A dangerous hyperloop
Posted on March 1st, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

It is reported that ‘serial entrepreneur’ Elon Musk is planning to build a hyperloop between Washington DC and New York to enable a trip between the two cities in less than half an hour. Amidst what has come to be known as the tubular tizzy Musk’s futuristic vision has generated, comes the news of a hyperloop project in Sri Lanka, of all places. It is the brainchild of none other than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. There is a difference, though. Musk is all out to facilitate swift transportation and Wickremesinghe fast borrowing.

The yahapalana government has proposed new laws necessary for the implementation of its debt hyperloop project. It has presented to Parliament the Active Liability Management Bill (ALMB), which seeks parliamentary authorisation for borrowing over one trillion rupees from local and foreign sources in excess of the existing borrowing limits. The ALMB seeks to grant the government carte blanche anent the utilisation of borrowed funds; the politicians responsible for handling them will be free from civil or criminal liability.

Yahapalana politicians’ antipathy towards time-tested systems and mechanisms is monumental. They overlooked the direct placement of Treasury bonds and opted for the auction method. Thus, they prepared the ground for the mega bond scams which have caused staggering losses to the state and workers’ savings fund. They don’t seem to have learnt from the bond frauds which have taken a heavy toll on their electoral performance. They are also all out to introduce what is called the National Payment Platform (NPP), which even the Central Bank has vehemently objected to.

A huge underhand payment is believed to have been made to a private company involved in the controversial NPP scheme in an ad hoc manner. Let the Opposition take this up in Parliament and demand a response from the government. Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe, who plays an activist role, can also order a probe and ascertain whether there has been some financial hanky-panky.

Setting a thief to catch a thief is the best way to set about dealing with thefts. Now, the Joint Opposition (JO), consisting of a bunch of holier-than-thou worthies, known for spouting off about the financial improprieties of the current administration, has taken exception to the ALMB. Anyway, even the police enlist the support of lawbreakers who are blessed with adequate grey matter to solve crimes committed by others, don’t they? So, the JO’s efforts to defeat the ALMB are welcome.

Among the notable critics of the ALMB is former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has said, in a media statement, the yahapalana government has got into this mess and is desperate to borrow money because of the harebrained measures such as thumping pay hike for the public sector and the drastic reduction in the prices of fuel gas etc. it adopted to win elections in 2015. His government was also known for a borrowing frenzy and, therefore, one may ask him whether he has any moral right to be critical of the present regime’s loan spree. However, his warning of the dangers of the ALMB with a built-in indemnity clause should be taken seriously.

It is said that a rupee saved is a rupee earned. The yahapalana government had better eliminate waste and cut down on its expenditure urgently as the first step towards overcoming the country’s pecuniary woes. Corruption has also cost the public purse dear. The government’s much-publicised anti-corruption drive has come a cropper to all intents and purposes. Some of its big guns themselves are indulging in corruption in what appears to be an effort to make up for lost time. Obtaining more loans with no action being taken to stop waste and corruption is like dumping funds into a bottomless pit.

In the run-up to the recently concluded local government polls, President Maithripala Sirisena expressed displeasure at the way the economy was being run; he promised to take over the task of managing the economy first thing after the polls. It is now patently clear that the self-proclaimed economic experts in the yahapalana administration have failed pathetically. Will the President make good on his promise?

The ALMB must be resisted tooth and nail and defeated lest the country should become the Greece of Asia before long. There is a hidden danger which we mustn’t lose sight of. If the new borrowing laws come into effect with immunity being granted to political leaders from civil and criminal liability, they will surely be abused by future governments as well. There is the possibility of another loan crazy Rajapaksa government being formed and what the situation will be in such an eventuality is not difficult to imagine. Therefore, even the backers of the current dispensation ought not to hesitate to oppose the ALMB.

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