Public interest litigation – take an
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
• Importance of seeking bottom-up flow of information when making decisions,
having employee participation on boards and making salary/reward structures more
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