‘Govt deprived Treasury of wherewithal to tackle crisis’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Kabir Hashim alleges that the Finance Ministry report for 2020 is meant to deceive both the Parliament and the public. The former UNPer insists the cash-strapped SLPP government cannot overcome the rapidly developing financial crisis by suppressing the truth or printing money.
The Finance Ministry was making a desperate bid to hide the actual situation by painting a wrong picture, says Kegalle District lawmaker, Senior Vice President of the SJB Hashim.
In a brief interview with The Island, over the last weekend MP Hashim explained how mismanagement of the national economy had caused irreparable damage and losses at a time the country was struggling to cope up with the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.
Referring to parliamentary proceedings on June 23, 2021, Hashim said that he had an opportunity to take up the erroneous Finance Ministry, 2020 annual report in the presence of Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who is also the Finance Minister. The MP alleged that the Finance Ministry, in addition to issuing wrong figures deliberately left out critically important data in a bid to deceive the public.
Responding to another query, Hashim pointed out how the 2020 Finance Ministry annual report estimated the national debt at Rs 14.8 trillion though figures released by the National Audit Office and Auditor General raised questions in respect of the overall accounting process. According to MP Hashim, as much as Rs 170 bn in loans had been left out of 2020 Finance Ministry report. Alleging malpractices in the accounting process, the SJB official alleged that Treasury bonds worth Rs 290 bn hadn’t been properly taken into account as at Dec 31, 2020. Asked whether he took responsibility for the claims he made, MP Hashim said that he was repeating what he told Parliament. “Of course, my statement made in Parliament on June 23 didn’t receive the desired media coverage.”
Lawmaker Hashim questioned why the Finance Ministry conveniently refrained from mentioning Japan seeking compensation to the tune of Rs. 5,896 bn from cash strapped Sri Lanka for the cancellation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-funded Colombo Light Rail Transit (LRT) project. The top SJB spokesperson said that the government owed an explanation over the cancellation of the LRT project finalised during the previous administration.
Underscoring the need for financial and political stability, the former UNP Chairman described the government as a patient warded in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with multiple organ failure though it sometimes talked big, in an obvious bid to deceive those struggling to make ends meet. The national economy suffered debilitating setbacks due to the SLPP’s ruinous fiscal policies, the MP said, alleging the incumbent government caused a catastrophe at the beginning by depriving the Treasury of much needed revenue. MP Hashim emphasized that the Treasury suffered a loss of colossal amount of money due to unprecedented tax cuts soon after the change of government. The losses suffered due to exemption of VAT alone was quite big, the SJB MP said, lambasting the government for delivering a deadly blow to the national economy. According to the SJB MP, the Treasury lost a staggering Rs 600 bn due to tax cuts and of that amount approximately half as a result of VAT exceptions.
The then Joint Opposition/ SLPP quiet shamelessly attacked the previous government efforts to streamline the tax collection process, the MP said. Specific measures to enhance tax revenue were depicted as fleecing of the public by those who played politics with the national economy. “Now they are in charge. Obviously, they lacked at least basic vision to sustain the national economy,” MP Hashim said, alleging the SLPP’s foolish strategies resulted in downgrading of Sri Lanka’s status.
The MP challenged Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena to compare the prices of dhal, sugar, sprats, salmon, rice and milk powder at the time the 2015 change of government and the time of the 2019 presidential election. Contrary to the SLPP boasts, the incumbent government caused itself serious damage by depriving the Treasury the wherewithal to meet the crisis, the former Minister said.
Alleging Scottish economist John Law (1671-1729) had ruined France in the 1700s due to his shortsighted strategies, MP Hashim claimed that the SLPP was following a policy very much similar to that utterly destructive strategy. Unrestrained printing of money was part of that foolish strategy, the former Minister said, alleging that by April 2020 the SLPP printed money amounting to Rs 165 bn. MP Hashim said that the ugly truth was having had preached throughout the 2015-2019 period how to manage the economy the big talkers ruined the economy.
Lawmaker Hashim flayed the government over the unprecedented sugar tax scam, runaway rice prices against the backdrop of Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage’s ridiculous claim of record paddy yield last year. Subsequently, the government announced plans to import 100,000 metric tonnes of rice, MP Hashim said, urging the government to address real issues without further delay.
Finance Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was also the State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms and State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment and Business Development owed a clear explanation, he said.
Those who boasted of having the world’s best intelligence service couldn’t locate hoarded paddy/rice in spite of growing criticism of continuing shortages, the MP said. How could they ‘catch’ those who had been involved with the 2019 Easter Sunday bomber Zahran Hashim or fugitive CBSL Governor Arjuna Mahendran if rice millers couldn’t be tackled.
MP Hashim demanded the SLPP to give up political power if it couldn’t do what it promised.
Commenting on the SLPP being split over fuel price hikes, the SJB top gun said that the government should explain what it did with funds amounting to USD 1.3 bn (Rs 253 bn) saved due to much lower crude oil prices in the world market in 2020. MP Hashim asked what happened to Rs 48 bn paid by the CEB to the CPC in 2020. The SJB also demanded an explanation as regards Rs 50 bn in the much- touted oil price stabilization fund established by the SLPP administration. The former Minister emphasized as the CBSL and COPE confirmed the setting up of the stabilization fund, the government should explain what had really happened, the former UNP Chairman said.
Declaring that in Murban terms the price of barrel of crude oil remained at USD 60, MP Hashim demanded an explanation from the government why prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene sharply increased. MP Hashim explained how in terms of forward booking purchases were made on prices in the market two months before.
The former Minister said that Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda recently claimed that the government planned to increase the price of a litre of kerosene by Rs 35 though he managed to thwart the move. According to a Fisheries Ministry statement carried on page 1 on June 30 edition of The Island Minister Devananda managed to restrict the increase of the price of a litre of kerosene to Rs 7.
MP Hashim said that EPDP leader Devananda’s colleagues had challenged his claim.
Responding to queries as regards the state of the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 eruption, lawmaker Hashim said that the SLPP leadership was blind to the difficulties experienced by the middle class and those who survived on daily wages.
Pointing out that Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, in response to a query posed by SJB lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva based on Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s take on the financial crisis, at a meeting of a parliamentary watchdog committee, MP Hashim said that the country was now in bind.
The former Minister said that the people weren’t interested about the internal conflicts within the ruling party. The government should be ashamed of itself for the ridiculous battle between a section of the SLPP and Energy Minister Gammanpila and the ‘boru’ show over Basil Rajapaksa’s return on the National List.
“The SLPP administration is in tatters,” the former Minister said declaring the people recognized the SJB’s role as the main Opposition. The government was in such a desperate situation it propagated the lie that the SJB would disintegrate with the return of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament.
MP Hashim asked whether various declarations made by members of the SLPP parliamentary group, backing Basil Rajapaksa’s return, reflected the failure on the part of the government less than a year after last parliamentary polls. The bottom line is that the near two-thirds majority enjoyed by the SLPP in Parliament didn’t reflect in its handling of the developing situations, the former Minister said.
Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools
By ifham Nizam
Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.
The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.
Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.
The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.
AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot
DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15.
A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to.
The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.
DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive.
In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive.
Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand.
Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose.
The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.”
Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.
The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.
Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation.
Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.
Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose.
Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.
North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China
China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).
Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).
In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.
President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.
The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.
Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.
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