Ex-Prez Sirisena on “Shared Values and Democracy in Asia,”
Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies, and Gentlemen, Good afternoon Let me at the outset congratulate Excellency Suga Yoshihide, the Prime Minister of our cherished friend-Japan. I am extremely happy to address the Symposium on “Shared Values and Democracy in Asia,” following him, and Excellency Shree Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India- our great neighbour and friend.
I am reminded of the San Francisco Conference after the Second World War, where Excellency J R Jayewardene, our then Finance Minister, staunchly stood for Japan. Quoting from Dhammapada, he said, “We extend to Japan a hand of friendship, and trust… her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity.” Japan has achieved that wish. I consider the invitation to me echoes that friendship and trust.
Since Buddhist teachings mentor governance in Sri Lanka, I will initially touch upon how democratic and Buddhist values tally. Lord Buddha, emphasized the Sathara Sangraha Vasthu on treating the subjects. They were: dana (attached to giving-up and sharing), Priya Vachana (kind speech leading to mutual understanding), arthacharya (frugality and spirituality), and of samanatmatha (equality in dispensing justice without fear or favor). They are compatible with democratic governance principles.
Additionally, the Dasa Raja Dharma explains the virtues of the Buddhist ideal of Kingship. Democratic governance qualities are symbolized in them. For example, Dana projects to welfare, seela to morality, avihimsa to non-hatred, Shanthi to patience.
The Constitution of Sri Lanka ends with the following invocation:
Sassasampatthi hetu cha
Phito bhavatu loko cha
Raja bhavatu dhammiko’
It meant: “May the rains be on time, may the farmers have a plentiful harvest, may the people prosper, and may the King be just.” The understanding is that as a consequence, the prosperity our governments wish is embedded in nature and the principles of good governance. This is how the Buddhist criteria bind with Sri Lankan governance
In my long political career, I successfully achieved peace, equality, freedom of expression, justice, etc., which are shared common values of democracy and Buddhism. In the first year in office of President itself, I shed the extraordinary powers of the presidency through a constitutional amendment. Appointments were made to the Superior Judiciary, membership of Human Rights, Public Service, Elections, and Police Commissions, etc., in a depoliticized and democratic manner.
Politics, when viewed from a lens of Machiavellian angle, one may comprehend that shedding unlimited power is foolish. Since a true democrat represents people he should follow his vision, not for his empowerment. I shed power knowing the potential personal loss. It was believing from the bottom of my heart the value of victorious democratic values.
During my presidency, a strong Right to Information Act was legalized. It was a victory for democratic values and human freedom.
As a father, I cannot imagine grief for a parent in a life that surpasses, seeing, hearing, the death or disappearance of a child. Respecting reconciliation, the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons and Office for Reparations was evidence for our shared democratic and humanitarian values. These echoed as positive democratic signals. Though I lost politically by deep rooting such democratic, humanitarian pillars, by fertilizing humanity I enjoyed incessant satisfaction.
In global politics, parallelly there are selfish efforts to exterminate these values. Some countries retreat from democracy to semi-authoritarianism, and even authoritarianism. Some leaders have withdrawn from humanitarian stances to the chagrin of champions of democracy. Sometimes it is despicable to observe how some democratic governments treat their minority communities, denying welfare and fundamental rights, behaving abusively, with hatred-in words and deeds. These are negative signals.
If we inquire into the root-causes for positive and negative signals, it transpires that they are symmetrically related to sharing or not-sharing democratic values. Even today these differentiations happen everywhere. Though this Symposium is Asia-centric, due to this universal spread, it transforms into an exercise of global value, validity, and appropriateness.
What is the clientele group affected by these values? One may say they belong to the politicians’ category. As President Barack Obama once stated in a democracy it is the citizen who is most important. I also believe that the citizen should be the owner and recipient of democratic values.
Therefore, citizens’ demands are the most important. What could be enjoyed by the citizen is the most important. It could be a multitude of challenges like upgrading the basic physical facilities, alleviating poverty, offering mental peace, erasing threats of wars and conflicts, enhancing humanitarianism and friendship with internationals, supporting the affected by disasters, saving the climate and environment for future generations, etc.
Most Symposium participants represent citizens. Since citizens are the most important factor, vigilance, constant monitoring, tending, etc become extremely important. In performing these, questioning, and scrutinizing the actions of citizens and their representatives become essential.
The checks and balances are provided in parliamentary institutions and Constitutions. The Public Accounts Committees, Petitions Committees, Standing Committees, etc., are our experiences. They are tools securing democratic values and independence.
As mentioned in the Constitution, the three pillars – the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary- can perform decent democratic balancing. If one pillar steamrolls power over the other two, it will signify the death knell of democracy.
While we discuss democratic values, it is observed that other forces act to negate democratic values.
It is observed that some world powers increasingly project authoritarian influence beyond their borders by manipulation, through global propagandizing, using third-party proxies, lavishly throwing resources, or using military alliances. The battlefields of the First World are not located on their motherlands, but lands of less powerful nations. Remote controllers of war are in faraway powerful countries, away from the war fronts. Complaints are heard that some political leaders are bought-over by powerful nations. These are threats to democratic values.
