure the safety of the officials of the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank in view of the ban on undial and hawala. These systems mostly benefit the netherworld of crime and narcotics. The lives of the intrepid officials responsible for the ban at issue may therefore be in danger.

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Under the shadow of dictatorship



Tuesday 28th November, 2023

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s plan to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to probe the affairs of the Constitutional Council (CC) has run into stiff resistance from all those who cherish democracy and are concerned about the future of this country. Speaking in Parliament, last week, the President lambasted the CC for impeding the process of making appointments to high posts including those of the IGP and judges. He went so far as to accuse some CC members of sabotage while claiming that the CC was part of the executive.

President Wickremesinghe is obviously trying to intimidate the CC into toeing his line. He expects it to endorse all his decisions blindly. As the Prime Minister of the Yahapalana government, he reduced the CC to a mere appendage of the UNP. Old habits are said to die hard.

President Wickremesinghe has overstepped his executive limits and made a mockery of his commitment to upholding the separation of powers. He has the SLPP parliamentary group on a string, lords it over the legislature and even tells the Opposition MPs to shut up during parliamentary sessions! A timid Parliament, which cannot ever so much as tame a bunch of arrogant cricket administrators, yields to his dictates. Even judicial independence is under threat. Government MPs try to summon judges before the parliamentary Committee on Privileges and Ethics for giving rulings that are not to the liking of the Executive.

The CC is not there to humour the President or any other government leader for that matter. It was created to prevent the Executive from making appointments to high posts arbitrarily and ensure, among other things, the independence of vital state institutions. It cannot be expected to rubber-stamp the President’s decisions and facilitate the ascent of misfits with political connections to top positions in the state service. As Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told President Wickremesinghe in Parliament, the other day, the latter should not expect the CC to be as subservient as the UNP Working Committee.

President Wickremesinghe has the legislature, the Attorney General, the Cabinet and the public service under his thumb and is trying to manipulate the CC and the Election Commission (EC). He also makes decisions on matters that are before courts in what may be considered a bid to influence the judiciary. He has said the Local Government (LG) elections, which he prevented the EC from conducting by refusing to release funds, will not be held until 2025. It is the EC that should decide on such matters and the President must not usurp the powers of that institution to compass his political ends. Above all, the postponement of the LG polls is a matter pending before court.

What we are witnessing are the unmistakable signs of the country heading for a dictatorship.


Victory for the corrupt

President Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday sacked Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, derailing the latter’s campaign against corruption in cricket. The removal of Ranasinghe from the Cabinet must have gladdened the hearts of the crooks whom he courageously took on in a bid to save cricket from their clutches.

Now, a stooge will be handpicked as Ranasinghe’s successor and made to further the interests of the Cricket Mafia. The corrupt always have the last laugh in this country.

The Auditor General has, in one of his reports, revealed serious financial irregularities in the cricket administration, and it was based on those revelations that Ranasinghe, in his capacity as the Sports Minister, sacked the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) office-bearers and appointed an interim committee. The fate that has befallen him reminds us of the judgements of legendary King Kekille, who always punished the innocent parties in cases heard before him and set the wrongdoers free.

Ranasinghe deserves praise for his efforts to cleanse SLC, and he can rest assured that all cricket lovers are on his side. President Wickremesinghe is doing more of what brought about the downfall of the Yahapalana government, which also protected the corrupt unflinchingly.

The SLPP-UNP regime has demonstrated once again that it is a government of the corrupt by the corrupt for the corrupt.

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Sinners stoning sinners



Monday 27th November, 2023

The SJB has commenced collecting signatures for a public petition as part of a campaign to have those who are responsible for the current economic crisis stripped of their civic rights. Given public resentment, which is palpable, the SJB may be able to obtain hundreds of thousands of signatures for its petition, but the chances of its political venture yielding the desired results are remote; the Rajapaksas and their cronies are controlling Parliament. The SJB seems to be thinking that the ongoing campaign will help it gain some traction, but that move could turn out to be counterproductive because the Opposition politicians are not free from blame for the economic crisis.

