Colombo Telegraph

Sri Lanka Is Becoming The New Myammar Of Asia

By Mangala Samaraweera

Mangala Samaraweera MP

Mr. Speaker,

Nearly four years ago, when the LTTE was conclusively defeated, many Sri Lankans, even those who did not agree with the government on the way the war was conducted in the final stages, were optimistic and hopeful that our country could, at last achieve the economic prosperity which has eluded our people since independence. A window of opportunity presented itself to our war ravaged nation to leave the mistakes of the past behind us and move forward to harness the bright and prosperous future our people have been demanding for generations.

However, as we debate the fourth budget of the Rajapaksa regime since the end of the war, Sri Lanka is a country in crisis; an unprecedented economic crisis looming in the horizon as a result of the rampant corruption and economic mismanagement; the systematic dismantling of the rule of law while trying to subjugate the independence of our institutions from Hulftsdorf to Welikada to suit the agenda of the executive and the international isolation because of the government’s refusal to honour its commitments by the international community has turned Sri Lanka into a virtual time bomb.

The peace dividend anticipated by our people has yet to materialize for 99.9% of our population while a small group of family members, political cronies and a handpicked group of ‘tenderpreneurs’ are reaping the benefits of the peace dividends making virtual paupers into Dollar Millionaires overnight.. Advertising executives with limited incomes are now boasting that they are ‘billionaires’ while Naval officers with the right family connections along with their siblings are listed as top shareholders in various companies.

(I would like to refer to these documents tabled in this house last week).

The chosen place of play for this .1% is the stock market and the chosen sphere of Business for this select group is land speculation – government land speculation. Their chosen mode of travel are, of course flashy racing cars like Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Aston Martins. In a classic Marie Antoinette gesture, the Finance Minister was audacious enough to grant a duty waiver to luxury racing cars while increasing the duty of normal vehicles.

In the face of such ostentation the billion dollar question asked by many people is: where is all this money coming from?

Mr. Speaker,

As I said on the floor of this house last week, during the adjournment debate on KP Pathmanathan there are reasonable grounds to believe that part of the black money which has flooded into the stock market in Colombo as well as some of the FDI in Colombo is LTTE blood money.

In fact, it was after the arrest of KP, the only surviving member of the inner circle of Prabhakaran and therefore the only living person privy to the assets of the multibillion dollar empire of the LTTE, that black money flowing into Sri Lanka became a deluge. Today Sri Lanka has earned the dubious distinction of being one of the principal centers for money laundering east of Suez.

The other source of the black money, according to informed sources are the commissions from the Chinese loans. In the web site called Chinese loan conditions: www. china-powercontractor. cn/government-finance.html) it is claimed that “you as agent can earn million US$ commissions as others have achieved during the past.” It also says that suitable agents ” should have high profile connection with Government officials such as National President, Minister of Finance or related Minister to the projects.”

(Quote and table document.)

Rajeev Sharma, a New Delhi based journalist and a strategic analyst, claims that US $ 1.2 – 1.8 Billion have been given as commissions for Chinese projects since 2005 and also says that the first family stands to receive in commissions anywhere between US$1.2 billion – 1.8 billion during 2005 – 2015. It also says that an intricate web of front companies is in place to receive and disburse the commissions.

(1. Quote and table)

While opening our doors to the robber barons of the world the robber kings of our own country are laundering their own Ill gotten wealth within our own country. Unlike kleptocrats of the past who hid their wealth in Swiss Accounts, the new robber kings feel that their money invested within their own countries is safer; The stringent anti laundering laws In the west as well as the recent experiences during the Arab spring when billions of dollars worth of assets belonging to Mubarak and Gadaffi were frozen and seized , have made many corrupt leaders in Africa and elsewhere to launder their wealth within their own countries.

Mr. Speaker,

Money laundering at its simplest, is the act of making money that come from Source A look like it comes from source B. In practice, criminals are trying to disguise the origins of money through illegal activities so it looks like it was obtained through legal sources. There are many methods of money laundering but the most commonly used method by the robber barons and kings of Sri Lanka is called ‘Round-tripping’.

“Round tripping: Money is deposited in a controlled foreign corporation offshore, preferably in a tax haven where minimal records are kept and then shipped back as a Foreign Direct investment, exempt from taxation.” According to the STAR initiative (Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative) of the world bank forming Shell Companies are a common method used by money launderers. She’ll Companies are defined by the OECD in ‘Behind the corporate veil’ (2001) as:

” ……companies which are entities established not to pursue any legitimate business activity but solely to obscure the identity of their beneficial owners and controllers.”

In fact, I must take this opportunity to all members of this house to read the world bank publication , ” The Puppet Masters: How the corrupt use legal structures to hide stolen assets and what to do about it.”

As well known multi nationals are reluctant to invest in Sri Lanka because of serious human rights/ war crimes allegations, most of the FDIs which have come into Sri Lanka over the past few years have been from such ‘shell companies’. In fact, as Rajeev Sharma writes, the Mitchell Consortium of Australia which was given the contract to set up a heavy industry zone in Sampur could be also a paper company.

