18 November, 2018

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Sil Redi Case: A Crime, Bribe Or A Pious Act?

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

There have been a court decision in regard to sil redi distribution case during the previous Presidential election in 2015 and recently two high-ranking public officials were found guilty of a wrongful action. Since this decision, various commentaries upon commentaries appeared in the Sri Lankan media on the subject. Some justifying the court decision and others critical of it. In terms of the latter, the latest is an article by C. A Chandraprema in The Sunday Island. Chandraprema argues that the two public officials should not have been found guilty on various grounds, one being that the 600 million was only a temporary transfer from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to be paid back by the Presidential Secretariat later. He shows that such transfers or borrowings of large sums are quite normal in the way the government bureaucracy works in Sri Lanka.  Furthermore, he argues that if the two officials are truly guilty of a crime, then the monks in charge of 11000 odd temples that took possession of sil redi must also be guilty.

Another argument advanced is that the two officials are not politically involved figures and they did not gain personally from the exercise. Moreover, the main political actors in the Rajapaksa camp were not seen directly involved in the distribution of sil redi at the time in question. This line of argument by Chandraprema is not very convincing when considering the issue in its political context. I tend to think that this case is not one that can be explained away simply as a bureaucratic or technical act performed by state officials without knowing the legal, moral and political implications – as it happened in the middle of a hard fought election campaign to elect the President of the country. One should not forget the fact that the election was called early, the incumbent contested it for the third term after changing the constitution, previous common candidate Fonseka faced a prison term after the previous election, and many civil society organisations and then opposition parties feared for the further loss of democratic rights and the dawn of a family dictatorship if things went the other way. Let’s not worry about these aspects for the time being. Let’s consider the issue in its context and in terms of implications.

If the President or his secretariat decides to distribute sil redi to the Buddhist devotees outside the election campaign after he really feels for their devotion to Dhamma or due to another thought bubble that led him to believe this is something that he should do to encourage the devotees to continue with their meditation/mindfulness exercises, or out of pure compassion, then it would have been an admirable step. Even then, a question arises as to why only Buddhist devotees? Why no redi for Hindu or other devotees? The usual practice in the country is for the Buddhist devotees to find their own sil redi when observing sil on full moon days. Children and other close family members buy sil redi for parents, grand parents, aunts and uncles as an act of loving kindness and obligation. This is not something that is considered extra expensive or burdensome by most families as the cost of a sil redda is not that high. In today’s world, it may cost the same as a couple of coconuts. In fact, middle class families would consider it is an offensive act if someone offers free sil redi because it implies that the receiving family does not have the means to purchase them. The case in regard to families with lessor means may be different as they look for any material benefit that come their way to meet daily needs.  Donating sil redi as a charitable act has its value and meaning in the Sri Lankan Buddhist way of life, particularly in terms of the INTENTION of the donor.

The point about this case is that the sil redi were distributed to Buddhist temples encouraging the monks to distribute them among devotees according to their wishes and needs of the devotee community. According to Chandraprema, this was a gift from Mahinda Rajapaksa following Mahinda chintanaya. Was it not from Mahinda Rajapaksa the Presidential candidate? Did the Buddhist devotees in temple precincts solicit this gift or was it unsolicited? Does the relevant fund in the Presidential Secretariat define what such charitable acts are and how the money should be spent? Or is it undefined? It appears that these redi were distributed to temples lock stock and barrel without necessary checks and balances that should follow when the act involved public money. The episode implies a scheme that is intended for all intents and purposes as one designed at the highest levels to gain a political advantage to the incumbent by using public funds whether they were borrowed from another government entity or not. Though giving a gift to Buddhist devotees by using one’s own money is a meritorious act, any attempt to characterise the use of RS 600 million during an election campaign in the same way does not make sense.

