Ravi K on the Budget, state of the nation and impeachment

Friday, 30 November 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

United National Party Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake stresses the country should not be ruled by a Government with a village type thug mentality anymore. Karunanayake, who points out that this Government do not know the basics of running a macro economy, notes this is a Government that believes investors can be attracted by raising their sarong and shouting.

The Parliamentarian calls upon the people to give an opportunity to the UNP and look at the party in a positive manner because it is the only party that has the professionalism to ensure the country can go forward.

Following are excerpts from an interview:

Q: What are your remarks about the Budget?

A: I call upon the people to share the opinion with me as to what has been offered from this Budget. Expectation of a budget is to ensure that there is higher revenue, reduction in cost, elimination of corruption, and ensure infrastructure is put in place. But do we see any of these factors in the Budget? This is a Budget of the haves for the haves. It is a Budget that ensures the have-nots are marginalised to next to nothing.

In the Budget, the Government says there is a salary increase for Government servants. They target 11.5 to 12 lakhs of public servants and the cost on the Government is Rs. 13 billion. The Government is saying it is with greatest difficulty that they have offered this salary increment. On the other side the same Government is allowing SriLankan Airlines to lose Rs. 19 billion just in one year. SriLankan Airlines previous year’s loss is Rs. 23 billion. The loss incurred by Mihin Air is Rs. 2 billion. Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has lost Rs. 89 billion up to today; CEB has lost Rs. 95 billion up to today. So what is that the little 13 billion that they are talking about?

The Budget also got a benefit for racing car drivers of a 100% tax exemption. When people are starving, the Government says look at the Lamborghinis that are coming in.

Q: The Treasury in a statement clarified that the tax cut was not for racing cars but for go-karts. Don’t you think the Opposition is overacting?

A: The same thing was said when the limousines came into the country. The issue is not that. The issue is not about Lamborghinis or racing cars or go-karts. This is a non-relevant fact. This is a non-existing society that we don’t even need to speak about in the Budget. The Government is trying to distract attention. Now the Government is trying to retract because the Opposition has hit hard on this issue.

These excuses by the Government are lopsided, warped, and they have no substance. If it was to encourage a sports economy, why did they have to go after sports cars, why not cricket? Do we have one single guy who can compete or go near Formula car racing?

In fact this Government has dismantled whatever revenue we received from the sports economy. Initially we had Sri Lanka Rupavahini earning Rs. 200 million from sports sponsorships. Then they gave the rights to Carlton Sports Network even without a tender. The Chairman of Rupavahini Mohan Samaranayake in a letter has said that he didn’t know that the deal was going off Rupavahini. The letter says that Rupavahini is making huge losses and he is unable to recapture the revenue losses.

Then they build cricket grounds all around the country. What is the point of having grounds if we are unable to play matches? And why do we need to develop new grounds? Why do you have to spend Rs. 4,500 million to build a cricket ground for a capacity of 7,000? These are all steps in the right direction done at the wrong time and over-capitalised. We don’t need ports when ships don’t come. We don’t need grounds when matches are not being played. If these come from their private funds, then it is well and good. But when it is the money of taxpayers, it has to be looked at on a cost-benefit analysis.

Q: The Government has initiated mega infrastructure projects same as the UNP did during the ’77 era. Why are you against the development moves by the Government?

UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake

A: One should never compare the projects done by the UNP with the work of the present Government. The UNP’s approach was far different. Our projects created jobs. They expanded the economy. Take Mahaweli, which had multi-faced approach to agriculture, redeployment of people into areas which were overcrowded, ensuring power generation, etc. Now what are the big projects this Government is talking about? This Government is only extending the projects the UNP had already initiated in a completely different way. Katunayake Expressway is a classic example. In 1999, to complete the project, the cost was estimated at Rs. 3,900 million, but today it cost Rs. 49,900 million, which is 13 times the estimated cost.

Look at the Port of Hambantota. Two years and one month in operation, 21 ships have gone and what is the revenue they have earned? There is an impact of almost Rs. 6,000 million to the Colombo Port. Look at the number of ports that we are having. Do we need ports in Hambantota, Oluvil, and Galle? What is this all for?

Q: Are you opposing development taking place in rural areas?

A: The rural sector they are referring is only Hambantota. It is all about Hambantota Airport, Hambantota Free Trade Zone, Hambantota Port, and Hambantota Racing Centre. There is a cricket stadium and a convention centre. Why isn’t the development work going to rural areas other than Hambantota?

