By Gamini Jayaweera –
MS – MR Talks: A Genuine Effort to Unite the SLFP or A Cynical Attempt to Cover-up the Alleged Illegal Activities?
Well publicised meeting between the current President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena and the former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa took place recently with close supporters from MS and MR fractions of the SLFP. The MPs who organised this meeting publically stated that they wanted to unite the MS and MR fractions of the party before the next general election to ensure that SLFP would defeat the other parties (mainly UNP) and obtain the majority in the parliament to govern the country for the next 6 years. There was nothing wrong about this meeting if the honest objective had been to unite the SLFP fractions to fight the upcoming general elections. It had been reported in the media that MR fractions had put forward various conditions for agreement in order to reconcile the differences between the two fractions and unite the membership of the SLFP. Let us examine some of the demands which had been tabled by MR fractions to resolve the differences are genuine issues to unite the SLFP or it was an attempt to turn a blind eye to the alleged illegal activities that had been carried out by various ministers and MPs under the leadership of former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Alleged Bribery & Corruption
It had been reported that the MR fraction had requested the President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to withdraw all cases against members of the previous regime for alleged illegal activities during the last 10 years of MR administration because the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) set up by the current regime is politically biased. During the pre and post-election periods members of the current government highlighted a no. of serious allegations against some members of the previous regime and the voters in Sri Lanka believed these stories and voted in favour of the current regime led by Mr. Maithripala Sirisena and the leaders of his coalition partners. They also told the people of Sri Lanka that they would provide evidence to support their claims and punish the corrupt politicians including who have had dealings with drug traffickers and ethanol dealers.
The serious allegations made by the current regime against the previous administration included inter-alia the Use of white vans to kidnap or murder journalists and other people who publically opposed the regime, 20%-50% illegal commissions for awarding contracts ignoring the competitive tendering process, accepting exorbitant high prices for road construction projects, Accepting bribes, Acquiring enormous amount of wealth within a very short period of time without credible sources of additional income other than the ministerial or MP salaries, Use of judiciary to obtain judgements in favour of some members of the UPFA, Misuse of public funds for personnel gains, Influencing police not to take action against UPFA members & their supporters who were involved in illegal activities, Appointing junior members of the judiciary & public institutions to senior positions without following due processes, and alleged attempted coup by the ex-president & other influential members of his government during the presidential election night etc. It appears that these allegations against some members of the previous regime cannot be overlooked in a civilised society if they are proved to be genuine.
It appears that the demand to withdraw the investigations into the alleged illegal activities carried out by the previous regime as a pre-condition for the reconciliation of the two fractions is totally unreasonable and against the public interest. If there is illegal and inappropriate behaviour of the FCID it must be brought to the attention of the President and the Judiciary to remove those elements immediately from the system to maintain the justice for all. President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena’s refusal to accede this unethical demand without any evidence of misbehaviour by the FCID is totally in-line with his pledges to the people of Sri Lanka during the presidential election campaign. It is also in-line with the principle of “No one is above the Law of the Land” which was invisible during the time of the previous regime.
Postponement of LG Elections
Another demand, according to the newspaper reports, was to postpone the elections to the local government bodies even their periods of administration had been expired. Vast majority of Srilankans cannot understand how this request will help to reconcile the differences between the two fractions. Members to the Local Government institutions are elected by the people for a specified period of time to serve the local areas and at the end of that period the LG bodies are dissolved to have fresh elections to select new administrations to serve the people. President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena is absolutely right to turn down this demand and dissolve these institutions on the expiry days of current administrations and appoint commissioners to run these institutions until the elections are held. It appears that this request has no relevance to the reconciliation of the two fractions of the SLFP.
