7 December, 2019

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Is President Directly Linked To Market Manipulation?

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr Laksiri Fernando

The recent crisis in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the official regulator of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), speaks volumes of how the affairs of the country are managed or rather mismanaged by the present regime and its highest authority, the President. It was not one crisis, but one crisis after the other. On the issue of the recent resignation of Tilak Karunaratna, the outgoing Chairperson of the SEC, Frederica Jansz from the Sunday Leader asked “So the President pressured you to resign?” The answer was “I am saying that the Minister of Finance was the person.” Then Jansz asked “The President is the Minister of Finance.?” The obvious answer was “Yes.”

The ‘pressure to resign’ that Karunaratna talked about was obviously against the investigations that the SEC was conducting on market manipulation, under his chairpersonship, on certain individuals and organizations including some broker companies, according to him and to other revelations. It was not about his incompetence or incapacity as a Chairperson. After all he was appointed by the same authority, the President as the Minister of Finance, just few months back in January 2012.

The above are the reasons why there are genuine suspicions whether the President himself is linked, directly or otherwise, to what Karunaratna said about the Market Mafia. If he is not, then why does he want to stop investigations on the market manipulators or safeguard them by pressuring Karunaratna to resign?

A Flashback

The formal stock exchange or the CSE started in 1985, revealed a growth potential at several junctures depending on the progress of the business sector, investment capacity of the people and of course the political climate. Therefore, any manipulation of the stock exchange is a crime with repercussions on the economy and the people.

Until the peace agreement in 2002, the share price index in general was stagnating around 500-1,000 mark but surged up to 2,000 and above during the ‘illusive peace’ period. Although it went up to 4,000 by 2003, came down again to around 3,000 when the war erupted in 2006. The real boom was only after 2009 May, which apparently enticed big time ‘manipulators’ to enter the market with political links or eventually making political links. The boom until mid-2010 was more or less real and thereafter what we could see was largely a ‘created bubble’ manipulated by some players which even exceeded the 7,000 mark.

I give the above a bird’s eye view with approximate figures, closer to the All Share Price Index (ASPI) than to others. I also write this article not only as a usual political critique but also as a former appointed Director of the CSE between 2009 and mid-2011.

A stock market undoubtedly is a reflection of the economy, but not always real. That is why we need a regulator to keep the stock market in place without harming the economy through bubbles. The world learned this lesson particularly after the great depression in 1929. Before that the stock markets were not regulated. Again there was a tendency towards deregulation under neo-liberalism, but the international financial crisis in/since 2008 has again emphasised the need for smooth regulatory system. I use the adjective ‘smooth’ because regulation does not and should not mean control.

Frederick Engels writing to Conrad Schmidt in 1890 said the following.

Economic, political and other reflections are just like those in the human eye. They pass through a condensing lens and therefore appear upside down, standing on their heads. Only the nervous system which would put them on their feet again for representation is lacking. The Money Market Man only sees the movement of industry and of the world market in the inverted reflection of the money and stock market. So effect becomes cause to him.”

I have only emphasised in bold ‘The Money Market Man,’ to indicate similar people in our system. They see the ‘reflections upside down’ and ‘so effect becomes cause to them.’ I understand that the President convened a meeting of primarily stock brokers and big time investors and Dilith Jayaweera gave a power point presentation ‘proving’ that the regulatory measures that the SEC has taken since late 2010, yet willy-nilly in my opinion, have created a down turn in the stock market. The President has apparently believed the interpretation and the ‘messenger has been shot down.’ It is not the first messenger but the second one. Let me explain my interpretation and experience on the situation.

My Experience

When I was appointed as a Director of the CSE, the market was booming for real reasons after the end of the war. It was a vacancy reserved for an academic in the Board of Directors that I filled. The CSE staff was enthusiastic about the situation and the Board members were keen in further promoting the stock market with various new measures. By early 2010 we realised that the market was getting over heated and we were watching. The most unusual was the rising of stock prices of some companies without much base or financial fundamentals. Those were not blue chip companies but rather unknown ones. Those were the first indications of manipulation. As the CEO alarmingly reported ‘they buy they sell, they buy they sell.’ But we were, or at least I was, not aware at that time that they were playing the game among themselves to artificially inflate the prices.

