22 November, 2019

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Political Circus & State Paralysis

By Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

It is tragic that for us Sri Lankans, all what democracy means is to cast our vote on dubious promises and then docilely accept whatever crap is thrown at us by those elected until the next round of elections.

While it is true that the just completed elections were merely for local government bodies which normally should not gravely impact what happens at the centre, the reality is that these long postponed elections on untenable grounds have due to the pathetic performance of the so-called Yahapalana government almost from day one taken on the flavor of a referendum on its performance.  Irrespective of the meanderings of spin doctors, the cold fact is that the Sirisena – Wickremesinghe combine has taken a drubbing at the hands of the recently constituted Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna whose real leader is former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa who is easily the most charismatic and popular leader the country has had in recent times among the almost 75% Sinhalese majority. The government has only itself to blame for keeping the door wide open to give the Rajapaksas another shot at leading this country prior to any credible investigation of allegations of egregious corruption, violence and abuse of power hurled in the run-up to the January and August 2015 Presidential and General Elections respectively.

A SAMPLING of this is the STRIDENT press conference of 17 December 2014 where persons close to PM Wickremesinghe with a slew of FILES in tow made reference inter alia to casino, drug, ethanol MAFIAS and MONEY LAUNDERING in locations such as St. Nevis & Kitts, Seychelles and Dubai.   

Here is the link to the 17 December 2014 press conference (watch from 10:41 onwards)

This must be a ‘new low’ for promises being reneged with such impunity.

Bond Scam

For the government worse than reneging on promises of accountability is the Yahapalana brand of alleged corruption which includes the unleashing with brazen impunity of arguably the worst financial scam this country has witnessed since independence within two months of assuming office. This is in relation to the issuance of Treasury Bonds by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

The irony is that some of the persons close to the PM castigating the Rajapaksa administration at the December 2014 press conference were also involved in the infamous ‘footnotes’ which allegedly attempted to cover-up the  bond scam. In this connection, consider the following:

Response to Journalist on ‘Footnotes’

“Minister do you at any point now regret the footnotes on that COPE report? Going by what is being revealed now, do you regret it or was there a lack of information at that point?”  

Watch the response from (21:25:40) – what does it indicate?  Are such persons the future of the UNP?

In the context of ‘CONFLICT OF INTEREST’’ being at the CORE of the bond scam, the irrefutable fact is that it was PM Wickremesinghe who HANDPICKED Arjuna Mahendran – a foreign national to be CBSL Governor although AWARE that his son-in-law, Arjun Aloysius – virtually owned/controlled PTL (Perpetual Treasuries Limited) – a Primary Dealer. He continued to have Mahendran as CBSL Governor although aware that Mahendran had RENEGED on his ‘assurance’ to him that Arjun Aloysius will sever all links with PTL PRIOR to his appointment as CBSL Governor. Being fully confident on the propriety of the issuance of Bonds, he robustly defended the same in Parliament on 17 March 2015 despite the evidence that subsequently transpired before the PCoI.

The media reports that Arjuna Mahendran has “defied” a Court order to “give a statement to the CID on or before Feb. 15”. Should not the PM bear some responsibility for this?

Evidently the people have taken note of all this and given a rousing mandate to the Mahinda Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna possibly on the premise of decisive leadership given for infrastructure projects no matter how flawed or even allegedly corrupt in the context of Yahapalana for the most part merely continuing Rajapaksa initiated projects in the absence of strong leadership.

State Paralysis

The political turmoil and instability unleashed by our selfish politicians should be of no surprise to anyone. All they are interested in are its perks, trappings of power and for the most part amassing ill gotten wealth. What is more serious is the silence of the people. One even wonders whether we deserve democracy. There is something very peculiar that a population with an adult literacy of over 92% enjoying universal adult franchise for 87 years are ALLOWING our rotten politicians to destroy the future of present and future generations with such impunity. I suspect it has a lot to do with our highly flawed education system which in effect is a CONSPIRACY by ALL politicians since independence to keep most of our people IGNORANT which now includes the politicians themselves! It is indeed a vicious cycle which if not for the propping up of the economy by vested interests for a myriad of reasons which include –  geo-political and keeping multilateral agencies in business,  the country will easily be a BASKET CASE. Ethical FDIs for the most part is a mirage.

