Lotteries Board take over the dangerous game
By D. G. B. de Silva
The two reasons supposed to have been given by the President for the take over are both naive and unjustified. Surely, she could not have made an oversight in assigning the subject to Minister Moragoda. This is where the Complot theory exposes itself. The other reason that she needed more resources for the Presidents Fund is equally untenable. The evidence provided by the Special Correspondent shows that funds from the Lotteries Board have continued to flow to the Presidents Fund undiminished after the Board came under Minister Moragoda. The surprising thing is funds continued to be so directed despite the lack of transparency on the way funds were disbursed under the Presidents Fund.
There was much public clamour over this non-transparency even alleging that the Fund had not been subject to Audit for several years. I myself prepared a newspaper article on the subject over a year ago raising the question why a Fund other than the Constitutionally approved Consolidated Fund should exist particularly if there was no transparency over the manner the funds were disbursed. The publication had to be withheld because the information on the situation on auditing of accounts and amounts received from the Lotteries Boards resources was not forthcoming.
Later, it was revealed that the Presidents Fund had been used for political purposes, namely, to give financial assistance to Presidents party supporters who had been subjected to election violence. To counter criticism, there was a suggestion to give such assistance to those from other parties also, who suffered equally from election violence. Even the critics seemed to be silenced by the lure of pecuniary benefits, but this was mere eyewash in order to continue with the use of the Presidential Fund for political purposes, the morality of which is highly questionable. How could the Presidents Fund be used for such party purposes? There are no innocent victims in the case of political violence. Election violence did not arise without reason. One reaps what one has sown. Those who suffered now were the vectors of violence earlier. Now they are being compensated from a Fund supported by the public!
Was everything all right with the Presidents Scholarship scheme itself? I have a different experience because my youngest daughter was an applicant for these scholarships to follow an approved post-graduate course in a designated field in Commercial Law course at the Cambridge University. Despite her having gained academic excellence which is even more than what is required for an American Fullbright scholarship, an excellent record of proven leadership qualities, work experience as a journalist both with written and electronic media while studying and excelling in sports and athletics at school, university, inter-university and national levels (now representing Cambridge University in two sports fields) she was excluded from receiving one of these scholarships.
This was ostensibly because the scholarships were confined to public servants and their children, a gimmick introduced on the eve of the last Presidential election, as the full page newspaper advertisement revealed. Why was this exclusive selection? Why not the pensioners children and other less advantaged children, we asked?
Anyway that should be an eye-opener to the manner the Presidents scholarship Funds was managed. Its political orientation was obvious from the timing of the advertisement itself. I feel strongly of this as I was a product of a Scholarship. The late Minister Atulathmudali, the author of the Mahapola scholarship scheme too was a product of a scholarship. He told me soon after his return form Oxford that we should work to help other deserving students and these words still ring a bell in my ears. I myself offered six scholarships locally to deserving village students when I could afford it.
The Presidents Fund is not a personal property of the President, present past or future. Nor is it a party fund of the President whoever it is. This is gross misuse of a Fund maintained from public money as those coming from the Lotteries Board. A former Finance Minister has gone on record saying that the Presidents Fund should come under Parliamentary scrutiny; or there should be only the Consolidated Fund. I would concede the rationale for a Presidents Fund which does not require voted funds provided its utilisation is made transparent and also subjected to strict Audit.
It is not only the unsatisfactory nature of the management of the Presidents Fund and the Presidents Scholarship Fund which deserves attention but also the timing of the Presidents action in taking over the Lotteries Board and the manner it was done. Why did the President chose this particular time to act? Can she or her party spokesmen set aside the charge that the action was intended to cause difficulties for the government just at a time the economy has not only made a speedy recovery under its better managed economic programme but also, as the Central Bank Governors has indicated, when it has registered a 4 per cent growth in the G.D.P. last year? The Presidents action also comes at a time, when the prospects of donor response to Sri Lanka at the forthcoming Aid Confab in Tokyo early next month are extremely bright with the indication at the recent Washington seminar. That is whether the LTTE would participate or not.