The sum involved in this case is also not a small amount. If we look at Rs 600 million in terms of the equipment required at Maharagama cancer hospital, it is enough to buy not one Petscan machine but three. The ease with which the sil redi distribution took place at the stroke of a pen and the context beg the question as to its propriety in terms of political morality, if not legal liability. Imagine for a moment that present President’s secretary exercised a similar act by using powers of the Presidential secretariat and public money during an election campaign? The cry will be louder than thunder. Logic will be converse. Demonstrations will be everywhere.  Moreover, this act occurred during a caretaker period before an election. Did the caretaker principles apply in this case?

This case has to be viewed in the context of election campaigns where the incumbent governing party leaders tend to utilise state resources such as vehicles, media time, personnel, in their political campaigns. Opposition leaders complain about such misuse of state resources to no avail. Election monitoring agencies also write critical commentaries. Nonetheless might is right doctrine prevails. During the last Presidential election campaign, many more kind hearted activities occurred including the invitations received by hundreds and thousands of public servants and others to the Temple Trees for a meal, meeting and greeting session with the incumbent President. The expenses were borne, according to media reports, by various arms of the government. Larger than life cut outs of the incumbent President were erected by district and electorate organisers in many parts of the island as a mark of gratitude. In such a context, sil redi distribution in the manner it happened cannot be explained even in hindsight as a normal bureaucratic act that did not have political underpinnings even though the activity had been mooted since 2014 as claimed by Chandraprema.

For all intense and purpose, it was an activity aimed at political gain for the incumbent Presidential candidate at the time rather than purely a pious act ordered by the then President and implemented by equally pious officialdom out of a concern for egalitarianism, social justice and welfare of the Buddhist devotees. According to Chandraprema’s articulation, Samurdhi officers at grass roots level conducted a survey and sil redi was identified, as a community need. How neutral are these Samurdhi officers and how objective was the survey? Did the temple monks distribute sil redi to the devotees as instructed? Were there any excess redi in certain temples that found their way to shops? There are so many questions one can raise even about the plight of sil redi once they reached temples.  We all know what happens to atapirikara when devotees donate them to Sangha.

As I say earlier, there is nothing wrong in a private citizen or a group of citizens deciding to spend (excess) money to buy and distribute sil redi to Buddhist devotees. But when the public money and public officials are involved during an election campaign in distributing sil redi in an unsolicited manner, no amount of technical arguments can hide the impropriety involved. The alert reader can discern the extent of disregard shown for public accountability, political morality, and financial ethics. Alert reader can also easily make the distinction between a purely charitable act of a citizen with only social and religious intention/meaning vs a politically beneficial act of a candidate during an election. The public officials who are involved in executing an act of the latter kind need to be held accountable one way or another for good governance.

There is another concerning aspect to this whole episode. We all know how various institutions that should be governed autonomously from the executive arm of government such as the Universities, police, Government service have been been politicised. If sil redda which is a symbol of piety (unlike the national dress?) is also to be politicised in the manner it happened in this case, there would be nothing left for the innocent poor debilitated by the very system to at least seek spiritual comfort in isolation. Politicising temples is one thing. Politicising sil reddda that belongs in the personal sphere rather than public sphere is another. The sil redi case illustrates a serious crossing of boundaries between the political, legal, religious and moral. Thus it involves more than the money involved including the intentions and implications.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Percy doing an act of kindness not expecting anything in return?

    • 1
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      Gamini: The amount of money allocated on these was some Rs 1400 million. What happened to the rest after 600 million spent. Was it sent some where else for safte depositing ?

  • 1
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    Pious act used as a bribe getting votes because of that and is also the amount of money supposed to have allocated but missing all say it is the use of the position for financial frauds and stashing money somw ehre unknown. that is the easiest way to earn money in Sri lanka.

  • 4
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    Thank you Siri, for an enlightened piece of writing.

    What bothers me now is (a) why are the two convicted persons free on bail after receiving their sentences and spending a few days in luxury as patients in a hospital, and (b) why is the chief miscreant MaRaJo not being similarly prosecuted?

