Opposition can stoop to any level -Ajith Nivard Cabraal | Sunday Observer
People told not to be misled by disinformation campaign:

Opposition can stoop to any level -Ajith Nivard Cabraal

28 March, 2021

State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said the same set of people who were against the battle against terrorism, reconciliation, redevelopment of the North and the East are acting once again to discredit the Government and bring down our country.

He appealed to the people not to be misled by this disinformation and false propaganda campaign carried out by the Opposition in order to gain their narrow political objectives. The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the present Opposition will stoop to any level to create this disinformation against the Government.

We are aware that some powerful elements are providing financial and consultancy support to this campaign. This is an organised crime where some big people have got involved and so this kind of effort needs to be brought to light.


Q: Could you explain the outcome of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit to Bangladesh where you were also a part of the delegation?

A: I think it had several key achievements. The most important one is he built a very sound rapport with the Bangladeshi Government and the Prime Minister which is very helpful and useful. One of the main effects of that was the immediate support to Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In addition, we found that there were many instances of Sri Lankan investments in Bangladesh. Actually, when you do a complete assessment there is about a billion dollars of Sri Lankan investments in Bangladesh in the apparel, power, energy and banking sectors. So, that is a huge investment in Bangladesh. At the same time, we discussed South-South cooperation where Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can exchange investments within their reserve banks as well. That is another useful cooperation that we can talk about for the future.

We also discussed the possibility of additional flights and having Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) including the exchange of students and intellectuals between two countries. We also laid emphasis on the possibility that soft skills are imparted particularly in the field of tourism where we can assist them and we can also help them with other instances such as human resource management.

There was a wide range of ways in which we could cooperate. Sometimes, we think we can only cooperate with the countries in the West. I think that it is not the case and there are lots of instances and possibilities where we can definitely cooperate very closely with the countries in our region. I think that particular truth was very clearly established in the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh and it was a very important and useful visit.

Q: The Opposition attempts to portray the ‘Sugar Scam’ is bigger than the Treasury Bond Scam. Your comments?

A: Even in my speech in Parliament, I gave a complete explanation about the Opposition’s disinformation campaign. There was nothing that they could do to counter that as they had no facts and figures to deal with their accusation. Those were exactly like the Lamborghini Cars or the Golden Horses that they spoke about in 2014. So, there was no ‘Sugar Scam’ whatsoever. We reduced the duty on dhal from Rs.10 to 25 cents, canned fish from Rs.100 to 25 cents, sugar from Rs.50 to 25 cents and big onions from Rs.50 to 50 cents respectively. So, what is wrong with that? We are giving the entire benefits to the people. The previous Government was only interested in increasing the Government revenue.

They kept on saying that they increased the Government’s revenue but they taxed the people left, right and centre. They introduced a mansion tax, super gain tax and also imposed 15 per cent VAT through the NBT. We reduced all those taxes because we wanted to give the benefits to the people. That is the strategy of this Government.

In the Covid-19 situation, we wanted the people to have relief in their cost of living as well. Naturally, the Government had to incur a loss of its revenue when you reduce taxes.

The Opposition was trying to say the relief didn’t pass down to the people. I challenged them directly to prove that there was no benefit to the people as a result of the reduction of the taxes on some essential commodities. I told the Opposition to please tell us whether they want to re-impose the taxes. Naturally, they were silent. That shows the fallacy of their argument and the logic. I think now they will be thinking twice or thrice before making any such baseless allegations.

Q: Rating agencies, Opposition politicians and other stakeholders had warned that Sri Lanka needs to come up with a sustainable debt repayment strategy given its commitments over the next five years and also focus on the quality of reserves. Would you like to comment on this?

A: We also know that we have to pay our debts. We are improving our non-debt inflows and a method by which money can flow into the country by way of remittances. We are improving the exports. Amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, our exports in February were the highest ever in the past five years. We are slowly opening the country back so that tourism can flourish.

We are making sure that any monies that need to come into Sri Lanka are given the right path without any hindrance as long as it is clean and comes through the normal banking channels. We are improving the services and exports such as trade, port services, insurance, consultancy and accountancy as well. We are also concentrating on Foreign Direct Inflows (FDIs).

We are bringing a new law to the Port City. It has already been passed by the Cabinet and it will come into Parliament at its next session. We are starting a new pharmaceutical zone to manufacture and export pharmaceuticals. The Hambantota Industrial Zone is now in full swing and they have already got several new investors to come into Sri Lanka particularly in the field of the rubber industry. We are encouraging the assembling of vehicles as well and the new projects consist a vast number of subjects. These are all designed to bring new foreign exchange earnings to the country. We don’t want to get more loans and suffer like the former Yahapalana Government. We have a strategy which is completely different to them. They had a strategy where you go to the IMF or some other international monetary organization and obtain loans at any cost. We are not doing that and we are making sure that Sri Lanka can pay off all the debts and we are continuing to do that. If you remember this same Opposition said that we won’t be able to pay our debts in 2020 but we paid. Then they started saying if we paid our debts in 2020, we will not be able to pay our debts in 2021 but now we are paying.

