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Successive governments’ budgetary operations caused financial instability

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Ex-CBSL Governor Dr. Coomaraswamy:

‘My generation has failed the country…’


By Shmaindra Ferdinando

Former Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy says the failure on the part of successive governments to manage expenditure since the country gained Independence has caused the current economic instability.

Throughout Sri Lanka had been plagued by a toxic combination of populist politics and an entrenched entitlement culture among the people, Dr. Coomaraswamy told The Island. “Time and again, the electoral calendar has undermined fiscal discipline,” Dr. Coomaraswamy, who had served as the Governor (July 2016 to Dec. 2019) said.

Dr. Coomaraswamy said so when he was asked to explain why he had advised the electorate to be extremely cautious in exercising their franchise during the yahapalana administration at a time when the national economy was in a much better shape.

Dr. Coomaraswamy was testifying before a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing rampant corruption in the public sector.

President Maithripala Sirisena brought in Dr. Coomaraswamy as the Central Bank Governor in the wake of the second Treasury bond scam. Dr. Coomaraswamy who had previously served the CBSL for a period of 15 years in its Departments of Economic Research, Statistics and Bank Supervision. He had also worked at the Finance and Planning Ministry from 1981 – 1989 during the UNP administration.

The Island

raised the issues at hand with Dr. Coomaraswamy close on the heels of one-time Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe lashing out at the Parliament for its failure to ensure fiscal discipline. Wijesinghe, who served as the AG (2015-2019) alleged that the country was paying a huge price today for electing those who pursued destructive agenda. Wijesinghe said that he felt the electorate lacked the political sense to elect sensible people.

Dr. Coomaraswamy explained that for many decades, Sri Lankans had lived beyond their means and got away with it due to generous inflows of concessional loans and grants. However, the situation had changed though those elected seemed bent on following the same policies, he said.

Sri Lanka should not forget that the country had graduated to middle-income country status and was no longer eligible for concessional assistance, the former Central Bank Governor said. “At the same time, there has also been a reduction in the availability of long-term lending from official sources. As a result, since then there has had to be greater reliance on more expensive borrowing from international capital markets. This is an entirely different paradigm. Increased exposure to capital markets and rating agencies requires far greater discipline in macroeconomic policy-making.”

The former CB Governor emphasised that the much-needed discipline could be achieved only if politicians understood the parameters within which macroeconomic policies should be set. “They should also have sufficient understanding to provide leadership in raising the awareness of the people regarding the most urgent need for fiscal discipline. So, it is important that Sri Lankans exercise their franchise judiciously to make sure the right people are in Parliament.”

Commenting on the responsibility of those who manage the economy especially at a time the country was in turmoil, Dr. Coomaraswamy stressed that large budget deficits led to what he called excessive aggregate demand, which fuelled inflation and exerted balance of payments pressure. It would be pertinent to stress that large budget deficits ultimately undermined the value of the currency.

Those were the main negative impacts on the people as a result of politicians not exercising parliamentary oversight of public finance in a responsible manner, Dr. Coomaraswamy said.

“There are challenges on many fronts. My generation has failed the country. It is now up to the young people to chart a new course for the country. I hope a sufficient number of the talented ones remain in the country to do so,” he said.

Dr. Coomaraswamy however expressed confidence in talented youth remaining in the country amidst reports of many seeking to migrate.

Dr. Coomaraswamy and Gamini Wijesinghe demanded immediate remedial measures to restore financial discipline as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa finally confirmed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to overcome the financial crisis.

Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Dr. W.A. Wijewardena has recently said that Sri Lanka should have sought the IMF’s intervention in April 2021 during Prof. W.D. Lakshman’s tenure as the Governor of the CBSL. The government compelled Prof. Lakshman to quit in September 2021 to bring in the incumbent Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal.



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Rs. 773 bn arrears: Go after massive tax dodgers before imposing new taxes – GMOA

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=AG alleges Inland Revenue withheld info citing Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday (02) asked the government to explain its continuing failure to recover as much as Rs 773 bn in taxes, penalties and interest against the backdrop of unprecedented new tax hikes to bridge the record deficit.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge told The Island that the disclosure made by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 28 exposed the overall effect ofthe failure byparliament to meet its obligations pertaining to public finance.

The government should have gone flat out to recover taxes, penalties and interests owed by various entities before new revenue generation measures were proposed, Dr. Aluthge said, demanding that the government to come clean on the issue.Responding to another query, Dr. Aluthge said

that what transpired at COPA meeting chaired bySamagi Jana Balvegaya(SJB) MP Kabir Hashim on Nov 28 exposed how successive governments conveniently allowed the situation to deteriorate. Former Minister Hashim succeeded Prof. Tissa Vitharana in the wake of the re-opening of parliament followingitslast prorogation.

The COPA disclosure was nothing but an indictment on the government, Dr. Aluthge said, urging the Finance Ministry and other relevant institutions to address the issue at hand. Why the entire population should suffer due to utterly corrupt and incompetent lot neglecting their responsibilities?Dr. Aluthge asked.

Referring to the statement issued by the Director Legislative Services on Nov 29 consequent to COPA meeting on the previous day, Dr. Aluthge pointed out that the Inland Revenue Department had been summoned by the parliamentary watchdog committee to examine whether COPA recommendations given on March 24, 2021 were implemented.

The top GMOA official said that he was quite baffled that theburningissue hadn’t been given priority in spite of the financial crisis that caused an unparalleled explosion of public anger.

