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Midweek Review

Formidable New Year Challenges

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gestures during a recent meeting at Rawanakanda, a village at Imbulpe, Balangoda. Senior Advisor to President Lalith Weeratunga looks on (Pic by Jeevan Chandimal/PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Last Monday’s briefing at the Presidential Secretariat (old parliament) on the status of the war-winning armed forces revealed the pathetic state of affairs during the yahapalana administration. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa chaired the Defence Ministry review which lasted several hours. After Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne addressed the gathering, respective service chiefs explained the crisis experienced by the armed forces during the 2015 to 2019 period.

Navy Chief VA Nishantha Ulugetenne and Airforce Chief AVM Sudarshana Pathirana explained how they were deprived of the required support to maintain available assets. There hadn’t been a similar meeting since the change of government in Nov 2019. The then government allowed the armed forces to deteriorate. The rapid deterioration had been all part of the yahapalana strategy meant to undermine the armed forces. Downsizing the Army had been one crucial aspect and certainly not the only issue at that time.

The evaluation revealed that since Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s departure from the Defence Ministry in January 2015 the new government held up even the basic projects. Having won the January 8, 2015 presidential election, Sirisena named one-time environment and renewable energy Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (11.01.2015 – 08.09.2015). Subsequently, Karunasena Hettiarachchi (09.09.2015 – 05.07.2015), Kapila Waidyaratne (06.07.2017 – 30.10.2018), Hemasiri Fernando (30.10.2018 – 25.04.2019) and Gen. Shantha Kottegoda (24.04.2019 – 19-11.2019) received appointment as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, amidst the massive turmoil caused by the Easter carnage.

If not for the Easter carnage, President Sirisena, now an SLPP lawmaker (Polonnaruwa district) wouldn’t have named a retired military officer as Secretary Defence. The yahapalana administration appointed a retired DIG as the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) – a special post created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in late 2006, on the advice of the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to oversee all intelligence services, including the SIS (State Intelligence Service).

The Rajapaksas created the post of CNI, by way of a cabinet paper, especially for Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, in the wake of his retirement. Hendavitharana, who had been deeply involved in clandestine operations against terrorists, knew what was going on in the war zone, elimination of high profile LTTE targets, or overall attempts to intercept LTTE arms shipments on the high seas et al. Even after the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the CNI continued to play a significant role in the previous Rajapaksa government’s security strategy.

 The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo weakened the security setup. Those who held high positions felt no great desire for sustaining higher level of security. One-time Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) probing the Easter Sunday carnage that security of a country did not depend on its Defence Secretary. There were various structures and it was a matter of collective action, Fernando, served as the Defence Secretary when Ranil Wickremesinghe managed a highly flawed ceasefire agreement arranged by the Norwegians said.

Fernando further said: “It is not mandatory for the Defence Secretary to have an intimate knowledge of the role played by the Ministry. If that is the case, a fisherman should be the Secretary to the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture should be a farmer.”

The yahapalana leadership crippled the armed forces. The Geneva betrayal in early Oct 2015 stunned the victorious armed forces with some senior officers denied the opportunity to visit some countries. Denial of visas was part of international measures taken against Sri Lanka. That particular line of action culminated with the US imposing a travel ban in Feb 2020 on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

Sri Lanka faces a daunting task in managing human rights issue in the New Year. With Geneva sessions scheduled for Feb-March next year, the government will have to work hard on a strategy to meet the threat. Successive governments obviously neglected Geneva for different reasons.

If yahapalanaya continued the national security would have suffered irreparable damage. The results would have been catastrophic and everlasting. In spite of severe economic difficulties caused by the rampaging corona pandemic, the government will have to sustain the armed forces in readiness to face any eventuality. The end of the war over a decade ago shouldn’t be a reason to weaken the armed forces or allow their capabilities to deteriorate.