Even in the developed world in firmly established democracies, we woefully observe appeals to populism, nationalism, chauvinism, and racism attracting social attention, raising their heads above democratic values, such as transparency, cooperation, rule of law, equality, etc.
Additionally, unfortunate challenges are observed emerging under the poisonous fangs and flags of organized terrorism. They carry out unsympathetic attacks. These events exhibit that democracy is open to the challenges of extremists and they are aware of how to pierce through to destabilize democracy. Therefore, the Region needs to be prepared and be on alert.
Our borders have become unrealistic with new technological development. A situation has arisen where we cannot escape cybercrimes, terrorist attacks, atomic radiation, etc. These do not care about borders.
The economic issues created especially by forcible encroachment of borders by COVID-19 has confirmed the fear of economic destabilization. This domestic and international deprivation created by it cannot be avoided in isolation. Therefore, we require the integrated cooperation of democratic countries.
Technology has effectively increased productivity, but divorced labour. In developed countries, this can result in retrenching labour or making them poor or exploited. It skews income distribution; reduces their purchasing power. It diminishes the demand for our products in their markets. It results in unemployment in our country. When it becomes acute, and no solutions are found for their problems from democracy or globalization, people degrade both and suspect them. The consequences are dangerous.
American President-elect Joe Biden once declared “Globalization has not been an unalloyed good. It has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle or falling to the bottom.” With COVID 19, the status has worsened. As the new American President, we look forward to him and other developed nations for responses to us in Asia to escape from globalization impacts and the stresses of COVID-19.
If the common man does not receive positive responses, demagogues, cunning saviours, and charlatans will get opportunities to rouse people’s fear, win their vote and manipulate to divorce them from democratic values, instead of sharing democratic values.
They will attack democratic values. They will rouse emotional sentiments, deceive poverty-stricken, innocent, naïve people, and manipulate to gain political power. The powerful States, having trapped poor governments financially, may finally attempt to coerce those governments to execute anti-democratic procedures.
They will belittle freedom of expression; hack communication networks; delegitimize the independent judiciary, hamstring civil society by disparaging them as spies; use the internet and social media to disseminate misinformation and exacerbate internal divisions, etc. These deteriorate democratic values.
What we require is to develop democratic values to face future situations.
I may exemplify influences on one democratic value. The foundation of democracy lies in election systems. Having supported various political groups and elevating them to power we repent when we find them oriented to authoritarianism, and fail in solving peoples’ problems. The correct choice is the voters’ responsibility. Hence, it is important to educate the voters’ democratic social responsibility, their power, rights, obligations, and organizational processes.
Some developed countries complain of foreign interventions to electoral processes. This could be faced by any country. To counter, it is necessary to establish transparent monitoring systems on election functions and financing, money laundering processes, strengthening election-related institutions, the establishment of anti-corruption institutions, etc.
To achieve optimal results, steps should be taken to assist through democratic processes. Multilateral organizations such as the United Nations should motivate the weak parties. It is necessary to support the pulse-racing institutions in our societies such as the rule of law, protection from poverty, good governance, invasions, and pandemics, etc.
Our commitment should truly exhibit our acceptance of values such as equality, dignity, respect to the rule of law, honouring the independence of the Judiciary, balancing of separation of powers and freedoms of expression and demonstration, etc. Their outputs must reflect active democratic participation, success in democratic operations, and reduction of nasty ant- democratic violations in the society. The progress of democratic innovations and creativity are respected when everyone in the society is heard and weighed equally, citizens are empowered to hold their leaders to account through democratic institutions, no one is above the law. These processes must be our values and expectations.
Joe Biden, the American President-Elect once said that when Benjamin Franklin was exiting the Constitutional Convention, a group of citizens inquired “What kind of government the delegates had decided on?”. Benjamin Franklin had responded: “A Republic. If you can keep it.” What he meant was that there was a huge responsibility on the people to safeguard the democratic values.
Joe Biden later said: “Democracy demands diligence. Democracy demands engagement. And sometimes, democracy demands the sacrifice of its citizens.” Like for Franklin’s Republic, ‘maintaining’ a democracy is also a heavy challenge.
I believe that the participants at this symposium will commit to fulfilling the demands of diligence, engagement, and sacrifice. If we commit thus, we are certain of victory.
The nuclear disarmament and global peace champion, former Mayor of Nagasaki Ikko Itho San appealed in the Nagasaki Peace Declaration to join hands with the world’s citizens for disarmament and peace. He wished that “the bells of peace will ring loud and clear in the sky over Nagasaki.” I pray from the bottom of my heart that the ideas, recommendations, solutions, invigorating democratic values, generating from this Symposium, will one day ring loud and clear in the sky over Asia.
I wish the Symposium success.
I wish all a peaceful, happy, prosperous, and healthy New Year-2021.
Thank you very much for listening to me patiently.
COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs
Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.
Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles.
SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee.
Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.
COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.
At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems.
The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.
At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.
That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn.
COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.
COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.
COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.
In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.
COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.
COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.
It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.
India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security
India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.
“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.
“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.
India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “
Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port
A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.
Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.
It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.
The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”
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