On 27 September 2015, the SUNDAY ISLAND published an article titled “THE FIRST 260 DAYS OF THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT” sent by the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) regarding what were then seen as the pluses and the minuses of the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe government during its first 260 days in power. At that point of time, we were inclined to give greater emphasis to the pluses than to the minuses on the presumption that public approbation would encourage the government to aim for more pluses in the future. Very disappointingly, the reality has proved to be otherwise.
Those with whom we have exchanged views over the past 65 days on S-W’s record have expressed sentiments such as the following: “politicians cannot be expected to change their spots however sweetly they may talk”, “power has gone to this lot’s heads five times as fast as in the case of their predecessors”, “the election platform promise to abolish nepotism was a premeditated and callous lie”, “Sirisena may have been sincere at the beginning about not wanting a second period as Executive President, but it is becoming clearer by the day that he yearns to win the next Parliamentary elections under a suitably-worded new Constitution and become Prime Minister with virtually the same powers”, “in order to further his ambitions, Sirisena has decided to place the interests of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party ahead of Sri Lanka’s”, “the whole exercise leading up to the change of regime has been a monumental confidence trick” etc. As we are still in no man’s land about the 20th Amendment, the Right to Information Act, the Audit Act and other promised legislation, there was no basis on which we could have ventured to disagree with these negative assessments.
Many years ago, probably when he was Prime Minister for a short period during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time, Ranil Wickremasinghe is believed to have been keen to have a Colombo Port City. However, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa took steps to get Chinese help to get the project going many years later, Wickremasinghe gave a public warning that, when his government came back into power, the project would be voided. Rajapaksa ignored this threat and went ahead.
Unfortunately, binding contracts had been signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the contractor in respect of this project during Rajapaksa’s reign. These contracts cannot be cancelled without incurring astronomical losses by way of claims that the contractor will undoubtedly make. It is only the fact that the contractor has probably not fulfilled certain of his contractual obligations that has given the government some leverage to re-negotiate the contract. We do not know which of the contractual terms have been amended because the S-W government continues to keep the public in the dark.
Coming to the “education” budget, imagine a lazy character whose father gifts him a piece of land worth Rs20 Million and says: “Use it to earn enough to meet your financial needs in the future.” What does the son do? He gets his property revalued every year. Assuming that land prices go up by 7% a year, he is able to show that he gets an “income” of Rs1.4 Million a year. It is clear that such an “income” is not the result of increased productivity. It appears that a revaluation of this nature has “increased” the allocation for education from 2.5% in the past to 6% in the 2016 Budget. This type of accounting gymnastics, without adequate disclosure, makes the public distrust government for allowing misleading budgetary information to be disseminated.
We were sickened to learn some days ago that the authorities have just realised that there is an Elections Commission but no legislation to permit it to function! No one has taken the initiative to get this lacuna filled from as far back as 2001, when the 17th Amendment (the forerunner of the 19th Amendment) was brought into the Constitution.
Whatever explanations the Attorney General may give about his Department’s performance in bringing influential criminals to justice, there is a widespread perception among ordinary citizens that secret pressure continues to be exerted on the Department to delay, if not prevent, energetic action being taken against powerful persons, past and present. This belief is strengthened by a confession made by the Minister of Justice that he prevented Mr Gothabaya Rajapaksa from being arrested. Why only GR? In any case, is it permitted for a Minister to interfere in the functioning of the Police and the Attorney General’s Department?
A very early move by Sirisena was to appoint one of his brothers to a very highly-paid position in Sri Lanka Telecom in a naked exhibition of nepotism. It seems to have encouraged Minister Arjuna Ranatunga to do likewise.
It does not matter which party gets elected to power, one of its primary objectives would be either to change the ordinary laws or, worse still, the provisions of the Constitution itself so as to give Members of Parliament (MPs) more and more powers, privileges and perquisites at the expense of the people. Obviously, therefore, citizens would be failing in their civic duty if they leave everything to our MPs to decide. Indeed, the warning signals are out already. Wickremasinghe has said that the MPs now in Parliament would work out the details of the Constitution by consulting the public. Judging by what Presidents and Parliamentarians have done wholesale and piecemeal to our Constitution previously, we are very apprehensive.
Minister Ravi Karunanayake has given an amnesty to encourage those who he says have US$6-8 Billion in Swiss banks to transfer such funds to Sri Lankan banks without facing any penalty or investigation regarding the source of these funds. We have warned that this kind of amnesty will only foster further corruption whilst costing the wrongdoers little or no loss. The serious repercussions of this exercise can be gauged from the fact that Karunanayake has stated that only US450 Million has been brought in.
We have asked the government to investigate and tell the people of Sri Lanka what has happened to the huge stock of gold and foreign currencies accumulated by the LTTE, not to mention the bank accounts, ships, properties etc which were under the guardianship of “KP”. Are we being asked to believe that he was caught empty-handed and brought back on account of the generosity and selflessness of those then in authority? The S-W government, too, has given no hint as to what has happened to these vast secret assets. Being cynics, we may be forgiven for assuming that the new set of robbers have persuaded the old set of robbers to share the spoils. The last thing we remember in this connection is the farcical show that was put on in Temple Trees where about 500 out of the thousands who gave up their gold to the LTTE were allegedly given one sovereign each. Has the S-W government nothing to say about these matters?
Could anyone fault our citizens if they conclude that they have been deceived and betrayed, as Sobitha Thero clearly thought he was?