By Amrit Muttukumaru –
This article is written in the context of the SJB and JVP being considered as credible alternatives to the failed politics and unprincipled conduct of national political parties – UNP, SLFP and the incumbent Rajapaksa family dominated SLPP government. Surprisingly even some ‘elite’ circles rattled by what’s now going on, consider the JVP as an alternative. The SJB has some traction despite being widely considered a clone of the electorally marginalized UNP. By the same token, SJB’s association with the UNP is a huge advantage to the JVP.
This fortuitous circumstance for the opposition is mainly the result of the incumbent SLPP government under President Gotabaya, Prime Minister Mahinda and heir apparent Namal bringing the country and its people to their knees as never before due to a series of blunders in governance mainly economic affecting the everyday lives of people.
The ground reality of whether the SJB and JVP could on their own form a government even with the support of smaller parties will not engage the attention of this article. Similarly, the realpolitik enabling collaboration between the SJB and JVP in forming a government let alone its stability will also not engage the attention of this article. What is apparent is that the country is in for a long period of INSTABILITY and some degree of turmoil.
Should not the SJB and JVP before proceeding any further with their FAIRY TALES, reveal why they are silent on CAMPAIGN FINANCE which is the MOTHER of political corruption?
Why are SJB and JVP also SILENT on the country retaining a mere 15% stake in the West Container Terminal in the Port of Colombo (India’s Adani Group 51% & JKH 34%) while raising a RUMPUS and even filing court cases on the Yugadanavi Power project (US based New Fortress Energy Inc.) where the country retains a 60% stake? The monopoly allegedly being given to ‘New Fortress’ for the supply of LNG for five years is a separate matter which must be opposed.
Corruption – Root Cause
It is amazing that commentators placing the root cause for the country’s ills on widespread corruption under successive administrations are not linking politicians to the ENABLING big business sector. If two hands are needed to clap, how is it that political corruption can occur on its own? There seems to be a mental block in not recognizing the role of the corporate sector which also includes the businessmen controlled mainstream media which have also reaped the benefits of the nexus with the political establishment.
Is it not a fact that the Print and TV media empires of Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) and the Capital Maharaja Group (CMG) would never have reached their current status if not for state patronage – chief among them being the ‘Mahaweli Project’ – Randenigala Dam (WNL) and Victoria Dam (CMG)?
Is it also not a fact that most of the ‘captains’ of industry and commerce in this country are largely the creation of state patronage? Examples include the privatization of some lucrative government assets under questionable circumstances at giveaway prices. Are not some of them a major source of profitability for these corporates? These include virtual ‘cash cows’ – South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) and Distilleries Corporation of Sri Lanka (DCSL).
In the midst of the present power crisis, why are political parties not uttering a word on the contribution of the private sector to the crisis on their way to making a financial ‘killing’ over the years by holding the country to ransom on the sale of power at unconscionable prices to the national grid?
Added to this heady mix of ENABLERS of political corruption are sections of the country’s professional community of which the most glaring are chartered accountants/auditors who are the first and last line of defense against large scale corruption. For example, could the scandalous privatization of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) in favor of corporate interests have taken place without the role of leading audit firms PwC and Ernst & Young? Were not some key auditors enabling the SLIC scandal after retirement invited by some leading business houses to their director boards?
SJB and JVP waxing eloquent that widespread corruption is the major driver of most of the ills of this country are completely ignoring sections of the business community and professionals who are the ENABLERS of political corruption.
Lest we forget, the mismanagement of Sri Lankan Airlines continued under the watch of board directors appointed by the Yahapalana government drawn from the ‘cream’ of the corporate sector.
Conflict of Interest
‘Conflict of interest’ which is a major cause of corruption is not even on the radar of this country!
Current examples include the senior partner of an audit firm being allowed to be the chairman of a major state bank and an individual whose family is a major player in tourism being allowed to be the chairman of the country’s tourism regulatory authority.