COPA meeting that had been chaired by MP Hashim were attended by State Ministers Mohan PriyadarshanadeSilva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Kader Mastan, (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Diana Gamage as well as MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Major Pradeep Undugoda and Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

Dr. Aluthge said that according to figures released by COPA, the total arrears as at June 30, 2022 amounted to a staggering Rs 773,957,856,618 inunpaidtaxes, penalties and interests. The GMOA official pointed outthatCOPA had acknowledged that out of that amount Rs 201,400,855,198 could be collected as there was no legal impediment whereas the recovery of the remaining Rs 572,557,001,420 was on hold temporarily due to various reasons.

Referring to COPA proceedings, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General had quite clearly asserted that the total amount due to the Inland Revenue was Rs 773,957,856,618 in terms of RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System) and Legacy Systems.How could a bankrupt government be so irresponsible?Dr. Aluthge asked.

The GMOA Secretary also faulted the media for not providing sufficient coverage to the issues dealt by parliamentary watchdog committees. The waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement that had been exposed by these watchdog committees over the years proved over and over again the parliament was responsible for the current unprecedented crisis, Dr. Aluthge said.

The shocking disclosure made by the Auditor General that the RAMIS system installed at a staggering cost of over Rs 10 bn to ensure smooth collection of revenue was yet to be fully and properly operational painted a bleak picture, Dr. Aluthge said.

Referring to COPA proceedings again, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General was on record as having said that though deficiencies of RAMIS system had been brought to the notice of COPA on several occasions remedial measures were not taken.

“The parliament owed the public an explanation. The parliament cannot absolve itself of the pathetic and reckless handling of public finance that finally led to Sri Lanka tagged as a bankrupt country,” Dr. Aluthge said.

Dr. Aluthge said that the GMOA sincerely believed the parliament would at least now hear what the Auditor General told COPA of his efforts to get to the bottom of RAMIS installation.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services and Acting Director Communication in a statement that dealt with COPA meeting chaired by MP Hashim quoted the Auditor General as having said that the Inland Revenue Department declined to release the RAMIS agreement and related payments, the agreement barred the Inland Revenue from releasing the information sought by him. The Auditor General has further alleged that the Inland Revenue Department withheld information pertaining to the RAMIS agreement claiming the release of the agreement violated the Constitution.

How could the Auditor General be deprived of an agreement entered into by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the government? Dr. Aluthge asked.COPA Chairman Hashim has declared that an audit would be conducted on the RAMIS deal if the report sought from the Inland Revenue within a month in respect of the same was not satisfactory.

Dr. Aluthge said that he couldn’t believe that action hadn’t been taken in respect of 4,831 return checks worth Rs 2,488,003,615 (2.4 billion) received by Inland Revenue as at June 30. According to COPA 3,817 of these returned cheques worth Rs. 1,429,356,750 rupees were more than 3 years old. The Inland Revenue has said that the department lacked the authority to take legal action.

Pointing out that COPA Chairman has advised Inland Revenue to inform him of the action in this regard in consultation with the Attorney General , Dr. Aluthge said if the parliament bothered to inquire into what was happening in the revenue collection set up the current crisis could be easily explained.

Dr. Aluthge recalled comprehensive tax proposals submitted by Prof. W.D. Lakshman during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term were never implemented. In fact, the library of the parliament didn’t have a copy of it, Dr. Aluthge alleged, urging the parliament to address the issues at hand without further delay or prepare to face the consequences.

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Record number of students visited parliament on 01 Dec.

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A record number of students had visited Parliament yesterday (02), Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said, adding that it was the highest since the country gained Independence in 1948.Permission had been given to over 5,000 students from 32 schools representing different areas of the country to visit the Parliament on 01 December, he said.

More than 25,000 students have visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery reopened for schoolchildtrn from 19 September 2022. For over two years the gallery was closed due to COVID-19.

He also mentions that steps are being taken to provide a free glass of milk to each student who visits the Parliament from January 2023.

He added that it is a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by the Speaker and with the support of all the party leaders including the Leader of the House,Chief Government Whip and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Serjeant-at Arms said that it should be specially highlighted that the President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, has decided to provide the necessary financial support for it.

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TNA MP vows to send China packing

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By Saman Indrajith

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam yesterday vowed to lead ‘China Go Home’ protests if Beijing did not restructure Sri Lanka’s debt expeiditiously.Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rasamanickam said that China was a 20 trillion US dollar economy and the total Sri Lankan debt to China is 7.4 billion dollars.

“We owe three billion US dollars to China Development Bank and 4.4 billion US dollars to EXIM bank. If China, who has

nearly 20,000 billion dollar economy is truly Sri Lanka’s friend it can write off our debt. We are not even asking for that, we are asking China to expedite the debt restructuring. Offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” he said.The TNA MP added that China lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars knowing well that the country’s economy was in shambles.

“China has built a 20 trillion dollar economy. They are smart. They are not stupid. They knew we were in trouble but kept on lending to ensnare Sri Lanka in a Chinese debt trap. So I ask China to do the right thing. Sri Lankans might be divided over ethnicity and religion but when the country is really in trouble, we all come together. Everyone came together under ‘Gota Go Home’ banner to get rid of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If China doesn’t help us restructure our debt, people will come onto the road demanding ‘China Go Home’ and I will lead them,” he said.

Rasamanickam said said debt destructing is Sri lanka’s prime objective and the government’s priority should be to secure the IMF package.

“The main problem is that china is not willing to restructure. I spoke of this in Parliament before and the Chinese embassy Twitter handle has commented on this. They are tagging me on Twitter all the time. I am speaking on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I am not talking on behalf of some embassy. Them tagging me on Twitter and commenting on what happens inside is an attack on our sovereignty. If the Chinese embassy wants a Twitter war, I am ready,” he said.

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