An alternative to Privatization & making State Assets/Resources profitable in Sri Lanka
Posted on May 20th, 2022

Shenali D Waduge

The current reality is: Sri Lanka has a financial problem

  • Our expenses are higher than our revenues
  • Living off loans & paying back with interest is not the solution
  • Mismanagement, Waste & Corruption
  • Public assets/resources not utilized to the benefit of the People
  • The people too have got used to living beyond their means & drawn to lead a lifestyle that they cannot sustain

Government is given only Temporary Public Trusteeship of the State

The sovereignty of a Nation lies with the People & the People delegate their power to those they elect as their representatives.

Thus, a government is only a temporary guardian/custodian of the People’s assets & resources. This means a government cannot barter the People’s resources/assets willy-nilly without asking the People or presenting a valid reason for doing so. The rationale behind this is that a government is responsible for only the duration of their elected term & if that is so, then they cannot take decisions for anything beyond the term they take responsibility for.

The current situation arises from the loss of trust & faith in what the People expected from their elected governments. Politicians have failed in their duty or have been drawn to fleece the county and to this cycle of corruption businesses & even public officials have joined.

The scale of corruptions & mismanagement ends up a burden on the People. People end up paying taxes which cannot meet the wastage/corruptions. We all agree that the corruptions/wastage must stop or be curbed to a bare minimum.

A country’s wealth or power comes essentially from the economic power it yields from the consolidated powers deriving from food security/energy security/monetary security/internal security/external security etc. The economy is key & priority.

Now we come to the question of how do we address Sri Lanka’s financial crisis.

There are 2 schools of thought offering solutions

  1. To privatize state assets & forsake all burdens under government
  2. To make state assets profitable via a local mechanism/model

Privatization is a very easy and short-sighted answer. Though it may provide an immediate solution, it affords long term problems that are often irreversible & detrimental.

  • Government loses a key source to tax people – eventually resulting in a government not having anything to tax. A government without fiscal independence is of no use & becomes powerless
  • Privatization badly negotiated & minus safety clauses including exit clauses and protective clauses is likely to land a nation in trouble – there are increasing examples of companies taking governments to court & winning massive compensations which ultimately ends up charged to the taxpayer
  • Privatization may also become a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation – when foreign multinational companies acquire coastal belts, resources, assets, minerals etc they will directly dictate to the people (a task entrusted to a government)
  • National ownership gets transferred from an initial local party used as a front to a foreign party who runs the show from behind the scenes. This poses many legal /sovereignty challenges to a nation as well.
  • Simply siphoning off state assets/resources is prone to indirect/direct foreignization of Sri Lanka & impoverishing a nation. The people are brought down to the level of slave hood to the foreign entities that own & control them.

Foreign parties keen to invest overseas do so, not out of any love for us. They are only looking at what they can gain & what is beneficial to them. Unfortunately, they have found it easy to win their wish-lists via commissions to both politicians and officials, invariably denying the necessary non-negotiable clauses to protect the nation’s assets and resources.

If privatization had clauses where no foreign sale of land or resources and limited term for lease & reviewal of agreements – these projects are unlikely to even commence. Beggars can’t be choosers but a beggar may not even have a tree as a shade if everything and anything is agreed, simply to proceed with privatization. This logic is unacceptable.

Many should now seriously look at the impact of privatization instead of parroting privatization because once the sale of state assets/resources/minerals/coasts/air etc commences – Sri Lanka’s government will have no power to take it back & people’s sovereignty would have been usurped from them. These scenarios have occurred to other countries like Haiti & Sri Lankans should not think such an eventuality will not happen to them.

The 2nd option is workable and can easily be rolled out if the right people are given the reigns to turn Sri Lanka around – it will not take even 5 years to reap the benefits.

We are all in agreement that the current manner State entities are run with political interference/political incompetent appointees must stop. Now is the time to pressure the Govt to agree to proposals beneficial to the country.

If sovereignty is inalienable & with the People. The people have a duty to protect the States resources and assets to pass down to the next generation. Siphoning them to privatization violates this trusteeship principle. People means not just this generation but future generations as well. This generation has no moral right to give up resources/assets that belong to future generations too.

We are all in agreement that we need a dynamic mechanism with people who are committed and determined to resurrect Sri Lanka from its current unfortunate condition. It is possible & our people can.

To take on this magnanimous task we need an Economic Resource Management Commission (ERMC) – a 100% profit making planning body

  • This Commission must be included into the list of Independent Commissions in the Constitution
  • All state entities will come under this Commission
  • The mandate of this Commission is to not privatize but to turn SOEs (assets/resources) into profit centres.
  • The Economic Resource Management Commission will comprise a 10 member Board appointed by the President of Sri Lanka
    • 2 senior entrepreneurs with proven enterprise management capabilities (nominated by registered Chambers of Sri Lanka)
    • 2 nominees from Professional Organizations/Recognized institutes
    • 2 senior professors with integrity nominated by state universities
    • 1 Treasury Secretary or his nominee
    • 1 from Attorney General’s dept (senior)
    • 1 Nominee by President (Senior Secretary level)
    • 1 Nominee by Parliament (Senior Secretary level)
  • The Commission will have no political interference in carrying out their task of turning Sri Lanka into a profit centre.
  • The duration of this board is for 3 years though annually they will be reviewed for their performance & changed if required.
  • The Economic Resource Management Commission decide on the Boards for every state institute & their performance is also evaluated by them. Annual profit & loss of every state entity will be judged & Management will be removed if performance is not up to mark.
  • They are prone to public scrutiny & must be transparent in their decision making
  • They must sign oath to protect the State/the Assets & Resources belonging to the State (land/minerals/resources/assets etc) /the sovereignty & territorial integrity of Sri Lanka & the safety & security of its People. None of their decisions can violate these conditions. Therefore, they must work within these conditions to turn state assets/resources into profitable ones sans privatization.
  • Given the current economic conditions of Sri Lanka’s populace, the state is required to intervene to provide subsidy but these subsidies will be allocated by the Treasury & not by the state corporation & will be based on a formula to be decided (ex: school bus fares/train fares/medicines/ etc)

This simple formula and method suffices to turn Sri Lanka around. We have the capability. We have talented people. We only need to get the best out of them & provide them incentives for doing so. A handful of people cannot be allowed to drain the wealth of the State & tax the people. Pressure Parliament to proceed with this mechanism.

The mandate of this Commission is to turn all state entities into profit making ones within the conditions that protect the sovereignty & territorial integrity of Sri Lanka!

We can prosper within 5 years!

Shenali D Waduge

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