4 June, 2023


Addressing Corruption Becomes Politicised: Friday Forum

While corruption is debated in the election campaigns, addressing corruption has become politicised for narrow interests rather than as an issue of public accountability, says the Friday Forum.

Ahilan Kadirgamar

Ahilan Kadirgamar

Issuing a statement the Friday Forum said;”In any event, the economic future of the country cannot be reduced to a debate on corruption. In this context, the parliament election campaigns are an opportunity to question the political parties on their social and economic vision for our society. Even though re-charting the path of economic development is a longer-term task, elections and post-election moments are important milestones on that path.”

We publish below the statement in full;

The Need for a Credible Economic Vision

Many economic problems have not been addressed in the parliamentary election campaigns and debates. The Friday Forum raises some concerns relating to an egalitarian and viable economic vision for the voters to consider.

The three decade long war curtailed public discussion of economic priorities. The post-war years characterised by an authoritarian development push further constrained the space for democratic and participatory economic development. While corruption is debated in the election campaigns, addressing corruption has become politicised for narrow interests rather than as an issue of public accountability. In any event, the economic future of the country cannot be reduced to a debate on corruption. In this context, the parliament election campaigns are an opportunity to question the political parties on their social and economic vision for our society. Even though re-charting the path of economic development is a longer-term task, elections and post-election moments are important milestones on that path.

Infrastructure and Priorities in Government Expenditure

The distinguishing feature of government investment expenditure during the last decade was the high priority given to physical infrastructure including harbours and airports, railways and highways and roads both urban and rural. The value of these investments to the economy is yet to be estimated. Political parties contesting the election are under obligation to give the public estimates of value for money spent on these projects.

The high priority accorded to physical infrastructure required the relative neglect of social development sectors, health and education, precisely at a time when these services required re-assessment and new policies. The 2011-2012 Census of Population gave us a new age composition of the population. Along with that high aging population, rising standards of living and an increase in unhealthy food consumption with reduction in physical activity have produced new morbidity patterns requiring new directions in preventive and curative health policy.

Our society was truly mobile in that, though yet poor, it enrolled all children in schools. However, the problems of educational access of children in plantations remain unaddressed. Overall, children in the country stay in school longer and flow into universities in larger numbers. Here, changes in knowledge production and developments in technology require the re-evaluation of curricula, syllabi and school text books; revisions essential to learn to live together in our diverse society. Also essential is that political interference in educational institutions, which undermines the environment for teaching and learning, must stop. All political parties should inform the public of the policy directions to meet these challenges of sustainable human development.

Revenues, Expenditure and Fiscal Policy

The outstanding feature of fiscal policy in the recent past has been the failure of the government to raise revenue and curb uncontrolled expansion in government expenditure. Not only does Sri Lanka have one of lowest revenues as a ratio of GDP, much of the revenue comes from regressive taxation with a large burden on the economically deprived. In this context, there is a need for a more progressive and direct taxes, the implementation of policies to curtail tax evasion and a review of tax concessions to “investors” and their benefits to the country and society at large.

On the other hand, expanding expenditure has been met by rapidly rising borrowings from the public and lenders overseas. Large scale budget support from other economies come with their economic and political costs, particularly given exigent austerity policies. The mounting public debt and the current policies cannot go on without meeting disaster. It behoves all serious political parties contesting for election to announce to the public their priorities to meet these exigencies and avert disaster.

Migrant Labour, Investment and Local Employment

Much of the country’s foreign exchange is earned by migrant labour overseas often in exploitative and harrowing working conditions. Nor are the garment industries and tea plantations providing the workers with a fair wage. Women who work in these sectors in particular face serious financial challenges of sustaining their families given the meagre incomes. Furthermore, rural women and low income urban women face arbitrary and discriminatory policies relating to employment resulting in precarious conditions. Deprived women in particular are continuing to produce much of the country’s wealth, but they have gained little by way of social and economic benefit. Any new economic policy vision needs to consider these concerns of labour.

In recent years, while increasing amounts of foreign capital are flowing into the country, very little of it can be considered Foreign Direct Investment leading to production and employment. In fact, much of the capital is merely channelled into speculative investments further aggravating the conditions for economic crisis. Therefore, political parties should state how the Government can channel foreign investments towards employment creation and address some of the economic aspirations of our youth.

Towards a Just Vision for Reconstruction and Development

Over the last many decades economic policies and the war have contributed to uneven development and rising inequalities. The war-torn regions in particular continue to be mired in a social and economic crisis characterised by falling incomes and rising indebtedness. We are yet to see a meaningful reconstruction vision from the Government or the political parties.

The rural people and the urban poor are increasingly neglected, with little investment in their productive capacities. In fact, the marginalised sections of our society, and particularly women, are further exploited through cycles of debt by unregulated and high interest levying financial institutions. Next, there needs to be a comprehensive review of agricultural and fisheries policy and possibilities of greater productive investment needs to be considered. The need of the hour is a just vision for reconstruction and economic development that must emerge in tandem with reconstructing a democratic political culture.

Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

For and on Behalf of

Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. Saliya Peiris, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr.Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, D. Wijayanandana, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Ms, Damaris Wickremesekera, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Professor Camena Guneratne, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Mr. Suresh de Mel, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Dr A.C.Visvalingam, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne

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Latest comments

  • 0

    What is going on here..

