Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In a Tax Haven like Sri Lanka, why should there be corruption?

Sri Lanka is a rich man’s paradise. There is NO capital gains tax, no inheritance taxes, very low property taxes if any, and best of all to those who choose to declare their income ( a small minority of those who are in this high income bracket ) low income tax rates to boot.

No wonder therefore that with high consumption taxes, on essential food, and VAT, it is the poor and middle class who singularly bear the burden of taxation in Sri Lanka.

In this context why can’t we encourage fare play, where in business there is transparency, and therefore competition, so that the most efficient method is used in investment decisions to benefit the economy, and not as is the case at present, where projects on which high commissions, and no tenders are undertaken are those permitted, outside all business norms, costing the economy dearly.

Just imagine if we had this transparency, where would our economy be? We would not have wasted the massive borrowings on unproductive investments, but have engaged in investments of benefit to the economy, and therefore could have increased the National Income to much higher levels at a more equitable level of distribution than at present.

In my earlier blog I alluded to the fact that those who were with the Govt. got to cherry pick, even they would in the end have benefitted more, in an economy where the spending power of the people would be much higher than now, where only a few have the wherewithal to engage in conspicuous consumption. 

Lower taxes means that this is NOT a disincentive to investment, and outflow of money to other safe havens, and we can, not just be a Singapore, but a country enjoying a far higher quality of life to Singapore, where we do not have to engage in comparison, but in our own home grown development, where all the people enjoy greater benefits.

I would therefore see greater investment in public transport, access to better education, healthcare and a more efficient public service, all of which will benefit the majority of the citizens, not just a select few. The govt. would not get involved in wasteful expenditure on running airlines, refining oil and with Mahaweli still supplying 50% of our electricity needs, as of yesterday, shows in real light, what investments have provided a return and which have NOT. 

Sri Lankan Business Heads – It is your ‘Heads’ that need to be examined

The recent ‘momentum business forum’, where there were simultaneous simulcast of proceedings in 4 locations, which if they, the invitees did not know, was just a Political Meeting of the President in support of his candidature.

At this event, in one of the panel discussions, the likes of Dian Gomes of MAS, Hiran Cooray of Jetwing, Ranjit Page of Cargills and CT and Kishu  Gomes of Chevron, were extolling the virtues of this Administration that has overseen, a time free of incidents of Terrorism, and unparalleled  growth.

If they were true business leaders, they would know that for an economy to prosper, not just themselves, there has to be both the rule of law, and transparency in the ability to prosper in a relatively level playing field, neither of which is in existence in Sri Lanka today, and is the reason for the traction that the Common Candidate is gaining ground, and imminent downfall of the hosts, within days of this forum.

In that context it shows how woefully out of touch with reality, these supposedly esteemed businessman have been with the pulse of the nation, and to curry favor with one candidate over the opponent at this time, means they have chosen the side, that benefitted them personally as far as their personal wealth was concerned, no matter what may have transpired in the meantime to the majority of citizens of this country who have been led an unrealistic dream, that is soon unravelling right in front of their faces.

These business leaders, if they had any sense, should have at least stayed away from publicly endorsing this regime, as inherently they were merely propping up a morally unjustifiable cabal. If they had the vision, and strength of character to stand up to this Peter Pan syndrome they engaged in, they would find succor with their fellow citizens to bat with the new boys.

Now they sound like, sick sycophants, with nowhere to hide, who have lost all credibility, and who certainly cannot ask for any special treatment from a new administration, until they have paid their dues and done their mea culpas for long enough, to regain some backbone. I am not singling the above out specifically, but they represent the cross section of the 5000 or so people in Sri Lanka that have plundered the coffers of the state, either knowingly or unknowingly to further their nests at the expense of the nation and thereby contributed to the Rajapaksa longevity, which could have been checked if not for their culpability in propping up an inherently rotten bunch of opportunists.   

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pondering on what might have been if not for the need for omnipotence!

A president who had two more years under the constitution to govern with all his powers, appears to have thrown caution in the wind, and without reading and learning from history, has attempted to change the course of history and met his Waterloo!

It is a lesson we must all learn, and it is simply this. When one is a servant of the Public, it is an onerous task to serve. Human beings seem to forget that whilst there is a level of public acknowledgement of power, a sense of duty to one’s own people comes with it, and that cannot be denied.