This writer believes that the single most crucial factor which keeps this country down is our inability to mete out justice to our minorities and make them EQUAL PARTNERS with the Sinhala majority. This is unlikely to materialize since political parties in the South and North thrive on this conflict and large NGOs are kept in business. The irony is that the Sinhalese themselves are short-changed due to this. However, when it comes to scams and fraud such as  the Bond Scam and VAT fraud there is absolute unity among all communities!

Senior echelons of our public service, some of whom stand out in a sea of mediocrity and not averse to cringe before their political masters and do their bidding in times of relative political stability, will play it ‘safe’ during the current political turmoil and paralyze governance at least to some extent.  Of course there will be exceptions. This will most likely be across the board in all institutions of governance.  But does anyone care?

‘Deep State’

Sri Lanka demonstrates the trappings of a ‘Deep State’. The egregious Bond Scam and impunity involving key sections of the political, corporate, professional and bureaucratic establishments is evidence of its presence. Unlawful privatizations of major state assets such as the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and Lanka Marine Services for the benefit of local conglomerates are also indicative of its presence. 

It is hardly surprising that the European Union has listed Sri Lanka as a high risk country for money laundering subsequent to the ‘Financial Action Task Force’ (FATF) placing Sri Lanka on its ‘grey list’ reportedly from NOVEMBER 2017. Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy who assumed the office of CBSL Governor on 3 JULY 2016 must bear SOME responsibility.

In the context of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) being at the CENTRE of the worldwide efforts for the prevention of money laundering, it took the Central Bank ALMOST A MONTH to respond to my simple question asked from Dr. Coomaraswamy on  5 JULY 2017:

“Are ‘Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs) eligible to be appointed ‘Directors’ of Banks?”

When even the mere “Opening of accounts” by PEPs is under scrutiny in Sri Lanka, how could the Director of Bank Supervision state there is “no restriction for appointments of PEPs as Board members of licensed banks”?

If Sri Lanka had robust measures in place to prevent PEPs from being directors of banks, we would have been trail blazers in the global efforts to curb money laundering. It must be appreciated that although all PEPs are NOT INVOLVED in money laundering, nevertheless the high risk cannot be overlooked.

Conclusion

The current political turmoil and instability is indicative of the base and selfish nature of our politicians to whom political office has nothing to do with the welfare of the country and its people. The damage it is doing to an already tottering country is of no concern to those responsible. Which CREDIBLE investors in their right mind will even think of coming to Sri Lanka at least in the near future?

It is nothing short of tragic that serious damage is being done to our two main political parties – UNP and SLFP. These two parties are crucial for the democratic governance of this country. The time has now come for a genuine THIRD FORCE based on principle, integrity and sacrifice comprising of persons from all communities. I know it seems a ‘pipe dream’ at present.

Realpolitik would dictate that the Prime Minister digging in his heels and staying put would play into the hands of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa by giving him more strength at a general election. Don’t the UNPers get this? This writer has nothing personal against the PM who is not even an acquaintance. But he is very disappointed with his style of governance and refusal to fulfill promises of accountability and rein in wrongdoers under his watch. The much touted media freedom is largely due to the compulsions of the uneasy coalition of disparate forces.  If it was genuine, would we have the relative SECRECY in many issues which include the bond scam?

For us the voters who have gone to slumber after voting on 10 February what can one say except to state that we deserve the leaders we get.   

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    when the donoughmore commissiners mooted universal suffrage sir ponnambalam ramanathan
    said’ you are giving the vote to the rabble ‘and the rabble have voted

  • 1
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    Mr. Muthukumaru. In Japan prime rate is 0.9%. Why Sri lanka is issueing US bonds at a rate of 6.0%. I heard all will be bought by one American company. Why the govt cannot find other cheaper ways. for example, We can cut expenditure. Sri lankan govt employees are paid high because the salery increases are political and via printed money coming into the market. We can buy Oil and sell and maintain the current status. I am not a Finanacial guru. but, I think there are many ways. there are CEOs earnign exoribitant salaries in money-losing companies. why they can not be aked to have a pay cut.

  • 1
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    The writer is to be commended for an impartial analysis of the malaise that has impacted on the country. The brazen manner in which COPE footnoter Harsha de Silva tried to unashamedly try to defend corruption on the grounds that it is the bribe giver that is to blame is breathtaking in its audacity. A public flogging on the steps of Parliament is not enough to show condemnation of a man who uses a public platform to try to silence public outrage on corruption. This is where the punishments meted out by Sinhalese kings to offenders assume a new relevance in this day and age. The man should be banished from public life. Idiot.

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