Beyond the Marapana issue
Posted on November 15th, 2015

Editorial Sunday Times

And so, Tilak Marapana, the Law and Order Minister became the sacrificial lamb to safeguard the good name of the Yahapalana Government when he quit this week. One of the few professionals in the Cabinet, Mr. Marapana was a ‘soft target’ in what is increasingly becoming a power game within the National Government.

What wrong Mr. Marapana did to warrant his throwing in the towel is still unclear, in fact, as murky as the controversy surrounding the cause célèbre’ – the non-case of the Avant Garde floating armoury. Yes, he appeared for the chairman of the company at the centre of the controversy, and yes, he was Minister in charge of the Police that was investigating the company. The moot question would be: Did he interfere in the investigations as the Minister”. That is in contrast to the Justice Minister who made the startling announcement that he prevented the arrest of the former Defence Secretary. This would be interference.

Mr. Marapana’s ‘crime’ was to say that the Police wanted to score marks by presenting a puffed-up report to the Attorney General and that the AG has ruled that, so far, there’s no evidence to institute legal action against the company. The AG took the final decision on Avant Garde after consulting his deputy, the Solicitor General, and two Deputy Solicitors General, all of whom had their own opinions. It is ironic, to put it mildly, that those same folk who praised this AG for advising the former President against imposing a curfew on the night of the presidential election thereby frustrating any thought of defeating the will of the people, are today accusing him of defending certain businessmen. Some are even trying to push the Government to act on the opinion of one in the AG’s Department that suits them best instead of the AG’s considered opinion to prosecute the company. If that isn’t political expediency amounting to blatant interference with the due process and the Rule of Law, what is?

As a former AG, Marapana, is only too aware of how the Police ‘cook up’ evidence in some cases, particularly those of a political nature. There are also ways that the Police can present ‘under-cooked’ or ‘over-cooked’ briefs that crash at a trial. Ministers merely shouting wolf, wolf” is insufficient hard evidence to stand the test of a genuine court case.

In the backdrop of the Marapana resignation, the Government took some decisions to show it was taking corrective action. Our Political Editor explains these in detail on this same page. Fighting sea piracy is a multibillion rupee operation and no doubt others are also eyeing lucrative deals and a share of the pie.

So, does this absolve the Government of the wider allegations of bribery, corruption and nepotism levelled against it in so short a time? Are all the Ministers and Deputies as lily white as their national dress? What about the host of other allegations the JVP leader cast against them last week in his scathing attack in Parliament. He called this an era of ‘deal-making’ and said the rogues of the past, like ghosts, have reappeared — from the ethanol mafia to the drug mafia, the smugglers, contractors of public works, the commission agents to the power brokers to the appointments of brothers and brothers-in-law to Government posts.

Mr. Marapana’s fault was that he told the truth in Parliament, and the truth sometimes hurts. He faced the consequences as a result. By his own admission he is no politician and therefore he should have known better when and where to speak the truth, and when to keep quiet until the storm passed and carry on regardless growing a thick skin in the process. That is how one survives in the political jungle.

Whether therefore Mr. Marapana should be sent to the political wilderness is a matter for his party leadership to decide, a party that strenuously defended the Governor of the Central Bank over a huge bond scandal. But Mr. Marapana did the honourable thing. A Government must be above any hint of suspicion of impropriety – which is a far cry from what this Government is right now.

Those making allegations over the Avant Garde issue were Cabinet Ministers when it all started. What then is their own complicity in the matter? There’s a lot of simplicity – and duplicity in what appears to be a mere smokescreen to much more than this Government is covering up and has to re-calibrate its acclaimed fight against corruption and nepotism if it is to live by its promises made not long ago to the people for a clean Administration.

Tax collection
It has been a bad run-up for the Finance Minister as he puts the finishing touches to a Budget next Friday. The rupee is falling against the dollar while debt repayments are going up; the German Ambassador went public saying the 48-member Cabinet lacks cohesion; the IMF corrected the Minister who claimed there was carte blanche support by the Fund to back the country, and the Prime Minister has already taken some of the sheen away from the budget speech with his mid-term economic policy unveiled last week.

Unlike his brash optimism when he presented the first of his Budgets for reducing prices, the Minister now faces stark reality. Sri Lanka’s economy is in dire straits. The Government is cash-strapped. He had a very simple solution to find this money. He said that all the money looted by the previous Government is sufficient to bridge the budget deficit. That money has not been easy finding, leave alone coming.

The Government has a mountain to climb. It needs Rs. 550 billion more than it now collects, in the next two years through taxes alone to meet collection targets of 14% of GDP by 2016. Revenue collection is beset with exemptions, incentives, loopholes, tax compliance issues and a low tax base. Reform is imperative. Over the past 10 years numerous indirect taxes complicated the tax structure. This needs simplification to ease the burden on the taxpayer and the citizen.

There are reports that VAT (Value Added Tax) is to be abolished and the old BTT (Business Turnover Tax) re-introduced under another name. When countries like Singapore and much of the economically developed world find VAT best, we want to differ. Though VAT in its present form is a mongrel one with distortions, the answer is to remedy it, not to go for home-grown solutions like the previous Government did.

If the PM’s new economic strategy is to succeed, three specific areas need to click insofar as revenue collection goes: Direct taxes that amount to 20% of all tax collections in 2014 must increase significantly. VAT must not be dislodged; and a simplified tax regime put in place.

The people will have to brace themselves as the Government climbs that steep mountain. It is only being dragged back by its own corruption and nepotism, its over-sized public sector, its over-large Cabinet – and its spending beyond its purse.

 

2 Responses to “Beyond the Marapana issue”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    DOOM & GLOOM!

    Marapana escaped from the sinking stinking UNP ship.

    More tax means more DOOM and GLOOM. Bundh!

  2. Independent Says:

    New Govt. Deal With Avant Garde Exposed

    by Bashana Dissanayake

    Although higher officials in the government states that all tenders with regard to the supply of weapons to Avant Garde had been cancelled, it is learnt that the government has signed a new agreement with Avant Garde on October 20 this year.

    The Sunday Leader is in possession of a copy of the new agreement the government entered into with Avant Garde and according to it, the agreement cannot be cancelled before the expiry date. This agreement was signed after Avant Garde gave an assurance that they will pay the outstanding dues to the government.
    According to the new agreement Avant Garde had entered into with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka, which is a government owned establishment, Avant Garde Maritime Service (Pvt) Ltd. can continue in the forward operation center project, fisheries vessel project, floating armoury project in Galle, carriage of arms project by sea and air, unarmed maritime security project and with the armoury project in Rangala, without any hindrance.
    Being a government owned establishment, Directors of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka and Avant Garde had entered into this agreement in the presence of Secretary of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka M. R. G. Ranatunge. Although it is very clear that Avant Garde had entered into an agreement with Rakna Arakshaka Lanka officially, government officials claim that not to allow Avant Garde to carry out their businesses has raised questions.

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