We are making sure that no one is defaulted by even a single dollar.

Now the Opposition is saying that we will have problems in the next year or thereafter and this is complete misinformation. This is to put pressure on the Government by saying that the country can’t go on as there is no money. This is absolutely untrue.

The so called ‘economic osthars’ of the former Yahapalana Government failed miserably in the last term as the then growth rate of 7.4 percent was reduced to mere two per cent during their tenure in office without having a Covid-19 pandemic or any other difficulties or global issues. Now they can’t tolerate that Sri Lanka is shining once again and that is their problem.

Q: You recently had a meeting with several top investors in the Colombo Stock Exchange. Could you explain?

A: We discussed the future plans and what Sri Lanka is going to do. They were interested to know our plans for the Stock Exchange. We told to them that we want to increase the number of listings. Even at this peak, we show the first share issued almost after five years coming to the market on March 23.

One day it was presubscribed and Rs.4 billion issued which was unheard during the five years of those ‘economic osthars’. The stock market which was at 5000 APIs is now at 7000 APIs. Of course, it went up and had come down as well. Now it is at a very reasonable rate and it is moving up and down. However, we see some very clear trends and there is stability in the market. During these few days there has been a little bit of exchange rate pressure but it will stabilise very soon.

Then we will have a stable exchange rate. We have the lowest ever interest rate in our country. The Stock Market is performing reasonably well. For the first time after several years, we had more foreign investor purchases. We have noticed that so many investors are showing signs of coming back into the country. So, the Opposition finds it very difficult to survive because none of these things happened during their time. I don’t think even the journalists could report anything and there was nothing to report other than the few lies they uttered.

Q: How do you view the false propaganda campaign carried out by the Opposition against the Government?

A: This Opposition has shown that they can stoop to any level. They can utter any lie and fabricate stories. They will even get children to come on to shows and say certain things for their advantage or even teach them to lie.

They will bring pictures from outside Sri Lanka and show it as in Sri Lanka. They will cook up various pictures and put different faces to show something different. So, they will stoop to any level to create this disinformation against the Government. We know some powerful elements are providing financial and consultancy support to this. This is an organised crime where some big people have got involved in it. I think this kind of effort needs to be brought to light. Some countries after the 2015 defeat of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa openly said they helped the regime change.

They were part of the whole exercise to change the Government. In their own estimates, they showered some huge sums such as US$ 300 to 400 million on those campaigns. Where did this money come from? It came from outside. So, they made a big effort to discredit that Government. The same set of people who were against the battle against terrorism, reconciliation, redevelopment of the North and the East are acting once again to discredit the Government and bring down our country. In Parliament on Tuesday (March 23), I made a special appeal to the people not to be misled by this type of misinformation carried out by the Opposition.

Q: Some say while former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and several others were remanded in connection with the Treasury Bond Scam, the masterminds behind it are still roaming freely and the Government has failed to bring them to book. Your comments?

A: I had consistently maintained that the masterminds must also be brought to book. In fact, I wrote a book titled “Great Bond Scam Cover Up” about the masterminds and the entire bond scam. I wrote that book because I wanted the people to know how this Bond Scam was covered up for so long. I think still the investigations have not been completed. If they go through the reports of the CID and various other Commissions, some leads were not pursued strongly enough and I would like those to be pursued.

If we pursue those, I think the masterminds will come to light. I am keen that the masterminds of the Bond Scam be brought to light and hope these investigations would be reopened in certain areas to ensure that the real people who had been involved in this scam are brought to book as well.

Q: At present deforestation and environmental issues are taken up by the Opposition as their main propaganda campaign against the Government. How does the Government respond to this disinformation campaign launched by the Opposition to discredit the Government?

A: I think they know that the environment is something that is near and dear to everyone in our country as we love our nature, animals and greenery. We are all of the same mould. However, one must look at those who protected the environment and who made sure that all the canals in the country were cleaned up. Was it the UNP Government? Who made sure that the rivers were cleaned up? Actually, we did that. We ensured that the plastic items are reduced to a minimum. In fact, we are continuing to do that.

These are the examples of the way that we have protected nature. In order to look after the country’s wildlife, we are putting up thousands of kilometres of electric fences to ensure that the elephants are safe. We are doing that because we want to see both the people as well as the elephants are safe. So, we have that kind of an attitude and we are continuing to do that.

At the same time, what these Opposition politicians do is they take one incident out of proportion and make a story regarding that. Some television channels are experts for this and active in their own way to promote this kind of misinformation and they continue to do that.

I think it is a very shameful act as so many people are involved in this treacherous propaganda. I hope they will realise their folly of those actions and hopefully not continue with this kind of tirade in the future as well.