By Kusal Perera –
“The whole country doesn’t want (an international inquiry) because it is the feeling that it is insulting to the government that we cannot carry out our own investigation in a transparent manner” Chandrika B. Kumaratunga quoted by UK IBTimes as reported in DailyFT of 17 March, 2015.
“UN can give its probe. We’ll engage the UN on these issues. That’s the difference. We’re going to engage the UN Human Rights Council on these issues. All we’re saying is any criminal jurisdiction must be exercised in Sri Lanka. Any civil jurisdiction has to be exercised in Sri Lanka. Only the Sri Lankan courts can determine this issue.” PM Ranil Wickramesinghe with NDTV in Colombo on 19 January, 2015
On 12 March, 2015 Al Jazeera reported, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena plans to set up a domestic inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the country’s civil war. “….but outside investigators would not be necessary” Sirisena told Al Jazeera
In his (PM Wickremesinghe’s) first formal interaction with the media on 26 March, PM “referred to the setting up of an Office for National Unity headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as well as retention of four international experts who were originally appointed to advice the Maxwell Paranagama-led Commission of Inquiry.” (DailyFT – 27 March)
What’s important in all these quotes are their inherent contradictions, ambiguity and deceptions in saying what should be told to the people, not being told straight and direct. PM Wickremesinghe tells NDTV’s Srinivasan Jain, the difference between Rajapaksa and his government is that, his government would engage the UN Human Rights Council. President Sirisena is quoted by Al Jazeera as saying there will not be any outside investigators. Does he then mean, not even UNHRC engagement as it would mean an insult to his government as explained by former president Kumaratunga? She has told a UK based media, the whole country is against any international inquiry into war related crimes. When she says “whole country”, she perhaps discounts the North that is openly agitating against any domestic investigation.
Two weeks after President Sirisena speaking to Al Jazeera, PM tells local media heads and editors, his government will be hiring the same 04 international experts the Rajapaksa government hired as advisers to avoid UNHRC investigations. He also says they would set up an “Office for National Unity” headed by former President CBK. Will her attitudes and popular Sinhala attributes on investigations, help “National Unity” she is tasked to deliver?
Far worst is who would be hired to help such domestic investigations and who decides on such advisers. Is it the cabinet, the ruling Troika or the PM alone that decided on these 04 international advisers ? The decision to retain those hired by the Rajapaksa regime as disclosed by PM Wickremesinghe, was not disclosed in cabinet briefings in the past weeks. It was the PM alone who knew it and it was he who said it.
The 04 Rajapaksa hired international experts to advice the Commission to Probe Missing Persons chaired by Maxwell Paranagama, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dickson QC, all three from the UK and David M. Crane from the United States and those recruited by them to assist them were paid exorbitant consultancy fees, travelling and full board stay here by the Central Bank, without any cabinet approval. They had made just 03 visits to Sri Lanka within 07 months. The total paid to them as revealed by the Sunday Times of 15 February, 2015 is over 400 million rupees.
Let’s be aware the Commission to Probe Missing Persons, whose mandate was expanded along with its duration, still continues sittings even after Rajapaksa was defeated and ousted. They are officially advised by the same advisory panel chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva QC. What will be the offer by the Wickremesinghe government to have their expertise under a new mandate for another domestic investigation?
On 17 March in parliament, TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran speaking on this government reintroducing the very bill it opposed 02 years ago when the Rajapaksa regime similarly sought 48 hour police custody said, “This is another one of those ironies that we are faced with of a Government that was established for good governance.” Dealing with the Missing Persons Commission and its international advisers, MP Sumanthiran said there was a serious conflict of attorney-client interests in Rajapaksa regime hiring the services of Sir Desmond de Silva QC.
Continuing his well articulated criticism Sumanthiran said, “This is the most perversion of justice and I demand that the new Government immediately constitute an investigation into the conduct of Sir Desmond de Silva and the previous Government, in conspiring to undermine the independence of the Commission of Inquiry. I also demand that His Excellency the President immediately rescind Sir Desmond de Silva’s appointment to the Advisory Council as a matter of urgency in order to secure the Rule of Law and Good Governance.” He said, he does not know why this government continues with this Paranagama commission. Sumanthiran then demanded “that the new Government of Sri Lanka, not only immediately rescind Sir Desmond de Silva’s appointment but also forward a complaint to the Bar Standards Board of the United Kingdom against Sir Desmond de Silva’s patent professional misconduct.”
