The food emergency declared by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on August 31 as a means of curbing the rising food prices and assuring an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities seems to have failed to produce the desired results.
On Friday the Cabinet -- in a bid to end the worsening food crisis amid a foreign currency crisis -- rescinded or reversed the gazette notice which imposed a ceiling on the retail price of essential commodities such as milk powder, wheat flour, domestic gas and cement. The latest move is undoubtedly bound to further increase the cost of living making survival an extremely difficult prospect for middle-income and poverty-stricken people already struggling to make ends meet.
The latest reversal, which gave little or no respite to a people caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic, came in the wake of people standing in long queues for several hours to buy milk powder and other essential commodities with most of them having to return home empty handed. It was not so long ago that we also saw hundreds carrying empty cylinders queuing up to buy domestic gas. Meanwhile, in what amounts to be the highest margin ever, Litro Gas increased the price of a 12.5 kilogram-cylinder of domestic gas by Rs.1,182 to Rs.2,675 while Laugfs Gas increased the price of a 12.5 kilogram-cylinder by Rs.984 to Rs.2840. Next in line is the hike in fuel prices, which would result in a chain reaction further increasing the prices of essential commodities
It was against this backdrop that the Pandora Papers hit global news headlines. Now fluttering in the wind they have exposed the financial shenanigans of the high and mighty, the powerful and the elite, world leaders and politicians in several countries including the shocking disclosure of two Sri Lankans -- a leading businessman and his politically-connected wife -- secreting assets worth some US$160 million in secret offshore bank accounts.
In an article titled ‘Pandora Papers’ posted in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) Website, Journalist Scilla Alecci reveals the Financial Dealings of former deputy minister Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukkumar Nadesan.
Ms. Alecci says that in early 2018, workers in a London warehouse carefully loaded an oil painting of Lakshmi, the Hindu deity of wealth, onto a van bound for Switzerland. The painting, by 19th-century Indian master Raja Ravi Varma, depicts the four-armed goddess clad in a red sari with gold ornaments and standing atop a lotus flower. It was one of 31 works of art, altogether worth nearly $1 million that were being shipped to the Geneva Freeport in Switzerland. That vast, ultra-secure warehouse complex, larger than 20 soccer fields, stores among its many treasures what the BBC once called “the greatest art collection no one can see.”
She says, the owner of “Goddess Lakshmi,” and the artworks in transit with it, as recorded on the packing slip, was a Samoan-registered shell company with an unremarkable name, Pacific Commodities Ltd. But a cache of leaked documents from Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based financial services provider, indicates that a politically connected Sri Lankan, Thirukumar Nadesan, secretly controls the company and thus is the true owner of the 31 pieces of art. His wife, Nirupama Rajapaksa, is a former member of Sri Lanka’s Parliament and a scion of the powerful Rajapaksa clan, which has dominated the Indian Ocean island nation’s politics for decades.
The confidential documents, obtained by the ICIJ, show that as the country was ravaged by a bloody, decades-long civil war, the couple set up anonymous offshore trusts and shell companies to acquire artwork and luxury apartments and to store cash, securities and other assets in secret. They were able to amass and hide their fortune in secrecy jurisdictions with the assistance of financial services providers, lawyers and other white-collar professionals who asked few questions about the source of their wealth, Ms. Alecci says in the article. (The afore-mentioned are only a few excerpts. The full article could be accessed on the ICIJ website.)
Be that as it may, the couple may be proud to be in the company of political bigwigs and heavy weights including the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unofficial minister of propaganda” among hundreds of others exposed by millions of leaked documents and the biggest journalism partnership in history.
The foregoing, no matter what our leaders might say in attempts to gloss over the disclosures made in the ICIJ investigation; if nothing else reveals why more of us are getting poor and getting even poorer.