Shifting the focus: Putting on a show
Posted on June 10th, 2018

Former United National Party General Secretary Kabir Hashim is on record that he had no need to accept money from Perpetual Treasuries. He claimed that he has enough personal wealth that he could even lend money to Perpetual Treasuries. He is clearly trying to disassociate himself from the 118 MPs to have allegedly accepted money from Arjun Aloysius. In the meantime, Maithripala Sirisena is on the war path with the UNP. He is clearly trying to pin the blame of the country’s present economic woes on the UNP and absolve himself from the sin of destroying a fast growing economy. For all appearances the Unity Government is crumbling. However, in reality it is not so.

The Unity Government was installed by foreign powers to achieve a certain agenda and it is very much on track. The government worthies are aware that this course is killing their political careers. Yet, they not only remain committed to the course, but are doing it in a manner that keeps the public distracted over other issues. The recent shut down of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s brother’s TNL TV station transmission centres without prior warning is a case in point. Both Mangala Samaraweera and Harsha de Silva have expressed their disapproval. All the trappings to howl over media freedom are in place.

However, recently in Parliament Joint Opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa exposed the inimical agenda of this government. This government’s economic policy is not in the interest of the people, but to fulfil the neo-liberal policies of the foreign masters, who from behind the scenes, helped to install them to power. When analyzing the economic decisions this government took over the past three years, there is clear evidence that it is to cater and pave way for the neo-liberalists and for the money launderers, he accused.

In a previous budget proposal a number of decisions to aid the global liberalization of the economy were taken. For instance, the previous Exchange Control Act was replaced with a new one. This new Act removed the authority the Central Bank had to monitor and control the foreign exchange that was coming and leaving the country. Instead, it now allows black money to flow into the country and using that money to invest in property. The main aim of this new Act was to make this country a haven for money launderers. Already, internationally we are being discredited as one of the top five destinations to legitimize black money.

Property tax on foreigners

During the previous administration, foreigners buying property in Sri Lanka were subjected to a hundred per cent tax. Thus a foreigner had to pay Rs 400 million for a property worth Rs 200 million. The objective was two-fold: one was to discourage foreigners buying our land and the other was to benefit the Government coffers. Weerawansa asked when did the Yahapalana voter asked this tax to be removed. The Act was amended to ease money launderers to convert black money. The easiest way to convert was to invest in property and that was the reason to remove this tax. This will not only encourage money launderers, but other racketeers as well. For instance, it was decided to sell the EAP Group assets to the UK Lyca Group, which Weerawansa accused of being funded by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorist organization’s money. This was given to Lyca Group when a local investor had already placed a higher bid for the assets, he revealed. Likewise, with these underworld racketeers will come to this country drug traffickers and other dangerous underworld characters, he warned.

This is not the only evidence that can be presented of this government’s commitment to neo-liberal policies. The engine oil of neo-liberalism is institutionalizing and legalizing fraud, he noted. Though the Central Bank Bond scams were exposed and two are in remand prison, while Arjuna Mahendran is carefree in Singapore. As the Bonds scams were exposed, a new Amendment was brought that legalized the borrowing of ten per cent of the total loans obtained to date from any lender at any interest. This Amendment simply legalized the Bond scams, he accused.

VAT fraudulence is a crime. However, this government gives tax breaks to companies, like the one to the wheat company. Yet, the prices of wheat-based products were not reduced, he noted. Then, what happened to the concession that cost the Government coffers an annual income of Rs 34,000 million, he asked. This is much greater than the immediate damage caused by the Bond scams, though the long-term damage from the Bond scams to the economy would be much greater.

For milk powder companies a concession of Rs 18,000 million was given without a thought to the local milk producer and the industry. Still, it did not reduce the price of any of the milk products. From this concession, did the consumer of this country benefit or did the economy get a push, he questioned. Is it not for the subject minister to earn a commission from these concessions that these tax breaks are given, questioned Weerawansa.

What was the purpose of signing a free trade agreement with Singapore when all our produce sent to Singapore had always been hundred per cent free of tax. Yet, without proper Cabinet approval but producing falsified documents to show such approval, hoodwinking the Ministers and the President, Minister Malik Samarawickrema and his Secretary quickly signed this agreement with Singapore, Weerawansa accused. This document has not been presented to the Parliament.

The Singapore Government is on record stating that the immediate benefit from this FTA to Singapore with just the current exports to Sri Lanka is USD 10 million. However, it is not the current exports from Singapore that is of utmost concern. This FTA allows man-power companies to bring in labourers and domestic workers to Sri Lanka. The companies are registered in Singapore, but the workers can be from India, Malaysia, or China. If a construction company needed 1,000 workers, these companies can get them down. This will in turn reduce the labour cost. If the mason is now earning a daily wage of Rs 1,500, it can be halved.

Now, there is no need to sign the ECTA with India, he asserted for now Indian, Malaysian and Chinese labourers can just come to the country. This will adversely affect our professionals and labourers. It is from the forex earned by our citizens working as house maids in the Middle East that will be used to pay for these foreign labourers. This FTA even includes produce that are not even produced in Singapore, like rice. This is to redirect the excess harvest of Thai rice at low prices via Singapore with Singaporean label with a tax concession.

According to Minister Eran Wickramaratne this government will present the deeds of State land currently leased by the paddy farmers. On the face of it, this is a very humane gesture, but its real motive is not, noted Weerawansa. Over seventy per cent of our land is still free from urbanization, but with all necessary infrastructure. This has protected our agriculture industry. First, this government paved the way for foreigners to easily purchase land in Sri Lanka. Whilst doing so, instead of the prices promised during elections, the government has reduced the price of rice to about Rs 30 per kg. This forces the farmer into debt to continue with his cultivation. Once the land deeds are handed over, the farmer – whether he likes it or not – is forced to sell the land he had been cultivating to settle his loans. This will destroy the agriculture industry of this country, which is the neo-liberal agenda. Currently, there is a feasibility study being conducted with a foreign company to install solar power panels in those lands.

He concluded his speech by comparing the economic growth of the previous administration and this government. Even at the height of the war, the average economic growth of the previous administration was close to seven per cent; in 2015 it reduced to five per cent, in 2016 it was 4.5 per cent and fell further to 3.1 per cent in 2017. The debt at the end of 2014 was Rs 7,391 billion; by 2017 it was Rs 10,312 billion. That is an increase of 40 per cent without any investment to show for it. The Rupee had unprecedentedly depreciated by 19 per cent. This is where our attention needs to be and not on the circus show enacted by government worthies.

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