By Sarath de Alwis –
That famous presidential pronouncement two months ago, at the Sri Lanka Foundation institute qualified the applicability of the principle – no one is above the law. It redefined ‘independence’ of independent commissions. On that day, this writer decided to refrain from writing and commenting on the performance of the current government. It was just as well. The rarely good, often bad and frequently ugly governance of the UNP – SLFP coalition led by the Maithri- Ranil duumvirate is beyond retrieval, recovery and redemption.
Having voted for the common candidate Sirisena on 8th January 2014, and blatantly betrayed on 13th October 2016, it was wiser to take note of the advice of James Joyce in Ulysses. ‘A mistake is a portal of discovery.’
On Saturday 10th December 2016, I listened to the former Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption Mrs. Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe delivering the key note address at an event organized by an activist group that call themselves ‘Intellectuals for Human rights’ to mark the Human Rights Day. This bunch of learned, pragmatic minds had invited her to speak on the theme “Bribery & Corruption Deprives People of Their Human Rights.’ In a display of sagacious preference they had also invited Parliamentarians Vijitha Herath and Eran Wickemeratne as guest speakers.
The two parliamentarians spoke first and made two interesting statements. The public denouncement of the actions of the former Director General of CIABOC left her with no alternative but to resign. MP Vijitha Herath insisted that it was a grave violation of her Human Rights. Parliamentarian Eran Wickremeratne came out with a priceless gem. As Chief Executive of the National Development Bank he had occupied a ring side seat watching the dealer room where treasury bonds were bought and sold. In disarming innocence he told the gathering that, understanding how bonds were traded was not rocket science!
The former Director General of CIABOC took her task seriously. With a power point presentation she amplified on corruption and defined bribery. As no notes were taken, I will not attempt a detailed account. She quoted Kautilya the oriental Machiavelli. “It is impossible to know when and how much water a fish drank, similar is the act of stealing government money by officials.” The main thrust of her thesis was that the existing laws were more than adequate to fight corruption, reduce bribery and punish offenders. What it required was the political will.
In four weeks, we will arrive at the second anniversary of the ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coterie of power peddlers. Conversely we complete two years of delusional fantasy under the Sirisena-Wickermesinghe duumvirate and their power brokers. Nuancing matters. Mahinda had peddlers of power. This lot has brokers. To simplify further the crudity of hawkers have been replaced with sophistry of salesmen. The earlier lot did not care to explain looting. The new breed write copious foot notes.
Mahinda was a despot who unhesitatingly repressed determined dissent. Yet he adroitly allowed differential dissent. Unlike his successors, he never claimed even a desultory familiarity with the discipline of economics. He is not a humbug. Therein lies the contrast between what we had before 8th January 2015 and what we are saddled with thereafter.
Mahinda is accused of imprudent borrowing. A charge from which he will soon be absolved. There cannot be an imprudent borrower without an imprudent lender. To prove that charge, his accusers must show the nation who his imprudent lenders were. The bond scam that took place under the minority UNP government within the first few weeks of the Sirisena presidency points to where Mahinda found his imprudent lenders. Nivard Cabraal was an endogenous solution. Arjuna Mahendran was an exogenous solution provider.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was blamed for financial profligacy and procurement through unsolicited proposals. We now have the solicited wisdom and expertise of Charitha Ratwatte, R. Paskeralingam and Arjuna Mahendran who constitute an all-powerful team dispensing Kautilyan wisdom on economic policy.
The purpose of independent commissions was to ensure neutral arbitration among groups and interests involved in the process of governance. The rule of law, transparency, and accountability are mere platitudes in the absence of institutions that can restrain the excesses of competitive politics. Presidential moralizing is not good governance. Trivializing public concerns by flippant Prime Ministerial witticisms is not good governance.
This government is a far removed from ethical governance. A prerequisite of ethical governance is that official business is transacted in a manner that the public has access to both substantive and procedural information on matters of public importance.
According to a recent news report, three bidders have been short listed to explain their strategies to turn around SriLankan airlines to a cabinet subcommittee. The three parties include Peace Air owned by a local businessman Mr. Gamini Wettasinghe. This gentleman may indeed turn out to be our local equivalent of Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic or Tony Fernandes of Air Asia. No doubt the Cabinet subcommittee will give him a hearing.
That said, this writer would urge the Cabinet Sub Committee to delve a wee bit further and examine the related documents pertaining to the lease of a Boeing 737 air craft in 1990 where Guinness Peat aviation provided the finance and the middlemen were an aircraft broker from New York of Greek dissent and a Sri Lankan gentleman named Wettasinghe. At the time of the execution of that lease agreement, this writer was serving as Manager United Kingdom of then Air Lanka. This writer went to Shannon Ireland along with the Chief Financial officer and the Head of Engineering. Mr.K.C Kamalasabeyson who represented the AGs department is no more. Mr. R Passkeralingam current advisor to the Prime Minister was then secretary Treasury and the most influential member of the Board of Directors of Air Lanka. That was twenty five years ago.
On reading the news of the short listed contenders, the name Wettasinghe rang a bell as loud as the Big Ben on the banks of the Thames. The Greek Air Craft broker involved in the deal, had a jaw breaking Greek Name. I recall how he helped me to pronounce his name. Just say ‘Catch your knees’ he told me. Fancying myself as a wit, I told him to catch something else. May be Mr. Wettasinghe will remember the exact name of the Greek Air Craft broker. Speaking of Greeks, Homer in Iliad says “Even a fool learns something once it hits him.”