Tax evasion a hindrance to progress - DEW Gunasekera | Daily News

Tax evasion a hindrance to progress - DEW Gunasekera

It would not be incorrect to say that Don Edwin Weerasinghe Gunasekera is one of the greatest sons of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka that celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. With almost 65 years of experience in politics, D. E. W. Gunasekera is a man with great insight and knowledge when it comes to politics in Sri Lanka. He is no doubt following in the footsteps of the legendary founder of the Communist party of Sri Lanka, Dr. Sugiswara Abeywardena Wickramasinghe. DEW Gunasekera was a former Member of Parliament and former Cabinet Minister. He is the current Chairman of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka. Today the Daily News speaks to Gunasekera who shared his candid views concerning what he thinks about the Sri Lankan political arena.

Q: Your party celebrates 80 years in politics. Can you say something about the beginning and the evolution of the Communist Party?

A: The party was founded on July 3, 1943. However, its origins can be traced back to the 1930’s. Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe was the founder of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka. He completed his higher education in the United Kingdom, and on his way back to Sri Lanka, he came via India. That was the time when the Indian national struggle was going on. He made contact with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who were in prison. He then went to Shantiniketan, and met Ven. Udakendawala Siri Saranankara Thera who was studying there at the time. He returned and immediately joined the youth movement - the Colombo Youth League. In 1931 there was an All Ceylon Youth Congress, and the chief guest was Jawaharlal Nehru who came with an Indian delegation. The demand was for total independence. There were two trends in the country at that time. One is for total independence and the other was for Constitutional reforms. Dr. Wickramasinghe was elected as a member of the State Council in 1931 and became the first Marxist to be elected to the legislature. After that Wickramasinghe, N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Philip Goonewardene, M. G. Mendis, Ven. Udakendawela Saranankara Thera, all got together and started the Suriya Mal Movement (1932 – 1933) and formed the first left party – the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).

Then the Second World War broke out in 1939. Then came the ideological dispute. Dr. Wickramasinghe, M.G. Mendis and Ven. Saranankara Thera who were the leaders of the LSSP insisted that we must now defend and support the war because the Nazi’s have attacked the Soviet Union, the first socialist country. N. M. Perera and others said that we must remain neutral. That was the ideological dispute. As a result, Dr. Wickramasinghe, M.G. Mendis and Ven. Saranankara Thera were expelled from the LSSP. So after 1940, they formed the Colombo Workers Club. Then they formed the United Socialist Party in 1941. Then the United Socialist Party was banned by the British. And after that in 1943, they formed the Communist Party of Ceylon with others.

Q: What do you think about the achievements of the party during those 80 years?

A: Total independence was the main thing. What we got in 1947 was not total independence. The Government had signed the Defence Agreement with the United Kingdom. The Head of the State was the Queen. The House of Lords was the Appeal Court. These Constitutional ties with Great Britain continued until the 1972 First Republican Constitution. The Communist Party supported the movement for full independence right throughout. Another noteworthy contribution is that the left parties stood for the protection of minority rights. When discriminatory legislation was brought up in Parliament, we vehemently opposed such moves. Dr. Wickramasinghe became the General Secretary of the party in 1950 at the fourth congress and he forwarded a political thesis that the stage of the revolution is not socialist, but a democratic revolution. We needed to convert the colonial economy into a national economy. We had to support the nationalization of foreign assets. In 1956 SWRD Bandaranaike came to power with the support of left and other forces. After 1956 a lot of progressive measures were taken. What we had were all foreign Banks. Therefore we had to establish our local banks such as the Peoples Bank and the National Savings Bank. In 1968, a United Front was formed. It was a coalition of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Ceylon (CPC). This coalition came to power and introduced a series of progressive measures. As mentioned earlier, the First Republican Constitution was introduced in 1972. Land reforms were carried out. Foreign assets like oil companies were nationalized. The national liberation movements in other countries were supported by Sri Lanka. You have to understand that this was a bipolar world. After the end of the Second World War, the world politics entered into an era of the Cold War. We continued our anti-imperialist struggle. Sri Lanka became a leading member of the non-aligned movement. After the Cuban Revolution Mrs. Bandaranaike recognized Cuba. Sri Lanka was the first country to recognize Cuba outside China and Vietnam. I should also mention that we supported the industrialization policy of the Government. Even though there was a Minister of Industries, there was no industrialization under the UNP Governments. It was the policy of the Communist Party to support any move which will contribute to the conversion of colonial economy into a national economy. 1947-1977 was a historical period.

Q: What happened after 1977?

