‘From the sidelines’: Yahapaalanaya, in pursuit of truth | Sunday Observer

‘From the sidelines’: Yahapaalanaya, in pursuit of truth

The cat is finally out of the bag, so to speak. The report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the sale of Central Bank Treasury bonds was presented to President Maithripala Sirisena last week. Despite feverish speculation in the media that the report would not be made public, President Sirisena laid bare its key contents to the nation and assured that the report would be presented to Parliament and therefore, to the public.

President Sirisena didn’t mince his words when he revealed the contents of the report. He assured that those responsible for the scam will be punished. He said that measures will be initiated to recover the colossal eleven billion rupees that was lost to the country as a result of the scam. If necessary, legislation will be enacted in Parliament for this purpose, he said.

Critics of the ‘yahapaalanaya’ government have been sharpening their knives ever since they sensed the whiff of a scandal in relation to Central Bank bond sales. And so they should, for that is the duty of the Opposition.

They have argued that this is a government that rode to power on the promise of eliminating corruption in the country from the highest in the land and in the corridors of power, to the local council labourer who demands a bribe to clear out the garbage. So, how dare they engage in corrupt activities of their own, the Opposition asked.

It is indeed a valid question. No government- let alone a ‘yahapaalanaya’ government- has the right, merely by virtue of being in power, to rob the country’s coffers. If they do so, they need to be taken to task. That is what has happened in this instance and that, whether the government’s critics like it or not- is unprecedented.

Mind boggling

We are not for a moment suggesting that the Treasury bond should have happened. It is shocking that it did and even more mind boggling is the scale of the fraud. An eleven billion rupee fraud means that each and every Sri Lankan man, woman and child was robbed about five hundred rupees. To put it in another perspective, the government could have built another four fully fledged teaching hospitals with that money.

It has taken a lot of political courage to reach this point. President Maithripala Sirisena has been unwavering in the pursuit of truth. It was he who took the initiative, first to replace former Governor Arjuna Mahendran and then to set up the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

When it came to giving evidence, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was man enough to take the witness stand and answer the questions put to him, honestly and in a frank and forthright manner, admitting that in hindsight, he should not have based his judgment on the assurances provided by Mahendran.

We wouldn’t say the same about former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, though. Although he did give evidence it begged belief, stating that he was unaware who paid the more than million rupees a month rental for his apartment, as it was all handled by his wife.

Karunanayake did tender his resignation but that was hardly an act of falling on his sword because his position as a Cabinet Minister had become untenable after the revelations made before the Commission of Inquiry. It was more an act of jumping before he was pushed.

To be fair, every man is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty and that must hold true for Ravi Karunanayake as well. Throughout this process Karunanayake has protested his innocence and said that he will be vindicated. He can and should have his day in court. Now that he has talked the talk, he can walk the walk and a court of law can tell us whether he is innocent as he claims to be.

Why we say that last week’s developments are encouraging is because they have been allowed to occur by a government which will most certainly not benefit from them. That, in recent decades, is a novelty.

After all, this is a country which is used to Commissions of Inquiry being used to hound political opponents: J. R. Jayewardene used a Special Presidential Commission to strip his principal political rival Sirima Bandaranaike of her civic rights; Chandrika Kumaratunga attempted to use the Batalanda Commission to malign Ranil Wickremesinghe

Irreparable Damage

What occurred last week will certainly not help the United National Party (UNP). In fact, it could do irreparable damage to the party which is now in power after almost twenty consecutive years in the opposition, especially, with local government elections due in a few weeks which doesn’t allow the time and space for people to ‘forgive and forget’.

There is also an argument lingering in the lower echelons of the UNP that President Sirisena is cleverly using this issue to steal a march over the UNP and also to try and consolidate his hold over his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). We disagree.

As far as the public is concerned, this scam has occurred under this government’s watch and the government is headed by the President.

The average voter is unlikely to be so discerning as to say that the ‘UNP faction’ of the government was responsible for the scam and therefore their vote should go to the SLFP. If anything, there will be general dissatisfaction at the conduct of affairs within the government from which the beneficiary may well be the political alternatives- the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna or the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.

Let us not get too excited, however. While the President has provided us with an assurance that the matter will be referred to the Attorney General to carry out the Commission’s recommendations which include prosecution of those allegedly responsible for the scam, there is much more work to be done.

The so-called ‘Bond Commission’ is a first in many ways: it is the first appointed by a government to probe its own conduct and for the first time a sitting Prime Minister gave evidence. Let it also be the first commission where wrongdoers are dealt with efficiently, promptly and in a manner that is proportionate to the humongous amounts of money they robbed. 


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