Tamara Kunanayagam at Viyathmaga Forum: Selling Sri Lanka to Foreign Companies
The Viyathmaga Annual Convention was held on 13th May 2018 at the Shangrila Hotel. Former diplomat Tamara Kunanayagam speaking on the topic of Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty: Non Negotiable her excellent presentation drew attention to a shocking scenario that if not addressed would result in catastrophic outcomes for the island & its citizens. What has the neoliberal project in store for Sri Lanka & how can we negate it? In short she says that the present Government & their stooges have “been placed in the positions they occupy precisely because of a shared vision with the neoliberals, and their ability to deliver to their foreign masters at a vertiginous speed, selling on their behalf anything and everything that can be sold – and cheaply, and their ability to earn profits for their masters and themselves at an equally vertiginous speed. And, all this is at the expense of the vast majority of the Sri Lankan people, irrespective of their culture, ethnic origin, religion or geographic location”
When there are no permanent friends but permanent interests, it is important that we connect various global & local scenarios & place them in context of what the bigger plan is. Tamara revealed how Sri Lanka has become a subject of two pronged attack – the West using platform of the UN/UNHRC & the neocon agenda while locally within Sri Lanka, their ideological counterparts are pushing the neoliberal agenda. Tamara states ‘their common enemy is the sovereign state’. Who are these neoliberals, where are they placed & who placed them is for you to identify. Following the shocking co-sponsorship of the UNHRC resolution immediately after this puppet government was placed in power, that this 30/1 resolution gives legitimacy for ‘unilateral intervention in Sri Lanka and permits instrumentalization of the OHCHR office to draft laws necessary to permit the physical take over of territory, including natural wealth, resources it contains’ is what should shock all of us & make us all realize the dangers in store. Tamara clears says that the emphasis on ‘rule of law’ & ‘good governance’ decoded means to virtually turn Sri Lanka into a vassal state. The plan was to make “People and nation” into “ dispensable commodities their labour, natural wealth and resources, public institutions, and even State enterprises, are on auction with foreign bidders determining their worth”. This is an alarming situation and should make all citizens of Sri Lanka seriously worried.
In drawing statistics from the privatization of European State Enterprises from 1980 to 2009 she revealed that all privatized companies have performed worse than when there were public. She showed the privatization was a big industry & mentioned the Big 4 accountancy firms operating in Sri Lanka Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and Ernst & Young.
According to Tamara all these trends point to Sri Lanka losing its independence. With no 100% perfect model, she highlighted how European cities are reclaiming public services from the private sector in areas such as water, transportation, electricity, garbage collection etc.
https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/bjx543/european-cities-are-taking-back-public-services-from-private- companies She highlighted the British Metronet Rail, which though a PPP cost the public over £400 million, 95% were loans & unlike public sector the private sector can just walk away after delivering failures which the taxpayers have to pay. Report of the UK House of Commons Transport Committee, January 2008, HMSO.
So what is this neoliberal project?
She drew the attention of the audience to the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS). This is a secret society founded in 1947 by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman. There are today more than 500 think tanks created by its members to advance its main objective. Tamara K says that this society is accountable for the destructive policies against the State by political leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher & Pinochet while the same policies are being rolled out in Third World countries by IMF, World Bank & US Treasury. Now even Western citizens are becoming victims.
The objective of the Mont Pelerin members was the formation of a minimal state, privatization of employment, health, education, even national defence & enforce laws & policies to favor the ultra-rich. As an example she sites academic & columnist Fernando Schuler linked to the Mont Pelerin Society’s Atlas Network (both Atlas Network & Canada’s Frazer Institute is founded by Anthony Fisher) who proposed the repealing of law making voting compulsory & the withdrawal of support for trade unions citing that the social media platforms suffice for people to voice their views. Tamara says that the PM’s assurance to give free wi-fi to every village by end of 2018 is aligned to Schuler’s view.
We can recall an article by one Gandhara John in November 2015 asking the question ‘Can a Mont Pelerinist honestly be the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka’ where he brought to light that the PM was a member of this secret ultra-right club of white supremacists which work hand in glove with the US with objective to control land, labor & capital of Africa & Asia.
To achieve this they planned to dismantle states, disenfranchise the people, depopulate the continents, install corporates as supreme controlling authority. Their targets were the State, the Government, the boundaries of the state & the citizens via constitutional changes, terrorism, economic & cultural embargoes, interfering in domestic elections installing puppets, replacing internal laws with external laws & systems, creating internal conflicts, instigating armed violence internally, creating various spring protests). Gandhara John interestingly also brought out how colonial Christianity doctrine of civilizing the uncivilized was to be replaced & substituted with ‘human rights’ through UN.
