Taxing the state!
How costly leniency could be in dealing with a terror outfit could be seen from the bitter experience of the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE according to press reports is now slapping taxes on the government! The CWE and the Building Materials Corporation are reported to have marked up their prices in the North and East to meet inter alia the cost of taxes they have to pay the LTTE.
The graduation of the LTTE from taxing helpless civilians to extorting money from the government which is, we are told, backed by the international community has been possible thanks to the pusillanimity of the government and the indulgence with which the so-called powerful nations are handling the LTTE.
Ironically, the news of the LTTE taxing the government comes only a few weeks after the latter got embroiled in trouble having granted a duty waiver for the LTTE to import gear for the clandestine terror radio station. This is reciprocity according to the LTTE!
The LTTE taxes have become so serious a proposition that the writing is said to be on the wall for many businesses in the North, which today have to pay taxes to the government and protection money to the LTTE. The plight of businessmen in the North is highlighted in a paper, What impedes an economic revival in the North-East, presented by Muttukrishna Saravananthan recently.
Unable to pay taxes to both the government and the LTTE, according to him, most of the new businesses there have opted to remain in the informal economy without obtaining registration.
As he points out, the LTTE is mostly involved in only four activities in government controlled areas of the North and East. They are 1. Recruitment of cadres 2. Collection of taxes 3. Commemorating the dead cadres and 3. Harassing political opponents. "It is also known," he says, "that the LTTE demands a percentage of the tender from contractors who undertake construction work (shelter, roads, rehabilitation of irrigation tanks etc. in the areas under their control."
We hope that the international community and aid donors will take serious note of this situation before making the LTTE a partner in development.
When we reported some months ago that the LTTE had expanded its illegal taxes to the government controlled areas, the government pooh-poohed our reports. When questions were raised in Parliament about these illegal taxes based on reports including ours, Finance Minister K. N. Choksy (on August 27, 2002) wanted proof other than mere newspaper reports if the government was to take action.
A few weeks later the Jaffna MC passed a resolution condemning the illegal taxes by the LTTE. Several other local bodies in the North had passed similar resolutions earlier and copies of them had been sent to the President and the Prime Minister, but strangely the government pretended that it was without proof!
In an editorial titled, Proof of LTTE taxes on September 24, 2002 we cited the Jaffna MC resolution as clear proof of LTTE taxes and called upon the government to act. President Kumaratunga in a letter to the Prime Minister a few days later urged him to deal with the LTTE taxes and referred him to our editorial comment if the latter needed further information! That no action was taken to nip the problem in the bud goes without saying.
Prabhakaran is a lucky man indeed! His success has been largely due to his remarkable ability to go Scot-free with whatever he does. Those who bragged that September 11 terror attacks would spell doom for the LTTE have been made to eat their words. The peace process it was forced to enter as a result of the fallout of these attacks has stood it in good stead.
According to the Presidential Secretariat, the LTTE has since the beginning of the peace process increased its cadre by 10,000. It is being invited to the meetings that the World Bank has with the government. Foreign envoys attend luncheons it hosts and discuss with it development of the north and east. While abducting children as combatants, it is today in a position to propose to the UNICEF ways and means of ensuring childrens welfare in the north and east. Many an eyebrow has been raised by the news that the UNICEF has agreed to consider supporting LTTE transit homes for children.
This is a situation that the LTTE could not even dream of before entering the peace process.
Worst of all, the LTTE last week set a trawler carrying arms ablaze with two monitors on board, who luckily jumped overboard and swam to safety before the vessel was blown up by suicide cadres, and got away with that dastardly act too by attributing it to miscommunication.
Only Washington expressed concern. It censured and urged it to commit itself fully to peace and desist from arms resupply efforts. But the LTTE is an outfit that cannot be frightened into submission by throwing paper missiles at it. Remember Anton Balasingham was bold enough to even turn down a call by the US in Oslo last December to eschew violence.
Much more is desired from the world powers behind Sri Lankas peace process if the Tigers are to be tamed.
Their failure to take stern action has emboldened the LTTE so much that it has today gone to the extent of imposing taxes on the Sri Lanka state.
No government worth its salt would give in to a terror outfit in this manner accommodating as it does almost every demand of terrorists so as not to wreck the peace process. We wonder whether there is any other government in the world paying taxes to terrorists.
Allowing state owned institutions like the CWE and the BMC to pay taxes to the LTTE amounts to the government funding terrorism, which is a crime.
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