Other glaring examples include former Chief Justice K. Sripavan being appointed as a board director of Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC by the Yahapalana government in April 2017 no sooner he ceased being CJ in March 2017. Subsequently he was appointed Chairman. This is despite SJB leaders holding key ministerial office and the JVP politically supporting the Yahapalana government. Prior to this former CBSL Deputy Governor D. Dheerasinghe was appointed under the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency as a board director of the same bank in December 2011 soon after his retirement in December 2011. The CBSL being the supervisor of banks was of no concern to anybody. Subsequently he too was appointed Chairman. Where else in the world would such occurrences be ALLOWED?
Is it not laughable that those projected as the economic experts of the SJB said to be “Commanding a collective expertise of over 100 years” (‘Daily FT’ 6 January 2022) held key ministerial office in the Yahapalana government noted for encouraging money laundering, the egregious bond scam and proposing dubious FDI projects such as the “$ 3.85 billion oil refinery in Hambantota” and the 2017 Volkswagen vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya which turned out to be a hoax? There was even a “ground breaking ceremony” for the Volkswagen plant!
It is noteworthy that the JVP now projecting itself as a viable alternative to govern the country continued to politically support the Yahapalana government despite all this and even the April 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. The incumbent SLPP government pussyfooting on the accountability for these outrages is proof that ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’!
The HYPOCRISY of the SJB and to some extent the JVP is stark in the petitions they filed in the Supreme Court through SJB parliamentarian, Eran Wickramaratne and JVP Political Bureau member, Sunil Handunneththi alleging that the SLPP proposed Finance Bill encourages money laundering.
Did not the Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently and JVP supported, in effect FACILITATE money laundering when it repealed the Exchange Control Act No. 24 of 1953 and brought into law the new Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017?
The new law certified on 28 July 2017 became effective from 20 November 2017. SJB’s Eran Wickramaratne who is now very concerned about money laundering was State Minister of Finance from May 2017!
A precursor to the dangerous Yahapalana inspired Foreign Exchange Act was the ‘invitation’ issued by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to “Sri Lankans and Indians who had to take back their deposits from banks in Switzerland to place their funds in Sri Lanka”. He had further assured that “No questions would be asked”!
Apologists for the Yahapalana government denying the enormity of the bond scam which apart from the sum involved is noted for its terrible ‘conflict of interest’. The scam was unleashed on the country under the watch of not only then Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs but also a host of SJB stalwarts including economist Dr. Harsha de Silva who was Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs under Wickremesinghe.
Readers can gauge Dr. de Silva’s obvious embarrassment (21:26:23 onwards) when responding to a question from a journalist on his controversial ‘FOOTNOTES’. Should not Dr. de Silva possibly the finance minister in the event of a future SJB dominated government CLARIFY matters in this regard? To date there has been no accountability for the scam.
I ask those who are downplaying the bond scam or even denying it (i) to reveal the rationale for the ‘footnotes’ if the scam was trivial or did not even take place? (ii) did not then CBSL Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy reportedly seek the approval of the Attorney-General to place in the public domain its forensic audit “as it could influence the upcoming presidential election” (‘Sunday Times’ 3 November 2019) (iii) was not Parliament dissolved on the eve of the 2015 General Elections to prevent the D.E.W. Gunasekera led COPE report on the bond scam being presented to parliament?
SJB/JVP & Minorities
Although a major issue keeping this country down is the absence of SOCIAL PEACE largely due to the minorities being debilitated since independence, the 2015 Yahapalana government supported by the JVP even with the TNA on board merely paid LIP SERVICE to minority issues.
Take for example the creation of the ‘Office on Missing Persons’ (OMP) touted as a major achievement of Yahapalana on minority affairs – particularly for Tamils. This is what Basil Fernando has to say about OMP: “It was meant to reduce tensions and to BUY TIME to allow a slow process of UNDERMINING the demand for compliance with the State obligations to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these violations.” (emphasis mine)
It is amusing to witness leaders of opposition parties visiting the North and East making vague promises, giving token gifts and uttering a smattering of Tamil words. Token gifts include shoes to some school children!
