‘Waste, corruption and irregularities as devastating as corona’

Dayasiri Jayasekara

SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera says the government lacked the wherewithal to provide those struggling to make ends meet sufficient financial assistance.

The decision to provide Rs. 2,000 for a family during the current COVID-19 lockdown highlighted the deteriorating economic crisis, State Minister Jayasekera points out.

“In fact, the national economy is in such bad shape the government found it difficult to pay that amount,” MP Jayasekera told The Island while warning of dire consequences unless the government and the Opposition reached a consensus on a strategic plan to save the economy.

Responding to another query, the Kurunegala District MP discussed the crisis in his pocket borough of Bingiriya electorate, where alone approximately 15,000 persons had been affected by the lockdown. The State Minister emphasised that it wouldn’t be fair to blame one administration or a particular person for the current crisis.

The SLFP group in the government consists of 14 members, including one accommodated on the SLPP National List. MP Jayasekera said that the government found it difficult to pay even Rs. 2,000.

Successive governments over the years had allowed key public sector enterprises such as the Ceylon Petroleum

Corporation (CPC), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), SriLankan Airlines to bleed the national economy, MP Jayasekera said.

Noting Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s declaration in June that the entire banking sector faced collapse due to staggering amount of money owed to the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank by the CPC and CEB, lawmaker Jayasekera said that tangible measures were required to address the crisis.

The Presidential Secretariat subsequently estimated the amount owed by the CPC and CEB at Rs. 737 billion.

MP Jayasekera said the public sector was a massive burden on the people. Instead of taking a political stand on the public sector, the government and the Opposition should at least now address the issue at hand.

The national income was primarily utilized to pay the salaries of the public sector and pensions, Jayasekera said, adding that the government lacked the financial strength to meet its obligations due to dwindling income.

State Minister Jayasekera said that further expansion of the public sector was unthinkable. However, the government and the Opposition should reach an agreement without further delay that they wouldn’t exploit the issue for political advantage. “Let there be a consensus on a workable plan,” lawmaker Jayasekera said. The unprecedented devastation caused by the raging COVID-19 pandemic had compelled all political parties represented in parliament to act swiftly and decisively, the former minister said.

“If we do not take meaningful measures to stop the rot in the wake of economic catastrophe the country will be bankrupt,” State Minister Jayasekera said.

Referring to the continuing failure on the part of the revenue collection mechanism to meet its obligations, lawmaker Jayasekera explained utterly irresponsible conduct of the Customs. The continuing legal battle between the Customs and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) over the former seeking massive rewards from the latter as regards a detection made a decade ago, MP Jayasekera said the case underscored the absurdity of the situation. “We are talking about a massive scam. Having allowed the SLPA to clear the equipment, the Customs imposed a penalty for non-payment of duties but the issue at hand is that the penalty money ended up with Customs officers,” MP Jayasekera said.

The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) that inquired into the scam, but hadn’t been able to resolve the issue yet, lawmaker Jayasekera said, asserting that even the Parliament seemed helpless as various interested parties continued to take advantage of an utterly corrupt system. There couldn’t be a better example than the Customs moving court against the SLPA under questionable circumstances to highlight the severe financial impropriety, the former minister said.

Explaining his role as COPA member, MP Jayasekera said that the revelations made at COPA as well as COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and Committee on Public Finance (COPF) proved beyond doubt that the parliament over the years had pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline. The lawmaker said that actually he was at a loss and felt so sorry over the failure of the parliament to address the situation.

The Customs, Inland Revenue and the Excise Department responsible for revenue collection operations owed an explanation, the former minister said, pointing out how the public suffered due to negligence on the part of those responsible for ensuring financial stability.

Lawmaker Jayasekera said that as a member of the parliament he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the overall failure of the parliament. Ensuring financial discipline and transparency were primary responsibilities of the parliament whoever controlled the parliamentary majority, MP Jayasekera said. “Another responsibility is the enactment of new laws. We seem to have failed in both spheres,” the SLFPer said.

The State Minister discussed how Inland Revenue bungled on numerous occasions. One occasion was IR’s failure to collect massive amounts in taxes from casinos, lawmaker Jayasekera said, alleging in spite of parliamentary watchdog intervention remedial action couldn’t be taken.

State Minister Jayasekera said that the simmering controversy over Indian involvement in the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port and the offering of West terminal which is something only on paper to India revealed the crisis in the government. Some of those who talked about mega plans simply didn’t take into consideration the ground situation nor were they capable of what MP Jayasekera called rational thinking.

Acknowledging the importance of using organic fertiliser and how it benefited the country, lawmaker Jayasekera said that the whole exercise was now in turmoil as a result of hasty implementation of the project.  The former minister said that the systematic destruction caused by successive administrations that turned a blind eye to waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence was immeasurable.

According to him the economy is in such bad shape preparing a budget for 2022 seemed unrealistic. The annual debt servicing amounting to as much as USD 4 billion underscored the catastrophic environment the country was in at the time the national economy withered under continuing disruptions caused by COVID-19.

If the country maintained financial discipline, Sri Lanka would have been in a much better position to face the current health emergency, the State Minister said. Pointing out significant assistance received from foreign governments, the private sector as well as various individuals to fight the raging epidemic, lawmaker Jayasekera said that the government and the Opposition needed to review the situation. “We have to adopt a national plan to restore financial discipline or be prepared to face the consequences,” the former minister said.

The MP said that the decision to do away with a range of taxes at the onset of the government that resulted in the loss of over Rs. 500 billion caused a debilitating setback.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)