My first political misgiving came when we were selecting new broker companies among applicants. There were only 15 at that time and we were selecting 5 more among the applicants. I was approached by a person from the SEC over the phone to say the Presidential Secretariat wants to appoint certain applicants instead of others etc. Of course I was appointed by the HE as the Minister of Finance but my understanding was that I was there to safeguard the interests of the public but not the government per se. There were nine Directors on the Board; five elected by broker companies and four appointed by the Minister of Finance to represent certain professions. I also understand that now there are 28 broker firms in the stock market which is quite unnecessary as Tilak Karunaratna has remarked.

I was not happy with the way the SEC at that time, before Indrani Sugathadasa became the Chairperson, was acting towards the CSE, quite like a political controller. The SEC itself should have been independent in my opinion. Even the price band system in August 2010 came out of the blue and there was no proper consultation between the SEC and the CSE on this matter. Although there is an impression created that the price band system was introduced independent of the government, in my opinion, it was not the case. It was exactly the government or its key financial decision makers that prompted the price band system to curtail the (artificial) price rise but instead what it created was a drastic price fall. It was a too harsh measure to correct the stock market and what should have been done from the beginning was to curtail the insider trading and artificial manipulation to raise the stock prices by a group of organized investors and brokers. The price band affected not only the culprits but also the other genuine investors in the stock market.

Under the price band system, no action was taken against the culprits and instead they were allowed step by step to sell the shares that they stocked, without risking a sudden drastic price fall. As a result the most hard hit were the legitimate investors whose investments became ruined within months. Added to the calamity were the misleading instructions given by some stock brokers in cohorts with manipulative players. Karunaratna has revealed that it was the same person, the former Director General, who initiated the price band system that instructed the Director Investigations before Karunaratna’s time to put a stop to investigations. In my experience he was very closely working with the top notch government decision makers.

Market Downturn

There have been many interpretations to the market downturn since late 2010. Dilith Jayaweera’s main interpretation seems to be ‘overregulation’ to mean both the price band and the investigations, in addition to few other steps. There are more valid and standard interpretations given, for example, by the Central Bank. The down turn is mainly interpreted as a realistic market correction by the CB. All may have had their contribution to the situation, but what is overlooked is the role played by the market manipulators themselves largely causing the downturn.

It is possible that the insider trading must have been there for a long period. But what new was the ‘pooling system’ probably by high-net-worth investors in connivance with some stock brokers buying low priced stocks (2009) and then selling among themselves and inflating the price (2010) and then selling to the small investors (2011). But when the small investors try to sell (2011-12) and make profit, the prices obviously went down and in the panic the repercussions became accelerated. The years are given only to indicate the main trends or otherwise the interactions occurred during the same periods.

Fluctuations are normal to all stock markets, but what is experienced inSri Lankais rather unique most probably the high-net-worth investors having close connections with high-net-work politicians! Otherwise it is difficult to overturn in fact three Chairpersons of the SEC since 2010 and keeping the DG post on limbo for a long period. Whatever the motives, this turnover of personnel at the SEC has also created panic in the stock market, or uncertainty in regulatory measures which is the main job of the SEC.

The matter also can be explained focusing on the market capitalization. The market capitalization was barely 7 billion in US dollar terms in 2007. But it went up to nearly 20 billion by late 2010 and it has gradually come down to 13 billion by now. This down turn is parallel to the price index coming down from 7,000 mark to below 5,000 mark. This is not merely a ‘market correction’ but something has gone fundamentally wrong in the stock market. This is also not similar to the Asian Storm in late 1990s where the stock markets plunged due to capital outflow overseas.

To be sure, there is no complete crash in the stock market inSri Lanka. It has become from one of the best to one of the worst. That is alarming enough. The downturn is also not caused by foreign withdrawals from the market. Raj Rajaratnam in fact withdrew his money well before the downturn and during the bubble or the boom.

Then where has the money gone? The difference between market capitalizations from 20 billion to 13 billion must have gone somewhere? Because when the ‘losers’ lost money by buying stocks at higher prices, the ‘winners’ got the money to their accounts and must have invested somewhere or done something with them. The worst scenario is if some money has gone to some political funds! Market capital cannot just evaporate.

