11th February 2001

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Batty and the economy

Batty Weerakoon, the Minister of Justice, said in an interview with this paper last week that "the only way to combat the cost of living is to drastically reduce the military spending''. Basically, Batty of the LSSP's old left guard said that there would not be an economy "if the war continues.'' Ironically, he is echoing the sentiments of the betenoire the World Bank and the IMF or those of Ronnie de Mel when he was the UNP's Finance Minister. The minister's impromptu economic lesson is a fine example of the two-headedness with which this government is approaching the war effort. The LTTE is provided the oxygen for its sustenance by this kind of misguided-missile rhetoric at which certain government ministers seem to regularly excel.

There is a war on the country's hands to protect national interests, and what persons such as Batty Weerakoon can do in these circumstances is to see that money spent on the war does not go to the wrong pockets. Can even the "economic-strategist'' in Mr. Weerakoon say that Generals and government VIPs have not made a fast buck on armament tenders?

In the last few weeks for example, there has been a raging controversy over the purchase of jamming equipment by the army, and there was another in recent times about the purchase of body armour, which is now before the arbitrators in the UK. The whole saga regarding the purchase of aircraft for the Sri Lanka Air Force, in the past, stinks. The story has been similar with regard to the purchase of ships by the Navy.

Has anyone of these traitorous scams been investigated and the culprits punished? The same people who were once called commis kakkas by none other than our Commander in Chief, the President, seem to have now oiled the palms of those in Mr. Weerakoon's own government, so that the coalition could win the elections.

On the other hand, the Bribery and Corruption Commission established under Minister G.L. Peiris, which had a tenuous tenure from 1994 to 2000, only succeeded in investigating themselves. The inside story of that farce will never be known because the parliamentary inquiry into the workings of the Commission has been shielded from the public eye. In these circumstances, it would be better for Mr. Batty Weerakoon to see that the Bribery Commission goes after the commis kakkas, now that he is Minister of Justice. It would be a much more credible task for him to go after these "commis kakkas'' some of whom sit with him, and who are living the life of kings, rather than utter demoralising statements about the war and its phenomenal costs.

These commis kakkas' eyes must be popping out with greed when they heard that the government has allocated Rs. 63.3 billion compared to last year's 52.4 billion in the Appropriation Bill presented in parliament this week. However, last year's actual defence expenditure ended up around Rs. 85 billion.

If some of the fat of the war budget that goes to the gentry by way of slush funds and commissions can be slashed, and if armament purchases can be regularized, the war will be much cheaper, the GST and Defence Levy less prohibitive, and as a consequence things a whole lot better for the downtrodden masses that Mr. Weerakoon purports to represent.

Mr. Weerakoon seemingly lives in blind man's paradise. He says he doesn't know of any additional costs as a result of the unusually large Cabinet. Maybe his memory needs to be jogged about the wastage of public funds that goes on while government politicians clamour about the "high cost of conflict.'' A large Cabinet has meant more cars for Ministers. More rent for buildings and houses and security and back up vehicles. The duty free cars for Members of Parliament and Presidential palaces all add up to the extravagant costs incurred by this brazenly profligate government.

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