  • 5
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    Chandraprema is a maligned mole. Well analyzed. Rs.600 m wasted in the name of Buddhism for consumers, who in the eyes of politicians, will vote with passion after accepting bribes as such.

  • 5
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    Sadly, we have a totally corrupt ‘Society’ made increasingly more corrupt by the most corrupt ex President we had in modern Sri Lanka, since Independence, who continues to wreak havoc in the local political scene. He made it his goal to Politicise almost all Institutions, including the ‘Religious Institutions’. We are reaping the consequences of his senseless actions now. A Court verdict has been given by the Judiciary, which now has a semblance of independence. Now that an ‘Appeal’ has been lodged, let us allow the Judiciary to decide on this case rather than running a commentary about an issue which is ‘sub judice’.

    • 0
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      GAMINI: You know that if any Rajapakes were arrested then Ranil, Malik and I KNOW NOTHING RAVI KARUNAYAKE will have to go to Jail because Central Bank day light robbery. You barking for money knows it.

  • 3
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    Stealing is a crime. monks cannot cover-up because they benefited. Just because it is official,doesn’t make it a lesser offence. all should goto jail.

  • 3
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    Judge Kulatunga gave a landmark judgement and the case against Weeratunga and Palpita was proven, beyond doubt. There is nothing pious about carrying out what is in effect an illegal order. Both Weeratunga and Palpita are capable more than most of being able to identify what is an illegal order. What is shameful is that the others involved – blatantly obvious – have not yet been charged.

    Let us hope that this case will concentrate the minds of those who occupy positions of responsibility in public office; blindly carrying out orders of political masters must be, and will be liable to prosecution.

    • 5
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      Last night Derana news AKD addressed a meeting and said that RW is protecting the entire MR family and his henchmen along with thummulle wimala sakkili karuppan.
      Sil Redi case is a Boru staged show to deceive the 6.2million.

  • 0
    4

    The writer has argued, and argued well, that the whole affair is ‘unethical’ . However the question here is whether it is ‘illegal’ as far as these two officials are concerned. Can an official disobey an order given by the EXECUTIVE President? What about the Accountant of TRC who transferred the money? What does Mr Sirigamage say about the recent ‘dana’ at Temple Trees for 2000 Bikhkhoos with the calculated intention of garnering support for the upcoming Constitution? What about priests of other religions? Which official signed the order for suspending the Port City project for two years which led to compensation claims of USD 1M a day and threw many poor labourers out of work and many subcontractors out of business? Hold on until the end of Bond affair to have a feast of hair splitting legal arguments.

  • 0
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    Dr.Siri Gamage,
    Is this case about misappropriating state funds or violation of elections law?
    Is it a kind of law that you can charge some one for one wrong and get punished for another?

    • 1
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      I cannot comment on the legal aspect as I am not a legal expert. It appears that the legal case is not about the violation of election law. Others with legal expertise may respond to your question accurately.

      • 0
        2

        Dr Siri G,
        ” ‘It appears’ that the legal case is not about the violation of election law”
        If it is misappropriation of state funds as you seem to inclined to think Chandaperuma has argued well against that aspect. During Premadasa it was common to transfer funds between state institutions on his whims and fancies and Paskaralingam was the organiser. During that time ‘no money’ was not an acceptable excuse.
        With all due respect sir if you are not sure of the basis of the judgement you should refrained from writing this. Anti Rajapaksa bias got the better of you?

  • 2
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    The two officers did not benefit personally or money was to be returned is not an excuse. Even with your own money one cannot give gifts during election time and the presidents immunity is not available for election offences.The election law is very clear on this matter. The fact remains that these officers are not babies but senior govt. servants and knew very well the violation but banked on MR winning the election to sweep every them under the carpet the way they did by not taking action on several murder cases which includes Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga and ruggerite Thajudeen.

  • 0
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    Master ind behind this is so called fake professor from J’Pura. How person can become a professor without publications in SCOPUS/ISI journals. Somebody has to recheck credentials of Sri Lankan Professors. Then you will see Sil redi Mahinda is very much clean.

