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FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » "DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU"

"DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU"

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1"DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU" Empty "DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU" Mon Jun 22, 2015 2:05 am

StockGuru

StockGuru
Senior Manager - Equity Analytics
Senior Manager - Equity Analytics
By Dr. Nalaka Godahewa


Jun 22, 2015 (LBT) - When the newly elected President, His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, appointed Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, I thought these two men now have an opportunity to do something for the country. After all, 52% of the voters in this democratic country had opted for a change in the administration.


They had just taken over the responsibility of governing, a country which was at peace. The 30 year long northern terrorism had been completely wiped out by the previous administration so they were not burdened like many others. The country had seen an unprecedented growth in infrastructure development over the last 9 years. GDP had grown by 7.4% in 2014 as opposed to 7.2 in 2013 reaching the government target of USD 75 Billion. Per capita income had increased to USD 3,625. Inflation was down to 2.1%. Unemployment was down to 4.3%. Poverty was down to 6.7%. Sri Lanka’s social indicators such as, human development index (0.75), number of persons per doctor (1,115), student teacher ratio (18), accessibility to safe drinking water (89.7%) , level of electrification (98%) , telephone penetration(120%), etc., were foremost amongst the emerging markets and regional peers. The rupee was stable against dollar. Government revenue had increased by 5.1% in 2014 compared to previous year. Government debt had further declined to 75.5% from 78.3 in 2013. Colombo stock market had grown over 300% since the end of the war and it had given 23.4% annual returns to investors in 2014, with market capitalization reaching 3.1 trillion rupees.


Since 2005, the Central Bank has presented its growth plans at the beginning of each year, and those projections have been quite accurate. According to projections presented by Central Bank on 2nd January 2015, six days prior to the presidential election, the GDP growth projection for 2015 is 7% and it is expected to accelerate to 7.5% and 8% respectively in the subsequent years.


It is obvious from the above numbers, that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe inherited a strong and growing economy.


However, despite this economic growth track record, 52% of the voters had rejected the Rajapaksa administration. The voters elected a new President to lead the country who in turn selected Ranil Wickremesinghe as his Prime Minister.


As per the election manifesto of the new President, this was supposed to be a 100-day interim government until the parliament is dissolved.


So, all this duo had to do was to provide the interim solutions that they promised the voters during elections, avoid the mistakes of Rajapaksa administration but continue his good work, make use of the 100 days in government to present a clear vision and a plan of action for the future, dissolve the parliament and face a general election.


This would have been the most sensible approach that any leader with common sense would have taken. It was no secret that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe did not have the majority support in the parliament. Yet, the opposition had promised to support his 100 day program because Maitripala Sirisena had assumed the leadership of the main opposition party SLFP. The interim budget presented by the Minister of finance Ravi Karunanayake, despite many weaknesses in it, was passed unanimously in the parliament because opposition was ready to honour this commitment. What was required from UNP leadership was simply a professional and gentlemanly approach, which would not have provoked the opposition, just for 100 days. That’s the time they wanted to fulfill its promises in the election manifesto. From what I had heard about Prime minister Ranil Wickremesighe in the past as a clever, mature and gentlemanly politician, I had no doubt that he would get the best out of the opportunity. After all, it was an opportunity, handed over on a platter by President Maithripala Sirisena, without Mr Wickremesinghe having to contest an election.


But to my surprise and horror, what transpired during the last 5 months is quite different to this so-called common sense approach. What we saw was absolute lunacy on the part of the government leadership, pushing the country into complete anarchy.


The minority government started acting like a majority government in the parliament. The Prime Minister and other leaders of UNP went on a rampage openly insulting senior members of the opposition who had already promised to help his 100-day program.


A special police unit, whose legality is now questioned in courts, was set up in order to investigate and arrest opposition politicians and key officials of the Rajapaksa administration. The new appointees to key positions in every government organization started acting like hunting dogs looking for ways and means to fix their predecessors. Opposition politicians and senior officers of the previous administration were repeatedly summoned by the special police unit ( FCID ) or by the Bribery Commission for various investigations. Most of these investigations did not have a clear objective to start with. In most cases it was apparent that the investigators were desperately looking ways and means to frame these politicians and the officials on one thing or the other.


