Public interest litigation – take an interest!

It is encouraging to see public interest litigation becoming popular in Sri Lanka. This shows the civic mindedness of at least some of our people. All assistance and encouragement should be given to these groups to ensure that the government machinery would not take decisions to the detriment of the country and its people for narrow political and personal gain.
The latest public interest litigation was filed by the veteran politician Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who is regarded as a highly principled individual with undoubted integrity rare commodities to be found in present day politicians.
In this fundamental rights petition Nanayakkara and many past employees of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) allege that the shady privatisation deal in which one of the few cash cows of the state was handed over to consortium of investors led by Harry Jayawardena was a total fraud, costing the state and of course the public billions of rupees.
Though many irregularities of this deal were pointed out immediately after the conclusion of same it fell on deaf ears of the previous regime, which of course should take total responsibility of dealing with public property in an irresponsible manner obviously for personal gain.
Whilst it is encouraging to note the stand taken by Nanayakkara, one has to realise that in Sri Lanka, litigation involves huge cost as senior counsel are known to levy fees totalling to millions and in this regard, one should understand that pockets of this group are deep and may run down to hell.
If we are to save our economy from ruins we have to keep our eyes and ears open and act as civic minded people and have faith in the judiciary.
Prof. A.V. Jayaratnam


Electoral reforms: Leave out the losers

As the political partiers are preparing new electoral reforms I would like to suggest the following:
Any person who has lost in a previous election should not be permitted to be nominated as a Member of Parliament by any party.
If this person has lost in the election, the people do not want him and there is no reason why any political party should nominate this person to parliament as a MP. For example, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and Mervyn Silva lost their seats and are nominated MPs.
C.R. Fernando


Did the government order Tamil baiting in the city?

On the sixth of June, two thousand and seven
Internally displaced Tamils living in the city’s transit havens
Were woken up from their peaceful sleep
And herded into buses like unwilling sheep

To those Tamils from the north and east
Who had escaped from the horror of that deadly beast
It was like a leap from the frying pan into the fire
For a nightmare journey back on pneumatic tires

Gobbles, K was at his best when he blabbered not in jest
That the unfortunate victims volunteered to reenter the beast’s haven
Even the gullible in shame preferred to have their heads shaven!

The beast must be roaring in laughter with others of his race
At the monumental blunders of the visionary with the pumpkin face
The justification for Eelam is being provided by the state
While the military stalemate is a bankrupt country’s fate

The people demand that this lawless behaviour at the apex should stop
They should not be left at the mercy of jackboots and cops
What they expect is democracy of the people for the people by the people
And not government of the few for the few by the few

M. R. Kumbukwella


Lessons in Vasudeva vs. Harry duel

Hats off to veteran campaigner Vasudeva Nanayakkara for his fearless effort in taking on big adversaries, to challenge the manner in which SLIC was privatised.
The entire nation including, the jumbo cabinet of ministers should take a lesson from the great politician while these culprits ranging from the UNP regime politicians, crooked Treasury officials, financial advisors from Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouseCoopers should be writhing in shame at their own sordid behaviour.
Most of the former cabinet members involved are now trying to find escape routes to prevent being indicted by the COPE report by using the cross-over technique.
When all odds seemed to favour the wrongdoer, this one man had the strength of character to file action seeking to reverse the highly questionable SLIC sale in the interest of the public.
Correctly, the present parliament should have taken the first initiative, instead of being cowed down by the financial power and the influence of the famous Harry Jayawardena. Without doing so, they were talking of appointing a further sub committee to look into the very serious findings of another cabinet sub committee. Comrade Vasu, apparently tired of watching our 90-strong cabinet doing nothing about the fraud involving over Rs. 15 billion, took the initiative to file action against those responsible.
The amount involved is close to the deficit incurred annually by the Petroleum Corporation. What does it mean to the common man? It means that, had the right price been obtained for these precious assets of the government, the public would have been saved from the frequent fuel price increase which all of us are facing now.
In my view, it is not only the UNP government which handled the privatisation that should be held responsible. Even the present government should take the blame for not taking steps to revoke the PERC decision where the SLIC sale was clearly conducted without obtaining the right price.
Every right thinking person, major trade union and political party should help Comrade Vasu financially as well as morally so that no future government would ever think of selling valuable state assets to a favoured few at a gross undervaluation.
Hector Ambanpola