On the other hand, we don’t need to build ports when there are no ships coming in. We don’t need to build bridges when there is no river flowing under. This is what the Government is doing. I am not against investments that are there.

The problem with this Government is that they simply don’t know the basics of running a macro economy. Take the basic factors such as the labour GSP. If we had the labour GSP, we would have basically got a billion and half US dollars coming into the country. When we mentioned this several years back, they said they don’t need the GSP. Now today the chambers are talking because we have lost US$ 1.5 billion. This money was coming into the country’s coffers without taxing the people in this country. This is the lack of ingenuity in the Government.

Just because they are ignorant, it does not mean we are ignorant about the same facts. This is exactly why we say it is the village type thug mentality running the Government. They think they can come and raise their sarong and shout and the investors will come to the country. What actually happens is that the remaining investors are also leaving the country.

When they caught KP in September 2009, the Government said he possessed Rs. 18 billion and 23 vessels. Not a vessel, is there a boat caught from this guy? Where is the Rs. 18 billion? Has one rupee come to the country? If the Rs. 18 billion comes in, they can use it to reduce the petrol prices or use that for infrastructure development. Sarath Fonseka who won the war has his political rights stymied, but KP who killed 75,000 people by collecting money for LTTE is free.

KP is a privileged guest of the Government. We Parliamentarians are harassed in this country. But KP is a guest of the Government. He doesn’t even have a court case against him. Why isn’t he charged by the courts of Sri Lanka?

Q: What do you think about the Budget proposal of opening up the capital market?

A: This is a good move. One policy that comes out is very clear that the Budget has been maintained to go through a consistent policy for three years. This is a positive move. Added on to that is the opening of the capital market. But the problem is we are a loan-driven reserve developed country. Our reserves are on long-term bonds.

Look at public debt. The final debt of the country has to be paid, local or foreign. Public debt comes in from two ways; either you overspend with your currency factor or budget factor. The budget factor means it is your consolidated loss of all entities. A letter signed on 5 July 2012 by Geethanjana Gunawardena and Ajith Nivard Cabral tells the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that our public debt is 6.3%, but the actual figure is 8.6%. They say consolidated loss is one and Government loss is another. The IMF is permitting the Government to hoodwink the people. The IMF and the World Bank do not need to have two standards, one for the rest of the world and then one for Sri Lanka.

Q: Are you saying the IMF is adopting double standards?

A: They are absolutely adopting double standards. This is hypocrisy at its peak. What I don’t understand is why they are acting like this. When we were in power we didn’t do everything the World Bank and the IMF wanted us to do. But they still made life difficult for us. This Government is doing nothing which is of fiscal advantage and they are getting the loans they want at the expense of this county. The IMF and the Government are scratching each other’s backs.

Q: What are your views about the impeachment against the Chief Justice?

A: It is a pathetic condition for the Sri Lankan Judiciary. I am not saying the Sri Lankan Judiciary was doing an independent job. They themselves were contributory in burying the 17th Amendment through the 18th Amendment. In the process they created a problem for themselves. But irrespective of that, we as the UNP are fighting for the independence of the Judiciary of this country.

The Judiciary, Executive and Legislature are three important pillars; each must be as independent as one can be. Today the Legislature has given in to the Executive. The Executive is trying to arrogate powers of the Judiciary. Even though the UNP has been battered by the Judiciary, we firmly stand by in order to fortify the independence of the Judiciary.

I respect the Chief Justice for standing up for principles. On the basis of the charges let it be proven. Just because the Supreme Court gives a judgement against the Government, it does not mean that the Chief Justice needs to be impeached. Questioned have been asked why the UNP brought an impeachment. The impeachment we brought was against a statement that affected the Judiciary at that time. We brought the impeachment when things were independent. The Government had 138 members but we could not do anything about it. Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon was not implicated.

In 2001, the impeachment came when the 17th Amendment was there. It shows that these things have to be used in correct spirit. Here it is misuse of power that is vested in them through the process temporarily to run the Government.

Q: The Budget was being debated and the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice were taking place, but amidst all these important activities the President hurried to Kazakhstan and then headed to the United States. Your comments?

A: The friends of the Sri Lankan President these days are Swaziland, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Uganda, and Seychelles. I don’t want to comment about his trip to US because it is not an official trip. But I don’t think his visit is only to see the Prime Minister.

Q: Colombo is once again preparing for the controversial Night Races. Your comments?