Arrests seem to have been planned long before investigations were even initiated. One good example is the arrest of Minister Basil Rajapaksa who was questioned by FCID from 10.30 am till 7.30 pm on 22nd April 2015. He was produced before Kaduwela Magestrate around 10.45 pm and then remanded without bail. But rumor has it that a call came to a close associate from inside Welikada remand prison around 4 pm, that a prison cell was being prepared for the former Minister. At 5.04 on April 22, Reuters Colombo correspondent reported in a twitter message that the FCID had arrested Basil Rajapaksa. How he got that information is a mystery as FCID was still questioning him. The prison bus was waiting at Kaduwela courts even before the former Minister was brought to courts and long before magistrate gave the order. Anyone with the tiniest brain could suspect that this arrest was a well orchestrated, Hitler’s Gestapo Police type of an operation, where the total system seem to have been manipulated for political means.


Along with the politicians arrested, several key government officials have also been arrested. Many other officials are being questioned reputedly and they have to spend millions of rupees on lawyers. Obviously, the lawyers are the main beneficiaries of the fear psychosis that has been created by the yahapalana administration.


It is important for the readers to understand that, except a very few cases, most of the arrests and ongoing investigations are not related to corruption or fraud as expected by public. They are mostly related to misappropriation of public funds, or some procedural violation. Misappropriation of public funds is subject to interpretation by the courts. A procedure violation can happen unintentionally by any public officer in the midst of his or a her work. When you are focused on results, you are not checking the procedure book all the time. It is human to err. But when FCID goes and checks every document you have ever signed with the motive of finding some fault to fix you, they can invariably find something wrong. For example, the charges against Basil Rajapaksa were (1) providing 14 Samurdhi beneficiary families each with 2,500 for repairing their houses (2) paying Rs. 1,700 from Divi Neguma funds as compensation to 1,067 Samurdhi Officers who voluntarily retired until the Treasury took over the responsibility of the payments; and (3) spending Rs. 23 million on printing almanacs to be distributed to people. He was not accused of robbing any money for personal gain as yahapalana voters expected. It is not only the politician Basil Rajapaksa who was arrested on the above charges, but also the Ministry Secretary Dr. Nihal Jayatilleke, former Director General of the Divi Neguma Department R.A.A.K. Ranawaka and former Additional Director General of the Divi Neguma Department Bandula Tilakasiri. These three are government officers.


The end result of this witch hunting process of the new government is that the entire state machinery has come to a stand still. Today no government officer is raising his pen to sign a document where he or she has to authorize a decision. I can say that with assurance, having spoken to many of my friends currently serving at various government institutes. Who wants to get remanded for just carrying out the responsibilities of your job? We all know that in government service you never get punished for not working. On the other hand, with the situation the current government has created, one can get punished for working. So, it is far safer for the government officials in future to just collect their salaries and do nothing.


Instead of evaluating the development projects that have already been started, the new administration was quick to criticize all ongoing projects and stop them. They only looked at the political mileage of highlighting all these projects as waste. They spoke of corruption everywhere and promised the voters to find the culprits and punish them. Initially the public cheered at these actions. It took a while for people to realize the huge negative impact on economy when these projects are stopped all of a sudden. Every development activity involves major contractors as well as sub contractors. There are many local suppliers of raw materials, equipment and other services. There are employees, contract workers, casual workers, and consultants, freelance service providers who depend on the income from these projects. Money exchanged due to these projects circulates in the economy. When a project is halted abruptly, all this comes to a standstill. Contractors and suppliers do not get paid, financial institutes cannot recover what has been lent. Employees are laid off. Investors lose confidence. Existing investors start selling their shares and moving out. Stock market starts crashing. No one is borrowing from the banks to do business. Foreign investors shy away from the country. Accordingly, a chain reaction and negative downward spiral of the economy begins.


I simply cannot understand how the economic pundits in the new government couldn’t see this coming.
Today we see a government, which runs around like a headless chicken. We do not hear a positive vision from any of its leaders. The usual blame game and the usual excuses have begun. Now the UNP leaders say that they need a stable government to manage the country. I find it difficult to accept. You had 5 months to show your capabilities. I mean capabilities - not necessarily results, which of course will take time to deliver. The Prime Minister had the fullest backing of the President who also controls the opposition. Never in the history of Sri Lanka has a government had this advantage. At one point you had the entire parliament at your disposal and you blew it. Had you respected the opposition and sought their support without trying to prosecute them from day one, the President could have easily kept them under control and got their support for all his actions in the parliament. While no one finds fault with the new government for investigating possible frauds and corruption of the previous government, that can’t be the only thing the new government is doing. People appoint leaders to govern the country. So those in administration need to work and deliver results. Actions speak louder than words.


Courtesy - http://lbt.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9315:dont-bite-the-hand-that-feeds-youq&catid=65:expert-advice&Itemid=98

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