Conclusion

The whole scandal at the stock market should be properly investigated. What I have expressed are some views and questions and those are not by any means accusations or definitive evidence. There are clear and unclear matters.

But I have never seen a Head of State or even a Minister of Finance meeting with stock brokers or investors and making directives to a Securities and Exchange Commission on their behest. There are many other jurisdictions where SECs operate. But almost all are independent. Although the executive branch usually appoints them there is no possibility for the executive to remove them let alone the Chairperson during the tenure unless there are serious charges. Those commissions are truly independent.

In my opinion, Tilak Karunaratna has made two mistakes. He should not have resigned whatever the pressure unless there was a request or removal in writing. He also should have given the relevant names to COPE when the names were requested not as ‘mafia’ but as those who are under investigations. I state this with all respect to Tilak Karunaratna and also appreciating his integrity.

There are also ‘bad habits’ on the part of many institutions and individuals in Sri Lanka to run to the President and then ‘trouble him’ which he might relish for political or other reasons. But his intervention in this instance cannot simply be considered an accident or incidental. The whole story of the meeting revealed by Karunaratna – the seating arrangement and President’s request for Dilith Jayaweera to make the presentation etc. – does not imply that.

There is an undeniable fact. In my very objective opinion, the President has very clearly taken the side of the ‘market manipulators’ by requesting the Chairperson of the SEC to resign and effectively stalling the investigations so far carried out by the SEC. The investigations are necessary to safeguard the public interests. I am not sure whether this is good enough reason for impeachment of the President, if it is politically feasible. I leave this question open for the legislators and the lawyers concerned to consider.

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Latest comments

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    This writer Dr. Laksiri Fernando claims that after he was appointed as a Director CSE, after the war ended the market boomed for real reasons. I wonder whether he is so dumb not to know the real reason was the infusion of EPF/ETF funds to keep the market buoyant and allowing this cartel to manipulate the market. I once listened to this Dr. Laksiri Fernando interviewed on TV praising MR as if this Nation is blessed to have a Leader of his calibre. These are the JOKERS who helped MR to ruin this country, where even the War Victory was an exercise where MR has cheated this Nation agreeing with a section of the LTTE like KP, Karuna, Pillayan and crowd to dispose VP with some of his supporters and are getting ready to have the cake and eat it as well. Let us wait and see, whether they can.

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      This is unfair Gamini, Dr. Laksiri is very critical now. What we need is other Rajapaksa supporters to follow Dr. Laksiri and be critical and objective.

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        Senevi, there is nothing UNFAIR in revealing the damage caused by these Intellectuals. I believe Laksiri should make a Public Apology to all Sri Lankans for having connived earlier. I believe all should unite now to evict the Rajapaksas and create a system of Governance, that the riff raff like Mervyn Silvas, Maithripala Sirisenas, Duminda Silvas, et al is kept out and the others in Governance are held Accountable, with an Independent Judiciary, Independent Police Force and an Independent Elections Commission. This is the only way we can wade of foreign influence on those who govern with power concentrated in the hands of an Executive. Further make Elections free of violence and Fraud that will enable the masses to change the Governments appropriately. Further the Buddhist Clergy should be weaned of their influence.

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          Gamini, what you suggest here is merely the truth. But what surprises me it even if many atleast on this thread ALWAYS seem to be against CORRUPTION /all known and uknown atrocities continuously perpetrated by MR and thugs – but how many of them make up in our population ? I dont think even 10%. We need to give more publicity to CT articles and comments, so make more aware about the danger before the nation. There should be any other ways to abolish executive presidency if the masses would unite and OFFER THEIR genuin support to the opposition to do so. RW and all other oppotition parties should back to send MR home.