Need for a new political entity

For more than a half-century we have mandated the two major political parties, one after the other, to rule the country. The consequences of this exercise are there for all of us to bear: gradual run down of the administration, economy, law and order, social stability, ethnic harmony, foreign relations and what not. Don’t we, as citizens, only have ourselves to blame for this sad state of affairs by being irresponsible in electing these parties repeatedly in spite of their failings?
If any country is to progress, there should be a party at the helm with clear-cut policies for the betterment of the entire nation and representatives with impeccable character, intellectual stamina and real interests of the country at heart. Unfortunately, the most of the lawmakers elected lack these qualities and demeanour. Their frequent unruly behaviour in parliament amply demonstrates it.
They take to politics merely as an employment option with high salaries, perks, privileges and power. Their sole motive seems to be to enrich themselves and their kith and kin through various dubious and devious means. These acts of misconduct, wastage, fraud and corruption need no further elaboration if one were to read and listen to daily media. Couldn’t we become a prosperous nation merely by eliminating fraud and corruption committed by politicians and government institutions, which runs into billions?
It is time that we search our hearts, understand the gravity of the country’s situation and seek out a new political identity or culture to lead her, for the good of the people. It is earnestly hoped that the general public as well as the personages of all bodies and institutions – religious, civil, academic, media, law, and business – would take the initiative in promoting such a campaign.
U.M.G. Goonetilleke


Bank ownership ceilings

It was a few months ago that all the newspapers gave a lot of publicity to the much-awaited changes in the Banking Ownership regulations, specified by the monetary authorities led by the Central Bank. A very welcome move, commendable in the light of business magnates involved in liquor businesses and betting houses moving to take control of banks, and thereby, control of the country’s economy.
It was also said that the banks have been given two months to report any excess share holdings in their respective banks and within a specified period, Central Bank would give its directives to divest the excess holdings, again within reasonable timeframes specified by them.
It would be interesting for the general public to know how many banks have made the required declarations and the outcome. It is quite justifiable for the Central Bank to publicise such information. Also, since these banks are public quoted companies on one hand and since they are institutions collecting public deposits on the other, shouldn’t the respective banks publish such information?
This type of direction to divest part of the shares of a major shareholder in a bank does fall with the ambit of price sensitive information in respect of such bank shares. Hence the public ought to be given due notice and such information, I trust, in accordance with the Securities Exchange Commission requirements. It is also an ethical issue.
Also, if any of the banks had not divulged the information, what punitive action would be available against such banks/responsible officers? When a bank reports the holdings of individuals or companies and their connected parties, isn’t the Central Bank obliged or duty bound to recognise such holdings and issue directions for divesture to fall in line with the ceilings specified by their own directives?
This is food for thought in view of certain reports in some of the daily papers regarding double standards in reporting of the holdings by the banks as well as directions from Central Bank for divesting.
D.S.P. de Silva


Weerakkody’s noteworthy omission

The recent dissertation by Dinesh Weerakkody on the COPE report on recent privatisation scandals and inaction by the government was a very thought-provoking one. He had very correctly analysed the issues involved in governments providing certain essential goods and services to the people. Weerakkody’s main arguments can be summarised as;
• Government controlled bodies should take leadership in providing of services such as health, public utilities such as water, electricity, transport, petroleum etc. at reasonable prices though not at a loss. If not, they should at least be in a position to influence the decision making of the companies providing such services by taking controlling stakes in those.
• Such firms should be primarily service oriented and not driven by profits. These should be run with private sector inputs by way of expertise, decision making, management practices and disciplines. No political interference should be permitted in operating these and they should not be treated only as sources of employment.
• Importance of seeking bottom-up flow of information when making decisions, having employee participation on boards and making salary/reward structures more market oriented.
All these are very valid if governments are to run their organisations without making them burdens on the tax payer, thereby not leaving room for our donors to dictate terms to us on what state sector assets should be privatised.
But there is one noteworthy omission in Weerakkody’s dissertation. He refers to mismanagement of Sri Lanka’s assets such as CEB, CPC, and NLB but he does not mention even a word about the senseless privatisation of cash cows such as Distilleries and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, which were never burdens on any government but were privatised under highly questionable circumstances.
The recent revelations on serious lapses surrounding the SLIC privatisation which came to light as a result or the COPE investigation headed by Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakse received such a lot of publicity in the media. It is unthinkable that Weerakkody would have missed it accidentally. Avid readers of Weerakkody’s regular column would be awaiting his response as to why he decided to omit the questionable privatisation of the SLIC and Distilleries in his write-up.
Anton de Silva









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