By Gamini Jayaweera –
These days almost all the media outlets in Sri Lanka are up in arms about the alleged corrupt activity performed by none other than the former Foreign and Lotteries Board Minister, Mr. Ravi Karunanayake. Numerous TV programmes, news headlines, editorials in the newspapers, and articles written by academics and others focus their attention on this alleged illegal activity carried out by one of the powerful ministers in the “Yahapalanaya” government.
Why are we surprised about this story? Why are we raising our voices, giving our opinions, and condemning Ravi K. about this dirty business which is practiced by most of our elected representatives? Are we witnessing an “abnormal” activity carried out by one of our top politicians? Haven’t we heard of such stories in the past? Have these politicians got any moral shame and moral fear for these disgraceful activities? Don’t they find some excuses, and lies to justify their repeated unforgivable corrupt activities? Once they get caught they resign (not all) claiming that they have done the “honourable” thing! Then a few months later they get reappointed as Ministers or Advisers to the government with all the perks and benefits. After Ravi. K’s alleged corruption charges, the public is dismayed by the hypocritical behaviour of most politicians of the last regime who have allegedly ransacked the public funds. The way they speak in public about dishonest and fraudulent conduct of the members of the present regime is laughable.
Previous Regime & “Joint Opposition”
It is in the public arena that most of the Ministers and MPs from the previous regime and the so called “Joint Opposition” are being investigated for alleged inappropriate use of public funds, fraud, and criminal activities. During the last regime, the alleged fraudulent and corrupt activities were part and parcel of their daily life. No actions were taken against these alleged fraudsters because of their relationship with the leader and his henchmen. Let us refresh our memories about some of the ongoing cases, cover ups and charges against the members of the previous regime and their relatives. Some of these cases can be summarised as follows:
- COPE Reports under Mr. DEW Gunasekera
COPE Interim Report 2013 – The three biggest losers, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Mihin Air and Ceylon Fisheries Corporation (CFC) accumulated losses amounting to Rs 9.7 billion during 2013.
COPE 2014 – The COPE report listed a series of major transactions with inadequate accountability.
No investigations were conducted to find out how they lost so many billions of public funds and why there were inadequate accountability.
Is it fair and reasonable to assume that the public funds had been mis-used for personal gains?
- Avant-Garde Case – Alleged Rs.11.4 billion unlawful loss to the government.
Case Ongoing against former Defense Secretary Mr. Gotabaya Rajapakse & others.
- Divi Neguma Case – Alleged misappropriating Rs.36.5 million of Divi Neguma funds.
Case Ongoing against former Economic Development Minister Mr. Basil Rajapakse & another.
- Money Laundering – Alleged involvement in money laundering amounting to Rs.45 million. Investigations Ongoing against Mr. Namal Rajapakse MP
- Distributing “Sil” Clothes Case – Alleged wrongfully spending Rs. 600 million from Telecommunication Regulation Commission during presidential election. Case Ongoing against former Secretary to the Ex-President Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse & another
- Sathosa Case – Alleged loss of Rs.50 million of public funds for deploying 150 Sathosa employees for political activities.
Case Ongoing against former Minister Johnston Fernando and others.
- Purchase of a House – Alleged illegally acquired Rs.27 million to purchase a house in Colombo. Case Ongoing against former Sports Minister Mr. Mahindananda Aluthgamage.
- Threatening and Demanding Money – Alleged threatening and demanding Rs.64 million from a businessman. Case Ongoing against Mr. Prasanna Ranatunge & others.
- Laundering Black Money – Alleged Rs.521 million ill-gotten money to purchase land. Case Ongoing against Mr. Yositha Rajapakse & his grandmother.
- Fraudulent Share Transaction – Allegedly misappropriating Rs.21 million share transactions. Case Ongoing against Mr. Udaya Gammanpila MP & another.
- SLTB Bribery Case – Allegedly causing Rs.3.2 million losses of public funds to pay the Deputy Chairman as his salary and other benefits. Case Ongoing against former Transport Minister Mr. Kumara Welgama.
The above is a small number of cases which are being investigated and filed charges against the former Ministers and MPs of the previous regime and their close relatives. Reports indicate that nearly 100 of such cases are being investigated.
According to the press reports during the presidential election campaign, one of the former SLFP ministers who is now a powerful member of the “Joint Opposition” had publicly stated “The Government is ours, the army is ours, the police are ours, therefore it is according to what we want that this election is conducted”. Was the former Minister indirectly indicating that the public funds were also their property and hence they could do whatever they would like to do without any checks and balances or accountability?