    FF should have issued this as a Economic Green Print, long before the Singapore Summit to fuq up the Nation.

    Even then Batalanada Ranil ,Cousin, Galleon Ravi, Kiriella , and Dr Rajitha wouldn’t have changed their Hora Hora Document to take us to the Economic Nirwana with Sobitha.. .

    Pity this FF doesn’t speak or write in Sinhala.

    Because our Dalits are familiar with the big ticket items in this document, like Infrastructure , and Development because they have been enjoying and using those facilities since Mulivaikal until Jan 8 2015.

    • 3

      @sumanasekeram, “Pity this FF doesn’t speak or write in Sinhala” – tell me why one should speak Sinhala? Do you speak Tamil moron? Have some respect you gutter dweller. I am not even close to being a racist, but we Tamils will give as good as we get, we are not living in the 70s/80s. We see garbage like you, we will hit you upside your head you racist. Anytime a Tamil writes something, I will see your rubbish as the first comment.

  • 2

    Good points here FF.

    After election civil society must push for a criminal investigation for financial fraud against Mahendan and son-in-law whose company needs to be investigated throughly. So too Nivard Cabraal must be held accountable for currency manipulation, rent seeking and speculation with EPF and ETF funds while CB govenor.

    Also, after the election, civil society must focus a process of cleaning out Political Parties and bringing in a CHAPTER ON PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE essential for GOOD GOVERNANCE WITHIN POLITICAL PARTIES in a new Constitution for Sri Lanka.

    Political parties are the root of the problem of corrupt democracy and the current rotten political culture. We must not forget that UNP is a dictatorship with Ranil who has lost countless elections and has appointed a corrupt insider trader Royal college crony – Arjuna Mahendran as CB governor, while SLFP is a party of corrupt thugs.

    Increasingly in the world it is recognized that political parties and leaders, particularly in Africa and Asia need good governance principle laid out in the Constitution of the country and law of the land.

    Politicians crossing floor of the house for the highest bidder and becoming a power elite and super caste is partly because of lack of democracy in political parties as well as due to the rotten political culture that is endemic.

    The Chapter on good governance in political parties in the new Constitution must aim to prevent political parties becoming dictatorships, family businesses, and gerontocracy run by dead old men like Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

    The dead leftists are the worst in this regard. These geriatric politician block younger generation leadership and are the root cause of a lot of the youth revolts, disaffection and armed conflicts in Sri Lanka.
    Also if a political party leader loses twice should be required to resign and hand over to younger generation and quotas for women in all political parties is a must.

  • 0

    Equitable and well targeted economic policy can help reconciliation among diverse communities and regions of the country.

    Sri Lanka needs an Economic Policy Planning Commission – with experts and qualified people from various social and economic sectors to formulate REGIONALLY AND SOCIALLY EQUITABLE economic development policies and monitor and evaluate its implementation.

    This entails removing corrupt and un qualified cronies of politicians who run key institutions like the Central Bank.

    Arjuna Mahendran must go and must be held accountable.

  • 0

    Corruption, break down in the rule of law and bad governance are the trump cards the UNPFF and the JVP hold, to counter the glitter of the infrastructure projects the MR campaign is highlighting. The scale of corruption during the MR reign and the Tajudeen case have horrified the people and this should translate into votes for the UNPFFA and JVP. No amount of propaganda by MR will neutralize the impact of these factors. Even the impending reemergence of the Tiger specter -the Gonibilla- MR is highlighting will not dent the impact of these factors on the voters.

    The opposition cannot say . ‘It is the economy, stupid’ as Bill Clinton did in his debate with Bush Snr. It will not make sense to our electorate at large. They would not understand the fallacy built into MR government economic statistics. They do not understand the intricacies of the Central Bank Bond issue either, though the mud being slung may stick to an extent. Explanations would not be understood either, however valid they are.

    There is no alternative to highlighting the major chinks in the MR armour in the ongoing battle for votes.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    “In any event, the economic future of the country cannot be reduced to a debate on corruption”

    Well said.

    “Over the last many decades economic policies and the war have contributed to uneven development and rising inequalities”

    I am not sure, however if the Friday Forum leans more towards a Socialist or Capitalist economic model. What level of inequality is best?

    Then there is the constitution (ours). See (c) to (f). Would the Friday Forum care to comment?


    (2) The State is pledged to establish in Sri Lanka a democratic socialist society, the objectives of which include –

    (a) the full realization of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons;

    (b) the promotion of the welfare of the People by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice (social, economic and political) shall guide all the institutions of the national life ;

    (c) the realization by all citizens of an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, the continuous improvement of living conditions and the full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities ;

    (d) the rapid development of the whole country by means of public and private economic activity and by laws prescribing such planning and controls as may be expedient for directing and coordinating such public and private economic activity towards social objectives and the public weal ;

    (e) the equitable distribution among all citizens of the material resources of the community and the social product, so as best to subserve the common good ;

    (f) the establishment of a just social order in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are not concentrated and centralised in the State, State agencies or in the hands of a privileged few, but are dispersed among, and owned by, all the People of Sri Lanka ;

    (g) raising the moral and cultural standards of the People, and ensuring the full development of human personality ; and
    (h) the complete eradication of illiteracy and the assurance to all persons of the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels.”

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