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        I agree with both Gamini and Senevi. What Gamini says is absolutely correct, but like Senevi says, we need to have more Rajapaksa supporters, acolytes, sycophants and henchmen to follow suit and be critical about what this rogue family regime is doing to the country. They must not wait till the end to jump ship like what happened in Libya when it was only in the last days of Gadaffi’s regime that people close to him decided to defect.
        Why can’t these academics and general public understand like the British public did, that though Churchill was a good wartime leader they did not consider him as prime minster in peace time. But our people were idiotic enough to keep giving the Rajapaksas’ and their henchmen “Kroothagoona” votes. I only wish that some of the articles that appear here and elsewhere could be translated and disseminated amongst the Sinhala speaking general public who don’t know head or tail about what is happening in the country. All they know is what Rupavahini, ITN and SLBC tells them.

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          Presidunce Bean:
          I have never disagreed with you before but I believe you are dead wrong in wishing that the Rajapaksa bootlickers will leave the fold and denounce and renounce their leader.
          These characters are more reprehensible than the people they have helped install and keep in power and deserve their place in the sun – on top of the garbage heap that they helped create for the rest of us!

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      The time is ripe for regime change in Lanka!
      This article must be translated into and published in Sinhala to educate the people..
      Laksiri was a MR stooge who seems to have fallen out of favour and now retired and now writing good stuff! His generation of academics has also contributed to ruin and politicize education which is why the new FUTA which is run by young bright internationally trained academics who want to clean up the mess and are not interested in running behind politicians unlike Laksiri and his arch rival at Colombo Uni. [Edited out]and [Edited out] at Peradeniya who all love sucking up to politicans.

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        Support FUTA to educate the people on what a corrupt crook Rajapakasa and his brothers are and to bring about regime change..

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          Laksiri asks: “Then where has the money gone? The difference between market capitalizations from 20 billion to 13 billion must have gone somewhere? Because when the ‘losers’ lost money by buying stocks at higher prices, the ‘winners’ got the money to their accounts and must have invested somewhere or done something with them. The worst scenario is if some money has gone to some political funds! Market capital cannot just evaporate.”
          The funds have gone into the Rajapassa brothers and son’s and Nivard Cabraal’s and family’s swiss bank accounts, sports car racing and various other sports tamashas for the Rajapakse brats and into shell companies set up to build tourist hotels in Passikudha on land grabbed from impoverished peasants..

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        Guess what Laksiri was the person who proposed that Rajapassa and his brothers be given free Doctorates at the Colombo University Senate back in 2009.
        All things change it seems ! but his generation has a lot to answer for the rot in the universities and politicization today…
        Today’s FUTA should be supported to get rid of that generation of regime stooges – the future of Lanka is with the younger generation

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          WHAT about if somebody funds my election expenses and tours,
          so, definitely i will support him to open a tap to suck any type of money , Even they are black or white,kudu or casino, i do not mind it.
          What i want is power, money, S????. O K.

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        Voters could be educated that’s if we had a strong and robust opposition to go out there and make them listen but alas the UNP is busy with their internal squabbles .The JVP is divided, the Tamil parties are disinterested . In short this regime has skillfully nullified all opposition and continues to hoodwink the majority public who are naive and gullible.

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      Dr Laksiri may previously have been a faithful accolyte and cheerleader for Rajapaksa but at least now he has seen the light and is fearlessly exposing the man as a charlatan. The more people who were previously followers of Rajapaksa come out and expose him the more chances the people will have of evicting him.I therefore, would not criticise Dr Laksiri for his words.

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      I am sorry to say MR is a president for life! With billions of money he has looted from the state institutions he will comfortably win any election in future. He knows very well the day he loses the election there will be many war crime related private legal proceedings in many western nations by the victims of war crimes. Hence he will loot more and more and ensure he does not lose any election and stay in power for ever!! Maybe Sinhalese will have to start support the need for international independent investigation into war crimes – I believe this is the only way to get rid of MR.

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        I believe if he loves his nation and country as he repeatedly preaches, he could better use his executive powers within the constituion for long awaiting amendments of laws that we the general public want to happen at least by today.

        Yes, what you have suggested could be the easiest wayout of the few options before the nation. So long people of the country would not change their attitudes – it will be easy for MR and his his henchmen to brainwash the nation.

        Today having heard the latest – discrepancies related to grade 5 exam papers – with larger majority every corner of the country believing some contents of the exampapers were known to almsot every school – while the minister of education and commissioner of examinations themselves explaining the pallatable as usual –
        I myself feel very sorry for the poor children and their future. We were lucky in our days(30 years ago) in the country, to have realiable standards with exam papers.