The duplicity of both the SJB and JVP is amply demonstrated in the following:
1) Making a hue and cry and even filing court cases on the 40% equity given to US-based
New Fortress Energy Inc. in the Yugadanavi Power Station while ‘going easy’ on the 51% stake in the West Container Terminal in the Port of Colombo given to India’s Adani Group.
One wonders whether this has anything to do with leading conglomerate JKH being given a 34% stake to partner Adani? However, the monopoly allegedly given to ‘New Fortress’ for the supply of LNG for five years is a separate issue which has to be opposed.
2) Making a hue and cry about the postponement by the SLPP of Local Government and PC elections. Did not the Yahapalana government in which most SJB leaders held ministerial office and the JVP supported precisely do the same?
3) Making a hue and cry about the SLPP proroguing parliament when parliament was dissolved under the Yahapalana government on the eve of the 2015 General Elections to prevent the D.E.W. Gunasekera led COPE report on the bond scam being presented to parliament.
4) There is no end to the duplicity of the SJB. On the need for accountability for the January 2009 brutal killing of prominent journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, the news item Justice for Lasantha: Eran questions Yahapalanaya (‘Daily Mirror’ 8 January 2022) says it all. Let us be clear, what was the JVP doing while supporting the Yahapalana government?
5) There is no better example of BROKEN Yahapalana promises than the outrage of Dr. Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne at a press conference in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election Casino, Drug & Ethanol Mafias (11:15 onwards). They are projected as the economic ‘brains trust’ of the SJB.
Easter Sunday Carnage
The FEAR of the media influence of Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) is such that let alone the Cardinal not even the SJB and JVP are seeking accountability from WNL owner Ranjit Wijewardene’s laid–back son Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage when he was State Minister of Defense during the ENTIRE period of the Yahapalana government. Even if he was kept away from some meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), are we expected to believe that he did not have knowledge of the attack even to the extent of Harin Fernando’s hospitalized father?
Apart from this, is it not reasonable to surmise that investigative journalists in his father’s media empire would have tipped him off? Why are only Hemasiri Fernando – then Secretary, Ministry of Defence and some others in the Defence establishment being held accountable while the State Minister of Defense is molly-coddled?
1) Not a word has been uttered by the SJB and JVP on the subject of CAMPAIGN FINANCE which is the MOTHER of political corruption.
2) Any visitor to Sri Lanka will be amazed that despite the country being on the verge of BANKRUPTCY (i) the performance of the stock market is at a “record high” (‘The Island’ 19 January 2022) (ii) luxury vehicles hard to find even in some affluent countries being a common feature (iii) affluent life-style of ‘elites’ whose companies have received Covid related fiscal/monetary stimulus (iv) international awards received by Sri Lankan banks with even unaddressed allegations of wrongdoing. What has the SJB and JVP to say to all this?
3) What is the concrete plan the SJB and JVP have for ensuring GENUINE social peace in relation to the concerns of minorities?
4) Should not the SJB and JVP (i) reveal their plan for a genuinely independent ‘Constitutional Council’ well beyond what prevailed under the 17th Amendment? (ii) reveal the public institutions falling under the CC? (iii) reveal whether the regulation of the media will fall under the ambit of the CC – if not why?
5) Will the SJB and JVP have constitutional provision with AMPLE time given for judicial review of legislation?
6) What concrete action will SJB and JVP take on the revelations in the ‘Panama’ and ‘Pandora’ papers?
The Bottom Line: Ground reality and realpolitik suggests that the country is in for a long period of INSTABILITY with varying degrees of turmoil even after a General Election.
SJB leader Sajith Premadasa has not only electorally cooked his own goose but also that of his party by reportedly postulating “An elected dictatorship with democratic structures is needed: Sajith” (‘Daily Mirror’ 24 January 2022).
True to form, the ‘Daily Mirror’ has gleefully pounced on this and given it top headline coverage to benefit the owner Ranjit Wijewardene’s son and Deputy UNP leader Ruwan and his nephew and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. This is all the more reason why the regulation of the media should fall under the ambit of a genuinely independent CC.