By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Furore Over Entitlements
In these terribly hard times there was a natural furore when Ajith Nivard Cabraal, State Minister of Finance, Capital Markets, State Enterprise Reforms and whatnot called for a pensions scheme for the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). The public perception was that Ajith Nivard Cabraal was trying to manipulate a pension scheme to cover his previous assignment as Governor CBSL.
In his Twitter account Cabraal reiterated he had not received a “single cent” as pension so far even after working for nine years.“Neither have I availed myself of the duty free vehicle from the Government after working as the Governor [of CBSL] for nearly 9 years..”
Cabraal also pointed out that he is entitled to the pension as per the appointment letter handed over to him in 2006 when he took office as the Central Bank governor.
It is unclear why he proposed a pension scheme when he also states he is entitled to a pension. Was that pension arranged as something personally attached to his appointment?
Furthermore, it is puzzling why Ajith Nivard kept this issue in abeyance for so long and only now decides to raise it. Was he waiting for the ‘right moment?’
Poor Ajith Nivard! He should have grabbed a luxuruious car as Governor but then the time wasn’t ripe as the government had fallen to Yahapalanaya in 2015 and only a foolishly generous new government would have kept him after that. Was it all a miss-timing? Knowing the culture among our ruling elites it could not have been a case of self-sacrifice.
After Cabraal, the new government of Yahapalanaya made a colossal blunder of appointing Mahendran. The latter was soon removed and replaced by a most honourable and professional man called Kumaraswamy who ran his institution to near-perfection. Kumaraswamy left office exactly on the day he said he was going to do. He never cohabited with politicians and never drank with the latter. I have a picture still with me which shows Cabraal dancing somewhere overseas hanging onto Namal Rajapaksa’s collar!
I wonder whether Kumaraswamy got “his entitlements.” Obviously not a pension. I am informed not even the car. Hence, Cabraal’s example had been followed. How good was that?
The Governor of the Central Bank in any country is a highly prestigious and highly important position. The incumbent has to stick to independence from politicians, which is the expectation of that role. He has to keep an arms length from the day-to-day politics. The reason is simple: the Central Bank is in charge of the steering of the economy from a a short term and longterm point of view. It is a professional body that would not pride being in the position of total compliance with the government’s politics. The Central Bank in Sri Lanka did have a series of very professional incumbents who did not play political roles. These persons gave the right advice and discouraged government from pursuing disastrous monetary policies.
One cannot say that Ajith Nivard Cabraal fitted this decorum his last dispensation. He used to give weekly reports about growth rates going up and up, inflation under control and so on-things that the government of the Rajapaksas loved to hear. He became the family’s favourite as evidenced by his selection for nomination as MP in the current government. He has since played his political role faithfully to be in the good books of the Saubhagya regime. Ajith Nivard began by attacking Ranil Wickremesinghe’s management of the economy over media, with distorted assessments of his own making. The economic collapse of this regime now does not justify his lashing. That was political lashing.
Replacing the Current Governor ?
Reports are galore that the state minister isn’t very impressed by his many-titled position and that he wants to oust the present Governor, WD Lakshman. Lakshman is a great economist with international credentials and he is in a position to be Nivard’s Guru. I hope Lakshman isn’t unceremoniously dispensed with as he has done an impressive job in some of the most difficult circumstances that our nation has faced.
But why would Ajith Nivard do with his present car? His present parliamentary pension? Ah! Ah! it is reported that Cabraal wants to move over to CBSL retaining ministerial rank. That’s the catch! This is the latest gimmick; to keep ministerial rank. We have seen Ambassador Milinda Moragoda demanding that to the bewilderment of the Government of India.
The reason is clear and that is to retain some form of political clout. But should the governor of CBSL enjoy political clout? This spells danger as far as the professional impartiality of the CBSL is concerned. Ajith Nivard Cabraal heading the CBSL on a political background is bad for that establishment and would raise serious doubts about the independence and professionalism of that critical institution.
Isn’t the Entitlement Cry Immoral?
The demand for entitlements seems awkward in context. Is this the time and place for such garish claims? Sri Lankan citizens are dying in their thousands; they are moving to starvation with a depleting economy. The present minister of finance, Basil Rajapaksa in his recent speech in parliament stated that Sri Lanka is facing a serious crisis on both domestic finance and external finance. There isn’t money to import petrol, gas, kerosene, medicines and essential food for the people.
Minister Ajith Nivard would not blame me for asking him to reconsider his demand for entitlements. Thousands of school teachers walked the streets for days demanding a reasonable salary revision. Other sectors of working men and women were joint of follow the teachers
Resonating the eve of the Russian Revolution
Tsar Nicholas 11 (1894-1917) had to surrender to revolutionary forces in times such as the one Sri Lanka now faces. By 1917 money printing led to serious inflation; prices increased four times they were in 1914; peasant, faced with higher costs of purchases with no corresponding gains in prices for their products, began to horde their grain and resorted to subsistence farming, cities were short of food while rising prices led to demand by factory workers for higher wages. Sri Lanka is on this path now.
Is it the time for entitlements by those in privileged political positions?
*The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org