A: Night races are an absolute waste of money. To whose agendas are they working? Is this what the people of Colombo want? They claim this is the ‘Miracle of Asia,’ but after one hour of rain, Colombo is flooded. But they are closing Galle Face Green and re-tarring for whose benefit? We want buses, not night races. We want public transport at night, not road races at night. We condemn this type of activities. In fact our Leader has told the Mayor of Colombo Municipal Council not to spend one cent of CMC money on such extravagant pageantries.

Q: How and what needs to be done to stop such extravagant pageantries?

A: When we try to highlight these extravagancies, people disregard us. We have been hammered brutally by the people for trying to keep this country out of debt. They sing the song of chauvinism like a scoundrel who resolves to nationalism as the last resort. The Government gets away with blue murder. We call upon the people to look at the UNP from a different perspective. We are the only party that has developed this country and we are the only party that has the professionalism that can ensure the country can go forward.

Q: But we don’t see that professionalism within the UNP. For the last 19 years your party has been struggling with internal issues and failed to solve its leadership crisis. Do you agree?

A: I don’t agree with that. You will see that 1 December will be a stepping stone for the future of the UNP. Unity is the most important essence of the UNP and on 1 December we will embark on that. I don’t want to say that the UNP does not have any faults. I am an UNPer who wants to see my party come into power. I will do everything to ensure that we eradicate minefields that are there which create problems. The people who are inside, singing hosannas to the outside people’s agendas, need to be dealt with. The UNP needs a lot of radical changes from top to bottom.

Q: The country at present is in chaos; there is a clash between the Executive and the Judiciary, lack of democracy, high cost of living, and so on. There is great opportunity to topple the Government, but the UNP has failed. Why?

A: In 2001 we toppled the Government and we brought the economy back into order. But what happened? Chandrika Kumaratunga even today says that in hindsight what she did was wrong. From then onwards the economy has been ailing. Now people have realised this. They say that what the UNP did was right.

This Government can’t protect the Judiciary; it can’t protect the prison. Why is Pradeep Kariyawasam the only one charged with bribery and corruption? There are 10 Directors at NSB; why haven’t they been charged? Why are people like Ajith Devasurendra not being questioned? Just because they are with the Government, it does not mean they have not done any wrong. People are worried to talk about these things. Look at Krrish Towers. Why aren’t Sri Lankans getting such opportunities? Shangri-La has got a 1.1 billion dollar tax exemption; why not offer such privileges to Sri Lankan companies?

No one can say the Opposition is not doing anything. We can’t go to the Police; it is the private property of the SLFP. You can’t go to courts because the courts are not functioning. You can’t go to the people; then they say the Government has won the war and therefore we must give an opportunity.

Look at this heterogeneous coalition: Vasudeva Nanayakkara says don’t abolish the 13th Amendment; Wimal Weerawansa says to abolish it; Tissa Vitarana says this is madness and we are going to the Stone Age; Champika Ranawaka says the country is there without it.

Q: Do you think that despite all the wrongdoings, people still respect the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration for finishing the war?

A: This is like a relay where every ruling party did its share. No leader allowed the war to ensure that it got to its worst position. The peace process that was last done was the breaking of the backbone of the terrorists. Even President Rajapaksa thanked Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government for the peace process and for bringing Karuna who was the lethal weapon to the democratic stage. Chandrika Kumaratunga broke the chauvinism that was there. The UNP took it over from there. Mahinda Rajapaksa took the next step. We all contributed to the victory of the war.

Q: Are you saying it was not Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the war?

A: Definitely not. On what basis can they say so? If they were successful in ending the war, why can’t they solve the crisis that is taking place in the education sector? What about the economy of this country or the dengue problem? Why can’t they apply the same strategies and find solutions to these issues as well?

Q: What do you think about the rift between Sarath Fonseka, Arjuna Ranatunga, and Tiran Alles?

A: Arjuna Ranatunga gave lot of his time for Sarath Fonseka. I don’t understand what the rift has been and I don’t want to intrude into another political party’s internal affairs. But all I say is that Arjuna, Sarath, all of them, should be in a collective opposition working to uproot this monstrous dictatorial regime that is taking this to a personal agenda rather than a national agenda.

On the other hand, just because there was an opportunity given, it does not mean you should singly think ‘I am the main man’. It has to be a collective thing. When you are in Opposition, everyone is at your throat. Everyone should realise that the time has come for everyone to work together in one coherent consistent direction and that is towards a better Sri Lanka. This Constitution must change, the abolition of the Executive Presidency must take place, and there must be decency that is given to all other stakeholders in the process.

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