By M.A. Sumanthiran –
Thank you, honourable presiding member, I’m glad to speak just after the acting Minister of Finance who recognized some good that may have come about as a result of the economic crisis, he did say it, it’s not a good thing to have the economic crisis, but there are some lessons that we are learning from that as well. I agree with him, but before I get on to the Anti – corruption bill I want to just deal with the civil procedure code amendment.
Honourable Minister for justice it’s a good amendment particularly running down cases, Motor accident cases, and so on, this will be of immense use. So I congratulate the minister for this amendment and the new bill on assistance to have and protection of victims of crimes and witnesses. This has a history, and I’m glad that this is also now being brought in some new features; particularly video evidence is being enabled. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is here, when he was president and he appointed the commission of inquiry and the Justice Udalagama, there was a video evidence that started to be recorded from Dr. Manoharan whose son was one of the five young persons who were killed by security forces in Trincomalee and halfway through his evidence that was stopped. And it was not permitted from that time onwards, to enable video evidence through law was mooted, but it wasn’t possible under that regime, and it was only in 2015 when there was a change in government that for the first time witness victim protection act was enacted but that too had serious shortcomings. And I’m glad that some of those are being rectified here. The point that I want to make here is that accountability is an important issue.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has very specifically mentioned that Sri Lanka hasn’t taken enough measures with regard to accountability. When there is no accountability, it is impunity that reigns. Now that brings me to the main bill that is before us for debate today; the anti-corruption bill. What I am reminded of is what justice C. G. Weeramantri wrote in his book called “Law in Crisis” in the preface to that book he said, Sri Lanka is embarrassed by the richness of the sources of Law and not the lack of them. We are embarrassed by the richness of the laws that we have, not the lack of laws, but implementation of the laws is what has been the problem and continues to be a problem. And I say continues to be a problem because it’s an irony. It’s an irony that it is this government that is bringing these laws now. By pressure from IMF from various other International actors – you are enacting laws. I’m wondering whether this is just a waste of paper when the country is going through economic crisis. Because only when it is implemented, we can see the efficacy, the benefit of this. Just to satisfy the IMF or other International bodies passing laws is not going to combat corruption in this country.
It is a shame, it is a shame when the IMF came in, they identified as one of the challenges corruption susceptibilities, corruption susceptibilities and then now they have instituted governance diagnostics. Now these are heavy indictments on the governance structures of this country. There is no politician, no person who has held office , who has held political office, who has been convicted and sentenced in this country for corruption. In a country, where the International Monetary fund, says, one of the greatest challenges is corruption susceptibilities, we don’t have ever; I mean we have had persons who have contested elections for treating and so on being unseated. But those who have held cabinet portfolio, those have helped political office, no one to date has been convicted of corruption. That’s the test of the pudding is in the eating not to look at it and, you know, say oh, how nice it looks, you know, the aroma is lovely, that’s what we are doing today. The test is in the eating only when it is implemented. Will we know whether we have done the right thing or not. So, far we haven’t and I said, it’s an irony that it is this government that is bringing these laws because, I mean, only a year ago, the constant chorus that we heard in this country is Kaputu Kaak ka. Why Kaputu Kaak Ka? the big crow that steals, the big crow that steals. This government is still controlled by that kaputu kaak ka. It is the same people who sit in the government ranks, no change.