 

A dubious ‘paniya’ to contain rampaging corona that made politicos laughing stocks

 The government’s primary concern should be tackling coronavirus, now threatening to overwhelm the national economy. Failure to bring the epidemic under control early this year can be quite disastrous as the economy is already in dire straits. Cabinet Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle spearheaded government efforts to contain the epidemic whereas a easily gullible section of the government promoted an ayurveda ‘paniya’ or syrup, allegedly prepared by using some secret ingredients, in addition to nutmeg and bees honey, thereby prompting foolish Sri Lankans in their thousands to beat a path to its producer’s abode in search of the much touted miracle concoction, causing chaos in the area.

The government went to the extent of allowing the Kapurala-turned Ayurveda practitioner Dhammika Bandara to hand over bottles of ‘paniya’ to several lawmakers, including the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, in Parliament. Recent scenes at Hettimulla in Kegalle where people gathered outside the kapurala’s abode to collect a bottle of the ‘paniya’ being touted by him as a cure for the deadly coronavirus were hilarious, if not for the grand irony of desperate people seeking a miracle.

Wanniarachchi was among those politicians who merrily consumed spoonfuls of the dubious syrup. Many eyebrows were raised several weeks ago when she, accompanied by two ministers, Prasanna Ranatunga and Udaya Gammanpila, threw pots of water into the Kalu Ganga as an occult cure. Dhammika Bandara wasn’t the only Ayurveda practitioner to exploit gullible public.

 With the total number of corona positive cases fast approaching 38,000 and deaths nearly 180, the government will have to ensure propaganda or foolish efforts didn’t further deteriorate the situation. To Dr. Fernandopulle’s credit, she never hesitated to plainly explain the risks involved in such dubious projects.

 

Hijaz, Mahara riots; corona cremations

The government can expect stepped up international pressure, egged on by interested parties over its decision to cremate bodies of all corona victims. Already the UN intervened in a purely internal matter of Sri Lanka several weeks ago with its Resident Representative Hanaa Singer in a much publicised act drawing the attention of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the need to allow the Muslims to bury their dead. We wonder whether any UN official will dare try such a stunt with a country like India for example. With Muslim parliamentarians except Mohammed Muzammil of the National Freedom Front (NFF) taking a common stand on the issue at hand, the international community with its primary agenda to humiliate this country is likely to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague recently ruled in a 180 page tome that British troops committed war crimes in Iraq. It determined that Iraqi detainees in the custody of British were tortured, killed and even raped by UK troops. But the icing on the cake is that ICC will not prosecute any of the culprits! So while the self-appointed international community and the entrenched UN establishment are ever ready to whip a country like Sri Lanka on even mere trumped up charges, they allow countries like the US, the UK, Australia or even their new darling India to break through that law net they have woven for their own advantage

The SJB and National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) led by former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya want Muslims allowed burying their victims of coronavirus.

The government can also expect some sections of the international community to take up the continuing detention of Attorney-at-Law Hijaz Hizbullah over his alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks as well as the recent Mahara Prison riots that claimed the lives of 11 remand prisoners and caused injuries to over 100 others. Contrary to Prisons Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s claim, the post mortems revealed some indeed died as a result of gunshot injuries.

Sri Lanka Core Group raised Hizbullah’s detention last September. The issue is expected to be raised at the forthcoming Geneva sessions in Feb-March 2021 unless the government granted him bail before the Geneva session.

The controversy was caused several weeks ago when Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, arrested along with Hizbullah also in connection with the same case received bail under controversial circumstances. Media furore led to the Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, calling for internal investigation into the conduct of the CID officers, including DIG, CID and Director, CID as regards the release of Riyaj before the high profile vote on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Unlike any previous AG, De Livera received unprecedented media coverage due to his style of doing things. Having captured media attention during the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) that dealt with Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016, De Livera succeeded AG Jayantha Jayasuriya about a week after the 2019 Easter attacks. Jayasuriya served as the AG from Feb 10, 2016 to April 29, 2019.

