15 January 2017

Civil society tears into govt. over corrupt deals

by Shamindra Ferdinando

A group of civil society activists yesterday accused the UNP-led ruling coalition of pursuing an agenda extremely inimical to the national economy.

The grouping said that, having campaigned for restoration of democracy and accountability, the government was causing unbearable losses to the economy.

Addressing the media at the Centre for Religious Studies (CRS), Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan and Chameera Perera alleged that the government was acting contrary to the mandate yahapalana rulers received at Jan. 8, 2015 presidential polls.

The coalition had conveniently forgotten that the electorate hadn't voted out the previous government for the new rulers to continue same policies.

Referring to a simmering controversy over a move to hand over the Hambantota Port and a staggering 15,000 acres abutting it to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited, Dewasiri castigated the top UNP leadership for pursuing what he called the Rajapaksa strategies. The academic alleged that the handling of the port issue revealed that the UNP leadership had absolutely no intention of consulting people on matters of national importance.

Dewasiri pointed out that contrary to repeated assurances given by President Maithripala Sirisena that his government hadn't finalised the agreement with China in respect of Hambantota projects, the mega initiatives were obviously underway.

Dewasiri said that the current leaders’ conduct should be examined against the backdrop of much touted Right to Information Act and promises to follow people-friendly policies. The former FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) chief said that the electorate had rejected the previous government as it wasn't receptive to public opinion. Unfortunately, the situation hadn't changed discernibly, Dewasiri said.

Tennakoon alleged that the top UNP leadership had been trying to hand over Hambantota port and 15,000 acres of land on the pretext of settling huge loans drawn from China by the previous government. Tennakoon pointed out that a massive fraud was being perpetrated on the people by a group of influential people wanting to exploit the situation to their advantage.

The civil society leader said that the Central Bank bond scams involving primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries soon after the change of government, Hambantota deals and the decision to award a questionable coal tender to Swiss Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pvt Limited, which is said to have caused a loss of over four billion rupees on an earlier occasion had exposed the government.

Tennakoon said that the government hadn't cared to carry out a proper survey and evaluate Hambantota land earmarked for the Chinese projects before reaching an unfavourable agreement with Beijing. The government couldn't ignore the urgent requirement to reassess land value, Tennakoon said, alleging that the incumbent government was as corrupt as the previous one.

Dr. Gunaruwan said that the ruling elite here had transformed the country to a sathi pola (weekly fair), where those who wanted to sell their produce met buyers. Alleging that current rulers had pathetically failed to introduce much-needed changes to bring about economic development, Dr. Gunaruwan said that the national economy was rapidly deteriorating. The incumbent leaders had proved that they lacked political will to bring in changes, the academic said. Instead, they had sought to sell national assets, Dr. Gunaruwan said, adding that Hambantota could have been utilised for Sri Lanka's benefit.

Dr. Gunaruwan urged the government to adopt austerity measures in the face of economic difficulties. Successive governments had caused irreparable damage by failing to control imports, particularly luxury goods, Dr. Gunaruwan said, noting that the government lacked a proper strategy to reap the benefits of a sharp drop in crude oil prices.

Chameera Perera warned the civil society to be wary of the incumbent leaders as they would certainly turn on them after dealing with the Opposition. Some of those who had campaigned for toppling the Rajapaksa administration were trying to defend economic policies of the new government. They propagated the lie that the government could do anything as there hadn't been any understanding between them in the run-up to the last presidential polls.

Perera alleged that the people's mandate had been misconstrued by a section of the civil society and the government to suit their agenda.