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      There are many who expected the country will have a better leadership under MR believing that he being young, claiming to be a Trade Unionist, his appearance as a socialist, etc. but he is a dismal failure and has only further strengthened the corrupt, communal and violent method of governance that has been going on for the last sixty-years making it worse. There is no way of turning back from the disaster towards which the country is moving unless the whole system is thrown out.

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    What is most needed for the nation today is to be checked on the link below.

    http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=19385

    Excutive presidency should be removed from lanken constitution ASAP allowing oppostion to react accordingly.

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      Anne I read the link from Ada Derana, where the comments are as the Priests have said about RW ascending as President. I respectfully differ as many who are mere psychophants whatever the Political Party, are affraid of RW as he would act impartially on wrong doers. First and foremost RW is not a Rogue and a Liar nor a ruthless Killer as the present Incumbant. Powers are important to govern but when in the wrong hands it is detrimental to society. It is important to create a system free of influence even from the Buddhist Priests, a Law and Order system where no one is above the Law. This is only possible from a Strong Honest Leadership. Who else is there in the Political Horizon? As the saying goes the known Devil is better than the unknown Angel.

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    This insider account of the CSE is enlightening and confirms that fact that that Stock Market is the “rich man’s Casino” conceived to promote the rip off of small savers who invest in it after being taken in by the hype and spin and then loose their life savings…
    The current model of development is that of the poor subsidizing the rich to get richer..
    The education sector is subsidizing the massive military apparatus set up to secure the Rajapakse Brothers from any regime change via Rakna Lanka.. People must demand closure of this paramilitary outfit and boycott the stock market
    The stock market in Lanka must be boycotted at all costs by PATRIOTIC citizens and left to crash as long as the manipulators are not tried and their assets ceased. These include all the Rajapassa brothers and sons, Nivard Cabraal and the Jayasundara. Time indeed for regime change!

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    The hordes of money confsicated from the LTTE hideouts in May 2009
    could have been laundered through the Stock Market using henchmen
    and some amount show as in the custody of the MOD with any
    addition from KP – all going into the making of SL Stock Mkt. as the best in the world in 2010! So the mafia is known but white-vans are
    still in operation. Who cares – even Tilak accepted defeat. There
    are none with a back-bone to stand against the version the King needs.
    His immunity is now International and Wimal is not around to make
    a claim! This affair will also die off with time as even COPE is in
    a no-go mode, as it can still demand the names of those under Investigation, but prefers to be silent. The Parliament itself is tongue-tied.
    Elections are all that matters, to keep the modayas at bay.

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    Dear friends,
    Kawuru kalath oyatikamayi.Kohoma kalath oya tikamayi.

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      Thejana, I am reminded here of an epithet of the JVP, ‘Unuth ekai, Munuth ekai’ and requested the masses to vote them into power. Seeing how the JVP has done when in power and Wimal Weerawansa crowd still with power, to rephrase, ‘Unuth ekai, Munuth ekai, Mulu okkoma ekai’ This kind of epithet is of those who support a side and when they fail, to cover up one’s sins of having supported the corrupt, they try to justify. As for your suggestion, ‘Kawuru kalath oyatikamayi’, not necessarily so as there are a few who are honest yet in Politics and your inability to identify them is your weakness.

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    The Rajapakse gang seems to launder their illgotten money through these rogue elements in the stockmarket.Their greed for power and money is endless. I just did a cost per university students security per year and it is 20,000/ through Rakna lanka.These guys not only should be be thrown out of power, but a tribunal appointed to confiscate all the stolen money and beheaded in public.

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    When you look back three decades, the Sri Lanka of that time was a model democracy with minimum corruption while our neighbours namely, India Pakinstan and Bangaldesh were dens for the corrupt politicians. At that time nothing could be done in those countries without greasing the palm of the politicians. We were proud about our clean status and they envied us. Even after the first JVP insurrection politicians still were acceptably clean. The 1983 tamil terror attacks gave a selected leading families to get involved in arms import and some got involved in other types of corruption in the guise of war supplies or help. But in the back ground they made heavy profits. The corruption sneaked in to the high up government servants too where formerly only one would give a few rupees to a peon to get a job expedited. Now the big shots were asking in large amounts. Finally it has blown up to such levels that the CSE and SEC the top notch financial regualtors too have earned ill gotten money supporting the market manipulators instead of the unsuspecting investor.This has bad implications. The news of manipulation is gone to the world and the foreign investor will avoid CSE.

