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2nd March 1997

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Ex-co for local councils

Incidents of assault, shooting, arson and intimidation in the ongoing local election campaign are reaching the worst ever levels - so much so the polls may have to be postponed or large number of people may just stay at home without voting or spoil their votes, because they are sick of all politicians.

One of the trump cards of the PA in the 1994 General Election was transparency. Ironically and tragically, could it be that we are seeing transparent violence today in contrast to the cloak and dagger of the past. Which type is better or worse is a debatable point - but going by the results, the 500 incidents reported since nomination day make the situation comparable to the reign of terror prior to the 1988-89 elections. Speaker K.B. Ratnayake, the Commissioner of Elections and non-governmental election groups have called on all parties to act jointly to end violence by dealing firmly with any candidate or supporter found to be indulging in violent acts. Thousands of unauthorized weapons are also found to be in free use and the parties need to take immediate steps to surrender them, while exercising strict control over those having even authorized weapons.

We also see a need for a fundamental change in the vision and goals of a local government election. The campaign today is centred more on national issues such as the ethnic crisis and the economy. Little attention is paid to whether the elected local councillor will serve the people of his area by repairing their roads and drains, collecting garbage properly and attending to a host of other small but important neighbourhood matters.

A revival of the Donoughmore era Executive Committee system with an all party cabinet is receiving wide support at a national level. While commending this move, we suggest it could be first tried out at local council level where an all party executive committee or cabinet draws up and implements plans in the highest interests of people of the area.

Hush money

Four of the nation's highest-level financial bureaucrats led by Deputy Finance Minister G.L. Peiris are currently on a four-nation lightning tour which the official media describe as an "investment promotion" trip.

Donor agencies and top financial institutions of the world have been thus far lending freely to Sri Lanka.

The public at large has been made to believe that this is a run-of-the-mill visit to attract investors to Sri Lanka. However, our business section lead story today has been quick to suggest that this is no ordinary exercise - it is in fact, an extraordinary one.

For the first time the government of Sri Lanka is offering the financiers of foreign countries an opportunity to invest in bonds or notes here by way of what is called Floating Rate Notes (FRNs) valid for three years.

The government is in this way hoping to attract US $50 million (Rs. 2.9 billion) into the country. It is hard to understand why the government has tried to keep this exercise under wraps by not putting things more plainly instead of disguising it as a mere investment promotion trip. Is it possible that the government is concerned with repercussions on the local government elections around the corner?

Has it possibly anything to do with speculation that the opposition may turn this around to say that the government is now forced to borrow at high rates from private sources as traditional sources are losing confidence in the government; that the government is broke and borrowing monies abroad which will have to be repaid in three years or so when the UNP is in office?; and that the foreign debt servicing will go up? The whole exercise was carried out in secrecy, keeping the local media in the dark. Was it because the government feared the first experiment would fail- even if it is a pittance by world standards.

Yet the country surely deserves to know what Sri Lanka's real credit rating is and what premium the international financial community puts on Sri Lanka.

Donor agencies and commercial banks of the world have been hitherto the traditional lenders. This exercise of offering FRNs is an acceptable step in developing the finacial sector. But why hide the facts? Why not tell the citizenry the realities? Isn't that what transparency all about?

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