The SLPP leaders are directly responsible for the country’s bankruptcy. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government indulged in wasteful expenditure, invested heavily in vanity projects, and did precious little to prevent the misappropriation of public funds. Corruption became the order of the day under that regime. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration totally mismanaged the economy, ruined the agricultural sector with its disastrous organic farming experiment and the ill-conceived blanket ban on agrochemicals, resorted to excessive money printing, did not make a serious effort to arrest the rapid depletion of foreign currency reserves and refused to seek international assistance to straighten up the economy until it was too late.

All SLPP MPs including those who have broken ranks with the government must be held accountable for the current economic crisis; even the dissidents among them supported the wrong policies of the Gotabaya administration until they fell from grace. Similarly, besides those who, the Supreme Court has said in a recent judgement, contributed to the current economic crisis, there are many others who made a tremendous contribution to the country’s bankruptcy, which was the culmination of a process that lasted for years under successive governments.

The SJB parliamentary group members who were in the Yahapalana government, which consisted of the UNP, the SLFP, the SLMC, etc., cannot absolve themselves of the blame for the current crisis. The UNP-led UNF administration did not care to reduce public debt. Instead, it slashed fuel prices and granted unusually high pay hikes to the public sector workers with the view to winning the 2015 general election. It neglected national security, and failed to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage, which entailed an enormous economic cost besides claiming more than 270 lives. The 2019 terror strikes, which crippled tourism, adversely impacted the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The SLPP keeps saying that the Yahapalana government (2015-2019) worsened the national debt by borrowing USD 12.5 billion in sovereign bonds; nearly USD 7 billion were raised in just 15 months from early 2018 to mid-2019; out of that amount only USD 2 billion had been settled by the end of 2019. It will be interesting to see what the UNP, and its offshoot, the SJB, have got to say to this. Besides, the Yahapalana government allowed its cronies to enrich themselves at the expense of the economy. The Treasury bond scams are a case in point.

Above all, no less a person than Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has revealed that the abolition of the Exchange Control Act No 24 of 1953 owing to the introduction of the Foreign Exchange Act No 12 of 2017 has stood unscrupulous exporters and other such elements in good stead. Most export proceeds are not repatriated, Minister Rajapakshe has said, adding that according to his information some exporters have hoarded about USD 56.5 billion offshore.

SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva has, in a recent television interview, sought to dispute Minister Rajapakshe’s claim, arguing that the new exchange control laws were intended to enable Sri Lankan businesses to expand abroad. But they certainly benefited racketeers more than anyone else. The new Foreign Exchange Act, inter alia, converted some criminal offences under the previous law into civil ones for the benefit of some crooks.

Thus, criminal cases that had been filed previously lapsed, and legal action was not instituted against the offenders concerned anew for obvious reasons; about 30 persons including the kith and kin of UNP and SLPP leaders are believed to have benefited from the new Act, which the SJB politicians voted for when they were in the Yahapalana government. The abolition of tough foreign exchange control laws contributed to the depletion of the country’s forex reserves and the current economic crisis.

The political parties that resorted to terrorism and/or supported terrorists are also guilty of having contributed to the ruination of the country’s economy. The economic cost of the JVP’s reign of terror in the late 1980s is hard to estimate due to the multifaceted nature of the repercussions of the mindless violence, which crippled the country. The TNA, created by the LTTE, functioned as the latter’s mouthpiece. It must also be held responsible for the damage the LTTE inflicted on the economy to the tune of billions of rupees. When the members of the current parliament accuse one another of having ruined the economy and call for punitive action, it is a case of sinners stoning sinners.