So isn’t it funny that you are now bringing all these laws, right? And the persons who identify as the ones who collapse the economy of this country, ones who stole from this country are still in charge. In fact, news is that as soon as the president returns persons who are kept away from cabinet are going to get cabinet portfolio. Why were they kept away? Because it’s well known. There are no secrets in this country. People know who takes 10%, who takes 15 %? Who takes hundred % – people know. That is why a year ago there was this revolution in this country but you only managed to chase away the president. Others were just you know, put away for a while. They are still in this house; they are still seated in the front rows. They’re not in the cabinet for a little while but they are creeping in, one by one they come back. And so, without that fundamental change, without that change happening, where the control is still in the hands of the wrongdoers and you are the wrongdoers all of you ministers were there in the government. Merely because you made some cosmetic changes, doesn’t mean that you have changed. You are only bringing these laws now, to say okay, we have brought the laws. We have changed it after this there won’t be bribery in this country. No! that is far-fetched. So while appreciating that the law must come in. This was prepared mostly during the last Parliament, still there are lots of shortcomings and for lack of time I won’t go into any of these details. But you have mentioned members of parliament and you should in section 93. But, why don’t you include members of provincial Council and members of local authorities, particularly chairman of local authorities? There are serious allegations everywhere of bribery and with regard to the issue that Honourable Professor G.L. Peiris made, I would say as was in the original bribery act, I’m not referring to the Act that was passed in 94 one that was prior to that. I think it said the person who makes a false complaint will be punished with the term 11 against whom, when he made the complaint, if he had been found guilty, was liable to be punished the same punishment. So I think what Hon. Prof. Peiris was raising, was that the punishment for the offense is 7 years. But if the person who made the complaint is unable to substantiate it in some way, he goes in for 10 years. It’s higher than the punishment for bribery itself. I think it will be just if you make it the same, I also agree that the span of what is bribery and Corruption must be expanded and law that was passed in 1975, the Assets and liabilities declaration, was useless in a sense. I remember in 2010 when I was appointed to this house, since there was a delay in certain areas election/polling had to be re-held, the national list members were appointed just a day or two before the Parliament sitting started. And I read the law and I hurriedly made the asset declaration, because the law said, you can’t sit or vote in Parliament. So, I was very concerned. Immediately did it. But when I came to Parliament after a few months, I realized out of the 225 in that Parliament only 17 had actually made the declaration. Only 17 are actually made the declaration. It was useless piece of paper but then there was public consciousness and I think everybody makes a declaration now, but he’s not available to the public because even the person who pays that Seven hundred and fifty rupees and gets it, it’s an offense to publicize it. So it is because of that, some of us, on our own voluntarily, publicized our own asset declarations some years ago, five of us did it and then few others joined, and now it’s all available on the web. So it’s a welcome move to make it public, whether that is the whole purpose of an asset declaration that the people must know.
One matter that while the acting Minister of Finance is here, SOE reforms are important and it’s going to happen. Honourable Minister of Justice in Responding to Prof. Peiris mentioned, two cases that I appeared in the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation privatization and the LMSL matter, which he as a chair of the of cope then, brought out to the public, and I was privileged to appear as counsel for Hon. Vasudeva Nanayakkara in both matters and in both matters the Supreme Court reversed that privatization. Now the current president was the prime minister at that time, when all of that happened. Recently at a forum, I raised this issue about the Sri Lanka Insurance cooperation privatization because one of the institutions that have been identified is Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, the last time you did that, it was sold for six billion, when its basic asset value itself, was 155 billion. Six billion, basic assets value was 155 billion, not to mention the Goodwill, the Monopoly that it had the actuarial value, Etc. Now when I raised that issue, the Minister of Finance said, no no there was no fraud in it, it was only a question of valuation. I mean, do you say when the difference is 6 billion and 155 billion; it was only a problem of valuation? Obviously there was fraud in it, so I am raising this matter because in the economic reform agenda, you have to, you have to deal with, you have to do, SOE reforms. But how do you ensure that there is no corruption in it? You might say, well, this law will take care of it. No, it won’t. In one of those matters that then secretary to the treasury was found guilty by the Supreme Court he was fined five Hundred thousand Rupees, he was told that he shouldn’t hold public office here after, he gave an affidavit to court. But then what happened? As soon as the judge who gave the order retired, the Supreme Court sat, the full court sat, ten judges sat, subsequently it was a three judge bench that gave the order. But ten judges sat, originally only one, judge is centred, all the others allowed the withdrawal of that affidavit, and that person became the secretary to the treasury all over again. Also under president – Mahinda Rajapaksa who is here. So I’m up flagging this matter to say you can have a perfect law on paper, but how do you ensure that it is implemented? So far so far in this country we have not seen it implemented and that is the concern I have about delayed prosecution agreement, the DPA Arrangement that you have brought in here. That is a concern I have about withdrawal of indictments because we saw as soon as the government change in 2020, indictments have all been withdrawn that the bribery commission had instituted. So that’s the political culture of this country and until that changes, this will be dead later long. Thank you.
* An edited version of M.A. Sumanthiran’s Speech in Parliament on 21st June 2023. We edited out Tamil part of his speech, but can watch the full speech below: