Crooked politicians blocking foreign investments
Posted on November 14th, 2017

PROF. O.A. ILEPERUMA Courtesy The Island


The letter by Fr. Augustine Fernando on “Corruption threatens all investments” (Island 3-11-2017) should be an eye opener to our President and the Prime Minister, as it gives vivid details of how corrupt ministers ruin our country. They only serve themselves rather than the people of this country. This letter particularly deals with ministers who demand fat commissions from potential foreign investors. The inevitable result is that, investors shy away from Sri Lanka resulting in many lost job opportunities for our youth.

Recently a news item highlighted the case of an investor who was willing to build a mass transit monorail system and some government politicians demanded big commissions, causing the investor to leave the country in disgust. Many misdeeds of the previous government have now surfaced, including many shady land deals. Such corrupt practices are not restricted to foreign investment, but also to development of local industries by Government owned corporations. Several years ago, when the then Chairman of Lanka Phosphate Ltd. planned to commence the production of phosphate fertiliser in Sri Lanka using our own Eppawela rock phosphate, he was unceremoniously removed from his post. A powerful minister in the previous government had other thoughts of selling this deposit to a foreign company. These ministers think that all our natural resources are their private property, and local manufacture of fertiliser was anathema to this minister, which will deprive him of handsome commissions from a foreign joint venture. Had this venture succeeded, we would have saved around Rs.1000 million in foreign exchange, which we now use to import phosphate fertilizer, provided farmers with fertilizer at half its imported price and created a number of job opportunities for our youth.

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Privatisation of state assets has always been a failure. One example is the National Paper Corporation with factories at Valaichchenai and Embilipitiya, which have been non-functional for decades, depriving job opportunities to residents in these areas. There is a skeleton staff at Valaichchenai factory who are idling but drawing their salaries Again, politicians who promoted their privatisation have got their share of money leaving hapless citizens to suffer. Recently Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd. was listed as a loss making entity by our economic planners. On the contrary, this institution was making substantial profits and in 2014 earned a net profit of Rs. 1400 million, which went into the government coffers. What is required here is to commence value addition to the mineral sands through local expertise to produce commercially viable products.

Father Fernando has labelled the President, Prime Minister and the Finance Minister as honest politicians. However, their inaction on the relevant ministers and officials is inexcusable. Popular websites have exposed the misdeeds of some ministers, but there is no inquiry or any other visible action against them. It is not only the ministers who demand bribes, but all officials down to the peon are equally corrupt. Even at the provincial level, politicians make money out from various projects. Land developers who block out smaller plots from larger estates have to pay the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha around Rs. 1000 per perch of the land in order to get the plans approved. This is not all, from the technical officers to clerks at the office, all have to be taken care of or otherwise the file will go missing!

There was an exiled Sri Lankan in Canada running a factory there converting waste polythene into heavy duty pipes, which are exported to USA. During a visit to Sri Lanka this young Sri Lankan businessman offered to set up a similar factory in Sri Lanka at a meeting with the minister. However, the minister later demanded 50% of the shares in the joint venture and that was the end of this project. This investor left Sri Lanka in disgust since Canadian law prohibits its citizens from offering bribes for overseas investments.

Is a parliament really necessary to run a country? Belgium ran without a government for a record 589 days in 2011. A caretaker government ran the administration without any hindrance. Even Netherlands, which had the elections in March 2017, is without a government run by a parliament, and the economy of Netherlands is booming compared to other EU countries under the present caretaker government with only 14 ministers. The question arises as to whether the Parliament of Sri Lanka is doing anything useful to the country except passing supplementary estimates – mostly to buy vehicles for ministers, furnishing their offices and repairing official residences.Even last week they passed a supplementary estimate of Rs. 1400 million, mostly for foreign junkets of ministers, secretaries and other officials. No wonder why Mr. Wimal Weerawansa threatened to bomb the Parliament!

The saddest thing of all is the deafening silence of the opposition who pursue their own political agendas. Many decisions taken by the government ministers are accepted without even a hum from the opposition. The opposition has a moral right to highlight the actions of ministers, which are detrimental to the country. One such example is a decision taken by a former petroleum minister to change the transport of petroleum fuel from trains to bowsers. A train can carry the load of over 50 bowsers and costs much less.At the present time these large bowsers take petrol from Kolonnawa to places such as Kurunegala and Kandy, and then the fuel is locally distributed using Ceypetco bowsers. These bowser rigs cause so much of traffic congestion and air pollution and are also much more expensive. Again, the minister may have got his share of money and finally the customer will have to pay the additional costs involved. Obviously, if train transport is used petrol could be sold at a cheaper price.

Recently Dr. Parakrama Waidyanatha (Island 8-11-2017) stressed the importance of having a non-political expert panel to determine national policies and priorities, similar to the National Planning Commission of India. It is inconceivable that our politicians will agree to implement any such proposal coming from an independent body detrimental to their vested personal interests. About a year back, an expert committee was appointed to look into the current state of affairs of four government undertakings: Lanka Mineral Sands, Lanka Phosphate Ltd., Paranthan Chemicals and National Paper Company Ltd, where I served as a member. This committee submitted the final report to the Presidential Secretariat nearly one year back. There were several recommendations such as the establishment of a sulphuric acid plant which can be used to manufacture our phosphate fertilizer requirement and also able to produce pigment grade titanium from our mineral sands. The lack of a response to this proposal is not surprising given the way in which our politicians act. Politicians are more involved in keeping their group happy and prevent crossovers from the ruling party to the opposition. The ministers in turn want to see that any project implemented should bring them substantial personal monetary benefits.

Development of local industries and opening of factories by foreign investors will generate employment for our youth. Sri Lanka experienced terrorism in the North and two major insurgencies in the South where many lives were lost. The fundamental cause of these is the lack of suitable employment opportunities, particularly for young people. Discouraging potential foreign investors and the development of local industry is a national crime, and I hope at least a few honest members in the Parliament, particularly those from the JVP, should address this issue and make their voices heard in Parliament.

PROF. O.A. ILEPERUMA

2 Responses to “Crooked politicians blocking foreign investments”

  1. Nimal Says:

    I too brought three investors and we had to use people like the brokers to get things done but it was too much for my friends jump so many hurdles deliberately created by the people in power to take advantage of the foreigner. Truly disgraceful and they call it a darmarayaya.Bring the colonials to have a just and a fair minded, orderly country free of corruption.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    “The saddest thing of all is the deafening silence of the opposition who pursue their own political agendas. Many decisions taken by the government ministers are accepted without even a hum from the opposition.

    And they protest OUTSIDE parliament.

    Outside parliament they are HOUNDS.
    Inside parliament they are POODLES.

    Thank you professor for thinking about SL without SLFP, UNP, SLPP, JVP frames. They are all crooks.

    When one crow STEALS something, other crows scream but QUITELY fly after the thieving crow to get a piece of the loot!!!!! Our opposition is like that.

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