Ranil: Master of Complications?

Sri Lanka’s embattled Prime Minister found himself in yet more hot water. This time round it centered on a supposed investment proposal for USD 3,850 Million (Rs 692,000,000,000) to set up an oil refinery in Sri Lanka’s deep south.

The proposal to locate the oil refinery in Mirijjawila, near Hambantota is not too far off from the Hambantota Port which was labelled by this government as an extravaganza of the Rajapaksa government and some experts described it as a vanity project much like the world’s loneliest international airport – at Mattala, a sleepy hamlet not too far off the Rajapaksa family seat in Medamulana, in the Hambantota district.

The Indian government must have felt that their counterparts in Sri Lanka had given this land to an Indian company in a form of balancing act after having given a Chinese government owned entity a 99-year lease on the Hambantota Port. Ostensibly the Sri Lanka government treated this as a proposal from a private foreign investor.

The complication in terms of the identity of the investor arose when a question was posed in Sri Lanka’s parliament. A Minister in his answer stated that the shareholding was near 70% to a Singaporean registered company and according to the Minister, Nalin Bandara, the Oman Ministry of Oil would be taking a stake of 30%.

The press briefing on this project – touted by the Wickremesinghe government as being the largest Foreign Direct Investment ever in the history of Sri Lanka – was to attract the attention of the Omani authorities who promptly denied making such a decision and distanced themselves from the project.

Separately the Indian press published details of the investors behind the Singaporean entity. The Indian investors via their Singaporean registered entity were named by the ‘Hindu’ newspaper. The relevant article appears elsewhere in this edition. The principals apparently have been linked to more than one investigation linked to apparent fiscal fraud.

Remarkably the oil refinery project had all the hallmarks of the governments’ attempts at bringing in so-called ‘mega projects’ with Foreign Direct Investment. This project too seems set to join the ill-fated and blatantly false ‘Volkswagen’ investment, the tallest building in the world, tyre factory and google loon projects in addition to the ambitious plans for almost fancy energy projects, most of which will consign the whole of Sri Lanka lock stock and barrel into an abyss of debt and potentially losing its sovereignty over its energy security

That the Prime Minister and his team are trying to procure time is obvious to all. Their quest to increase the size of the Cabinet has not abated in the slightest although the President has made his decision known at least two months ago. It is shocking because elections of all sorts are due within the year and one would have thought that rational outlook would see a focus on making a last minute delivery of something tangible for the people. Instead we see a shocking quest for further benefits all in the hope of luring members from across the political divide.

 

Ranil Wickremesinghe was much touted in the early 2000’s and appeared to have had the country backing him and his policies then. He enjoyed a Mr. Clean image in the face of widespread allegations of impropriety all around him. Yet even then there was unhappiness at some of his decisions ironically one such unhappiness concerned the appointment of the Head of the BOI at the time. His name? Arjuna Mahendran. Another feature was the write off of taxes. That decision was overturned thanks to the action of a public interest litigant. His most glaring accusation was that he entered into the Ceasefire Agreement without the concurrence of then President Kumaratunga. Sounds familiar?

Some twelve years or so later, having spent that time in the wilderness of the opposition benches, the growing allegations of corruption, nepotism and growing authoritarianism coupled with the diaspora-led allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, gave the Wickremesinghe-led camp enough political ammunition to achieve the unthinkable at the time: voting President Rajapaksa out.

Sri Lanka has a history of squandering opportunities for real and valuable change. President Jayawardena for all his laissez faire policies and still being credited for turbo charging a rotten economy, resorted to virtual strong arm tactics in silencing his principal political foe despite having the comfort zone of a he majority in parliament.

Wickremesinghe was no better. Along with President Sirisena’s unlikely election as President and enjoying complete freedom in the management of the country’s affairs, the Wickremesinghe boys embarked on an almost obscene destructive path fueled by corruption. They started appropriately – perversely so – by helping themselves to the peoples’ monies via the now infamous Bond Scam.

More was to follow as one senior minister after another bettered each other in departing from due process and procedure. All the time in essence robbing the Treasury or put another way, enriching themselves at the expense of the public.

Wickremesinghe had some powerful allies. They included the global powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australasia and even India. Thanks to their tacit and at times openly Nelsonian eye, Wickremesinghe and his alliance have survived setback after setback. The people retorted by voting almost en-masse at local elections held in February 2017. They backed almost to a point of majority a new party. Incongruously enough that party was spearheaded by none other than the 2015-deposed President, Rajapaksa. So much for myopia.

Scam after scam has left the people bereft of hope. As for the ruling elite, they have lost any and all integrity. That is of course on the premise that they had integrity to start with.

To damage one’s reputation one must start off with a good reputation. Who is to say that the current set of rulers, had any integrity and reputation to start with.

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