YAHAPALANA AS A PUPPET REGIME Part 5
Posted on November 22nd, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Yahapalana did not forget the ancient Sinhala kings.  A  Punyanumodana national programme was organized to transfer merit on ancient kings and their chief ministers in recognition of their great national and religious service. It was held at the Ruwanweli seya in September 2018 under the patronage of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It included a special ‘Kap Ruk’ pooja and an all-night pirit ceremony.

Yahapalana   also recognized Dutch rule. 15 Government institutions in the Galle Fort were asked to leave the Fort. They were Police Residence,  Police In-Service Training Institute,  Magistrate’s House,  Magistrate’s Court, All Saints’ College,  Galle Fort Post Office,  Bank of Ceylon Office in Hospital Street,  E Court’s Building,  Tea Small Holdings,  Southern Provincial Passenger Transport Authority,  Ports Authority’s official bungalow,  SIPNARA building,  Maritime Archaeological Unit,  Harbor Master’s Office and Sri Lanka Telecom.

The decision to move out the 15 institutions was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM). The buildings vacated will be put to adaptive reuse”, different uses and functions while retaining their historic features. UNESCO National Commission said that UNESCO had never recommended removal of these institutions. Some of these are part and parcel of the living heritage of this important World Heritage Site, This was done without consulting the Department of Archaeology, the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Education under whose purview these listed sites fall.

Yahapalana’s main interest was running the country. It set about this in a very unique way. Under Yahapalana the ministries had odd combinations of subjects. There was Ministry of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms, Ministry of Higher Education and Highways, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife and Ministry of Digital infrastructure and Foreign employment.   In addition, the Departments of Archaeology, National Archives,   Cultural affairs, National museums and Tower Hall Foundation were placed under the Ministry of Education. Sigiriya was under Education. However, in May 2018, these departments reverted to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

Yahapalana had five successive chairmen for Lanka Sathosa within a space of 34 months. The fifth also stepped down in 2017. Public servants in high positions hesitated to take decisions for fear of being summoned before the FCID (Financial Crime Investigations Division.

Yahapalana said that the Secretaries to Ministries, Heads of Departments, Chairpersons, Executive Officers and Accountants of Government Institutions should take the responsibility of paying salaries to the  workers they have employed in addition to the approved Cadre. They will also have to make the relevant statutory payments such as to Employees Provident Fund and Employees Trust Fund. There are over 7500 personnel employed in various government institutions above the Cadre positions approved by the Management Services Department of the Treasury, said Yahapalana.

There was a directive from Premier Wickremesinghe to every Minister in May 2018, giving a list of the MPs who have been assigned to coordinate development projects and programmes implemented by their ministries. Ministers must assign duties to these MPs, provide them with the required staff and arrange transport.

Whilst some Secretaries are challenging the legal validity of a Minister distributing his functions (already allocated by the President), others are questioning about how they could authorize transport, office facilities and staff which involve expenditure.  One distraught Secretary said I don’t want to end up in the FCID for abusing state funds.” The task of closely coordinating development programmes and reviewing them could be done without the perks sought. The MPs have their vehicles and staff already and they now have to review what the Minister and his Deputy do.”

However, public officers are also pampered by Yahapalana. Senior public officials including Ministry Secretaries will be getting new car permits with high duty cuts and unlimited values, in some cases at almost zero duty announced the media in March 2018. Tax concessions were also offered to higher grade public sector officials in the rank of Secretaries, Additional Secretaries and Director Generals in public, provincial and judicial services. Around 6000 officials are eligible to apply for duty slashed vehicle permits. Senior public sector executives serving in those posts for six years and over will also get this chance under the new scheme.

The new circular has not stipulated the maximum Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF) value of the vehicle and therefore the senior public officials could import any vehicle of their choice, A maximum CIF value of the vehicle in dollar terms was indicated in all previous vehicle permits issued to senior public officials.

A tax reduction of Rs. 22 million, Rs. 16 million and Rs. 12 million will be given under the new duty slashed vehicle permit scheme of senior public provincial and judicial sector officials including retired officers in those grades, the Public Administration Ministry circular said. Under the new scheme these officials could import super luxury vehicles at almost zero duty. However senior government servants cannot afford such vehicles.

Meanwhile the Finance Ministry has also issued a separate circular to release vehicle permits for senior public officers and executive officers attached to ministries, state corporations and other statutory boards, doctors and legal officers attached to the Government service, university vice chancellors, university lecturers and executive grade officers attached to university non-academic staff. These senior public officials will get a Rs. 5 million deduction from payable duty when importing vehicles using the duty slashed permits. The Treasury stands to lose at least Rs. 65 billion in tax revenue per year due to all these duty reductions said analysts.

The Yahapalana government went out of its way to harass the general public. Pensions and allowances were delayed, reduced or withdrawn. The Samurdhi allowance of 800,000 families in the Western Province was pruned. Yakkalamulla PS coordinating committee reported that the monthly Samurdhi allowance of Rs 5000 for mothers of twins has been stopped by the Samurdhi Ministry.   Senior citizens of Seethawaka DS area had received their Rs 2000 relief allowance.

