By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Part 15: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: The Current System and Unlawful Actions
Over the past two decades, the successive Sri Lankan governments have created and used constitutional loopholes and other opportunities to siphon out funds and acquire or sell national resources. Most recent examples include the importation of COVD vaccines and ineffective PCR and RAT testing kits (so as tax frauds related to sugar, petrol, garlic, diesel, cooking gas, garlic, onions, etc., importation-related tax frauds); hotel ‘quarantining’ scandals using the army, other transportation gimmicks, construction of the world’s most expensive roads and overhead bridges (per square meter or square yard basis). Exclusively beneficiaries from these underhand deals were politicians and a handful of fraudulent business partners.
Presidential decision making has been a miserable failure
There had been multiple blunders during the COVID era, partly because of the inability to understand the issues and refusal to take responsibility. In addition, the financial collapse of Sri Lanka began with the ridiculous declaration of unwarranted tax cuts that reduced one-fifth of funds that otherwise should have collected by the treasury.
Such blatant errors demonstrate the lack of common sense, inability to listen or discuss with subject matter experts, and unfamiliarity with macroeconomics and governance. The lack of leadership skills was further exposed by other blunders, like banning the import of inorganic fertilisers to mandating the overnight conversion of the country’s agriculture to organic farming.
The fertiliser goof was following false information provided to him by a known, untrustworthy “clique of three.” The president, an ex-military person, and other ex-military officers (mostly retired junior generals) head departments and institutes and function as secretaries to crucial ministries. They are overconfident but clueless about the subject matter they are supposed to work on, such as agriculture, education, and governance. Therefore, they are easily manipulable and misdirected by crooks surrounding them/advisors.
This unwise decision to ban fertiliser alone reduced approximately 40% of the agricultural output, especially rice, vegetables, and tea (exports), causing estimated cumulative harm of trillion-rupee to the economy. Besides dictatorships, the president and the relevant government ministers would have immediately resigned from their positions, including from parliament membership, after any such blunder in any other country.
Organic farming blunder and food crisis
The organic blunder, other than rice, was hard hit availability of perishable agricultural produces and their availability; thus, the cost increased rapidly. This created a negative vicious cycle of reduced exports like tea and increased importation of food for consumers, increasing the trade gap and dwindling foreign reserves.
Inorganic fertiliser import ban in Sri Lanka to convert agriculture to organic farming is estimated to reduce the crop output by approximately 40% and continue. This led to the loss of livelihood of farmers and starvation for low-income families.
Even though the irresponsible inorganic fertilisers ban was reversed due to pressure from the farmers, it was too late to mitigate the damage. Consequently, its negative effects continue for several more cultivation seasons in the country. This will continue to worsen the food insecurity, increase suicides by poor farmers, starvations of their families, and increase overall deaths. Isn’t that president should be made accountable for these? After this foremost harm was done to the population, he cannot just get away with saying, ‘I am sorry for the error.’
Meanwhile, in 2022, due to the collapse of the local currency and the concomitant manufactured dollar crises by politicians and senior administrators, the cost of the sparsely available fertiliser price increased over ten-fold, which hardly could be afford by farmers. All mentioned fabricated disasters arose from childish decision-making by those who held responsible government positions.
The public, the master, must demand changing the behaviour of politicians and administrators
The country needs politicians to behave like ordinary citizens. They should not provide with extra protections and unnecessarily expensive privileges: they must obey the law. While they are elected to the parliament to enact beneficial laws for the country, unfortunately, they have been doing the opposite in recent years. So, there is no rationale for sending such worthless characters to the parliament?
The public lost trust in politicians because of their lousy behaviour, including ongoing corruption at every level in the central and provincial governments. Under these circumstances, most people in the country do not want to elect members from any of the four leading political parties. They eagerly look for an alternative party with an honest and energetic younger generation.
Demographic of political candidates and asset declaration
They expect new candidates to be above 30 but not exceeding 60 years. A new political party with younger but mature, educated (at least a four-year university degree) honest candidates will earn people’s trust. This needs to become a reality. They must, however, show genuine efforts to win the hearts of the public, not arrogance.
Members of parliament and ministers should have identical salaries. However, with the new constitution, it is best to legislate that ministers have a postgraduate degree, a minimum of a master’s in the subject matter of the intended ministry. In addition, all political candidates, prior to the election and once elected annually, should declare their assets and be treated like all other government servants. Except for the president (position to be revoked) and prime minister, no security is to be provided to any ministers and MPs.
Mandating annual declaration of assets by politicians and government administrators
Sri Lankan needs to be united to promote peace, patience, and practical ways to overcome the current crisis. Besides, any new leadership must show authenticity and courage and commit to ending corruption. In a legally binding document, they must formally declare their total assets and real and apparent conflicts of interest and describe how they gain those assets.
The country needs to adopt good governance from other Asian countries. In this regard, the
Singaporean model of appointing only those with Merit (M), Pragmatism (P), and Honesty (H) and having a four-year university degree is one of them. This practice must be mandated: it would weed out all rotten apples otherwise coming to the parliament. Besides, patriotic and dependable people will run the central government and local governments/ municipalities.
The new Sri Lankan should unify under one umbrella, flag, and anthem. It must provide equal opportunity with compassion, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs, to all Sri Lankans. This fundamental action would automatically change the country into a disciplined, resolute, and prosperous society.
Bureaucrats engaged in the pilferage of funds
As we discussed in previous posts, corrupt politicians and administrators must be made accountable for the current disaster in Sri Lanka. Government servants significantly aid politicians in pilfering funds and other precious resources and selling national assets to foreigners and other countries without the knowledge and authorisation of the public. While doing so, they also get a share of the benefit. This is a crime against the nation, yet none has been brought to justice.
Several high-level administrators, especially secretaries and advisers to successive presidents and the prime ministers, were also beneficiaries of the mentioned pilfered funds. These selfish and inefficient manipulative gangs knowingly facilitated the country’s destruction and sold national assets to foreigners.
Wasteful programs, institutions, and insurance frauds must be eliminated
Other wasteful free programs such as Samurdhi, Janasaviya, etc., and politically-motivated entities in Sri Lanka waste much money: if so, these must also be eliminated. The misuse of insurance schemes, claiming for fake accidents, and other frauds associated with insurance claims, including co-operate and private sector health insurance abuses (e.g., unnecessary hospital admissions and operations), must be stopped, and abuses should be heavily punished.
Why aren’t Sri Lankan politicians with hundreds of million assets globally not paying income taxes or minuscule amounts? This is a fraud: it makes no sense to get them away with such. Enact a law now for a mandatory asset declaration of all government servants and back tax them for the past five years to be paid in foreign currencies. This new foreign currency/income to the treasury can be used for essential imports.
If the inland revenues department is negligent, this institution must also be reformed and assured that it will work diligently without fear or favour. However, “It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly” [Mabel Newcomber].
*The next article will discuss the politicians and the constitutional amendment mess.