All that would suffice to prove there isn’t any difference between Rajapaksas and the Wickremesinghes in how they go about avoiding and dealing with very serious issues. Perhaps the difference is in the rhetoric, some new faces here and there and a claim there’s no “white-vanning” now. But there is also no credible governance, no credible investigations and inquiries against crimes, enforced disappearances and mega corruption and no justice for those who have been demanding justice for endless number of years.
This is not all about this government and its political will in establishing an accountable government, that can promise good governance. All issues of mega corruption, drug trafficking and money laundering don’t seem to get serious attention, other than media publicity. Nor is there any more news about investigations into the alleged January 09 conspiracy at Temple Trees. What’s now happening to the complaint lodged by FM Mangala Samaraweera on the conspiracy? Any news about any inquiry into Gotabaya Rajapaksa operating a special account with BoC for money that should have gone to the Consolidated Fund of the Treasury? Good governance is not about making media statements contradicting each other. It’s about making informed decisions and about engaging people on such decisions. If the decision is to drop investigations, then that has to be justified in public.
There cannot be selective openness in transparency and good governance. There cannot be almost total silence on mega projects like “Nelum Kuluna” – Lotus Tower – while Colombo Port City is being used for compromising on Chinese investments and loans. Lotus Tower is being constructed at a staggering amount of US 104 million dollars as revealed at a media briefing in August 2013 by Secretary to President Weeratunge. His calculations of cost in rupee terms at the same media briefing was over 14 billion. This he said, is a loan from the Chinese Exim bank. We will have to pay back 85% of this loan with interest. What’s this tallest tower in whole of Asia and considered the fifth tallest in the world, constructed on over 10 acres of prime Colombo land going to give us in return for all that money we have to pay back? Weeratunge says, “it is a telecommunication tower”. The question that is not asked and not answered is, “will China have any strategic interest here, with advanced technology in telecommunications?” Overlooking a Port City that gives China 28 hectares on free hold and with their interests in the Hambantota harbour, will this new telecom facility constructed with Chinese expertise add strategic value for Chinese presence in Sri Lanka ?
There are loads of such issues that are now slowly and gradually swept out of public gaze. There are also other issues that are being crudely covered up or in the process of being covered up like the CBSL Bond deal under Governor Mahendran, an exclusive pick by PM Wickremesinghe. No media is investigating the appointment of DIG Waidyalankara as head of the newly created Financial Crimes Investigation Division that comes under the recently established Anti Corruption Secretariat, directly under the PM. He, DIG Waidyalankara is accused of playing silent accomplice of a woman who is known to have cheated millions from unsuspecting citizens, an accusation that should be probed if anti corruption investigations are to move positively forward and with credibility.
Credibility is no character that can be compromised on. What credibility can PM Wickremesinghe talk of, with CBSL Bond issue becoming controversial with his long time politico business ally Samarawickrema appointed chairman of the party also getting glued to allegations of insider trading, holding RW responsible ? What credibility can he claim for good governance and accountability under him, with Corruption Secretariat manned by people of suspect track records? And more after him accused of amending the already gazetted draft of the 19 Amendment, before including it in the Order Book of parliament?
For sure, there wasn’t this load of allegations on corruptions, frauds and cover ups during the first few years of Rajapaksa rule. What was more seriously talked of then was its rule under “white vans” and Sinhala racist supremacy. All mega deals that we have been spotlighting are mostly of recent past. Perhaps after the war was concluded in May 2009 and more during his second term begun after the 2010 January elections. Here we are, hardly over with 75 days of the promised 100 Days of good governance. Good governance labelled “Yahapalanaya”, was the major plank on which the anti Rajapaksa election campaign was launched. Good governance is all about credibility of people handling responsibility.
Where could we end up this way? There certainly is going to be a heavy let down of the Tamil people, with Sinhala politics given the right to decide how war related investigations should finally conclude. There is also a gradual let down of the Southern democratic campaigners still too shy to admit in public they are also being taken on a right “Royal” ride. That the 100 Day programme is being manipulated and curbed for Wickremesinghe and his group to stay in power. As someone told me a few days ago, we would not be heading anywhere. How can we? We are still on the same Merry-go-Round the Rajapaksas left for the MS – RW – CBK troika to take us round and round. It’s the same merry circle, of course with different music. And that perhaps is what “Changed” for the better in the South.
[Emphasis in all above quotes, added]