Toddy income and whiskey lifestyle
Posted on September 8th, 2017

Courtesy The Island

Several yahapalana ministers lamented during a parliamentary debate on the draconian tax reforms on Thursday that the government revenue was falling rapidly and its expenditure rising steeply. Tax laws had to be amended to increase the government revenue, they argued. Ironically, they said so, one day after the presentation of a supplementary estimate which, among other things, sought as much as Rs. 58 mn for a ministerial vehicle.

Governments face financial difficulties, but burdening people with more taxes is not the only way to set about tackling the problem. If new Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera cares to ask any grandma how to increase government income, she will tell him to cut down on government waste urgently as the first step. A rupee saved is a rupee earned. The government won’t be able to have people believe that it is faced with pecuniary difficulties, given the criminal waste of public funds it shamelessly indulges in. The yahapalana regime has so far spent more than two billion rupees on brand new super luxury vehicles for its ministers in addition to the fleets of flashy limos and SUVs at their disposal. Perhaps, maintaining Buckingham Palace costs much less than repairs to the palaces of our political grandees.

The yahapalana leaders came to power, promising to be different from the Rajapaksa regime which was notorious for its members’ vulgar display of wealth. They used to shout pithy slogans such as ‘unta Lamborghini, apita badagini [‘Lamborghinis for rulers and pangs of hunger for the public’]. They pledged to adopt austerity measures so as to save enough money to repay loans and develop the country so much so that Maithripala Sirisena, in the run-up to the last presidential election, declared that he would operate from Polonnaruwa if elected President. But, today, another president’s house has come up in Colombo! Political rejects are holding ministerial posts and living in clover thanks to their ability to lick their leaders’ boots and sandals.

Corruption continues to cause staggering losses to the public purse. The most expensive expressway in the world is being built through the Central Province, according to Rathu Sahodarayas, who threw their weight behind the yahapalana camp. Bond scams have made state banks and the workers’ superannuation fund lose billions of rupees. The racketeers responsible for those financial rackets are seen moving about freely though incriminating evidence is available against them. Sri Lanka has become a dystopia like the one we find in Orwell’s Animal Farm. The government seems to believe that all Sri Lankans are equal before the law, but the yahapalana leaders and their kith and kin are more equal than others!

No government in the developing world can survive on its tax revenue alone. That may be possible in the Global North, where direct taxes from wealthy citizens and corporate giants generate enough revenue for governments. The yahapalana government ought to manage the profitable state ventures properly and turn around the loss incurring ones as a national priority if it is to increase its revenue without squeezing the public dry. Unfortunately, it seems to believe that the divestiture of state ventures is the key to economic prosperity! What it proposes to do after selling all public assets to foreigners is the question.

When the present government was formed its supporters may have thought their leaders would lead simple lives like former President of Uruguay Jose Mujica, who lived in his wife’s farmhouse instead of the grand presidential palace and donated to charity about 90 percent of his 12,000-US-dollar salary. He used a vintage Beetle, his only material asset! Even as the President he received treatment at state-run hospitals, that, too, after waiting in long queues. But, the yahapalana leaders fly away to foreign hospitals at the first sign of a cold, trotting out lame excuses.

We are reminded of a prominent leftist’s wisecrack in times of yore; he said his opponents were enjoying a whiskey lifestyle on a toddy income!

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