Monday 12th September, 2022
The world gasped in horror as it watched a video footage of some savages stripping an unconscious female tsunami victim of her valuables, in this thrice-blessed land, in December 2004. There were also a large number of instances where various other crimes such as rape were perpetrated against tsunami survivors. Many houses were looted, and even some kind-hearted people who rushed to the disaster-hit areas, carrying aid, were mugged. Organised gangs used to raise false tsunami alarms, causing people to flee, and then loot abandoned houses. One sees hardly any difference between those vultures and the present-day political leaders who are making the most of the current economic crisis to enrich themselves at the expense of the people in distress.
Former Chairman of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), Prof. Charitha Herath, has dropped a bombshell. Speaking at a recent event held by the SLPP dissident group, in Kandy, he revealed why the country had experienced a protracted cooking gas shortage, and how the corrupt had used it to help themselves to public funds. He attributed it to a dispute among government cronies. A contract awarded to a company to import gas had been cancelled by a Litro Chairman, and the resultant dispute had caused the public to languish in gas queues for eight months, the former COPE Chairman said. Later, the World Bank provided USD 70 million for gas imports, and the government contributed USD 20 million. The company which had been prevented from supplying gas resumed LPG imports through a proxy at USD 129 a metric ton although gas fetched only USD 96 in the world market. The loss due to the corrupt gas deal amounted to Rs. 1,300 million, Prof. Hearth said, calling for a probe.
Now, it should be clear why Prof. Herath was not reappointed as the COPE Chairman when the parliamentary watchdog committees were reconstituted following the prorogation of Parliament. The COPE under his chairmanship launched probes into several mega corrupt deals. The government could not control him and therefore got him out of the way. It is hoped that the Opposition will press for an investigation into the gas scam.
There have been many other corrupt deals which have cost the state coffers dear. The lid has been blown off a mega coal scam. An attempt has been made to buy coal for the CEB power plants at USD 295 per metric ton although during the July-August period, Russian companies sold coal to India at USD 160 per metric ton.
Former Petroleum Minister Champika Ranawaka has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, alleged some irregularities in fuel imports. He says there has been an exponential increase in the petroleum premium during the past few months. Demanding an explanation, he has pointed out that the yields of diesel, petrol and naphtha from Siberian crude are lower than those from other types of crude used by the Sapugaskanda refinery. He has also questioned the CPC’s wisdom of tying the Siberian crude prices which are lower in the international market to the Brent index.
The country has lost billions of rupees due to the sugar tax scam. The SLPP government slashed import duty on sugar for the benefit of its financiers, causing a loss of billions of rupees to the state. The National Audit Office has, in a report, recommended that the government recover the revenue loss due to the racket from the importers concerned.
The government does not give a tinker’s cuss about even foreign envoys’ complaints of corruption against its politicians. An allegation that Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siriapala de Silva sought a bribe from a Japanese company has been swept under the carpet for all practical purposes. When a Japanese diplomat complained to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa about it, he asked Silva to resign from the Cabinet pending an inquiry. President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed a three-member probe committee, which cleared Silva, who has since been reappointed to the Cabinet. When the Treasury bond scams came to light in 2015, Wickremesinghe, who was the Prime Minister at the time, did something similar; he appointed a committee to conduct an investigation, and it said there had been no wrongdoing!
All the rogues responsible for the current economic crisis and mega scams are still in power, doing more of what they did before the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They are running the government to all intents and purposes. Unless these vultures are got rid of, economic recovery will be a pipedream. It is high time they were made to face the people. There has to be a clean break with the corrupt regime responsible for bankrupting the country, which is like a ship under a pirate attack. It may be difficult to hold a snap general election at this juncture, but the country has been left without any alternative.