By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
Despite the puzzling confusion by hopefuls making comforting noises, and the hopeless foretelling gloom, and hard times ahead, the juggernaut of State rolls on undaunted. Tragically, the Foreign Exchange Reserve position is bleak to an extent that we may be compelled (for the first time ever), to default in repayment of foreign loans, which apparently will lead to being declared not worthy of credit. This will be exacerbated by the possible denial of GSP+ exemptions. Earnings diminished by the certain decline of export crop yields, a ruined Tourism sector, displaced worker remittances from foreign workers and the crippling negative impacts of ‘Covid-19’. Many are near to being completely confused with ongoing “discussions,” liberally strewn with doses of Economist jargon – as would a drunk leaning against a lamp post- “more for support than for illumination”.
The sudden banning of Agrochemicals, could not have come at a worse time. Sadly, the matter has now moved from being a technical issue to one of political concern and confusing verbiage.
On the domestic front, widespread unemployment, increasing occurrence of Natural Disasters beyond our control, increased need for poor relief, the fire on ‘X’ Press Pearl’ and consequent destruction of Fishing grounds for a community already impoverished. With all this, State profligacy continues. The most painful being the curious order for some 226 Luxury vehicles (for MP’s).
The commitment for this (presumably already made) cannot be changed because the inflexible Banking practices would not permit any changes, (as claimed by Dr Kiriella, P.C. MP). This is feeble and possibly false. With many (Opposition MP’s) claiming that “We never asked” and the Speaker’s office maintaining a stoic silence, looks like the public is check-mated. Someone/or more, is/are being evasive of responsibility for this viciously insensitive move. Who, we may never know.
Let us see how we can help. I recall the story of a British Wartime Council at top level, during World War II, which sat down to discuss measures to combat the huge problem of German submarines, that were inflicting havoc on shipping in the English Channel. A bright young spark from the Civil Service breaking a solemn silence, spoke up “Why do we not just heat up the waters of the English Channel to boiling, when any submarines in the vicinity, would float up?. Appropriately positioned artillery along the bank, could just blast them” Everyone was speechless. The chief of the Admiralty finally spoke up “Young man, tell us precisely how one could warm up the Channel?” The strategist intoned,” Sir, I am here to give you ideas . Implementation is your business”. Even at the risk of being considered as the local version of the bureaucrat in the above story, I am willing to chance it.
I may be overly optimistic, but living in the hope that there is even the slightest possibility that some merit is seen, in the following:
Spread the net wider. Re-evaluate the need for “Tax-free” remunerations. Review the rates and thresholds of the upper brackets among payees.
Ensure that the levies are collected and correctly credited to Government. This is very unlikely in a system (IR Dept.), when it cannot handle just 200,000 or so annual payments, without thousands being in arrears for years, now to deal with probably millions, if not billions of daily transactions?
It was claimed that the LTTE owned billions of dollars in hundreds of Oversees Banks and every other investment in all imaginable sectors – Banks, real estate, small businesses, ships (19?) etc. Where are these now?
KP’ who is said to have been the custodian of this treasure trove, has been captive under the government for twelve long years. If the confiscated monies and gold, are recovered, it may rub out the entirety, or very nearly so, of our foreign exchange burden. When “KP” was captured in Malaysia, all were jubilant that with this smart move, the treasure trove was now there to rescue us. But, Alas!!
In the run-up to an election, extravagant claims were made (most notably by Rajitha Senaratne, MP) with the standard incantation – “mam waga keemeng kiyanawa” about enormous accounts held in foreign banks by “Honourables”. Where are they now? In the newly opened Sri Lanka Bank in the Seychelles?
If none of our Agencies are able to act, curious readers could surf the Internet to seek the “ten most Wealthy Sri Lankans” or to be more focused, on the “ten wealthiest Sri Lankan Politicians”. This would be reinforced by the recent exposures in the “Panama Papers” Saga, One would be amazed by some revelations. If they are not true, the information could be challenged (or at least contradicted). The fact that it is not, suggests that the figures could be true or, even understated! Blocking the so-called Social media is not the answer. Ingenuity, way beyond that of the bureaucracy, will probably thwart any such effort.
Declaration Of Assets
Every Government – paid employee is required to make an Annual Declaration of Assets. So should it be for all elected Members of Parliament and others in Provincial and District Sabhas. Far too few do so. The simple method would be to deny nomination for non-compliance. This is not done. Why? Can the “Cahoot Theory” be operative here?
Wealth of convicted drug kingpins, and also undeclared assets, of whosoever, (Immediate family included) and all such Assets, to be confiscated, sold by open auction and the proceeds credited to State Funds. Informants to receive rewards as a percentage of collections (as said to operate in respect of detections by Customs). The standard excuse may be that such practices are not permitted by current Laws. Then for heaven’s sake, change the Law. Use the two-thirds majority for a good purpose. This should also apply to Party Funds and election expenses. Perpetual Treasury Millions? Is it not curious that Political Parties begging their supporters to jack up their contributions, suddenly stop doing so, spruce up their Offices and also lavish substantial amounts to help defray election expenses of its members?
Lotteries And Special State Funds
Opportunities for fraud are very evident in the administration of monies collected by charities like the “Mahapola”, and “The President’s Fund” and the many Lotteries operated by the State. Are they properly audited? Are the numerous Lotteries, in effect, frauds perpetrated on the buyers of tickets?. The majority of whom are from the poorer sections of our society, who dream of a bonanza. The upper segments are too clever to do so, perhaps recognizing that they are a “Rip Off”. I believe that privately run lotteries elsewhere, are required to give a percentage of their takings as prizes (This, one may guess, could be 30, 20 or 10%). When I extrapolated this to ours, it looked like 0. 00000 (and 15 zeros) of 1% – I cannot believe myself! Somebody may check this out. If correct, this is scandalous.
If swift action is taken on all or some of the above, it will endorse the Governments sincerity and also serve as a deterrent to others, that shady deals will be relentlessly investigated and the full force of the State will prevail. Will we dare?
(Since composing this, there has been some conversations regarding the proposal to allow the return of hitherto undisclosed foreign assets, on payment of a mere 1 percent and investing the proceeds in a local enterprise, no questions asked. Such Moratoria have apparently been tried before but with poor results. One hopes that it will have better measures for success this time round. I will leave it to others to consider these proposals which have their pros and cons).