The statement made by President Chandrika Kumaratunga that Sri Lanka has not received even five cents as assistance for tsunami victims is the most amazing statement to be made following of the visit of the Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragmar to the United Kingdom to personally thank the people and the government of Britain for their unprecedented expression of support for the tsunami victims. If what the President says is true than has Minister Kadirgamar travelled to the UK to thank the British government for giving us nothing, asked Professor G. L. Peiris when he addressed a media briefing at the office of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday.
Professor Peiris further said that when the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance Dr. P. B. Jayasundera appeared before the committee on high posts in Parliament at which he and Deputy UNP leader Karu Jayasuriya was present, they asked Dr. Jayasundera about the monies received and how it would be utilised. According to detailed information given by the Secretary to the Finance, Sri Lanka has received US$ 700 million in cash grants as well as large amount of funds being waived on accounts of loan repayment due on both capital and interest.
These funds are available for disbursement among tsunami victims. There is no doubt about this situation.
In addition to funds not being released to the victims, food stuffs have also been buried as they have passed their dates of expiry as they have been held up in various state godowns without being given to the victims, he said.
This is a tragic situation where food meant for the people is hoarded and later destroyed. This is a clear symptom of a government in paralysis being unable to do anything.
The internecine war between the President and the JVP has worsened and developed into one where live-bullets were fired at student protesters. Earlier it was restricted to verbal warfare. The huge powers available to the government is that which was obtained under cover of tsunami rehabilitation and it is unfortunate that the members of the JVP were the first to experience, the undemocratic action of the government in trying to stifle their viewpoint. Even though the UNP does not agree with the viewpoint of the JVP, they have the democratic right to express it, Professor Peiris said.
The UNP forewarned the government that such a situation will arise during the debate on the emergency in Parliament and unfortunately the JVP, which is a part of the government, has been the first victim of the tsunami based emergency law.
There is large scale corruption and the Auditor General recently reported to Parliament that a loan of Rs. 24 million given by the President?s Fund to the Presidential Secretariat cannot be accounted for because all relevant documents have gone missing. A further sum of Rs. 473 million received from the Development Lottery also cannot be reconciled and accounted for. This totals to a huge sum of nearly Rs. 497 million and is further aggravated by the observation of the Auditor General that the Board of Directors of the President Fund have not met even once for the last three years, a situation which has resulted in a total lack of transparency and accountability, he added.
To make matters worse, the President is now toying with the idea of a referendum at a cost of Rs. 900 million. There is no need to have a referendum since the Dinesh Gunawardane committee on electual reforms has already submitted an interim report which has been discussed in Parliament. The priority today is not a referendum, it is the rehabilitation of tsunami victims and the reduction in the cost of living, Professor Peiris said.
Even though the President says that she wants to reduce the powers of the Presidency what she does in practice has been to strengthen her powers. The taking over of the Media Ministry and the Samurdhi Ministry are clear examples of a disparity between the words and actions of the President, he concluded.
UNP Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim said that prior to getting involved in a referendum there are a whole host of promises which have to be fulfilled. The people are awaiting for a reduction in the cost of living, 120,000 new jobs, privatisation to be stopped, fertiliser at Rs. 350, a 70% salary increase to the public sector and many more. This must be attended to before the government tries to mislead the people through a referendum, he said.