SJB belatedly defends 2017 Foreign Exchange Act, rejects Justice Minister’s claim of funds ‘parked’ overseas
Posted on November 24th, 2023

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

Dr. Rajapakshe and Dr. de Silva

Top SJB spokesman Dr. Harsha de Silva on Monday (20) dismissed Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s claim that well over USD 56.5 bn had been parked overseas by some exporters.

Dr. de Silva also contradicted claims made by rebel SLPP MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Gevindu Cumaratunga on the matter.

The Justice Minister and rebel SLPP MPs have declared that the enactment of Foreign Exchange Act No 12 of 2017 had led to the current situation.

Appearing on the live political programme Salakuna on Hiru, the Colombo District lawmaker said that such accusations were nothing but a joke. One-time Economic Reforms and Public Distribution State Minister de Silva declared that it was nothing but a made-up story.

The SJB lawmaker said so when Hiru anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema asked whether the Yahapalana government contributed to the current crisis by doing away with the time-tested Exchange Control Act No 24 of 1953. Samarawickrema pressed for an answer pointing out that Harsha de Silva and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa were among 94 MPs who voted for the new law whereas 18 voted against.

A section of the UNP registered SJB as a political party, in early 2020, ahead of the general election held in Aug of the same year.

Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, too, has on several occasions raised concerns over the failure on the part of exporters to bring back proceeds.

Samarawickrema said that according to Minister Rajapakse the actual figure could be as much as USD 100 bn though official records were lower.

Dismissing the Justice Minister’s declarations, MP de Silva questioned the recent claim made by the former President of the Bar Association that export proceeds amounting to USD 8 bn hadn’t been repatriated last year. There was no basis for the Justice Minister’s claim on USD 8 bn as well as the previous declarations on over USD 50 bn being held overseas, MP de Silva said, adding that the total amount of exports were USD 12 bn last year.

Accusing some lawmakers of propagating lies, the former UNPer challenged them to reveal where even USD one bn was held.

Referring to leaked Panama Papers and Pandora Papers beginning April, 2016 and Oct 2021, respectively, MP de Silva said they disclosed the amounts parked overseas. I won’t say funds hadn’t been parked. Thieves are everywhere. Some under invoice. Others over invoice. There are people who park money abroad. The funds mentioned in Panama Papers are part of the total amount of money stashed overseas.”

MP de Silva firmly denied that Sri Lanka engaged in large scale export business. There was absolutely no basis of claim regarding USD 56.5 bn, MP de Silva said.

Asked whether Justice Minister lied in this regard, MP de Silva insisted that this figure couldn’t be accepted under any circumstances.

Responding to Samarawickrema’s query whether the new law contributed to the bankruptcy, MP de Silva said that it was meant to pave the way for Sri Lankans to set up businesses abroad. The economist said that Sri Lankans should be allowed to invest overseas the way foreign companies did here. The former State Minister named several such investments made by Sri Lankans.

Dr. de Silva dismissed claims that the Capital Account hadn’t been opened. Utilization of funds had to be approved by the Central Bank on a case-by-case basis.

At the onset of the programme, Dr. de Silva said that the SJB accepted the general direction of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s budget. One-time Wickremesinghe deputy on economic affairs?? during the yahapalana government, lawmaker de Silva said that SJB is comfortable with the budget in spite of concerns.

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