  • 2
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    Sil Redi Case: A Crime, Bribe Or A Pious Act?

    Of course it’s a bribe, therefore, a crime as well, & certainly not a pious act. This was public funds that could have been used for better purposes, such as, the health services, which would have benefited a wider community, not only a few Buddhists, in fact, the act itself is discriminatory in a democratic society.

    Observing sil can be done even at home, accordingly, the ‘appropriate dress’, other than for public display, would not be considered as essential, whereas, medicine & medical equipment, which the health services need badly, would have been a more worthy cause. If Govt. wanted to provide for the Buddhists observing sil, it could have been channeled through the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs & from their budget allocation, in a similar manner, the appropriate Ministries responsible for Hindu, Christian & Muslim matters could address the needs of those they are represent. So did MR really think that doling out public funds was a pious act? Obviously not, it was a blatant act of bribery for the village Buddhist vote.

    The fact that 2 experienced senior Govt. officials were complacent on the matter & did not follow the procedure of getting prior cabinet approval, indicates that this sort of ad hoc payments & funding on the whims & fancies of the President was a common occurrence. They obviously dared not face the wrath of the boss & however honest they may be, obviously, enjoyed the scraps thrown at them in the form of perks & did not want to get off the gravy train.

    However, these 2 officers who were (deservedly) convicted, currently remain free & the man who instigated the whole process (by his own admission) being untouchable, proves the political interference, the injustice & continued poor governance with no accountability by those who rule the country. Welcome to Yahapalanya, the land of corruption, injustice & fat cats. ‘Oh what a circus’ (with apologies to David Essex & the producers of Evita)

  • 0
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    I read Mr. Chandraprema’s article. He points out and try to “indirectly” ask why both the convicts were not charged under Election Law. The prosecution filed only three charges and all were dealt by the Judge under various sections of the Penal Code. In short the case was of “Misappropriation of Funds of TRC”. How the “Misappropriation” took place is given in detail by the Judge in his 63 page judgement. In one place the Judge states the provisions of the TRC Act and how clearly that provides and authorizes the use of its funds only for specific purposes. Mr. Chandraprema argues that the funds of TRC was a “Temporary Transfer” and a “minute” by the President Secretary in official records too indicate that fact. The Judge has discounted that evidence of Mr. Lalith Weeratunga in asserting that such “Transfer” is illegal in terms of the TRC Act. The Election Commissioner gave evidence and stated the Presidential Election was proclaimed on 20th Nov. 2014 and nominations called on 8th Dec. 2014. One Rev. Somananda, who was a “Coordinating Officer” attached to the Presidential Secretariat was the in-charge of the distribution of the 700-800 thousand packages, each containing 5 meters of cloth. Interestingly a label attached said in Sinhala “Daham Pandurack from Mahinda Rajapakse” – one of the candidates of the Presidential election. Did he pay this Rs. 600 million to be his “Daham Pandurak”? In simple terms the people paid for their own “Daham Pandura”; but “Merit” derived was claimed by Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse. So it was not a “Pious Act”; but a “Bribe” and a “Fraud” committed by the two convicted, “Engineered” by the Presidential Coordinating Secretary, Rev. Somanand.

  • 2
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    Siri Gamage ~ “Sil Redi Case: A Crime, Bribe Or A Pious Act?”
    Was it a pious act? People will quote from books to say that it is pious. These people are the superstitious and/or business variety who EXPLOIT religions – they think that “merit” is a commodity which can be bought!! Those who know Buddhism101 will tell us that a “pious act” must have traces of “compassion”. The Wirathu ilk over several tries got E grades in Buddhism101.
    The Sil Redi episode was a bribe (for votes at that). So it was criminal.