So, why the “Big Fuss” over Ravi K.’s alleged corruption charges? It appears that this alleged corruption charge against Ravi K. is no better or worse than the ongoing alleged corruption cases against the members of the previous regime.
The Hon. President Mr. Maithreepala Sirisena and the Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe came to power about 2½ years ago promising to eradicate corruption in the government sector and apply the rule of law impartially for such violations committed by anyone irrespective of their political affiliations. The public were also assured that the “Yahapalanaya” government would investigate and prosecute the alleged fraudsters of the previous regime who ransacked the public funds for personal gains. But the reality which we are experiencing today is very much different to the promises given by the Hon. President and the Hon. Prime Minister during the election campaign.
It appears that the Hon. President is unable to exercise his authority against some of the SLFP Ministers in the current regime appointed by himself, for alleged corruption charges during their involvement with the previous regime. The public has not forgotten the revealing statement made by a former SLFP Minister during the Presidential election campaign in November 2014. According to the press reports (the Daily Mirror and Colombo Telegraph in November 2014), the former Minister supporting the former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse had said that the UPFA members had amassed dirty lucre as much as they needed and as such there is no need for them to continue the plundering. Accordingly, he had appealed to the voters not to defeat the former President by voting for Mr. Maithreepala Sirisena. It is ironic that the former SLFP Minister has been appointed as a powerful Minister in the “Yahapalanaya” government by the Hon. President.
Though the disgraceful activities of the previous regime as described by the former Minister are illegal, it appears that there is an element of truth in his statement when one reflects on the allegations against the members of the “Yahapalanaya” government.
Though the alleged corruption charges under Maithree / Ranil regime are comparatively less than the previous regime, the alleged mis-use of public funds and protection of culprits by some members of the “Yahapalanaya” are disgraceful and totally unacceptable. The protectors of the culprits and the “dealers” should be exposed and they should be brought to face justice as soon as possible. The allegations against some members of the current regime can be summarized as follows:
- Treasury Bond Scam – Alleged malpractices in the Issuance of Treasury Bonds during 2015/16 causing approximately Rs. 10 Billion losses to the Sri Lankan Government over a 30-year period. The accused former Governor of the Central Bank was appointed by the present Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe. Case Ongoing.
- Penthouse Rental Charges – Alleged payment of approx. Rs.9 million paid by a private company called Walter and Rowe (Director Arjun Aloysius who is allegedly involved in the Bond Scam) on behalf of the former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as rental charges for a super luxury apartment. Case Ongoing
- Weliamuna Inquiry – Reports indicate that more than 2 years ago Rs.3.5 million public funds had been paid by the “Yahapalanaya” for the Sri Lankan Airlines Welimuna Inquiry which revealed shocking details of corruption causing billion of rupees loss to the Sri Lankan Airlines. Any Actions by the “Yahapalanaya”?
- Tender Irregularities – It is alleged that there are number of tender irregularities still taking place after 2½ years of “Yahapalanaya” administration. The Hon. President’s own words were more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s public contracts were tainted by bribery and corruption. President said that he knew the people who were involved in this dirty business but he was unable to reveal the names. Why protect these fraudsters from prosecution?
- Protecting the Fraudsters – It is alleged that powerful ministers in the current regime who have strong ties with some of the accused members of the previous regime, are protecting the alleged swindlers by “doing deals” with them. It appears that the Ministry of Justice does not show any urgency to bring these alleged culprits to face justice. Are the “dealers” destroying our democracy?
Anit-Corruption “Band Waggon”
It appears that most of the alleged fraudsters from the previous regime and the current administration are being protected by the responsible politicians in the “Yahapalanaya” because of the Party Politics, Social Class, “Old School Tie”, and Wheeling & Dealing. What we are witnessing today is nothing but a bunch of politicians from the previous and current administrations who have allegedly plundered the public money for personal gains are pretending to be the “Champions” of the Anti-Corruption movement in Sri Lanka for political gains. Most of these politicians who have jumped into the Anti-Corruption “Band Wagon” have lost their self-respect and moral dread. It reminds me of the famous Sinhala saying that “ ලැජ්ජා නැතිකම මහමුදලි කමටත් වැඩිය ලොකුයිලු” (“Being shameless is worse than getting the post of the Chief Mudaliyar”).
I conclude this brief article with the following stanzas from Dhammapada:
Easy is the life of a shameless one
who is as impudent as a crow,
back-biting and presumptuous,
arrogant and corrupt. (Mala Vagga. 244)
Hard is the life of a modest one
whoever seeks purity,
is detached and humble,
clean in life and reflective. (Mala Vagga 245)