By Kumar David –
I am prepared to concede that Gota is not personally corrupt; he is different from his two infamous siblings on this matter. The Rajapaksa Memorial scam is like Ranil’s Bond Scam. Ranil was wrong, but did not enrich himself; he allowed those who financed Sirisena and UNP elections “recover” their contributions. Likewise, this column will concede that Gota is not personally venal; rather the column will be about whether he can overcome corruption in the country at large or whether like Ranil he too will fail. There are three aspects.
a) An appalling history of large-scale graft during previous Rajapaksa regimes.
b) Revelations of astronomical scale criminality (Airbus deal for example) now coming to light.
c) Most important, how will he prevent repetition during his period in office.
Let’s take them one by one. Even with the most charitable of intentions I am sure Gota will not be able to bring Mahinda-Era mega-crooks to book. They include intimate family, Ministers, a lecherous in-law Corporate Chairman, Mister Ten-Percent, hundreds of millions of rupees withdrawn from China Harbour’s Standard Chartered account in gunny sacks to finance the 2015 presidential election and billions in side payments on Mattala and Hambantota Harbour projects. None of my pro-Gota friends deny MR-Era mass looting. Their defence: “But anyway, Gota was not involved”. When I grant this but ask “He is President now, will he prosecute these mega-crooks?” they say I am unrealistic. “He cannot; these people are his Base”. They seem to have learnt the term Base from “Trump-Base”. But this is confusing. Which is Gota’s Base, these inherited rogues or the Sinhala-Buddhist mass he leans on? Anyway, the answer to (a) is ‘Can’t do’. If Ranil and yahapalana flopped at this task how can home-and-home Gota do it?
What about (b); the Airbus loot and similar looting coming to light now? UK’s Serious Fraud Office said Airbus hired the wife of a Sri Lankan Airlines executive as intermediary and misled export credit agency UKEF while paying $2 million to her company. The alleged corruption took place between 2011 and 2015. MR appointed the said “executive”, Kapilla Chandrasena (KC), during his short jaunt as fake PM in Nov-Dec 2019. A Colombo court ordered the arrest KC and wife Priyanka Neomali Wijenayake but not the arrest of MR who must have been ‘in’ on the $2 million (Rs 360m ) deal. Gota has not interfered with the proceedings. Good!
A panel headed by anti-corruption guru Weliamuna found gross abuses by former SL Air Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe, (NW) b-i-l of MR whose lust for jaded air hostesses cost the debt-ridden airline heartaches. In October 2015 Ranil’s appointee as SL-Air Chairman Ajith Dias dismissed the Weliamuna Report: “There was no financial misappropriation” he declared and cleared NW, KC and 13 more crooks who had plunged the airline into a Rs. 120 billion hell-hole; (Colombo Telegraph, 3 February 2020). I must move on though there are more examples of MR-Era graft coming to light. To his credit, to the best of my knowledge Gota has not interfered with ongoing prosecutions. In respect of (b) then the answer is ‘So far so good’.
Finally, we reach item (c); the difference from (b) is that (b) refers to the past, MR or yahapalna eras, (c) the future. Will we be spared the corruption cancer during the new president’s tenure? That depends on his ability to control his siblings, nephews, their hangers on and his Ministers. There are several dishonest Ministers taken over by Gota from previous MR cabinets – I can name six. Yes, they have not been prosecuted for corruption but in Sri Lanka that’s a pretty low bar. Eventually, Gota will not be able control this bunch of crooks. In respect of appointments to high posts, I have no reason to comment adversely on their financial integrity, but they are buddies not distinguished for ability or achievement, or they are in-laws. Hence, not venality but incompetence may be the problem in respect of high appointees.
This presidency is new, so this column is a report on a project in progress; readers need to update themselves regularly. I am an old-fashioned bugger accustomed to chairing board of examiners meetings, so I can’t resist a recommendation: “Let’s defer grading Gota on this whole subject till our next review”.