ONE BIG LET DOWN

We at the Ceylon Independent take matters relating to the public interest pretty seriously. We believe that corruption has no place in democracy and we verily aver that all liberal thinkers in Sri Lanka share this perspective. In essence we believe too, that there are no mitigating circumstances when elected officials make a premeditated departure from these honourable ideals, impacting directly on the greater public interest. And it follows that, we have no time to cover up for the poor performance of officials who dance the merry jig after carrying out the most spectacular daylight heist this country has known – since we were freed from the shackles of imperialistic colonial invaders, in 1948.

In January 2015 – what now turns out to be a gullible public- voted Mahinda Rajapaksa out presumably because the Rajapaksa Mantra “We won the war” tired and bored the republic ad nauseam. The Wickremesinghe Mantra was “Corruption & Nepotism”. It was to strike a chord not because Wickremesinghe dreamt that mantra up, rather because the people themselves readily believed that corruption and nepotism were rife, it was endemic, and it was all pervasive.

For this government who were elected on a bandwagon of promises full of good governance undertakings and of recreating an ambiance of accountability, responsibility and a level playing field for us all, their performance has been an abysmal failure. It is nothing short of a huge let down. In fact their performance has not been for us all – rather it has been partisan and personal in nature.

Almost every single project in the name of developing our country’s infra structure and our livelihood has been marred by controversy. Very few opportunities have been lost to good governance and a level playing field. Instead it has been the opposite or to put it in the words of serving government ministers, “it happened before”. It is almost as though because it happened before, it is quite in order for the same to be continued now. They have forgotten all too conveniently the promises they made.

Some of the promises made are beyond comprehension – and perhaps that is why these are made. Take for instance the Prime Minister’s statement that all debt will be paid by the end of 2018. We wonder if the Prime Minister has been fully appraised of the level of debt. He ought to be fully appraised – he is the Minister in charge of the Central Bank. Their figures indicate that public debt as at 30.0602017 stood at Rs 10.1 trillion. The trade deficit soared to US$ 6.2 billion in the first eight months of 2017. The Prime Minister is going to need a far greater hot shot economist or banker than the immediate former Governor of the Central Bank to repay all of the Rs 10.1 trillion. Now in case the Prime Minister is proved right and he does pay off all the debt by the end of 2018, he will deserve any accolade the banker magazine may wish to confer upon him.

Bonds, Outer circular highway, Central Expressway, Coal supply, Securing emergency or stand-by power, power security, concessions given to blue eyed boys for new business creation, fancy and grandiose project proposals like the much-hyped Volkswagen plant, the tyre factory, the Vauxhall street land that did not happen, Sri Lankan Airlines, import concessions on vehicles, retrospective taxes – all because the Minister of Finance deemed it himself as ‘ill-gotten gains’ as opposed to a pronouncement after an investigation thereby discarding the partiality or bias component, are a few of the big ticket items this government has become steeped in. They appear to be in a mire whilst the people are stuck in the valleys of despair.

It is perhaps significant if not chillingly prophetic, that upon taking a call from President Rajapaksa in the early hours of January 8th 2015, Mr Wickremesinghe was to arrive at Temple Trees in the company of one Thirukumar Nadesan – a businessman who is a colossus when it comes to secrecy. The FCID has initiated a case of money laundering against him and recently disclosed in Court documents that a substantial amount of money had allegedly been credited to an account in Hong Kong that the FCID maintains is under the control of Mr Nadesan. The only saving grace is that for years Mr Nadesan has been coldly anonymous almost like those nominee companies exposed by the Panama Papers but under the microscope of the FCID far more of the public now know who he is.

In the wake of substantiated claims that the Ministry of Highways and the Road Development Authority (RDA) had violated National Procurement Guidelines, Lakshman Kiriella the Minister in charge of that subject has been clutching at straws. He has flouted and is in breach of, all rules pertaining to procurement. He has had meetings with bidders where the bidders themselves question the legality of the meeting, another bidder saying they were confused at the invitation to be present at the meeting because they had been disqualified! Kiriella the Minister then had proposed to the winning bidder that they form a consortium with the disqualified bidder – and attempted to draw the Government of Japan into the equation, stating that it was the Japanese Government who wanted the failed bidder. It was then pointed out that the Japanese Embassy had communicated their official position – which said nothing about the failed bidder but a lot about their respect for this country’s lawful tender process.

Not wishing to give up quite so easily, he attempted to involve the most senior Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka. He maintained that a media group was blocking his plans to facilitate worshipping at the Dalada Maligawa.

In yet another turn of events that raised the collective eyebrows of the people, Minister then gave an explanation why he had no interest in making money out of this transaction: he stated that he had ‘more than Rs 400 million’ in his bank account. He also said that his family were landed proprietors with over 30,000 acres to their name. These statements were made in parliament.

All the Minister must now do to showcase just how transparent and real he is, is that he must release his income tax returns and make public his asset declaration. After all if he is as white as he claims, he ought not to have any hang-ups to making his personal affairs public, in the interest of transparency. Let us see if Minister Kiriella is as clean and transparent as he makes out within the sanctity of parliament.

The change of the electoral system whilst not entirely a bad idea will also mean that the number of local councillors for example will more than double to more than 8,000. The cost to the people will be immense. Perhaps it is time to do away with so many layers and instead reintroduce a second house, the Senate. It will have many benefits including the ability to park some of the more ancient legislators in the Senate, thus making room for much needed new and younger blood in parliament.

The message to this government of unity and zero action is crystal clear: Every word you say, every step you take, every promise you make, every promise you break, every law you create, we are watching you. Every wall you create to protect yourself at our expense, we are watching you. Every move you make will be monitored by us. Every morning, every afternoon, every night. Every day we will be watching you.

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