SLFP Prime Ministerial Candidate
MR fraction’s most important demand was to name Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the UPFA prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming general election was also flatly rejected by the president Mr. Maithripala Sirisena for valid reasons. It has been pointed out that no prime ministerial candidate had been named in the previous elections and therefore there is no valid reason to change the accepted process exercised by the previous party leaders supported by the Central Committee of the party. It is sad to learn that Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa who ruled our country for two terms (10 years) as President of Sri Lanka wants to compete in the forthcoming general election as the named prime ministerial candidate to reconcile the two fractions of the SLFP. There is no logic in this demand as Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the Patrons of the SLFP and he could easily use his position to influence both fractions of the SLFP to unite under the leadership of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to fight the forthcoming general elections, if he is serious about the future of the SLFP. It appears that some of the UPFA partners who have no way of winning their seats without the support from SLFP are behind this demand with the support from some ex-ministers & MPs who have been investigated by the FCID for alleged mis-management of public funds and exercising their powers beyond legal limits.
It appears that the other demands such as the future of the United People’s Freedom Alliance and requesting nominations to MPs supporting former President Rajapakse, irrespective of their exposure to alleged bribery and corruption cannot be considered as cornerstones for the reconciliation of the two fractions. The way the so called UPFA partners are behaving by organising rallies against the wishes of the Leadership and the Central Committee of the SLFP is deplorable. They know that they have no political future in the country unless they split the SLFP for their re-election to the parliament. Vast majority of SLFP supporters are emotionally charged with their former leader’s unexpected defeat and therefore a reasonable person would expect these rallies would attract sizable crowds because these supporters wanted to show their continuous support and love for the former president. It appears that the rallies were a huge success for the four coalition party leaders because they have used their oratory skills and emotive language to arouse the feelings of many emotionally charged SLFP supporters to increase their personal vote base in the upcoming general elections. The four leaders believe that by supporting the former president they may be able to get a sizeable SLFP vote in the general election to regain their seats in the parliament. It is unfortunate that the former president cannot understand the hidden agenda of these so called coalition partners of the UPFA.
On the face of these demands, it appears that the MR fraction may have planned a cynical attempt to cover up the illegal activities of the members of the previous government rather than making a genuine effort to unite the two fractions of the SLFP. But on the other hand if the “Yahapalanaya” cannot prove these allegations MR fraction may have formulated these demands in good faith.
“Yahapalanaya” Credibility at Stake
As I have pointed out at the outset, there are extremely serious allegations have been made by some members of the present regime against the members of the previous government for alleged bribery and corruption. My previous article titled “Use and Abuse of Trust of the Nation” published in the Colombo Telegraph on 24 December 2014, prior to the presidential election, I criticised the previous government for the unacceptable level of alleged bribery and corruption based on the information provided by the members of the current regime. One such allegation which I had quoted in my article was as follows:
“Mr. Navin Dissanayka MP, former Minister for Public Management Reforms, (Minister of Sports in the current regime), in a press conference on 2 December 2014 had charged the former President stating “We know and the Urban Development Authority too knows that a kilo meter of road construction costs only $2 million. The President, as the Minister of Highways should tell the country how the cost of constructing a kilo meter of road increased from $2 million to $16 million”. This was a serious allegation by a responsible minister in the current administration against the former President who was answerable for the Ministry of Highways in the previous administration. More than 120 days have passed but general public have not been informed about what action had been taken by Minister Mr. Navin Dissanayake against this allegation. If Mr. Dissanayake has got the evidence what is the reason for the delay? There were so many allegations like this against members of the previous government by the members of the current regime.
Are our current government ministers and MPs sincere about these allegations? The general public is concerned about that to-date a very few actions have been taken on most of these allegations. It appears that either these allegations have been made without sufficient evidence in hand or some members in the current regime are actively involved in agreeing to “deals” to safeguard the dishonest politicians because they are connected to each other. If both possibilities are true the current regime has no credibility in discussing establishment of good governance. It is worth remembering that “Credibility is like Virginity. You only lose it once”. If the allegations are not true, the general public will support the demands put forward by MR fraction of the SLFP because they recognise that it is not a cynical attempt to cover up these false allegations but a genuine effort to unite the SLFP for the interest of the party and the country. The general public is willing to give a little bit more time to “Yahapalanaya” to get their act together as 125 days may not be sufficient enough time to prosecute the corrupt politicians. The message is loud and clear to the Prime Minister and his Ministers. Beating around the bush is not good enough and the Jury is still out on these allegations. Time is running out for the “Yahapalanaya” and their credibility is at stake.
*The writer is a Fellow of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Business School, Oxford.