The charge for transparency
SEVERAL exchanges have taken place between the Opposition and the Government over the US$ 500 million Shangri-la deal. However, the voice of the common man has been absent. Given that the development that is happening in this country is ostensibly for the benefit of the people, it is time to take a few moments to understand the connotations of this deal and what improvements can be made to increase transparency.
Basically the Opposition has charged the Government of not being sufficiently transparent in the Shangri-la deal. It insists that the Government did not table the necessary documents containing the financial dealings of the project before Parliament and only under duress revealed that the money had been transferred to the Treasury. There is still no indication as to what will be done with the US$ 125 million from the Shangri-la transaction as well as the US$ 136 million from the China Aviation Technology Import Export Cooperation (CATIC). However, during a previous interview, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had outlined plans to use funds from the Shangri-la transaction to build a new defence headquarters in Battaramulla.
There are clearly loopholes in this process. Normally tenders are called before a transaction of this nature, but that was not the case. In this instance the Government invited Shangri-la to establish a hotel in Sri Lanka. While this cannot be faulted, the process by which the negotiations happened need to be told to the people. Furthermore, the fact that the Government is denying privatisation based on the fact that Shangri-la has established a subsidiary in Sri Lanka and therefore does not count as a foreign company does not hold a water.
The fact that Sri Lanka will need investment from foreign companies cannot be denied and that is the whole reason behind the drive for increase foreign direct investment.Therefore there is little point in the Government trying to deny privatisation for it is happening and necessary for development. Calling it what it is would promote more trust with the Government rather than attempting to hide behind words.
Selling off land to foreigners is a sensitive issue that needs to be handled with much care. The fact that former governments have sold State assets for a song as alleged by the present establishment is not reason enough for being excused for its own oversights. If anything, that is all the more reason to ensure that public property and monies are protected for the good of the people.
To achieve this goal, transparency must be actively promoted and Members of Parliament have to be aware of the responsibilities shouldered by them. Debates should be detailed and reported by the mainstream media so that there is a widespread discussion forum weighing out the pros and cons of the transaction. Otherwise, prime land such as the Galle Face acreage will be sold off to companies, denying access to normal people. In an increasingly urbanising region, areas such as park land should be demarcated for the people and not all land sold for Government benefit.
Revenue that comes from these transactions must also be used for the sustainable economic growth for the entire population and not funnelled into over-priced State buildings that are of scant use to the general public. How money from public assets is spent must also be part of the discussion process in Parliament and outside.
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