A: Following the General Election in 1977, J.R. Jayewardene came into power and introduced a very different economic strategy which was pro-capitalist and pro-Western. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world order became unipolar. Even though people thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the triumph of capitalism over socialism, the reality was different. That is why we had to continue our struggle against Neo-Liberalism. In Sri Lanka, what President J.R. Jayewardene tried to maintain, was an open economy but a closed political system. He did not address the issues relating to the ethnic problem in the country. With the ‘Black July’ in 1982, the entire economy and the society was engulfed in a crisis. Our party was banned. The crisis continued and some of our party members were killed. Some of our leaders were killed by the LTTE in the North and some were killed by the JVP during the insurrection. We continued our struggle for democratic rights and in search of a durable solution to the ethnic problem in the country.

Following the 1994 election President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga came into power. We also became a part of the Government and worked towards finding a solution to the ethnic problem in the country. After the war, we became a part of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. I held several portfolios such as the Minister of Constitutional Reforms, Minister of National Integration and later as Minister of Human Resources etc. However, I opposed it when the Government brought a resolution to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike. I warned the Government that it was not the proper procedure to follow. I did not vote for the impeachment. As a matter of fact, when impeachment proceedings were instituted in 1984 under the J.R. Jayewardene regime to remove Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, our Communist MP Sarath Muttetuwegama also vehemently opposed the move.

Q: Don’t you think the nationalization of assets badly affected the economy?

A: Do you know what really made us take that position? We introduced in Parliament evidence to the effect that those sterling companies what they had declared to the Department of Inland Revenue and what they had declared to the British Government about the profits were completely different. Pieter Keuneman got all the documents from London, and he came before the Cabinet and showed what has been declared to the Government and this much of money has been sent underground. He had the official documents released by the sterling companies. That was the strong point Pieter Keuneman put forward. That is how it came about. Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC told Parliament that he has evidence amounting to Rs.50 billion had not been remitted to the country, and they are lying in foreign banks! So this is going on and the Government has to change this. There is a massive tax evasion plan. Under Ronnie De Mel’s budgets, I raised the question about revenue at that time. I continued to raise. I will give an example. When Ronnie De Mel was the Minister of Finance, the Government revenue was 24% of the GDP. During the Gotabaya Rajapaksa period it had come down to 6%. From 24% to 6%. And it was coming down gradually under every Government. The highest tax paying bracket in 1978 was 70%. Ronnie reduced it to 55%, Premadasa reduced it to 45%, Chandrika reduced it to 35% and Mahinda Rajapaksa reduced it to 28%. Second round 24% and the other round 18%. Then it was reduced to 14%. So there are no rupees in the treasury. Tell me, is there any country in the world that has a shortage of internal currency? This is wrong fiscal policy or tax policy. Massive tax evasion.

Q: The left movement has been weakened in Sri Lanka. What really happened?

A: One aspect of this is the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has affected the left movement and the progressive movement. When the balance of forces at the global level changes, that has many repercussions. After the changes to Neo Liberalism, to globalization with the fourth industrial revolution took place, the global economy completely changed. The Soviet Union was a closed economy. That is why China took over the position under the new development. I was in China when Mikhail Gorbachev came to China. Pieter Keuneman and I were there the same week in discussion with the General Secretary of the China Communist party. They told me what they told Gorbachev. Take up political reforms after the economic reforms. State intervention and market, the combination of these factors is how the Chinese economy came up. That was adopted by all Asian countries.

We in Sri Lanka have left state intervention out, that is why we cannot even control the price of rice. Under Mrs. Bandaranaike we had six major state rice mills. Now where are they? We have 2,000 small rice mills. Now all are closed down. Banks are not financing them. Now Dudley Sirisena and a few others are running the whole show. The Governments used to have stocks, and they released so the prices came down. The present and previous Cabinets have been unable to take necessary policy decisions.

Q: JVP has scored well. They have attracted young people. What happened to the Communist party and the LSSP?

A: The JVP is taking the same position as the LSSP in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The left alone cannot tackle this problem. The Center will shift to the right. That is taking place at the moment. There will be a new alignment of forces because society has changed and new forces are there. Political consciousness is there. You take the economists. Ninety nine per cent of the economists don’t understand the changes in the world situation. The world order is changing. Since 1945, this has been the best economic environment. But we are not ready.

Q: What is the future of the left movement in Sri Lanka?

A: The future is bright. The only thing is that we must get together. I am the only left person who is in touch with all the political parties. I know all the leaders of the JVP and other parties. I call upon all the left people to get together. If not, the JVP is going to make the same mistake the LSSP made. But do not underestimate the power of the SLPP. We are trying to get the left and the center together. At the rate the Government is tackling issues, there might be a bloodbath, insurrection or military Government.



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