Samurdhi beneficiaries of the Ambalantota Divisional Secretariat staged a series of protests in August 2017, against the pruning of their Samurdhi allowances. They blocked the Matara-Kataragama main road, disrupting vehicular traffic. Another protest was held in front of the Suriyawewa Divisional Secretariat Office. The protesters blocked Wiharagala main road for a couple of hours.

Flood relief money was also withheld. Residents of the Diggoda division of Palindanuwara DS   who had suffered extensive property losses due to a major flood in May 2017 had not received their compensation even in November 2018. ‘We have sent numerous requests, but in vain,’ they said.

Kotikawatte Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha demonstrated at Avissawella in July 2018, saying the flood relief money due for the 2016 floods has not been received. At a flood compensation committee meeting at Galle in 2017, there were protests about the meager sum of Rs 1700 offered. the Minister was told ‘we      won’t vote UNP again. In May 2018, fishermen complained that they had not received their petrol allocation.

Those over 70 years and whose monthly income is below Rs. 3000 are given a monthly allowance of Rs 2000 through the National Secretariat for Elders (NSE) which functions under the Ministry of Social Empowerment and Welfare.  From 2017, Yahapalana deducted Rs. 100 from this. There was a protest. The   money was to set up day-care centers for the elderly and other welfare activities said the NSE. These will be centers where they can spend time in reading or mingling with other senior citizens.  The ministry planned to set up 1,074 day care centers for elders, starting in 2018.

All Island Elders Society which works with destitute elders alleged that the money was not been used for any welfare for the needy.  With nearly 300,000 elders receiving the Rs. 2,000 allowance, millions had been collected by deducting Rs. 100 monthly. The elders have to sign a paper saying they have received the full amount but are given only Rs 1,900. What happens to the Rs 100?” The Ministry said that the money was also being used to pay Samurdhi workers an allowance for delivering the money to the homes of the beneficiaries. The Society said most recipients went to the post office to collect the allowance.

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) said the Rs.100 deduction has been done without the approval of the Ministry of Finance. The NSE should return the deducted amount to the beneficiaries .It was neither reasonable nor ethical”. There was Rs 6.9 million in the fixed account of the NSE and this could be converted into a welfare fund. The Prime Minister office said it was going to set up a Management Information System for the NSE to manage a data base and keep a tab on the expenditure.

On a directive from the Auditor General’s Department, the Department of Pensions has started deducting on an installment basis the commuted pension paid to the Supreme Court judges and Court of Appeal judges on their retirement. The Pensions Department was now gathering information on the retired SC and CA judges who had been paid the commuted pension in order to recover the commuted pension paid to them. The judges have protested. Constitutionally the salary payable to and the pension entitlement of a Supreme Court judge or a Court of Appeal judge cannot be reduced after his or her appointment.

Yahapalana harassed in other ways too. Consumer Affairs Authority conducted raids and inspections in the Divisional Secretariat Divisions in the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota. These raids and inspections were conducted on the orders of the Minister of Industries and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen.

There were 211 raids. They were carried out on display and sale of food items unsuitable for human consumption, display and sale of expired food items, changing set prices on labels and selling them at excessive rates, selling electrical appliances without issuing warranty cards, sale of cement above set prices, non-display of price lists, hoarding essential food items and violating orders, rules and regulations of the Consumer Affairs Authority. They had collected over Rs. 610,000 in fines from errant traders.

Traffic fines were revised in an Extraordinary Gazette notification issued on January 15, 2018. Three spot fines which were included in the previous fine sheet have been removed from the new one. These include driving without a license, underage driving and employing a person who does not possess a license. These offenders will be produced before court.

There were spot fines for 33 traffic violations. Fourteen new offenses are included under the revised spot fines. The minimum Rs.20 fine has been increased to Rs.500 whereas the highest spot fine which is Rs.3, 000 will be for non-compliance with speed limit provisions. the fines have to be paid within 14 days and it would be doubled if the payment of fine is not made during the next additional 14 days.

Ceylon Motorcyclists Association, said.”During the last three years police have been following a policy of deliberately targeting the poorest segments in the society. Our organization receives dozens of complaints daily that the police are damaging their vehicles and are framing them for things that they don’t do. Often the policemen destroy helmet cameras. We received over a thousand complaints from motorcyclists in April that Police had removed their modified silencers. But there are no laws that deal with silencers. Regulations must be introduced first. The Association would file an FR case, if necessary.

Fuel prices were jacked up four times since May 2018. As a result, there were two prices for petrol in Sri Lanka. The increased price of the IOC remained unchanged, while Ceypetco price went up and down. Yahapalana said that they had a fuel pricing formula and they would raise the prices of fuel on the 10th of each month. They did to so on 10.9.18 to the fury of the public. The public said that fuel prices must stay put for at least      six month. Mangala Samaraweera said firmly that it will change every month.