Now the AG’s Department is under the scrutiny of P CoI probing the Easter attacks with President’s Counsel de Livera’s stand on two law officers accused of negligence in respect of TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) probe on Zahran Hashim questioned by Shavendra Silva, PC, on behalf of Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi. The question is whether Zahran’s murderous project could have been thwarted if the AG’s Department acted swiftly on the TID file received in early June 2017. Instead, the department sat on it until the Zahran-led National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out the suicide bombing campaign. AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne, who had been in the media limelight, has been hauled up before the P CoI over the matter with questions being raised as regards the AG’s opinion on police investigations. There had never been a case like this that really dealt with the AG’s department.

 

An extraordinary tiff

The political leadership should keep an eye on the situation involving the AG’s Department and the Police. In fact, newly appointed Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera should be deeply concerned about the recent developments, particularly the AG’s high profile accusations in respect of IGP C.D. Wickremeratne’s culpability in respect of the Mahara Prison riots.

The relations between the AG’s Department and the police turned for the worse after the former intervened in an inquiry following accusations over the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) dealing in heroin. Retired Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis, who, in his capacity as the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) participated in a meeting chaired by De Livera, also attended by the then Acting IGP Wickremeratne at the AG’s office, where instructions were issued to expedite the investigations. Alwis recently received appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Public Security.

The AG accused the IGP of turning a blind eye to specific instructions he issued in April 2020 to address congestion in prisons. The accusation was made in the presence of Justice Minister Sabry and CJ Jayasuriya at the recent event at Hulftsdorp. However, this accusation should be examined against the backdrop of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having squarely faulted the Government Analyst, the Attorney General and the Police for congestion in prisons and therefore the Mahara riots.

The government’s efforts to improve law and order primarily depend on the AG and the police working together, closely. The recent meetings between Public Security Minister Weerasekera and Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith followed by the Minister and AG De Livera as regards the status of Easter Sunday investigation highlighted the absurdity of the situation. The AG’s Department and the police responsible for the successful conclusion of the Easter Sunday probe are under scrutiny for their own lapses. The issue at hand is whether Easter Sunday carnage could have been averted if the AG’s Department acted on Zahran’s file received in June 2017. And also even if the AG blundered, whether the NTJ plan could have been thwarted if Chief of State Intelligence Service Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena took meaningful measures after having received specific intelligence on April 4, 2019 regarding the impending NTJ attack.

 

Absence of political stability and unbridled corruption

The continuing absence of political stability is certainly a matter for serious concern. In spite of the passage of the 20th Amendment that was touted as the panacea for instability blamed on the 19th enacted in 2015, the situation is dicey. The ruling coalition effected some changes to the original 20th Amendment following protests by some members though the government retained provision to enable dual citizens to enter parliament. Now a fresh controversy has erupted in the wake of obvious disagreement among government partners, both in and outside parliament over the push for Provincial Council polls ahead of agreed formulation of a new Constitution.

A section of the government and those in the Pohottuwa Camp believe the PC polls should be conducted even under the old system without further delay whereas others want polls on hold until a new Constitution is in place. A nine-member expert committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC tasked with formulating a new draft Constitution before Sinhala and Tamil New Year is worried about the government going ahead with PC polls. The committee is of the view early PC polls can be detrimental to its efforts. The government will have to decide soon on this matter without allowing further controversy.

 

Growing economic challenge and Parliament’s continuing failure

 Press statements issued by the Communication Department of Parliament pertaining to COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and COPA (Committee on Public Enterprises) during Nov-Dec 2020 budget debate revealed the sheer negligence on the part of the House to ensure financial transparency and stability. COPE and COPA inquiries revealed how cash strapped successive governments allowed unbridled waste, corruption and irregularities. Parliament, as an institution, should least now review its primary responsibilities pertaining to public finance and introduction of new laws. The failure on its part to act on forensic reports on Treasury bond scams and also to conduct much delayed debate on the P CoI report on the same received in January 2018.