It is therefore important to understand proportionality. When one exceeds that level of proportionality, a sense of entitlement sinks in, and insanity kicks in. It is in all forms of activity, not merely consigned to politics, but especially relevant in it .

It is significant and apparent in politics, as the reasons for getting into this vocation SHOULD be to improve the quality of life of those who we serve, and they should never forget that. As a public servant, we are paid by the public who we serve, and by no other master. It seems that most public servants in Sri Lanka seem to forget it. It is time we are again reminded of it, so that from the top, the examples that are made will flow back all the way down. Only then will public service result in an improvement of the quality of life of those we profess to serve.

In this point in our Country’s history, if all are reminded of this basic point, we will be less likely to repeat this mistake. It is in that context that I appeal to those who have changed colors or sides, to put aside their personal ambitions for remaining in power, and remember those who have been fighting this administration for justice for a long time. They MUST NOT be forgotten, and they have a place of recognition and duty by those who have power, to reward that loyalty, dedication, battling the odds and sacrificing what little they have for principles to be recognized and compensated adequately. 

There will be a sickening desire to grab, hold and retain power, especially by those who have held on to power. It is time they recognize their contribution, and admit their compliance with the regime that has abused this power, and ask for the people’s forgiveness for not renaging their positions earlier. Otherwise this bad example of the same old people doing the same thing under a different guise is NOT one that will change the behavior of the system. It is the system that needs transformation, not the initial cast of characters. Put that to the fore and the Country will prosper.         

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tsunami ten years on – and families still remember never to forget

The poignancy of the Tsunami  of 26th December 2004 came back to me when a mother who had lost her son, wanted me to help her publish a tribute to him, in the Daily Mirror of 26th December 2014, which I after quite a struggle was able to do.

I was in my farm that fateful day, having only returned to Sri Lanka barely 3 weeks previously after a lifetime overseas, and was entertaining an Uncle and Aunt for lunch when horrific news started trickling in. As many as 35,000 Sri Lankans along with a number of holidaying foreigners died in those few hours of devastation, and in all, over 270,000 are known to have perished in the whole belt that was affected, making it one of if not the most devastating documented human tragedy of all.

I note below some links to some stories that appeared in the internet today, about this tragedy so that we will not forget its implications, and the positives that resulted from it.

Let this be a reminder to all of us of the fragility of life, and the loss of those who are near and dear to us, especially when it is wholly unexpected.

We must appreciate the time we pass on this planet, and try and make it fulfilling and satisfactory in all its ups and downs, and live by example so that we are able to appreciate what we have deal with unexpected tragedy, stoically.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How about some relief for female headed households? MR & MS take heed!

I don’t know the numbers involved, but it crosses all racial and religious lines, and in all honesty are a population mass that MUST receive a promise by both camps in this impending presidential election, if one is to have faith in any of their promises being fulfilled.

I know this blog is read by policy makers in both camps so before the Manifestos of both sides are published, I would argue there is a significant vote bank of people who would be part of these immediate families and their relatives who will no doubt see the need for assistance of their kith and kin, heading these one parent households.

It is common knowledge that there are women lead households in the north, who are at the bottom of the economic pile, whilst war widows and their families have at least for the most part received the pensions of their deceased husbands and are not in the most dire of financial circumstances.

Despite that there are many many more women in the Southern areas at the bottom of the economic pile, whose husbands have either left them with their children, and NO support, and in some cases who have gone overseas, but who have not remitted the needed funds to their families, as they have found other concubines in their journeys.

The 12,500 or so Grama Niladari divisions in the Country and possibly even the Census data, will be able to pin point which these families are and what their financial circumstances are to give them the needed assistance to get them out of the proverbial classic rut, where due to small children who need care, mothers are unable to find or go to full time work that is available to fulfil the needs of the families. Every year all voter registrations forms are signed by the head of household.          

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the children of such households are MORE likely to fall through the cracks and become a burden on the state, be it involved in crime, and need incarceration or otherwise remain unproductive and unemployable as their parents were unable to give them the basics, and some even don’t finish school due to these problems, even though if given a chance they could become extremely productive citizens of the country.

Of course the form of assistance needs to be explained simply in a manifesto, but it must make clear that they will be relief to female headed households over and above their current entitlements if any, depending on family circumstances.