The essence of what Gandhara John & Tamara Kunanayagam are conveying is that the Mont Pelerinists of which the PM is a member plan to transfer powers of a Government/Politicians into the hands of Corporates (foreign) & the local fools willing to help this would be handsomely paid but their future afterwards even they may not know! The manner that the present government allocates less money to state ventures in a means to justify its unprofitability & use as an excuse to privatize it is part of the political strategy formulated by Herbert Giersch the President of the Mont Pelerin society.
Tamara K highlighted how these secret societies are operating think tanks some of whom have even penetrated into national governance.
She cites the example of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) & the Advocata Institute to expose the anti-Sri Lanka State agenda promoted through lackeys of the Mont Pelerin society.
She says the IPS supposed to be Sri Lanka’s main economic policy think tank is actually hijacking Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. She says that though IPS was established in 1988 through an Act of Parliament & located in the Ministry of Finance & Planning, IPS was “co-financed by the Dutch Government & run by a Resident Coordinator from the Dutch Institute for Social Studies”. She says that the IPS announced in 2006 that it would be setting up its own Endowment Fund & would be 100% financially independent though it ironically signed an agreement with the Dutch Government for financing its new building outside the Ministry. As per IPS ‘independent’ equates to being “independent only from the Sri Lankan State but dependent on Western states, their oligarchs & their capital”. Tamara claims IPS is directly & indirectly funded by Netherlands, Canada, UK, Norway & US corporations, banks, equity funds channeled through Hewlett Foundation & Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation & these financing is sent via the ‘Think Tank Initiative’ project managed by the Canadian government-owned International Development Research Centre. The present Governor of the Central Bank Indrajit Coomaraswamy is also on the board of IPS. While other IPS members include include M.I.M. Rafeek, Secretary, Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs, and S.S. Mudalige, Director General, National Planning Department as well as Sarath Rajapathirana, who is Economic Advisor to President Sirisena is also a visiting Emeritus Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute which had been the key intellectual peddler for the Iraqi invasion.
Tamara claims that IPS is “aggressively promoting the sale of public assets and privatization of all State owned Enterprises, including public utilities”
In short, Tamara claims that the IPS is one of the main anti-State ultraliberal Mont Pelerin entities operating in Sri Lanka and how US neocons & neoliberals have penetrated to influence the State policies of Sri Lanka. With the sudden demise of its former leader Saman Kelegama, IPS is now headed by Dr. Razeen Sally who not surprisingly is also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society & senior advisor to the Ministry of Finance (2017).
The other institute Tamara cites as being part of the anti-Sri Lankan state agenda is the Advocata Institute, another Mont Pelerin think tank which Razeen Sally has close links. IPS is being used by Washington to roll back China’s influence in Sri Lanka. Advocata is doing the same.
In an interview he lays bare the plan – begin with partial privatization, putting all public enterprises (Sri Lankan Airlines, Mihin Air, Sri Lankan Transport Board, Telecommunications etc) into a holding company then gradually increase private sector states until ‘the time is right politically’ to move into major private ownership. As for public utilities such as water, electricity, petroleum etc, Sally recommends replacing the Board of the Public Utilities Commission with ‘independent directors”. By privatizing, it is NOT local private companies, but ‘independent’ Sally meant foreign. This is crucial for all citizens of Sri Lanka to comprehend.
Tamara cites a forum organized by Advocata in 2017 wherein Sally ‘argued that trade & investment in services and industry must be further liberalized to attract investments from the West & India” but China is not mentioned because according to Sally “Sri Lanka could become over-dependent on Chinese investments by state firms”!
Tamara claims Advocata the Colombo-based neoliberal think tank which is part of the Atlas Network, is involved in identifying areas for reform, promoting free market & privatizing.
In December 2017, Atlas Network listed Sri Lanka among 10 countries where it had ‘invested successfully’ & won, Sri Lankan Airlines privatization being cited as one success story.
Advocata had been launched in May 2016 at the Kadiragamar Institute with Eran Wickremaratne as Chief Guest. Its annual report claimed 55 strategically important state-owned enterprises had made enormous losses between 2006 and 2015 & suggested a productivity study to determine which to shut down, which to privatize & which to keep under the government. According to Tamara, this report had been prepared even before Advocata had set up shop exposed when Malik Samarawickrema quoted its findings just 3 months after its launch & announced ‘far reaching privatization plans’ by the yahapalana government. Again, Tamara reiterates that by ‘private sector’ yahapalana government means foreign privatization.
She says that immediately after Malik Samarawickrema’s announcement the PM proposed to hire the US firm McKinsey & Company for $2.3m to establish a Central Program Management Unit in Temple Trees for ‘accelerated economic transformation” & introduce a new Development (Special Provisions) Bill allowing sweeping powers to restructure & transform the economy. This Unit would be directly under the PM & his friend Malik S. Tamara says that the PM even proposed to inclusion of the pro-US ultraliberal Nika Gilauri former PM of Georgia as a senior expert to the project.
