‘Revenue raised from new taxes, too, will be robbed, wasted’

GL asks govt. to secure int’l assistance to recover stolen money

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (07) suggested that the government seriously consider securing UN support for the recovery of stolen public assets.

Addressing the media at the Nawala Office of ‘Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa’ consisting of 13 rebel SLPP MPs, Prof. Peiris said the UN’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), run by the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, could help cash-strapped Sri Lanka to locate stolen funds.

He said Sri Lanka experiencing the worst ever post-independence economic crisis could utilise the StAR to nab those who had stashed away stolen funds, both here and overseas.

Prof. Peiris, who served as Foreign Minister twice (2010-2015 and August 2021-April 2022), said that the assistance of the international community and local organisation, specialising in anti-corruption activities, was required as successive governments failed to take tangible measures in that regard.

The recovery of stolen assets should be a priority for the government as it was struggling to cope up with further deterioration of the economic situation, the MP said.

Commenting on the drastic expansion of taxes, as key part of the overall measures to enhance government revenue, Prof. Peiris warned that unless action was taken to curb waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement in the public sector, even the new taxes couldn’t make a difference. Those who routinely misappropriated public funds would continue to do so, regardless of the economic fallout as repeatedly exposed by both print and electronic media, Prof. Peiris pointed out. Referring to recent reportage on the massive losses suffered by bankrupt Sri Lanka in the procurement of coal for Norochcholai coal-fired power plant complex and the proposed elevated highway from New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya revealed how those who were supposed to protect public interests manipulated the process, he alleged.

Prof. Peiris alleged that Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government hadn’t indicated any interest in curbing corruption though promises were made both in and out of parliament.

Speaking to The Island later, Prof. Peiris said that both President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, since July this year referred to the proposed Anti-Corruption Bill several times. However, the government had conveniently ignored the shocking revelations made by parliamentary watchdog committees and the Auditor General, the rebel lawmaker said.

The AG’s assertion that those who had been in charge of procurement of a massive load of coal did nothing to negotiate a lower price in spite of the opportunity underscored the growing crisis, Prof. Peiris said.

The former Colombo University Vice Chancellor said that the sugar scam perpetrated in Oct 2020 revealed how influential parties could even manipulate the government at the highest level. Unfortunately, absolutely no action has been taken against those responsible though the Finance Ministry assured action would be taken following an inquiry by the Inland Revenue Department, Prof. Peiris said, adding that the government should take meaningful measures to streamline the tax collection process.

Referring to the ongoing controversy over Thico Group of Companies’ alleged involvement in misappropriation of billions of Rupees, Prof. Peiris said that Sri Lanka should use anti-money laundering laws efficiently. The vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet while the government intended to tax them further regardless of consequences, the former minister said, urging the government to review its strategies.

The economic crisis couldn’t be addressed by taxing people to death to recover losses suffered by 2020 tax cuts, Prof. Peiris said.


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