With my ten year experience attending Aid Meetings I would say that the country has never seen a pledging session so enthusiastically awaited by the donor community and which if every things goes right, is likely to result in around US$ 1000 million. That is unprecedented in the history of economic aid to Sri Lanka. What is even more important is the donor enthusiasm to support the governments economic programme while supporting its "peace process". The Tokyo Round will go on whether LTTE participates or not because it is a pledging session for the country based on its economic performance and priorities for the future. North-East development is only one facet of it and the LTTE is not the deciding factor.
Is the idea to derail the prospects of overwhelming economic support to the government by trying to create confusion in the minds of the donor community? That is a charge that the President and the opposition cannot easily hedge. If there is a breakdown in co-habitation in the political seen in Colombo and the situation leads to further confrontation, with the prospects of dissolution of Parliament as reported to be indicated by the Leader of the Opposition, would the donors be ready to respond favourably? Not when one judges by past experience. In an election year, no donor meeting is held. This should be the clue to understanding the Presidents strategy of trying to create confusion at this very moment, first by taking over the Lotteries Board in a confrontation-posture. The claim of Presidents Constitutional powers is to mislead the public. What about the Parliaments own powers? Will that not lead to an imbroglio? Other aspects have been dealt with fully by the Special Correspondent and the Editor.
If the President and the Government would not contain the issue of the Lotteries Board in an amicable way in the overall interest of the country at this crucial juncture not only would the gains made at home and internationally including economic recovery slip away, there will be no hope for this country except to lead it to political chaos and even another civil war as the Correspondent perceived, and pave way for the disintegration of the state itself.
What benefit would a dissolution of Parliament at this time which all this would lead to, going to achieve? Does the President expect that she would gain an absolute or even a simple majority at an election? Even if there could be a slight chance of an electoral gain, what would she do thereafter? Where is the economic programme? She took power eight years ago without an economic programme and failed to improve the economy as her programmes were not development oriented but made to serve electoral gains. She still believed like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, that the economy under her government even at the time of its defeat was "sound" and "performing well". The reality was that the economy had slumped just as it was under Mrs. Bandaranaike in the 1970s, recording even a below Zero growth for the first time. That is enough about the management of the economy! Does she expect to receive international support in the form of economic aid and foreign investment? Not a hope going by her past performance; and now with a proposed partnership with the JVP. What is the economic strategy she could offer except belief in her personal charm? That led her to that dismal show of leading the Sri Lankan team to the Paris Forum in 2000, and where, as I said at the time failed to impress the tough-talking aid donors. That episode not only down-graded the country, but as I commented in strong terms at that time, brought nil returns.
The take-over of the Lotteries Board could very well be the tip of the iceberg, the first test of a series of actions to follow using the Presidents constitutional powers and that may be part of a new strategy. Is such a strategy which gives primacy to petty party politics, and aims to topple the government making headway with an economic break-through, the national priority of the hour? If the Parliament reacts by depriving of funds to the President will we not reach a worse Constitutional crisis? I have a copy of Dr. N. M. Pereras fine analysis of the 1978 Constitution where he predicted such a situation. In earlier Essays I pointed out how that sort of situation could be avoided through cohabitation which the French introduced to the Parliamentary system. That is the only salvation for the country; and not petty party politics, with the capture of political power by hook or crook as the priority.
This is the holy week when we celebrate Buddha Jayanthi, the preaching of the First Sermon, Dhammacakkapavattana, and remember the Parinibbana of the Buddha. Undoubtedly, this week, the President and the Prime Minister and other leaders would be sermonising the people through messages outlining the value of virtues that Buddha extolled - Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha. That includes magnanimity. What could one call such contradictory attitudes when compared with what is happening now? I am reminded of the saying in my village. "Loketa Parakaase;... Gederata Maragaate." (Big words to the world outside; but hell at home!) Wouldnt that be the appropriate description of the duplicity? Should we not remind ourselves that example is better than precept? Let that be the point for reflection this Vesak season! Let us illuminate our minds and not the streets!
Over to you, our Respectable Leaders!
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