With the economy in dire straits, Parliament now in the hands of the SLPP should accept responsibility for restoring financial integrity in the public sector as well as public-private ventures. It should be of pivotal importance against the backdrop of growing international pressure on the country and the country experiencing a sharp drop in revenue by way of garment exports, tourism and foreign remittance.



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Midweek Review

Economic meltdown

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S.R. Attygalle (extreme left) before COPFon June 08,2022. Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Dr.PBJ and Prof. W.D. Lakshman look on

House watchdog committees ascertain culpability of FM, Monetary Board

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), inquiring into financial meltdown recently, called several former and serving officials to ascertain their culpability as well as that of the institutions they served for the developing crisis.

Among them were former Governors of the Central Bank Prof. W.D. Lakshman (Dec 2019- Sept 2021), and Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Sept 2021-March 2022), Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (Nov 2019-Dec 2021) and Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle (Nov 2019-April 2022), Sanjeeva Jayawardena P.C. (received appointment as a member of the Monetary Board in Feb 2020) and Dr. Ranee Jayamaha (the retired CB Deputy Governor received appointment to the Monetary Board in June 2020). It would be pertinent to mention that Attygalle earlier served a short stint as the Treasury Secretary (Ministry of Finance) between Oct. 31, 2018 and Dec. 18, 2018 during the constitutional coup staged by ex-President Maithripala Sirisena.

The term of office of an appointed member of the Monetary Board is six years and in the event of vacation of office by the appointed member, another person shall be appointed in his or her place to hold the office during the unexpired part of the term of office.

The COPF meeting took place on June 08. Dissident SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa chaired the meeting. CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe and Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, too, were present.

Attygalle didn’t mince his words when he squarely blamed the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also served as the Finance Minister (Nov 2019 to July 2021) for the controversial fiscal policy that had ruined the country. Attygalle declared that the government implemented the first Cabinet paper, dated Dec 04, 2019 presented by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The former Treasury Secretary, who also served in the Monetary Board till April this year, challenged the widely held view that abolition of a range of taxes, in line with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s fiscal policies, triggered the crisis. Attygalle asserted that the import restrictions, especially the ban on the importation of vehicles imposed at the onset of the Covid-19 eruption, and the economic contraction, resulted in the meltdown.

The COPF should seek an explanation from Attygalle, himself a former top Central Banker, having last served there as Deputy Governor, regarding the failure on the part of the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board to review the decision to abolish taxes soon after the Covid-19 eruption. The Finance Ministry banned vehicle imports in March 2020 as part of the overall measures to manage the weak foreign currency reserves. Therefore, the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board cannot absolve themselves of the blame for failing to take remedial measures.

 The COPF specifically asked whether the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board officials sought to advise the political leadership of the ground realities against taking such decisions. It emerged that they did nothing. The COPF proceedings revealed that in spite of a rapidly deteriorating financial situation, the Finance Ministry and Monetary Board mandarins failed to take remedial measures. The SLPP members in the COPF, too, should not forget that the change of tax policies had been in line with their 2019 presidential election manifesto ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.

A disastrous manifesto

The SLPP made the following proposals:

a- Income tax on productive enterprises will be reduced from 28 to 18 percent.

b- The Economic Service Charge (ESC) and Withholding Tax (WHT) will be scrapped;

c- A simple value added tax of eight percent will be introduced, replacing both the current VAT of 15 percent and the Nation Building Tax (NBT) of two percent;

d- PAYE tax will be scrapped and personal income tax will be subject to a ceiling of 15 percent;

e- A five-year moratorium will be granted on taxes payable by agriculturists and small and medium enterprises;

f- Various taxes that contribute to the inefficiency, irregularities, corruption and lack of transparency of the tax system will be abandoned. Instead a special tax will be introduced for different categories of goods and services;

g- Import tariff on goods competing with domestically produced substitutes will be raised;

h- A simple taxation system will be introduced to cover annual vehicle registrations and charges for relevant annual services, replacing the cumbersome systems that prevail now;

i- Various taxes imposed on religious institutions will be scrapped;

j- A zero VAT scheme will be adopted in the case of businesses providing services to Tourist hotels and tourists, if they purchase over 60% of the food, raw materials, cloths and other consumer items locally;

k- Service charges levied on telephones and Internet will be reduced by 50%;

l- Special promotional schemes will be implemented to encourage foreign investments;

m- A tax-free package will be introduced to promote investment in identified subject areas;

n- A clear and uncomplicated system of taxing will be in place with the use of internet facilities, special software and other technological services;

