Sri Lanka needs a vibrant private sector and foreign investment is a prerequisite for national development. Our misguided experiments with socialism from 1970 to 77 ended with disastrous consequences.
However, the remedy unplanned economic liberalisation administered in 1977 under a different regime proved to be as bad as the malady. We, as a nation, never dip our toes when we embark on new ventures and have the bad habit of taking blind plunges fatalistically. We begin to think only after leaping like the proverbial dipsomaniac who dived into a swimming pool in total darkness only to find it had been drained for repairs.
What we have been made witness to since the introduction of the present open economy is an absolute plunder of State resources. It looks as if the Sri Lankan version of economic liberalisation were synonymous with the daylight robbery of State assets. The CTB became one of the first few casualties of the open market economic policies. It was simply looted! Buses in running condition were condemned fraudulently and sold to mudalalis who drove them away after pushing them out of CTB depots! Many public ventures went for a song and government leaders in the corporate bandits` pocket laughed their way to overseas banks.
SLFP leaders followed suit after making a comeback in 1994. Nay, they outdid the UNP government in facilitating the robbery of State assets on the pretext of divestiture. The best of public enterprises making huge profits were sold to the cronies of government leaders. The loss this country incurred owing to the acquisition by the private sector of public ventures in a fraudulent manner between 1985 and 2005 is believed to be over one thousand billion rupees.
The country was lucky that the judiciary finally shot down several illegal deals reeking of corruption like the sale of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and Lanka Marine Services Ltd. and the alienation of State land for Waters Edge. The Supreme Court has, through its landmark judgments during the past few years, sent a strong message to the plunderers of public assets and their political patrons: They are not above the law of the land! And they are still reeling from those blistering judicial gavel blows on their corrupt and arrogant pates. The private sector is said to be the engine of growth but the crooks in it have turned it into an engine of corruption much to the annoyance of decent corporate citizens.
Leading businessman and the Honorary Counsel for Denmark Harry Jayawardene is reported to have said something at a meeting with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama the other day to the effect that foreign investors may be wary of coming to Sri Lanka because of the judicial intervention in business matters. One is intrigued! One may understand his consternation stemming from the cancellation by the Supreme Court of the divestiture of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation. But, it is certainly far-fetched to claim that foreign investors will avoid this country because of its judiciary. Why should any law-abiding investor feel jittery about a vibrant judiciary? To argue that judicial intervention to right wrongs crooks commit against the public discourages foreign investors is, in our book, tantamount to casting a slur on respectable foreign businesses desirous of investing here. If any foreign investor fears the Sri Lankan judiciary, he should not be invited, as he cannot be considered honest.
This country is, no doubt, in need of foreign investment but that does not mean investors should be given the freedom of the wild ass. They do not enjoy such freedom anywhere in the world, do they? They may be given concessions such as tax holidays and other forms of incentives to bring their monies here but under no circumstances should judicial independence be compromised to attract them.