A three-time fuel price increase within a short period of four months has snowballed into price hikes in a variety of goods and services. Taxi fares for a trip from Colombo Fort to the Bandaranaike International Airport, both in four-wheel vehicles and three wheeler scooters, have gone up by Rs 600., reported the media in August.

Under Yahapalana we have seen an unprecedented level of organized crime and violence, said the media. The underworld is very much active. They receive protection money they are in the narcotics trade and  they are contract killers.

Street shootings have become common. In June 2018, there was a robbery at jewellery shop in Matara. There was a shootout where the gang used modern weapons, including, for the first time in Sri Lanka, an Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun. Police suspect the powerful gun had been smuggled into the country. The two offenders taken in were form the underworld and wanted for many crimes. One was Kosgoda Taraka.

A hero’s welcome was accorded to underworld gangster Kosgoda Tharaka, when he was sent to Angunkolapalessa remand prison for killing a policeman at Matara.  A party had also been thrown as part of the welcome. Tharaka was carried on the shoulders of the inmates of Angunakolapalessa prison in a procession. According to prison sources the welcome ceremony had been organized under the instructions of Makandure Madush, who is considered the leader of the Sri Lankan underworld. He is currently hiding in Dubai. Sources said that Madush had instructed his henchmen behind bars to look after Tharaka well and attend to all his needs during his stay in prison. Kosgoda Tharaka is said to be an underworld figure wanted in connection with murders and several other crimes.

Yahapalana government is now declared to be the most corrupt government we have ever had. The main example of high corruption is of course, the two Bond scams. Here are three other instance of corruption.

The Govijana Mandiraya, at Battaramulla, which housed the Agriculture Ministry earlier, was taken over for the use of Parliament when the Sectoral Oversight Committees were formed. Therefore a building owned by D.P. Jayasinghe Tours and Transport Co. (Pvt.) Ltd was rented for the Agriculture Ministry It had the space to house the Ministry of Agriculture and it was in close proximity to Parliament as well.

The building was leased out for a period of five years starting April 2016. The entire building was to be leased out for a monthly rental of Rs.21 million plus taxes, 24 months’ rent in advance and three months’ security deposit to be paid. The Ministry has already paid Rs. 504 million as the rent for the past three years. In case, the government cancels the agreement, the owner of DPJ Tower will have to be paid Rs 456 mn for the remaining two years. This building has not been used. No explanation has been provided either. the Ministry had a bare land which was one hectare in extent at Battaramulla and a building complex could have been constructed there with the money spent on rent said critics.

In monetary terms this transaction boils down to

  • An advance of two years rent amounting to Rs 504 million, excluding taxes
  • A monthly payment of Rs. 21million for the first two years (even though a two year rent advance payment of Rs 504 million has already been made) amounting to Rs 504 million.
  • Another rent payment of Rs 252 million for the third year. Total payment for the building so far: Rent 756 million plus two year rent advance 504 million Rs. 1,260 million.
  • With the increase of 15 percent in the rent after the third year, a monthly payment of Rs. 24,150,000 which amounts to a payment of Rs. 579,600,000 for the last two years. But since the advance of the two year rent is to be deducted in these last two years of the lease, the Government will have to pay only Rs. 75 million for this period of two year.
  • The final tally for this five year lease will thus be: Rs 1,335 million.
  • And that’s without the interest earned on the two year rent of Rs 504 million paid in advance and on the 63 million security deposit.

Agrarian Services Department had authorized a private property development company to reclaim 406 acres of the Muturajawela Sanctuary, one of the most sensitive and important wetlands in the country, The private company has paid the department Rs 32 million to reclaim 65,102 perches of wetlands in Thuduwa Bopitiya and Kunjawatta gramaseva divisions. “This is illegal’. said Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) ‘You can’t use lands that belong to a sanctuary for commercial purposes This deal was done by former officials in the department in such a secretive manner that  the current Commissioner General of the Department didn’t even know when we told him what was going on”.

Muthurajawela is an important eco-system and plays an important role in flood management in the area. In 1994 the government came up with a plan to divide the Muthurajawela into three parts. The section which was close to Colombo was declared an industrial zone and the area near the Negombo lagoon was declared a sanctuary. The section in between was declared a buffer zone to prevent interaction between the industrial area and the sanctuary.

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) urged President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate irregularities at the Health Ministry during the last three years.”There was a lot of corruption at the Health Ministry on Rajitha Senaratna’s watch. There should be an investigation into this,” GMOA said. (Island 30.10.18 p 3)

Hospitals island wide came out with posters saying they do not want Rajitha back as Minister. A total of 14,000 doctors (90 percent of doctors in the public service) have signed a petition against the former Health Minister and expressed their objection towards re-appointing him even as a Cabinet Minister. They said the former Health Minister had launched a plan to join the new government and grab the Health Ministry again.

In October 2018, a Presidential Secretariat team accompanied by police officers sealed the Health Ministry, following information that some persons were attempting to remove files from the premises. A group had entered the Ministry and were rummaging through the files. Some files may have been removed from the premises by the time the tip-off was given said commentators.  The documents probably related to certain government health sector appointments and tenders to procure pharmaceuticals. ( continued)

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