O- Information Technology (IT) services will be totally free from taxes (Zero Tax), considering said industry as a major force in the national manufacturing process;

p- All the Sri Lankans and Foreigners, who bring Foreign exchange to Sri Lanka through consultancy services, are exempt from income tax.”

Dr. Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon, Soosaiappu Neavis Morais and Dr. Mahim Mendis in a FR petition filed in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution listed the above-mentioned points, in that order, as one of the primary reasons for the current crisis. Among the respondents are Prof. W.D. Lakshman, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Dr. P.B. Jaysundera and S.R. Atygalle.

All of them earlier appeared before the COPF where the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe emphasized that officials should never engage in politics and should recognize the difference between them and politicians. Dr. Weerasinghe asserted that officials were duty bound to inform politicians if the decisions taken by the latter were wrong. The outspoken CBSL Chief declared that politicians alone shouldn’t be held accountable for the consequences of such wrong decisions. What Dr. Weerasinghe obviously meant was those who served in key positions at that time, too, were responsible for the current crisis. Dr. Weerasinghe, who had been asked to succeed Ajith Nivard Cabraal, in March, after the former suddenly announced his retirement, told the COPF, the officials’ claim that they had been unaware of the economy was on a wrong path for two years leading to the meltdown was not acceptable. Dr. Weerasinghe also strongly questioned the claim that economic policies had been implemented only on decisions taken by the political leadership.

Lawmakers present participating in the proceedings declared that the political leadership and the officials ignored their concerns as regards the economy raised at different occasions.

Culprits identified

CBSL Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe before COPE on May 25, 2022. Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana is on Dr. Weerasinghe’s right.

The COPF proceedings should be studied along with revelations made by Dr. Weerasinghe before the COPF and the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) on May 24 and May 25, respectively as well as lawmaker Ali Sabry’s shocking declaration on May 02 as regards the origins of the crisis. President’s Counsel Sabry discussed the issue in his capacity as the Finance Minister after having led the government delegation for talks with the IMF.

Appearing before the COPF, Dr. Weerasinghe disclosed that those who had been responsible for preparing budget estimates over the years deliberately deceived even the Parliament by providing unrealistic and inaccurate revenue estimates. The CB Governor explained how such practices further weakened the economy as decisions and allocations were made on the basis of fraudulent estimates.

The whole process had been nothing but a farce. Lawmaker Sabry on May 02 in a live interview with Swarnawahini, and Dr. Weerasinghe on May 25, named those responsible for the current crisis that has ruined the economy with unemployment at an unprecedented high. Sabry alleged that the Secretary to the Treasury, Governor of the Central Bank, and senior economic advisors to the President, misled the Cabinet as regards the economic situation. The National List member revealed how they repeatedly assured that the situation was well under control, in spite of difficulties while expressing confidence that issues could be successfully dealt with.

By the time the Central Bank floated the rupee in March this year even without bothering to inform the Cabinet-of-Ministers of its decision, irreparable damage had already been caused, Sabry said.

The COPF and COPE proceedings and MP Sabry’s interview in which he questioned the role of the Finance Minister have revealed the pathetic situation as regards public finance.

The MP has alleged that those who managed the national economy had prevented the country seeking IMF’s intervention well over a year back. Had President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet-of-Ministers received proper advice, Sri Lanka would not have been in the current predicament, Minister Sabry said.

