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We have brought in transparency, competition, good governance

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11111InterviewFinance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said the government would seek the expertise of Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (StAR), a partnership between World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs, which facilitates the findings of proceeds from corrupt practices in the world.  He said stolen money seemed to be stashed in Dubai, Ukraine, Switzerland, Italy and Seychelles. Excerpts of the interview are as follows;


Q   How successful is your recent visit to Washington to engage with the officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)?

As you would know our mentality was simply because we inherited a precarious economy.  That was because of the planning done before, and the lack offoresight of the previous government. With the dawning of the new government under President Maitripala Sirisena at the January 8th election, the entire economic structure has been changed. There are changes taking place rapidly. We have been able to change the style of government. We have brought in transparency, competition, good governance and accountability. This has basically got the dividends with people benefiting. They feel it now. Now we have approached the IMF and WB. The government is embarked on a new journey.  

Q   What kind of assistance do you expect from these two international bodies?

We were deprived of every rupee that was there. We want to bring investment in education, infrastructure, health and people’s development.
qWhat are the structural changes you intend to do here with IMF support ?
What they want is basically transparency and coherence. In the financial sector, we now try to route things through the proper channels to attract the multi-lateral agencies.  We want to showcase ourselves. We do not want conditional loans. We want financial discipline. Most certainly, more financial assistance will come in our way, particularly in the form of aid.

QHave you finalized anything in this regard?

No, it is too early. They are in town now. They look at various areas for co-operation. They look at capacity building, automation etc. The World Bank is particularly there for infrastructure development. The IMF is basically looking at balance of payment. IMF will stand by us in case any unscrupulous elements try to have a run on the rupee maliciously.

Q   When you were in the opposition, you always raised concerns about the heavy debt burden. How are you planning to manage this heavy foreign debt component?

Well, we are going to manage this. We will do effective financial management. We will ensure good revenue gains, providing for the capital repayment.  There will be a downward trend in the interest rate.

Q   What is the Chinese debt component?

Well, initially   I said that it was US $ 5 billion.  I will get a report outlining the loan details. And, I am yet to know the real figure.

Q   There were media reports that you would go to China for interaction with the Chinese officials on this debt component?

We will be going there to look into these Chinese investments and to make sure that all these activities are performed in the right perspective. We will have mutual discussion that will lead to comfortable developments in every aspect. We will discuss the repayment of loans, high interest rates, untenable cost etc.  

Q   Earlier, you mentioned that you would enhance the scope of the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Central Bank to investigate frauds during the last government. How far have you progressed now?

We have sought the assistance of a World Bank-affiliated organization called Stolen Money Recovery Initiative (STAR) to trace looted money stashed elsewhere. They are coming to Sri Lanka to assist us. There are reports about money stashed in Dubai, Ukraine, Switzerland, Italy and Seychelles.

Q   What is your assumed idea about the amount of money stolen in this manner?

Actually, I have no idea in this respect. I have to answer responsibly. I do not want to give fanciful figures for media purposes.

Q   In the interim budget you presented, you proposed to give a pay hike of Rs.2500 to private sector employees. Will it be a reality for all private sector workers?

We have given an order for all the private sector organizations. It is up to them to comply with it. I am sure everyone will get this benefit.

Q   In the budget, you proposed certain taxes such as Super Gain Tax and Mansion Tax. How are you going to do it?

We are in the process of finalizing documentation in this regard.  We will have the bills ready before March 31 to be enacted in Parliament. That is it. We mentioned it in the budget. We are serious about implementing what we said.