Parliament faulted for deterioration of public finances

‘IMF won’t maintain ministers, excess staff’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dissident SLPP MP Prof. G. L. Peiris has alleged that the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfil one of its primary obligations, namely the responsibility for public sector finance caused the current crisis.

The incumbent government had been compelled to seek the International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervention as the country couldn’t address the balance of payments crisis on its own, the former Foreign Minister said. Addressing the media at the newly opened Nawala Office of Freedom People’s Congress on Wednesday (14), the academic questioned the need to appoint 38 State Ministers at a time the vast majority of the population was struggling to make ends meet.

Pointing out that in terms of Article 148 of the Constitution, the parliament exercised the power over public finance, the lawmaker explained how unbridled waste, corruption and mismanagement over the years contributed to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ultimately taking up the issue at hand.

The ex-FM dealt with the issue close on the heels of his successor Ali Sabry’s response to UNHRC making extensive references to ‘economic crimes’ perpetrated in Sri Lanka. Addressing the 51 Regular Session of the UNHRC in Geneva, President’s Counsel Sabry said that such references exceeds the mandate of the UN High Commissioner.

Prof. Peiris represented Sri Lanka at the last session. Following turmoil in the ruling coalition over the decision to back Ranil Wickremesinghe at the July 20 presidential contest, the newly elected on the advice of the SLPP dropped Prof. Peiris from the cabinet.SLPP National List MP Prof. Peiris stressed that the appointment of 38 State Ministers couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.

President Wickremesinghe, in the presence of Premier Dinesh Gunawardena appointed 37 State Ministers on Sept 08. Later, Ratnapura District SLPP MP Premalal Jayasekera, too, was appointed a State Minister. On March 31, this year the Court of Appeal acquitted Jayasekara from charges, including a death sentence issued over a political murder case filed in 2015. The former SLFPer along with two other persons were sentenced to death on July 31, 2021 over a killing during the 2015 presidential polls campaign.

The government could appoint two more State Ministers and 12 cabinet ministers as the Constitution allowed the appointment of 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet ministers.Prof. Peiris said that the expansion of the cabinet of ministers and non-cabinet rankers should be examined against the backdrop of the government not having the wherewithal to meet even the basic needs of the people.

Referring to Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena returning Rs. 1.5 mn saved from his fuel allocation for January 2020 to July 2020 period to the Office of the Leader of the House, Prof. Peiris pointed out such appreciable gestures meant nothing when the cash-strapped government had to allocate huge sums of money and resources to upkeep new ministers. Prof. Peiris said that 38 ministers and their staff would require about 230 vehicles. The former minister asked whether the government at least estimated the cost of the new lot in terms of vehicles, fuel and salaries for the staff.

Prof. Peiris warned the government that the IMF wouldn’t grant money for the maintenance of utterly useless ministers who didn’t have any specific projects to handle for obvious reasons. Sri Lanka and the IMF recently announced agreement on USD 2.9 bn funding over a period of four years subject to the former fulfilling conditions set out by the lending body.The former minister said that the country should be ashamed of what he called a pathetic and further deteriorating situation.

Referring to a spate of recent statements made by the US, UNHRC, World Bank as well as one attributed to the USAID Administrator Samantha Powers, Prof. Peiris said the international community appeared to have zeroed in on high profile corruption cases here regardless of attempts to suppress them. The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo said that the World Bank recently went to the extent of questioning Sri Lanka’s auditing standards. Calling the World Bank move nothing but a disgrace and an affront to the once proud service, Prof. Peiris dealt with the violation of tender procedure in respect of the planned procurement of massive quantity of coal for the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant. The MP also made reference to explosive revelations made by Freedom People’s Congress member and SLPP rebel MP Prof Charitha Herath regarding misappropriation of Rs 1.3 bn. in the procurement of LP gas

Prof. Peiris urged the government to table the staff level agreement with the IMF without further delay. Pointing out that the SLPP admitted that even the Cabinet-of-Ministers hadn’t been briefed or consulted on the IMF deal, Prof. Peiris said that the government should take the parliament and the people as to how it intended to address the developing political-economic-social crisis.

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