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 to default in repayment of loans, which apparently will lead to being declared not worthy of credit. This will be exacerbated by the possible denial of GSP+, earnings diminished by the certain decline export crop yields, displaced worker remittances and the rippling 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 lampost – “more for support than for illumination”. Or as one declared, “Economics is swiftly becoming the art of making commonsense difficult to understand.”
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 destruction of Fishing grounds for a community already impoverished. With all this, State profligacy continues. The worst being the curious order for some 226 Luxury vehicles (for MP’s) for which, the inflexible Banking practices which disallow any changes, (as claimed by Kiriella, MP), is feeble and possibly false. With many (Opposition MP’s) claiming that “We never asked” and the Speaker’s office maintaining a stoic silence the public is check-mated. Someone/or more, is/are being “economical with the truth” – who, we will never know. There is a precedent in the “no-owner” Malwana Mansion.
Let us see how we can help. I recall the story of a Wartime Council at top level, 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 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 would you warm up the Channel?” The strategist spoke up” Sir, I am here to give you ideas. Implementation is your business”. To execute the necessary reforms, persons of integrity and purposefulness are necessary. With our previous experience, this may be as elusive as Mermaids and the Lochness Monster. But let us give it a try. The following which might help are summarized below:
1. Taxation. Spread the net wider. Re-evaluate the needs for “Tax Free” remunerations. Review the rates and thresholds of the top brackets.
2. Ensure that the VAT levies are collected and correctly credited to Government. This is very unlikely in a system (IR Dept.), when it cannot handle just 200,000 annual payments, without thousands being in arrears, while needing to deal with probably millions, if not billions of daily transactions?
3. LTTE Funds. It was claimed that the LTTE owned billions of dollars in hundreds of Banks and every other investment in all imaginable sectors – Bank, real estate, business, 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 debt 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 !!
4. Concealed wealth. In the run-up to the last election, extravagant claims were made (most notably by Rajitha Senaratne – “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”. 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 are true, even understated! Blocking the so-called Social media is not the answer. Ingenuity, way beyond that of the bureaucracy will thwart any such effort.
5. Declarations of Assets. Every Government – paid employee is required to make an Annual Declaration of Assets. So are 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?
6. Unexplained wealth of convicted drug kingpins, and also undeclared assets, of whosoever, (Immediate family and Fixed Assets) to be confiscated, sold by open auction and the proceeds credited to the Consolidated Fund. Informants to receive rewards as a percentage. If the standard excuse is that it is not permitted by Law, 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? It is curious that Parties begging their supporters to jack up their contributions, suddenly stop doing so, spruce up their Offices and also lavish substantial awards to help defray election expenses of its members!.
7. 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 customers 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 distribute a percentage of their takings as prizes (This, one may guess may be 30, 20 or 10%). When I extrapolated this to ours, it looked like 0. 00000(15 times) 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 warning to others, that shady deals will be relentlessly investigated and the full force of the State will pursue them. Will we dare?