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Ordinary villagers will not care if SriLankan Airlines is privatised: JVP chief

ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan villager in a remote area will not care if loss-making SriLankan Airlines is privatised, but the government should have an interest in enterprises that are close to the lives of the people, the leaders of the country’s most vocal Marxist Party said.

"A villager Polonnaruwa will not care who owns SriLankan Airlines," Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who heads Sri Lanka’s Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, told an economic forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

But in sectors like power, the government should have a hold, he said. The elected ruling class should also have a grip on power.

SriLankan Airlines had a negative balance sheet and it no longer had net assets, he said.

However, Dissanayake objected to the government’s plan of privatising SriLankan Airlines after the government took over its debt.

"If the people are still going to take over the debt, then what is the point of privatising it?" he asked. "So we object to the current model."

International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema said, once management was given to the private sector, the government will stop accumulating new losses.

It was also not correct to say that the people will bear the debt, since the government would be able to get cash for the airline, which will have a positive balance sheet that can be offset against the debt, he said.

Dissanayake said the enterprises that are ‘close to the life of people’ where the state must retain a state could be decided following discussions.

When Sri Lanka Telecom was a monopoly of the ruling class, people had to wait for 15 years to get a phone. But state workers and the elected ruling class could get a phone on priority basis almost over the counter, ordinary citizens say.

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Minister Mangala Samaraweera said, when he took over the telecom portfolio, there was a 450,000 person waiting list at Sri Lanka Telecom, which was more than the total lines the firm had.
 
In South Asia, there were widespread power cuts over the last several decades. The only main city that did not have power cuts was Mumbai, where Tata Power owned the grid and was not nationalised by Nehru.

Until Colombo Gas was bought by Shell, shortages were routine, no new cylinders were available at whatever price, and the bottles were rusty and red.

Until state textiles firms were privatised, people were treated to kerosene smelling cloth, which were protected with import duties. When the duty was lifted, the privatised firms went bust.

Even now, Sri Lankans can cover their nakedness at globally competitive prices than they can ease their hunger as food imports are taxed at high levels to protect the farming lobby.
 
Meanwhile, Dissanayake said due to the questionable way state enterprises were privatised earlier, people had suspicions.

The government was proposing the sale of SriLankan Airlines since it was not doing its job, but even agencies like the police was not doing its job properly.

"So should we also sell the police?" he asked.

The world’s first police force for Thames River Police in the UK was in fact set up by private citizens in 1798 with an investment of 4,200 pounds and 50 men to protect vessels in the lower docks of Thames from looting and theft.

Home Secretary Robert Peel (later Prime Minister who brought free trade in food and ended the Corn Laws lifting the living standards of the poor in Britain) later set up the Metropolitan Police Force by an action of parliament in 1829.

Thames River police was merged with Metropolitan police.

The British police was deliberately set up as a civilian unit separate from the military to protect civilians (with blue instead of the military red uniform) and was not supposed to protect rulers.

But in Eastern Europe, police forces protected rulers against citizens and was exemplified by the Gestapo. In Sri Lanka also, the police is used to protect rulers.  (Colombo/Aug03/2016).

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