Dr. Weerasinghe named those who refused to heed IMF warnings when he appeared before COPE on May 25. The role played by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and the Cabinet-of-Ministers were discussed during the proceedings with Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, too, helping to ascertain the environment in which the SLPP leadership operated.

Dr. Weerasinghe went to the extent of naming Dr. PBJ as the one who prevented the government seeking IMF’s intervention.

The Customs, Inland Revenue and the Excise Department responsible for revenue collection are run in a shoddy manner. In spite of the watchdog committees exposing glaring omissions and commissions by them that had caused revenue losses in billions of Rupees over the years, the political leadership hasn’t taken remedial measures. Committee reports paint an extremely bleak picture.

But what could be the most unforgivable sin is then Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa joking about having himself used the illegal Havala/Undiyal system that completely shut down  several billion dollars that should have legitimately come to Sri Lanka as in past years as remittances from our migratory workers, especially serving in West Asia. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic the country received about six to seven billion dollars from mainly those unappreciated poor Lankan workers slaving in those countries as mainly labourers and housemaids. Such money may not be enough to pay back the country’s USD 50 billion foreign debt. That money, however, would have ensured that the country had the few million dollars to clear a shipment of gas or other necessities, instead of having to beg all over the world.

Unfortunately, the Parliament seems incapable of taking corrective measures. The Parliament should explore the possibility of appointing, a smaller team, comprising members of COPE, COPF and the COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) to recommend remedial measures, including possible criminal prosecution of dual citizen Basil Rajapaksa for his many omissions and commissions, but especially for not applying the full weight of the law against those running the underground money transfer system, that has even robbed the education of our children.

 Keeping the currency steady is the wish of any Finance Minister as otherwise in a country like Sri Lanka dependent on imports for many of its essentials, like milk food, wheat, etc., it would result in basics skyrocketing in price as experienced now and as former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel also learnt it the hard way after allowing the rupee to devalue almost overnight by over 40 percent in the aftermath of opening up the economy to market forces after the victory of the UNP in 1977 with a staggering 4/5th majority in Parliament. It led to government workers staging a general strike demanding a Rs 10 wage increase, but was ruthlessly crushed by that regime.

A corrupt ministry

The Parliament needs to take tangible measures to restore public faith in the system. The Finance Ministry should be overhauled. Perhaps, the IMF, currently engaged in negotiations with the government, should look into the current system in place. The government can formulate an action plan on the basis of findings and recommendations made by the parliamentary watchdog committees. Perusal of proceedings of these committees reveals that the government hadn’t acted on their findings. The inordinate delay in taking action regarding the mysterious decision to reduce the duty on a kilo of white sugar from Rs 50 to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020 without passing on its benefit to the people is a case in point as pointed out by the COPF Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, MP. It, however, cost the cash starved Treasury dearly in billions in lost revenue.

Mahinda Rajapaksa served as the Finance Minister at the time of the issuance of the relevant gazette notification. S.R. Attygalle had been the Finance Secretary. It would be pertinent to ask both MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Attygalle who recommended the duty reduction.

Actually, the COPF should ask Attygalle to explain the circumstances leading to the issuance of that controversial gazette. As Dr. Weerasinghe pointed out recently the officials cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the highly questionable decisions taken by politicians.

Who benefited from the reduction of duty imposed on sugar? In fact, the parliamentary watchdog committees should undertake a comprehensive study. Perhaps, the Finance Ministry role in the Yugadanavi deal can be investigated. Sri Lanka finalized the Yugadanavi transaction with US based New Fortress Energy at midnight on Sept 17, 2021 against the backdrop of Basil Rajapaksa receiving the finance portfolio. The government also brought in retired controversial figure M.M.C. Ferdinando from Australia to assume the leadership at the CEB before making the final move. S.R. Attygalle played a critical role as the Secretary to the Finance Ministry. The SLPP had no qualms in going ahead with the agreement in spite of Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila challenging the transfer of 40 percent shares of the power station held by the Treasury among other concessions not fully revealed to the public.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) defended the agreement with the US energy firm. On the invitation of the then Presidential Spokesperson Kingsley Ratnayake, M.M.C. Ferdinando briefed the media of the usefulness of the US investment. It would be pertinent to mention that Ferdinando, who fled the country in the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph in 2015 returned from Australia after the change of government in Nov 2019. Ferdinando’s 2015, move should be examined against the backdrop of corruption accusations directed at him by civil society activists Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon and Attorney-at-Law Namal Rajapaksa. The lawyer lodged a complaint with the then anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat. There had also been a case in the Fort Magistrate Court regarding the import of coal for Lakvijaya coal-fired power plants at Norochcholai.

