‘Prez exploiting bankruptcy status to pursue his agenda’

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By Shamindra Ferdinando


The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government brazenly exploited the latest IMF intervention here to advance its agenda to further weaken the parliament, Prof. Charitha Herath, MP, alleged on Wednesday (04).

Addressing the media at the Nawala Office of Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA), the former Chairman of parliamentary watchdog COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) said that the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Bill very clearly reflected the current dispensation’s strategy.

Prof. Herath stressed that President Ranil Wickremesinghe as well as some of his ministers claimed that the government was implementing the agreement it reached with the IMF.

Sri Lanka recently received the first tranche of USD 2.9 bn IMF bailout package granted over a period of four years.

The SLPP National List MP said that government members so often made reference to the IMF, the Washington headquartered lending body, seemed to be governing Sri Lanka. Perhaps the IMF hadn’t been a party to the disputed strategies of the current dispensation, lawmaker Herath said, stressing that he didn’t oppose the government seeking IMF intervention.

Prof. Herath, who switched his allegiance to the Opposition in the wake of the SLPP declaring its support to UNP leader Wickremesinghe in July last year, said that they urged the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration to seek IMF’s help. “We have had IMF bailout packages on 16 previous occasions,” Prof. Herath said, adding that the current political-economic-social crisis could have been averted if assistance was sought at that time.

The first time entrant to parliament was among 82 lawmakers who voted for Dullas Alahapperuma, MP at the vote to elect a new President from among members of parliament to complete the remainder of ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.

Prof. Herath accused the government of taking advantage of the country’s bankrupt status to pursue Wickremesinghe’s highly dangerous agenda. The MP explained that the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Bill and the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act were in line with the President’s strategy.

The privatization of profit making enterprises such as Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and Lanka Hospitals, too, was pursued on the basis of their agreement with the IMF, the MP alleged.

The current dispensation should be condemned for its irresponsible actions and certainly held accountable for the dire consequences, the rebel SLPP MP said.

MP Herath dealt with the controversial Central Bank of Sri Lanka Bill that received the approval of the Supreme Court. The SC on Tuesday (04) informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena that the Bill could be enacted with a simple majority in parliament.

Reiterating the need to thwart undue political interference in the decision making process in the Central Bank and the Monetary Board, Prof. Herath said however the government shouldn’t be totally deprived of an opportunity to make interventions. One-time Media Ministry Secretary said that he believed the Secretary to the Finance Ministry shouldn’t be allowed to run the operation. But, the removal of the Finance Secretary from the five-member Monetary Board shouldn’t be the answer, Prof. Herath said, warning the government that the Central Bank shouldn’t be totally independent as envisaged in the Bill.

Commenting on the relevance of the country’s supreme law in respect of the controversial Bill, Prof Herath warned the government of dire consequences in case the parliament was deprived of its power over public finance. It would be pertinent to examine how the new Bill impacted on Article 148 of the Constitution. “Article 148 dealt with public finance. Therefore, how could a particular Bill be acceptable if it contravened the Constitution,” the MP told The Island.

Prof. Herath suggested that the proposed arrangement should be subjected to the approval of the all-party Committee on Public Finance (COPF), thereby ensuring the parliamentary role in the process.

Referring to Section 47 of the new Bill, Prof. Herath expressed serious concern over the Central Bank superseding the Parliament in respect of the use of foreign currencies here. Perhaps, interested parties could be thinking of utilization of USD at the Colombo Port City, Chinese currency at Hambantota Port and Indian Rupee somewhere else, the MP said.

He said that such a decision could be made but that should be the prerogative of the Parliament, not the Central Bank as envisaged in the new Bill.

The move to enact a new Anti-Terrorism Act, he pointed out that it should be examined against the backdrop of the growing opposition to the government’s agenda. Declaring that the new Bill sought to suppress legitimate political dissent at all levels and aimed to neutralize social media platforms which the government considered hostile, Prof. Herath warned that the passage of the new law would create an extremely dangerous situation.

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