Sri Lanka last year expropriated a series of businesses owned by local and foreign citizens, despite a constitutional guarantee against the practice.
Sri Lankan rulers have in the past violated property rights of citizens several times not only seizing the businesses and land of relatively ‘richer’ sections of society but even extra houses with people of lesser means.
"We have done lot of blunders and it’s still happening," W K H Wegapitiya, the chairman of Laugfs Holdings, a diversified business group told a business forum organized by Sri Lanka division of UK’s Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
"If you don’t protect Sri Lankan entrepreneurs and if you don’t act against these unethical and shortsighted acts there will be lot of accountants without businesses to run.
"We have to get together and change it."
Wegapitiya does not come from a rich family but is a self-made businessman who came out of a tax payer funded education system.
He said he was ashamed to be talking about such a topic among an audience that included foreign guests but he had to say what had happened.
But analysts say the origins and widespread practice of both nationalism and socialism lay in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, which had lagged behind Western Europe because of it.
Sri Lankan rulers got the powers to pass any unjust law, and take away their freedoms through a European-style legislating parliament which they inherited, when the people gained self-determination from British.
Around the world property rights were largely absent during feudal rule as all property belonged to the king. Widespread property rights developed largely in Western Europe and spread to the rest of the world gradually.
In Asia, Japan created property rights literarily overnight after the Tokugawa Shogunate was broken.
In Eastern Europe particular however a legislating bodies that emerged after the end of feudal rule passed many ‘laws’ that gave powers formerly held by the king to the mechanism of what came to be known as the state.
The state enforced such legislation - which sometimes violated laws of nature and the principles of natural justice as well as newly won freedoms of the people - through two European tools, a standing army and police.
Expropriation, which reversed the property rights that had developed in Europe over several centuries, came about partly due to Marxian thinking, especially in Germany.
After gaining self determination from the British, native Sri Lankan rulers went about expropriating bus companies mining companies, banks and later plantations owned by citizens as well as non-citizen, using European style laws.
"They crushed the capitally rich Sri Lankan entrepreneurs," Wegapitiya said. "There were 27 home grown enterprises that were nationalized by greedy and shortsighted politicians.
"There were very strong enterprising people living in our country. Today you don’t find many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who have gone to the global arena when compared to India."
Unlike in earlier instances however Sri Lanka’s latest expropriation law was passed by an administration that was keen to develop not only local businesses but to also attract foreign investment. Sri Lankan rulers have also articulated a peculiar neo-feudal doctrine saying any citizen who received ‘state’ land or tax breaks could face expropriation.
Sri Lanka ended up with vast tracks of ‘state’ land because the British created the concept of ‘Crown’ land instead of allowing property rights to develop rapidly among the people.