In spite of initial public interest, such major cases are often not pursued properly even by those initiating them possibly with ulterior motives. When The Island inquired, lawyer Namal Rajapaksa acknowledged not being aware of the developments of his own case. At the time of the Norochcholai project, Ferdinando had served as the Secretary to the Power Ministry. The unholy alliance between the Finance Ministry and monstrous institutions, such as the CEB, should be investigated and mechanism put in place to protect the public interest.

The controversy over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s alleged intervention on behalf of India’s Adani Group at PM Narendra Modi’s persistent request led to Ferdinando’s resignation recently. The disclosure made by Ferdinando at the COPE, his subsequent denial and a letter dated Nov 25, 2021 Ferdinando wrote to the then Treasury Secretary Attygalle exposing the horrific way business of the State is being conducted. Accountability and transparency seem to be the last thing in the minds of political leaders here.

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Midweek Review

Group formation and culture of Galle Face protesters

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File photo of Gota-go Gama protest site.

by Sena Thoradeniya

Galle Face Protesters (GFP) have brought the relationship between youth, politics and culture to the focus of cultural critics. Nobody has ventured into study this phenomenon in detail in the uprisings of 1971, 1988-89 and Eelam war, although fragmentary references were made into JVP’s post-1971 ‘Vimukthi Gee’ (of Nandana Marasinghe fame, assassinated by JVP/DJV; a stern warning for those upper class elements who pamper the GFP coining some adorable names such as ‘Aragalists’ and ‘Gotagamians’!) , Nanda Malini’s ‘Pawana’ and ‘Sathyaye Geethaya’ during JVP’s second insurrection and LTTE’s ‘Pongu Thamil Eluchchivila’ celebrations.

In this two-part article, we first discuss about formal and informal groups and characteristics of informal groups. In the second part we intend to discuss the culture of Galle Face Protesters arising as a blend of individual level variables of group members and group level variables.

Since saving space is more important, we, in this short piece, do not intend to define what is meant by youth, politics and especially culture. It is also not necessary to discuss the “political demands” of the GFP or what they understand by politics and how they interpret the current political situation, some are well known, some are in vague and undefined and others uncertain and concealed. The main focus of this article is on “Galle Face Culture”, which we do not believe that it will be sustained, developed or become a permanent feature in the cultural landscape of Sri Lanka, although we do not deny that some aspects of it can penetrate into the wider society. Some other arguments against this may arise, questioning our premise whether it is scientific to examine a culture among some loosely knitted individuals, not inhabiting a particular locality permanently. But some sort of a culture is discernible among groups of train travellers, parents who chaperon their children to school, students sitting next to each other in a classroom, devotees of Bacchus who habitually go to the same barroom, people living in one lane or adjoining apartments or different floors, etc. With the advent of Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms another method of group formation receives our attention. Newspaper reports are in abundance of Facebook parties organised by people who have not met each other physically or engaged in face-to-face communication. It is common knowledge that the GF protest had originated with the work of some WhatsApp groups.

In Organisation Behaviour (OB), groups are defined as consisting of people who interact frequently over a period of time and who share similar interests, attitudes and see themselves as a group. Although a universal definition of groups does not exist, students who read this article are requested to refer how sociologists and management and OB theorists had defined groups, group formation and characteristics of groups as it is outside our scope.

