By Anushka Kahandagama –
The piece evoked by the political program 3600 which was telecasted on 11th June 2018 in Derana television channel. The program was conducted by two journalists, Dilka Samanmali and Chapa Bandara. The interviewee was State Minister of International Trade, Sujeewa Senasinghe, The discussion was based on the ‘report filed in Court by the Attorney General’s Department about the bond scam revealed that State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe had received three cheques of Rs.1 million each in 2015 and 2016 from W.M. Mendis & Company Ltd., a subsidiary of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd‘. Two journalists and the Minister were arguing for the entire airtime leading to many comments on social media regarding both media ethics as well as ethics of a politician.
However, I am not interested in the ‘proper manner’ of conducting an interview or subjected to an interview, rather interested in the content of the discussion. Unfortunately, the content of the conversation has drowned in the shallow entertaining value of media which grasped much of the attention of the public.
As per the Minister, the particular cheques were received as a donation for his election campaign in the years of 2015 and 2016. However, as per his statements in the programmed, he was unaware of the fact that these cheques were from the Mendis & Company. Further, according to him, he has not received these cheques personally, but one of his election campaign teams have earned the cheques and he was unaware about this reception. As per the question, whether he has any records of election campaign budget, Minister answered saying that, there are no records of the funding or expenditure of the election campaign budgets it is the usual practice of any politician.
Receiving financial support from donors have benefits of recruiting political leaders from different economic and social backgrounds and giving the opportunity to new ideas. However using of money from donors should not interrupt the democratic process of the country. The financial support may corrupt the representative Governments. When lawmakers represent or appear to represent economic interests of donors rather than the voters, the voters lose trust in representative government, and the base of democracy collapses. Benefitting political donors will often include breaking laws by civil servants, thus undermining the integrity of public administration.
As per the Minister, he was unaware of the funds he or his election team received from the various donors. Most importantly, this ‘unawareness’ and lack of transparency is ‘normal’ according to the Minister. Minister further stated that, the Perpetual Treasuries Ltd was not under any investigation during the period when his team received the money.
Any politician or political party should be aware of the funds they receive for the election campaigns. It is a primary and a simple fact which, one can not ignore stating that, he/she was not informed of the sources of funds they received for the election campaigns and thus not accountable. As per the Minister, he lacks the knowledge about the sources of funds he or his team received for the election campaigns and the particular company, Mendis & Company was not an illegal source of funding at that time. But, as per this logic, if the Minister was unaware of any source of funding he or his team received, how he or his team knows whether they are using black money or not. As per the Minister, no politician in Sri Lanka from 1948 had known the sources of their funding for the election campaigns. And the Minister further stated, it is important for him to know about the funding he gets if it is receiving from a illegal source. But if you do not know about the source of money receiving for the election campaigns, how would you know whether the money you or your team receive is illegal or not. How can one justify the unawareness about sources of funding for the election campaigns? It might be true that he was unaware about the origin of funding. But one can not justify the unawareness stating that, as the budget reports of the election campaigns were not requested by the Parliament he/she was not informed about the origins of funds received for the election campaigns. Ministers argument was that, it is not necessary for him to provide a clear detail report of the budget of the election campaign as it is not requested by the Parliament. As required by the Parliament, Minister has declared assets and liabilities. According to the Minister, while Parliament is requesting a declaration of Assets and Liabilities, it is not a requirement for him to maintain transparency of the funds he or his team receive for the election campaigns. As implied by the Minister, there is no any link between the election campaign and declaration of assets and liabilities.
The concepts of transparency and accountability should not be solely confined to the laws and regulations rather should be understood in the wider background of democracy.