Colombo, January 27 (Daily Mirror/newsin.asia): Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday came down heavily on the economic policies of his governmental alliance partner, United National Party (UNP), headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Speaking to editors of Sri Lankan media institutions here, the President charged that the government incurred a major loss of revenue in the past three years because revenue was channeled to private companies based on political connections.
The President said several more fraudulent dealings had taken place in the re-export business, even sullying the image of Ceylon Tea and Pepper.
“Amid this unscrupulous trading practice, tea of inferior quality was imported to Sri Lanka for value addition before being re-exported as tea of Sri Lankan origin. It has brought Sri Lanka’s tea trade into disrepute. In addition to tea, even pepper, dry areca nuts called karunka, and pineapples were imported to be re-exported in this same manner,” he said.
There was a huge price difference between the actual cost and the retail prices of various items sold in the local market and that he had raised this matter on more than hundred occasions in the cabinet though all that fell on deaf ears.
“Let’s say the import cost is only Rs.500. With a profit margin, it can be easily sold at Rs.750 but it is sold at Rs.1,500. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) should look into it,” he said.
Commenting on the annual budgetary allocations for various sectors, the President said only 50 to 60 per cent of it had been spent by the year end.
Faults of the Rajapaksa Regime
Referring to the handling of economic matters by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, Sirisena said the then government had gone for external borrowings amounting to LKR.10 trillion (US$ 65.1 billion), but the accomplishments on the ground had reflected an expenditure amounting to Rs.1 trillion (US$ 6.5 billion).
“I am saying this with responsibility after a proper study. The figure is in trillions. In fact, I even consulted someone with expertise on arithmetic to ascertain the veracity of these figures. Only Rs.1 trillion (US$ 6.5 billion)has been documented,” he said.
Central Bank Scam
Referring to the Central Bank bond scam, the President said though this government was elected to eliminate corruption, but he charged that the ‘General Treasury’ was plundered barely two months after it assumed office.
He went on to ask how he could remain passive in the face of stoic silence by some in the face of such massive frauds.
The President said though he had initially intended to make his statement only on the bond scam, he was compelled to do so prematurely by those who kept pushing for it.
The President said there were bundles of supporting documents on those who robbed the Central Bank
“I made my statement after consulting legal experts. In fact, this is the first statement made by me in my whole political life, with the involvement of others.”
“The PRECIFAC ( Presidential Commission on Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges) report was also presented in the meantime. It was not something pre-planned, only a coincidence,” the President said..
An unholy alliance of bandits had emerged to cover up corruption and frauds, he charged.
Commenting the abortive attempt by former minister Ravi Karunanayake to make a statement in Parliament on the allegations against him, the President said it would have been politically suicidal for him had he made that statement.
He said Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe had stopped Mr. Karunanayake from making that statement on one occasion and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on the other.
Declining to say more on the bond scam, he said some ill-gotten money had been sneaked out for bribing officials.
Avoids Question on Take Over Of Economic Ministries
The President avoided answering the question as to whether he is contemplating the take over of economic ministries which are monopolized by the UNP. This had given rise to speculation that he might take over if the situation warrants it.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that the bond scam will be debated in parliament on February 8, two days before the local bodies ‘elections, indicating that he has nothing to fear.
The Central Bank, where a LKR 11,500 million (US$ 74 million) scam had occurred, has been under Wickremesinghe’s control. The former Governor of the bank, and linchpin of the bond scam, Arjuna Mahendran, was his nominee. Mahendran was appointed over President Sirisena’s objections.
When the UNP ministers’ economic decisions were unpopular, the President would intervene and overturn them. Later, he established an economic council of his own to whet the economic decisions taken and thrust on the cabinet by the UNP.
The UNP is the single largest party in parliament and has the greatest say in decision-making, though Sirsena has over-riding powers as the directly elected Executive President.
Fate of Alliance
With Sirisena stepping on the toes of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his economic team, political observers wonder how long the alliance between the President Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP will last.
The agreement between the two to form a “National Unity Government” of Yahapalanaya or Good Governance, was only for two years from 2015. But it was extended up to December 31, 2017 at the President’s request.
Whether SLFP and the UNP will continue to stick together till 2020 will be determined by the results of the local bodies elections to be held on February 10.
All the three major parties, the SLFP , UNP and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya (SLPP) are going it alone. The elections will reveal the relative strength of each of the parties at the grassroots level.