burden on our people
This week witnessed the sharp and always
painful increase in the price of fuel and of electricity. There
will be the resultant knock-on effects on other areas, pushing up
the cost of living once again.
This COL war, now relegated to being on
the sidelines of the ongoing war with the separatist guerrillas,
has thus not seen the attendant resentment and anger normally associated
with such price increases.
To the Government's advantage, the main
opposition party (the UNP) -- or a sizeable section of it -- is
being seduced by tantalising offers of ministerial perks and privileges,
while the vociferous party (the JVP) is torn between supporting
the incumbent Government, (so that the UNP doesn't take political
advantage of the situation) and maintaining its own identity by
not associating itself with the misadventures of the ruling party.
Thus both are effectively
neutralised and there is not a whimper as the COL war marches on,
jackbooting over the poor and the powerless. What is grabbing the
headlines -- and the attention of the public at present -- is the
death toll in the North and East, the refugee crisis, and the territory
re-taken by the security forces.
The fact that each round
fired from a multi-barrel rocket-launcher or a bomb dropped by the
Air Force costs a huge sum is immaterial when the sovereignty of
the State is at stake. But, the stark fact is that somebody has
to pay for it and that somebody is the direct and indirect tax-payer,
which means almost everyone in this country.
Few would have heeded what
The Economist wrote in The Sunday Times a fortnight ago about the
impact the internal war was having on the Balance of Payment situation
in the country, and how the Government was going to balance its
Budget, come November. Though the cost factor must be taken into
consideration at a time of war, one cannot be looking at the balance
sheet while battling a ruthless and financially well-endowed guerrilla
There was a time in the
early years of this insurgency when the then Finance Minister Ronnie
de Mel would say how badly the economy was being eroded due to the
war, issuing dire warnings that "we cannot go on for another
year like this". This was just the kind of oxygen a guerrilla
organisation needs. The LTTE believed that if they kept the war
on for another year, the Government would implode with the Economic
Yet while the highest and
the humblest -- the latter more than the former -- have to face
the inescapable expenses incurred to protect the sovereignty and
territorial integrity of the nation, and world market prices cannot
be subsidised especially at a time of war, there are other factors
inherently available to a Government that could cushion the adverse
impact on a people already suffering for too long now.
Take, for example, the massive
financial scandals that have made headlines over the years, like
the shocking report by the outgoing Auditor General that the State
has not collected revenue to the tune of Rs. 389 billion (Rs. 389,000
Million ) from 2002-2005 casting serious aspersions on senior officials
in the Treasury.
Last week, the JVP introduced
an adjournment motion in Parliament to discuss this report. But
what was the Government's attitude? That while they believed in
the independence of the Auditor General, they felt that an inquiry
was required to go into the veracity of what they felt were fanciful
figures. The Government and the main opposition started a slanging
match over whether the amnesty introduced during the UNP Government
was a good thing or not, missing the woods for the trees as usual.
Treasury officials are running
to the World Bank, but if this kind of revenue could be harnessed
locally, would Sri Lanka have to mortgage its self-respect going
around the world with a begging bowl?
Bribery and corruption today
have spun out of control with the COL forcing many hard-pressed
fixed income public servants in the Police, Customs, Inland Revenue
Department, Municipalities, UDA and where-ever the law gives them
a discretionary power, to grease their palms in right royal style.
And this they do because they know that at the very highest levels
of Government -- such is the practice.
In Parliament, the JVP referred
to the appointment to the senior-most post in the Inland Revenue
Department. Just the other day, the Public Trustee of this country
was charged with fraud. The Public Service, once the pride of the
nation, has turned into a haven for crooks, and the honest ones
are treated with disdain by their colleagues who are 'on the take'
and have the political backing to sustain themselves in their posts.
It was unfortunate, to say
the least, that the Government adopted an almost cavalier approach
and did not think of taking the Auditor General's report more seriously,
so much so that one must even question whether Parliament is the
appropriate forum for the discussion of public funds.
We have often said that
the two biggest bribe-takers in the country are the two main political
parties -- by way of so-called 'party funds'. As long as that is
the status quo, one can say goodbye to fighting bribery and corruption
-- and collecting the big bucks from the big guys -- at the expense
of all others.