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      garawi:

      ” The 1983 tamil terror attacks gave a selected leading families to get involved in arms import and some got involved in other types of corruption in the guise of war supplies or help.”

      So “The 1983 tamil terror attacks” is the root cause of corruption in the island.

      Could you not request Basil to take charge of Bribery Commission and clean the country of all forms of corruption while his brother Gota is in charge of cleaning the streets.

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        @Native Vedda
        Are you joking? You want Basil to take charge of the Bribery Commission and clean the country of all forms of corruption? Basil is not called “Mr.10%” for nothing! :)
        Then you want Basil’s Goat brother put in charge of cleaning the streets? He likes to clean alright. People get cleaned up by white vans. The streets of Colombo get cleaned up when beggars and dogs mysteriously get killed after getting hit over the head and dogs vanish into thin air as well, almost similar to what happens in “The X-Files” tv series! :)

        ps. You forgot to request Namal to take over the management of sport and education, and Yoshitha to manage media where all tv, radio and newspapers will come under the purview of his CSN (Carlton Sports Network) tv channel. I also suggest that you ask PresiDunce Percy Jilmart to make Yoshitha a Rear Admiral and Commander of the Navy! :)

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    Dear freinds dont forget allthese retired people talks now watabout when they work gets millions to their pocket. they never said these then whynow…?

    They are old tring to getsome lumpsum profit doing this and .THEY REALY NOT BOTHERD ABOUT COUNTRY OR US

    DONT GET FOOL BE ….A PERSON WITH BRAIN AND USE IT WHICH IS GOD HAS GIVEN TO YOU.

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    Dilith,his lot are known as Insider Traders in other countries and would surely be in jail for insider trading.
    Thanks to absolute corruption,they are know as investors!!!

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    Becoming clear that the president seems to have lost control over MANY of ministries. See the problems related to Universities stay unsolved, burning issues related to enforcements of law and order issues stay much deeper and several other core ministries under him seem to be not reacting adequately.

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    I am tired of these two rogue political parties UNP & UPFA.

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    There are many fundamantal oustanding unsettle problems in Sri Lankan society; indeed economy growth does not eliminate the threat of class and social conflict. If Capitalst economic growth created tremendous gap between Rich and Poor; as well as it marked unequal distrubation wealth and income,at same tme corruption come into being,every sector of State and Privite mode of operation of capitalist growrh in Island. Unfourteanltly people who elecated members of ruling class every governmnts are captured by vested intersted rich groupes who control the vast bulk of eononmice perkes, priviliages and benfits in our society. It become an obstactal for economic growth and sustanitable developement,then problems leads to social, education health and society instability.The political uncertanities will be root cause of not MR personal politics,its system failure.
    Golble Capitalism of hedaquaters are NO way to recover or NO WAY review, Ben Bernake said FRB ” ENOMOUS SUFFERING AND WAST OF HUMAN TLANT IT ENTAILS,BUT ALSO BECAUSE PERSISTENLY HIGH LEVELS OF UNEMPOLYMENT WILL WREAK STRUCTURAL DAMAGE ON OUR ECONOMY THAT COULD LAST FOR MANY YERAS.”( Monetary Policy since of ONSET of the Crisis)
    We should look at problems not on the personal basis, or target attack on MR family backfround ,we need policy CAHNGES and replacemant NEW DEMOCARIC ALTANATIVE PROGRAMES for modern political-economy and social system looking forwared our country.

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    People like you prof. Laksiri have ruined our market! You took up the position to be a Director of CSE without knowing anything about the market. Did you in any way contribute towards the development of the market or just attended board meetings? What did you tell the CEO when he said they buy they sell? Who initiated the price bands? It was the CSE Board that initiated the price bands and you approved it! Now don’t try to be a goody goody and show that you appose it!

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