Investigate Dhammika’s Charge

0
293

Yesterday, media reported that business magnate and Investment Promotion Minister Dhammika Perera had asked UNP leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe to shed his Finance Ministry portfolio because of incompetence.

The basis of Perera’s claim is that though 300 people have applied to buy a permanent resident visa offered at USD 100,000 a piece, Wickremesinghe as Finance Minister was sitting on those applications. “We can bring in USD 30 million to Sri Lanka this month if these applications are expeditiously approved,” Perera said.

This is a serious charge and needs investigations, if not Wickremesinghe needs to counter Perera’s accusations immediately. Recently, Wickremesinghe told the media that the Exchequer doesn’t even have a few million US dollars to import urgently needed cooking gas. This newspaper can remember, when the country’s US dollar shortage was not as acute as it’s now; nonetheless, President J.R. Jayewardene, who governed the country from 1977 to 1988, saying, “Let the robber barons come.”

Metaphorically, what Jayewardene meant was that the country was in desperate need of foreign investors not only to solve Sri Lanka’s dollar shortfall then, but to address an even greater problem, ie the country’s unemployment problem, soaring at over 20 per cent when he took office on 21 July 1977.

Jayewardene, though coming from a privileged family, felt for the poor, unlike Wickremesinghe or his current mentors, the ruling Rajapaksa family, responsible for Sri Lanka’s current, sorry state. In such a backdrop, the Premier’s ineptitude may be best explained by the Latin phrase, O tempora o mores!

Meanwhile, Perera’s life story is akin to a ‘rags to riches’ story. When he was 19, this was in 1987, his mother gave him Rs 500 to buy a pair of shoes. At that time he had qualified to follow an NDT course on electrical and electronics at Moratuwa University. But by then the JVP troubles had begun following the controversial Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 29 July 1987 and universities were more closed than open.

Wisely investing this money not on shoes but with a Pettah vendor on a profit sharing basis, his investments grew to
Rs 74,000 in three months which he then reinvested in slot or jackpot machines, after which there was no turning back on his upward journey in life.

Talking of Paiygala, Kalutra, Perera’s hometown, yesterday Sri Lanka recorded its fifteenth queue death, a 60-year-old ice cream vendor who died in a fuel queue at Paiyagala, while awaiting his turn for fuel for his motorised cart.It was only three days ago on Tuesday that Sri Lanka recorded its fourteenth fuel queue death, that of a 60-year-old man who was found dead at his wheel while waiting at a fuel queue in Borella.

Queues, due to queuing up for essentials, because Sri Lanka is an import-dependent economy, queue deaths, shortages, rationing, a thriving black market, nepotism, bribery, corruption, cronyism and the ruination of the agriculture sector, is the legacy of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime due to a combination of a US dollar shortage in the country and wrong policies. Rajapaksa was elected to power on 16 November 2019.

 The original cause for the dollar shortage is due to corruption that took place during Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda’s regime (17 November 2005- 8 January 2015), made worse by wrong policies followed by Gotabaya after his election in 2019.

 In desperation, Gotabaya in May 2022, appointed Wickremesinghe as Premier from the backdoor, but Wickremesinghe is unable to deliver the goods simply because the international community (IC), led by the USA, EU, UK and Japan, which has the dollars, will however, not release the same, until Sri Lanka embarks on the road to structural reforms, encompassing human rights, to fighting corruption.

In that backdrop, Gotabaya is reaching out to the extended IC of which Russia is a key player. In a tweet on Wednesday, he said, “Had a very productive ‘telecon’ with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. I requested an offer of credit support to import fuel to Sri Lanka to defeat current economic challenges.”

In the seemingly unlikely event that such aid does materialise, it will however be in driblets and droplets, insufficient to be sustainable.