There are two types of groups: formal and informal groups. Although the Galle Face protest has passed more than 60 days to this day and some occupy the Galle Face Green turning it into a “village”, according to Group Dynamics (area of study that is concerned with the interactions and forces between group members in a social situation), we still define it as an informal group. This informal group was spontaneously composed of likeminded people, as a result of interactions through social media platforms, attractions and a common need: chasing out GR. There is no dispute that the protesters have come from different economic, social and cultural backgrounds, making it a heterogenous mix of individuals. One of the many attributes of group formation is propinquity or spatial or geographical proximity of individual who join groups. We argue now with the advent of social media platforms, proximity described by earlier theorists has taken a new dimension; technological proximity had taken precedence and had become more active, effective and faster than physical proximity. Friendship has outweighed economic, political or cultural needs and other issues of group formation.

Theoretically speaking, age, gender, marital status, personality characteristics, values, attitudes, emotions, perceptions, ability levels and learning, motivation are the individual level variables they have brought into this informal group. They had to adjust themselves to group level variables such as group behaviour, group standards, communication patterns, leadership styles, power and politics and also conflicts, all integral components of a group. Their culture is determined by the interplay of these two types of variables.

It also can be defined as an open group having free entry as well as free exit which allows more diverse individuals to shape standards, attitudes, values and behaviours of the rest. People are attracted to informal groups for satisfaction of their needs (in this situation their needs are numerous: personal needs such as gaining recognition, status and pride,) and to share a common goal, “GotaGoHome”, basically an emotional response of anger. Individuals who experience this emotion seek others who have the same emotion. That is one reason for Galle Face Protesters for not being able to produce their own political leaders. In the initial stages, we observed that this group inclined to become structured, establishing their external networks, norms or rules of conduct. Emergence of informal leaders and spokespersons which were numerous was a part of this structure. This structure, also can be described as a part of group development through mutual acceptance and open communication; some members volunteering to undertake certain roles and assigning of roles to others by informal leaders, showing some sort of a division of labour.

As the Galle Face group is a large informal group, a “mixed clique” in management jargon, we tend to observe the emergence of sub-groups and contending forces with some intriguing names, each calmouring for leadership arousing internal conflicts; goals becoming inconsistent and unachievable. Theoretically, the emergence of leaders who are acceptable to all and maintaining cohesiveness in a large informal group like Galle Face Green is unattainable and all leaders who emerge in an informal group are informal leaders, who are not formally recognised by all. Imbalances have already occurred. Some self-appointed leaders were chased out attaching the ignominious label “Left”. This leadership crisis was the reason behind it becoming an easy prey for organised political parties.

With the ascendance of Ranil Wickremesinghe, it lost its steam, compelling many to decamp. At present the so-called “village” has turned into an urban ghetto, which shapes its culture now; vagabonds occupy some tents and the communal kitchen has become a “dana shalawa” to many who search for food. Only future will tell us who were the real architects of the Galle Face protest, who benefited from it and who were taken for a ride!

(The writer in his long career had taught Management, Organisation Behaviour and Research Methodology to undergraduates, Senior Managers and Senior Officers of the Tri Forces, although his interests are different.)

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Midweek Review

Eyeball-to-Eyeball Decider

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By Lynn Ockersz

For the itchy master class,

Presiding over the imperiled isle,

Now running out of excuses,

The stony-faced armed men,

In khaki and camouflage,

Guarding its glittery high-rises,

Offer some sort of comfort,

That hanging-in there in power,

Until the crisis blows over,

Is the best of their options,

But out in the restive streets,

Frenzied anger is boiling over,

And the countdown seems on,

For the mounting face-off,

Between harried men and women,

Crying shrilly for Bread and fuel,

And spectral figures sporting Ak-47s,

To erupt in a bloody convulsion,

That could render the fabled Pearl,

A no-go zone of self- destruction.

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