  • 1
    1

    “I do not know how the Sri lankan legal system. Argument by every one including chandrasoma are crooked and dishonest, I think, When the govt sue these people. PResident Rajapakse should have been the no 1 accused. These to people should have come second and third accused etc.,. It is unfair to say those poor mons who accepted the sil redi to be guilty unless there is something against those 11000 monks. Monks depend on offerings by civilians. When they get Dana they don’t go looking for how they earned this money unless it is obvious in front of their eyes.In that, prosecuting these two people alone is not the correct from the AG’s department. Any, they way they work, it looks AG’s department is very partial.

    • 0
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      The Article is going on the proper detection. Those, at this time, defending Lalith and Anusha are Old Royal’s coolies and acolytes. Nevertheless there is some justification on the question of why Laith and Anusha were only punished.
      Everybody knows the extent of the corruption took place during previous regime. The people voted against Old King even though they thought that he is their war hero. Corruption was to that extent during that time, Then, why only two guys have to take the responsibility of 2000 extended family members crime? Yahapalanaya is not allowing one single case to go forward that would affect those 2000 family members. Is that nobody is guilty on that multi billion dollar cases, but only two are guilty of few hundred million rupee case? Ausha said Old Younger Brother Prince threatened and bullied him to do it. But Ranil let him go even after his swindling was caught red handed in Malwana Manson. Why Yahapalanaya is doing this is,while showing to IC that they are working on restoring the law and order by one step at a time, they are one their full speed race on strengthening their base of Sinhala Buddhist stronger than the Old Royals.

      The case apparently went like this: In every investigations, all the indicators are pointing at Old Royals. On this case, the orders were given by word of mouth. There is a long process outstanding to prove that those older were truly given by word of mouth. Noticing the defect on the defendants’ situation, Foxy Ranil’s UNP grabbed this case to push forward while suppressing all other cases,which are directly pointing at extended family of the Old Royals.

  • 0
    0

    Jimsofty: You said: “Arguments by everyone including are crooked and dishonest” and since that categorization includes me, I thought of inviting your attention to some “Facts & Truths”. You must be aware that President of S/L before the Amendment 19, cannot be charged on any of his decisions and actions. So Rajapakse cannot be and should not have been the No.1 accused. The decision of MR was to offer “Material Benefits” to devotees. This “material benefit” was interpreted to be “Sil Redi” by Mr. Lalith Weeratunga at the behest of Presidential Coordinator Rev. Somanand. Mr. Lalith tried to get funds required from the President Fund; but the Accountant pointed out that there were absolutely no funds to that level of Rs. 600 millions. Then only Mr. Lalith being the Chairman of TRC decided to “Transfer” funds to his account No 7040016 of Bank of Ceylon. That “TRANSFER” was the challenged “Misappropriation” committed. You should know that TRC does not get funds from the Treasury, but contributions from the Telecommunications and Radio channels etc. make its funds and goes into a fund called “CESS”. Such funds lying in the “CESS” cannot be transferred like from any other Govt. Dept. There are strict regulations and purposes for which such funds could be utilized and are well laid out in the TRC Act. That is how these two convicts were charged as they were the “Responsible” and “Accountable” officials of the TRC. So MR has nothing to do in this “Operation” of Sil Redi. The AG therefore decided to charge them on “Misappropriation” and “Mishandling” of funds of TRC. Therefore, you would see “Sil Redi” is not that matters, but the way the funds were obtained and that is why the Judge explained the charges under the provisions of the “Penal Code”. Don’t you think the Govt. Civil Servants must be made “Responsible” and “Accountable” to what they do for and on behalf of the people and not allowed to dance along with the Political Masters?

  • 0
    0

    C A Chandreprema was a good political affairs writer and columnist .That was until he ruined his reputation by writing that infamous book”Gota’s War” eulogizing a megolomaniac.This is what happens when journalist fall prey for a few rupees.The title of that book is proof enough to prove Chandrprema’s warped mind and bribed soul.
    His current defence of that proven fraudster and crook Lalith Weeratunge is a further indication of Chandteprema’s moral and intellectual decline as a writer.

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