The Joint Opposition (JO) yesterday backed Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s move to pressure university academics and officials to repay what they owed to the state, by publishing the names of defaulters as well as guarantors.
The head of the JO’s Economic Research Unit Bandula Gunawardena said that he believed tangible measures should be taken to recover loans. The issue was taken up at JO briefing at a temple in Punchi Borella. Gampaha District MP attorney-at-law Sisira Jayakody refrained from commenting on the issue.
Gunawardena said that there was nothing wrong in revealing the names of those who hadn’t paid loans. The former Education Minister said so when The Island sought his views on the Higher Education and the University Grants Commission (UGC) taking unprecedented measure to pressure defaulters and guarantors. A Government advertisement also revealed they owed Rs 813 mn.
However, similar tactics should be taken in respect of others, including lawmakers, Gunawardena said, alleging that under the current dispensation loans amounting to millions of Rupees given to various catchers had been written off. Gunawardena challenged the government to reveal all defaulters. When The Island pointed out that some of his colleagues as well as their supporters, too, could end up in various lists, Gunwardena said it didn’t matter.
Gunawardena alleged that Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera recently tried to indicate that he (Gunawardena) may not have properly paid income taxes. Declaring that he would reveal his payments records next week for a period of five, perhaps ten years, Gunawardena challenged Samaraweera to do the same. Gunawardena said that both Samaraweera and the former Finance Minister should reveal their records. When The Island asked whether Gunawardena was referring to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who held the finance portfolio in the previous government, he said the reference was to Ravi Karunanayake.
The Island sought an explanation from the JO how lawmakers could justify well over Rs 20 mn received for each vehicle imported in terms of special permits issued to members and sold since the last parliamentary poll, Gunawardena said that let everything be revealed.
Gunawardena pointed out that the government recently suspended the vehicle imports under various duty free schemes following the unprecedented depreciation of Rupee against the USD.
At the onset of the media briefing, Gunawardena alleged that the country was now experiencing the worst ever economic crisis due to rampant waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was taking advantage of the crisis to facilitate clandestine efforts to privatize two major state banks, the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank with a joint asset base of over Rs. 3,500 bn. Gunawardena said that the current situation should be examined against the backdrop of massive treasury bond scams perpetrated by the government in February 2015 and March 2016.
Regardless of the worsening crisis, the government was looking after the interests of various politically influential persons.
Gunawardena flayed the government for not inquiring into the circumstances under which the Bank of Ceylon provided funds required by the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) to carry out its operations. Gunnwardena pointed out that Sri Lanka’s premier bank’s involvement with the PTL transpired before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCI) last year. But, the government conveniently turned a blind eye to PCI revelations, Gunawardena said.
Gunawardena claimed that President Sirisena and the UNP were engaged in a battle over the state banks with the latter ignoring directive issued by the President to replace board of directors of both banks. Gunawardena asserted that President Sirisena was helpless and couldn’t ensure implementation of instructions issued by his office.
Gunawardena recalled how the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa acted swiftly and decisively when Dingiri Banda Wijetunga declared in parliament that both state banks were bankrupt. Gunawardena said that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened in 2007 to save the Seylan Bank.
The JO heavyweight warned of dire consequences unless the government took corrective measures. The MP revealed that several exporters had brought to their notice the possibility of Australian banks declining to accept letters of credit issued by the two state banks.
Gunawardena warned of state sector bank employees resorting to trade union action against the moves to privatise them. A two-day state bank strike launched on a Thursday could bring immense pressure on the government as all transactions would be affected over a period of four days, Gunawardena said.
Current Rupee crisis had messed up the economy, Gunawardena said that in some parts of the country, including Anuradhapura those engaged in lucrative illegal currency market were engaged in collecting US Dollars. Gunawardena said those collecting USD in Anuradhapura paid Rs 175 for each USD whereas the official buying rate was Rs 173, he said.
The MP said that the government was planning to slap yet another tax on the banks. The banks wouldn’t have any other option than passing the burden to their customers, Gunawardena said.