All Chinese funded projects are handled by 5 companies and the shell companies behind them are all linked to the very top. In fact Dilshan Wickramesinghe, son of the Chairman Sri Lankan Airlines of Rolex fame is a key player in some of these companies along with Prabath Nannayakkara, whose “meteoric rise ran parallel to President Rajapakse’s ascent to power.”

(Table article)

In fact, Sri Lanka is now becoming the destination of choice for some Indian robber barons who are finding it more and more difficult to operate in India because of its anti corruption laws and the freedom of information act. The Krissh Square deal is good case in point where Indian investors (in India they are called racketeers) with a dubious record has been allocated prime Colombo land. One of the front men for this project is a man called D.R. Kaytal from Bhivadhi in Rajasthan. He used his close links with the Chief Minister of Hariyana Bhopindha Singh Hoodha to do a condominium development project in Gurgoman in New Delhi. However, he left many of those who paid advances for the apartments in the lurch when he decided to resell the land at a huge profit.

In fact the reputation of Lord Billimoria is even worse. (Quote)

It is also reported that Salman Khan flew to Sri Lanka in his private jet to discuss details with the father son duo before the Krissh deal was finalized and sources in Bombay claim that Bollywood and Medamulana are now working hand in glove in this money laundering scam.

Mr. Speaker,

This new Rajapaksa economy, based on black money has deprived the people to prosper in life within a level playing field. In fact, as the UNPs radical statement, to be presented to the UNP convention on 1st December says, rejects “the Colombo Stock Market Capitalism based on the primacy of markets. We have again reiterated our belief in a highly competitive social market economy………..Therefore, the radical statement upholds the primacy of politics where the principles relating to the market economy is determined by the political process which is committed to providing opportunity for all.”

Today, under the new crony capitalist economy of this regime, the universal values of fairness has been sacrificed to the greed of a few. Joseph Stiglitz’s famous caption, “of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1%” describes the situation in Sri Lanka today where 0.1% of racketeers, tenderpreneurs and corrupt politicians have hijacked our economy to become dollar billionaires overnight while 99.9% of the population ( including the legitimate private sector) are facing hardships as never before and most of our citizens are seeing their Standard of living erode.

As the Rajapakse government stands condemned and isolated (other than for a few like minded megalomaniacs from Africa and elsewhere) courting economic ruin for our country, the UNP believes that it is time to reposition our policies and values and start investing in our people.

Mr. Speaker,

Sri Lanka, today, is not only a country in crisis, but also rapidly becoming the new Myammar of Asia. The UN report released a few days ago refocuses on the alleged human rights violations and possible war crimes during the concluding days of the war while the recent massacre of prisoners at Welikada again highlighted the break-down of the rule of law in the country. The constitutional witch hunt initiated by the executive against the Chief Justice has further eroded Sri Lanka’s credentials as a civilized, functioning democracy.

UN as well as many other members of the International community have expressed their deep concern about the impeachment motion against the CJ.

In a statement issued in GENEVA (14 November 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, today expressed serious concerns about reported intimidation and attacks against judges and judicial officers, and warned that they might form part of a pattern of attacks, threats, reprisals and interference in the independence of the justice system in Sri Lanka.”

“I urge the Sri Lanka Government to take immediate and adequate measures to ensure the physical and mental integrity of members of the judiciary and to allow them to perform their professional duties without any restrictions, improper influences, pressures, threats or interferences, in line with the country’s international human rights obligations,” Ms. Knaul said.

In fact, as she correctly points out, the misuse of disciplinary proceedings as a reprisal mechanism against independent judges is unacceptable. It is not a secret that the ruling powers perceive the Chief Justice and the judiciary as major stumbling block to their autocratic dynastic agenda and this is why this shoddy charge sheet full of factual errors has been rushed to Parliament with its docile and obliging majority. From this charge sheet, it is also obvious that the law of the jungle is also prevailing in the banking sector: some of the charges are based on information taken from banks in violation of banking secrecy laws. The officials of the NDB, who are accomplices to this constitutional witch hunt must be firmly dealt with by the law.

In proceeding with this motion, the onus is now on the Speaker, who is also the current chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union to ensure that the proceedings are in line with the Latimer House Commonwealth Principles on the three branches of government.

However, the government has already violated some of the criteria agreed upon by all Commonwealth countries including Sri Lanka.

In the Lattimer House guidelines, it says ” In case where a judge is at risk of removal, the judge must have the right to be fully informed of the charges to be presented at the hearing, to make a full Defence by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

The tribunal appointed for the purpose of examining the motion is far from impartial and heavily loaded in governments favour: far from being independent and impartial, many of those appointed by the government are akin to the fanatical inquisitors of the dark ages.

As, Shaveen Bandaranayake, the son of the CJ wrote recently, the time has come for each and every one of us to take a stand: a stand not merely to support Shiranee Bandaranayake, the person but a stand for the independence of the judiciary and a democratic society.

In conclusion, I would like to quote from this article – excellent for someone so young – and I table the full article to be included in the Hansard.

“An individual can live his/her life seeing the injustice around them, show a blind eye and die a forgotten entity or you can stand up against tyranny and make a stand. The Chief Justice of Sri Lanka is taking a stand. Which side, you the citizens take defines who we are as Sri Lankans.”

*Speech made by Mangala Samaraweera M.P. in Parliament on 17th November 2012.

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