Of ‘pyramids’ and  ‘islands’



Monday 21st August, 2023

Much is being talked about ‘pyramids’ and ‘islands’, of all things, these days. Another pyramid scheme has reportedly collapsed, and those who have lost their money are letting out howls of protests via social media. The Central Bank, from time to time, issues severe warnings to the public about such frauds, but they go unheeded if the sheer number of people affected by the collapse of the fraudulent scheme in question is any indication. This issue has been eclipsed by a political war of words between the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and the JVP over undeclared funds.

The FSP has caused quite a stir by claiming that the JVP has stashed away its funds in a faraway island notorious as a tax haven. Dismissing this claim as baseless and malicious, the JVP has torn into the FSP. Curiously, one may recall that the FSP, which has levelled such a damning allegation against the JVP, offered to forge an alliance with the latter during last year’s Aragalaya!

We are not in a position either to vouch for the accuracy of the FSP’s claim at issue or to dispute it, but the general consensus is that all mainstream political parties, save a few, have huge amounts of undeclared funds, both there and overseas. Besides, their cupboards are like catacombs, so to speak; they are full of skeletons although their leaders pretend to be paragons of virtue and pontificate to others about the virtues of financial integrity, transparency, etc.

Most political leaders and their numerous progeny have no visible sources of income but live the life of Riley. They do so while claiming to be of humble origins to endear themselves to the ordinary public. It is obvious that they have amassed colossal amounts of ill-gotten wealth by helping themselves to public funds and cutting crooked deals at the expense of the country. This is one of the reasons why the Sri Lankan professionals are opposing the massive income tax increases; who will want to part with a sizeable chunk of his or her income as taxes when political crooks and their kith and kin live the high life at the expense of the taxpaying public? No wonder so many professionals such as doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses and IT professionals are leaving the country in large numbers.

That many moneybags utilise their slush funds to bankroll the election campaigns of political parties is public knowledge. These funds always go unaccounted for. Not even the self-righteous political leaders who vow to eliminate corruption and ask for popular mandates for that purpose declare their campaign funds, part of which finds its way into their offshore accounts or ends up as investment in businesses run by various fronts. Whoever wins an election, the plutocrats stand to gain because they fund all major political parties; they secure returns on their ‘investment’ often unlawfully as evident from the mega sugar tax scam carried by an SLPP financier. This is the name of the game in Sri Lankan politics.

It is alleged that some members of the business community even pay protection money of sorts to some political parties with strong trade union wings to avoid trouble that comes in the form of orchestrated industrial disputes in case of non-compliance. NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa made this allegation against some of his political opponents, during a television interview, a few months ago. He named names but his claim has gone unchallenged.

The SLPP is deriving some perverse pleasure from the FSP’s allegation against the JVP. Some of its seniors, speaking at a party event in Colombo, over the weekend, sought to vilify the JVP, urging the latter to counter the FSP’s claim, if it could. One of them even vowed to throw the JVP leaders behind bars for what he called illegal fund transfers! They seem to think they will be able to divert public attention from the very serious allegations against their own leaders.

The cumulative effect of corrupt practices among political parties, such as maintaining reserves of undisclosed funds, on the polity has been an unprecedented rise in anti-politics, which is basically the rejection by a disillusioned public of traditional political systems and parties due to corruption, ineffectiveness and lack of representation. This may be the reason why Guy Fawkes masks are becoming increasingly popular among Sri Lankans.