Tamara has given some shocking examples of the changes taking place under our very noses.
· November 2016 – Advocata submits recommendations for Budget 2017 to the Ministry of Finance & Planning including the ‘reactivation’ of state-held lands named as ‘dead capital’. This refers to 987,000 acres of land in the Land Reform Commission including ‘prime real estate blocks’ in major cities like Colombo occupied by schools, government ministries. By ‘greatly outweighs their economic value’ equates to mean recommendation to sell these areas occupied by slums, schools, govt ministries etc.
· Adovocata plans for foreign takeover of even fixed assets such as land, buildings occupied by the military done through downsizing the military.
· Advocata recommends accounting property rents at market value to asses ‘dead capital’ occupied by State.
· Advocata recommends a Land Asset Sales Program ‘to dispose of surplus of underutilized land’ which must be under ‘an independent body free of political influence to minimize corruption’ – in short it is advocating foreigners to control State land.
· February 2018 – Lazard, US-based financial advisory & asset management firm arrives to help attract foreign investments. Lazard operates as an advisory service & as an asset management branch – Lazard puts the cap of privatization advisor it undervalues the price of a company so its asset management branch can but it cheaply & sell it for profit as was done with Royal Mail in UK & Airports & Air Traffic Management in Spain. Is this what is going to happen to Sri Lankan Airlines & others?
Tamara suggests that this ‘dead capital’ is part of yahapalana’s decision to remove at least half of some 50,000 slums in Colombo city limits by 2020 which Megapolis minister Champaka R had announced in August 2017. She cites a government official claiming that the govt’s plan is to go for 99 year lease with an investment of Rs.1.92b per acre. After selling land to foreigners for 99 years how much of that money will go to the citizens welfare?
What is noteworthy is how Advocata organized a forum in Oct 2017 partnered with Atlas Network & Canada’s Fraser Institute when the Yahapalana Govt was preparing its 2018 budget. Fraser Institutes annual report gave Sri Lanka a low ranking citing “weaknesses in the legal system and property rights.”
It was therefore no surprise when Yahapalana 2018 budget proposed the integration of ocean-related activities, liberalizing land & shipping, including removal of restrictions on foreign ownership of land, shipping & freight forwarding & establishment of PPP unit.
Tamara also provides the links with US administration, Atlas Network, Advocata, IPS & Mont Pelerin Society
· Prof Suri Ratnapala is on the panel of intellectuals appointed by PM Ranil to advise the Steering Committee & Sub-Committees drafting the new constitution which is chaired by PM, the Mont Pelerin member – the proposals include removal of executive powers of the President, devolution of powers, reforms to the electoral process
· Chris Lingle, senior visiting professor of economics at Advocata
· Fredrik Erixon founder of European Centre for International Political Economy
· Razeen Sally IPS Chairman
· Atlas Network is an extension of US foreign policy & involved in regime change in Latin America – played an important role in Honduras to oust Manuel Zelaya, in Argentina helped topple Cristina Kirchner on corruption, in Venezuela ousted Chavez in 2002, in Brazil establishing scores of think tanks helped divert people’s anger against leading politicians leading to President Dilma Roussef’s impeachment in 2016
· US State Dept & National Endowment for Democracy discretely finances think tanks associated with the Atlas Network
· The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US govt body chaired by the US Secretary of State has a Project Unit physically operating inside the PM’s office inside the Policy Development Unit. Tamara quite rightly asks whether MCC is drafting Sri Lanka’s economic & trade policy and the PM’s ‘Vision 2025’.
According to Tamara the MCC is using the prefix ‘smart’ claiming to deliver ‘smart’ US foreign assistance. Tamara says that the MCC ‘partnerships’ are based on coercion & prior political conditionality. She says traditional foreign aid is based on actual ‘good governance’ while MCC funding depends on confirming commitment without change. In short all reforms recommended for which US capital is to be given will be to protect foreign investors & their investment & they will be walking away with the entire loot! The State will have no opportunity to discuss, change or reverse any commitments once project is finalized & MCC capital is approved.
We have to next wonder whether ‘smart patriots’ came to be defined similarly!
The excellent presentation by Tamara Kunanayagam should shock every single citizen. She has shown how Sri Lanka’s economic sovereignty is being sold to foreign investors, she has highlighted the decline of our political independence and we are walking into an environment that we will not be able to defend our sovereign rights or territory. She has clearly shown how this government has submitted itself meekly to US hegemony purely because its leaders share their common vision of selling Sri Lanka to foreigners returning Sri Lanka to a pre-1815 period.
As a proud citizen she is inspiring every citizen to be aware of the dangers & stand up for the sovereignty, independence & territorial integrity of our island which she says is ‘non-negotiable’.
Hope the media will publish her full presentation without changes.
Shenali D Waduge