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The honey pot



Even the most optimistic of Sri Lankan cricket fans would have expected that this country will be permitted by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to conduct the Under-19 World Cup in this country as scheduled after we were last week suspended from membership of the world body. That was an obvious given and the bad news is now public that the tournament has been moved to South Africa. . It has been reported that four clubs have been paid Rs. 2 billion to upgrade their facilities for the tournament we’ve lost. This money was to be reimbursed by ICC but that will now not happen. Also, we have lost the USD 2.4 million fee that we were to be paid for hosting the tournament.

It is very well known all round that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has long been corrupt and all kinds of questionable elements have been trying to dip their greasy fingers into its coffers. While politics and politicians have been freely accused for the predicament that once high flying cricket in this country, which commands a vast following has sunk to at present, we must not forget that it was a politician, the late Mr. Gamini Dissanayake, who won us Test status in 1981.

We had been as associate member of ICC since 1965 and later got full membership. Since then there were highs (winning the World Cup in 1996) and lows like the recent debacle suffered in India. We also twice reached the World Cup semi finals and the public have long had high expectations of the team.

Cricket has also been good to the various stars this country has produced. Very many of them, with household names countrywide like Arjuna Ranatunga who skippered the World Cup winning team, Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardena, Aravinda de Silva, Muttiah Muralitharan and many more have become very wealthy given the big bucks that sports stars, not only cricketers, earn globally.

Today there are many formats of the game with, arguably, the 50 over one day matches being the most popular. But the shorter Twenty20 format also attracts its following and earns very big money. Many Lankan players are among the beneficiaries of the vast fortunes that international cricket generates.

Apart from the rich returns that not only the super stars, but also the other national players have been able to earn from the game, Sri Lanka’s entry into the international cricket arena and making a mark therein had also democratized a game once dominated by privileged schools and clubs.

Once upon a time it was almost unthinkable that a national team would not have included alumni from the big schools. But thanks to the money that cricket generated a great deal of talent had been found outside the cities with playing facilities being made more available countrywide. All that redounded for the good of the game in this country as well as giving its talented youth golden opportunities.

What is most pertinent at present is the current situation of Sri Lanka cricket in the light of the ICC suspension. Fortunately, the fact that we are not allowed to host the Under-19 tournament does not mean that we are not allowed to play in South Africa. Our boys have been intensively preparing for the tournament but will no longer have the advantage of playing before home crowds under familiar conditions. While no longer within the ICC umbrella, we can still make bilateral arrangements for international cricket. But what is important is to get the suspension lifted as quickly as possible and revert to the status quo.

No less than President Ranil Wickremesinghe went on record last week that legislation was urgently required to ensure that sports ministers do not interfere in the administration of, presumably, not only cricket but all sports. We have over the years seen different sports ministers, interfering for good or bad in sporting matters including selections.

A couple of weeks ago, parliament, by a resolution proposed by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and seconded by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva unanimously resolved to remove “corrupt officials including the chairman of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.” Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, was widely applauded for wading into battle and gazetting a new interim committee headed by Arjuna Ranatunga to run SLC. But he was restrained by an interim order of the Court of Appeal. This matter, which triggered a rare attack on a judge under cover of the protection of parliamentary privilege, awaits final determination.

It is clear that the president and the sports minister are not in sync with what the latter is doing. This was demonstrated by the president’s reference to “interference” by the sports minister and the latter’s own reference to the choice being between “betting Shammi and Roshan Ranasinghe.” RW is looking at basing prospective legislative changes on a report by a respected retired judge.

He said in a television interview aired last week that he had apologized to Jay Shah of the Indian Cricket Board for his name being dragged into the cricket debate in the Sri Lanka parliament.

SLC Chairman Shammi Silva has been accused of canvassing the ICC to get Sri Lanka suspended and some letters in this connection brandished in parliament by the opposition leader have been given to the president. SLC has been a honey pot around which flies have long gathered. That is the public perception, What corrective action is available in the short term remains to be seen. Meanwhile, hopefully our cricketers will not be out in the cold.

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