SRI LANKA – A LAND BEREFT OF DEMOCRACY ACCOUNTABILITY AND POLITICAL PROBITY

There is  little gain in saying that the moment we heard Arjun & Kasun were being released on bail, we understood that the accountability process, the recovery process and the responsibility process in connection with the bond scam had come to a grinding halt. It is of course being replaced by the mother of all cover ups.

Sri Lankans are a rather receptive lot. They read deeply into the appointment of Ravi Karunanayake back into the cabinet with a ‘no mean’ portfolio.  Of course we have to examine this with freezingly cold neutrality. Mr. Karunanayake gave evidence at the Commission of Inquiry and we heard the Chief Financial Officer of a business connected to the Minister’s close family swear that a sum of Rs 165 million was kept in a safe by the Chairman of that company but that those funds did not belong to the business that it was not reflected anywhere in the accounts of that company.

However there has been no action by any other authority like the Bribery Commission or the Police to formally charge the Minister for any offence. Thus to be fair and to apply the cornerstone of our judicial system, the presumption of innocence unless otherwise proven, Ravi Karunanayake is an innocent man in the cold neutrality of the law. Therefore there could be no rationale for keeping him out on the basis of a statement or two made in a quasi-legal setting.

In a democracy one would expect that the independent bodies like the Police and the anti-graft bodies to get on with their investigations and then bring charges against offenders. However in Sri Lanka much of high-end departures from due process is politically driven and not judicially driven. That is the culture. Very few public service officials despite having the legal authority will be willing to take on a case against a politician for fear of reprisals – either immediately or once the governments change.

It is the naivety of the public at large that expects that – for example – the Prime Minister not be seen to be jolly making with those accused of all sorts of crime. From embezzlement and corruption to murder and some say a de-facto attempt at genocide even.

Many of the accused – formally and otherwise – were within an arm’s length reach of each other. They were in fact within kissing distance of each other. We had the almost painful to watch scenario of Mangala Samaraweera hob knobbing with the former President and his son and daughter in law. We had to then force ourselves to remember that it was the same Samaraweera who had accused his hosts of spiriting away an improbable USD 18 billion from state coffers. Was the Minister comfortable with partaking of the vegetarian meal served by the family that he had accused of being corrupt?

The real issue is not that a whole host of those who now can’t stand the possibility of a Mahinda-to-return-to-power prospect had accepted the invitation and pitched up to a wonderful setting.

No, the real issue was that all the claims against the Rajapaksas received apparently by petitions, was handed over for investigation only after a politically orientated committee appointed by the Prime Minister vetted the claims and thereafter instructed the agencies like the FCID and CID to take action.

The liberal and almost too easy politicization of even the law enforcement agencies is the real shame on our country and on ourselves. Our politicians have for too long been far too tricky. Ministers who utilize members of their own family and firms indirectly connected to them, to collect fat fees for no earthly work to be done, present themselves as paragons of virtue and upholders of democracy.

One particular Minister an economist to boot has amassed wealth for generations to come via that useful tool known as a ‘brother in law’.  Many use trusted aides and agents in all but name. The bottom line is this: that corruption is endemic on both sides of the main stream political divide.

The parliamentary committee on public enterprise (COPE) has discovered that Sections of the highway to the hills, has led the peoples’ monies on one big trail: they have discovered an overstatement of 40% – over and above the engineers estimate.  Perhaps it’s easy to understand why they want to hang on to power and position. Apart from fame it also brings in the bucks.

And it’s the bucks one needs these days anyway. The prices have risen and unless your income is in dollars you are bound to be suffering. Many do. In silence.

All politicians and parties appear to be – largely – in the same net. There is little gain saying that one is better than the other.

President Jayawardena went out of his way to finish off Mrs. Bandaranaike politically and did everything to dispense with her civic rights. Yet, years later when her party the SLFP moved in parliament to nullify that act and to restore her rights, the UNP members who were so adamant in their belief that they had done the right thing in depriving Mrs. B of her rights, merely stayed silent abstaining from the vote. Had their commitment and belief in what they originally did been resolute they would have voted against the motion. At least then they would be able to say with pride that the UNP stood tall and by its belief. Instead their silence in abstaining only highlighted that the Mrs. B episode was one more politically motivated act, designed to control political opponents – and have nought to do with serving what was best for the national interest.

By November this year no matter what, the Presidential poll will be held. Time waits for no man or woman. And the law is the law.

Maithripala Sirisena will need to sort out his strategy with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ranil will field a common candidate to stay in the closet and cling to his leadership of the UNP. He has appointed his apostles to key posts and ensured that Ravi K is kept as happy as Larry. Yet the choice for UNP common candidate is unlikely to be the one man who can win hands and fists down. It looks like its crying time again for Sajith Premadasa.

 

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