28 February, 2020

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The Deep State Of Corruption And The President’s Options

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The contrasts between 4 February 2015 and 4 February 2020 could not have been starker. No, I am not going to harp on the national anthem, for there is no point in harping too much on singing when there is no listening. I am on to a different contrast. In 2015, the then government was holding up the white banner of transparency and good governance, while promising to expose and end state corruption forever. But even before the end of February 2015, the government was caught red handed in a massive bond scam. There was no recovery for the wretched yahapalana government from that early betrayal. The 19th Amendment, which was passed by a virtually unanimous parliament in the wake of the first bond scandal, has turned out to be the only positive achievement of that government. Those who cavil too much about the motes of flaws in the 19th Amendment, conveniently ignore the beams of contradictions in the 1978 Constitution.    

On independence-day in 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have been hoping to initiate a new narrative of development, unblemished by anything that may or not have happened not only under the previous (Sirisena-Wickremesinghe) government, but also his brother’s (Mahinda Rajapaksa) government before it. That was not to be. Last Tuesday’s independence day celebrations could not shake off the shadow of the findings of the controversial forensic audit of bond transactions and stock market manipulations over the last ten years, and the incontrovertible statement of facts about Sri Lanka’s aviation corruption revealed in the Airbus DPA (Deferred Prosecution Agreement) in a British court. 

If the bond scams and stock market manipulations are home grown corruption specimens, the Airbus involvement shows that Sri Lanka has fraudsters who can play at the highest corporate level in the global fraud network. Aviation industry is known to be a highly fertile terrain for global corruption, but transparency watchdogs often complain that it usually escapes scrutiny and exposure because aviation is under government control in many countries. That was also the case in Sri Lanka until the Airbus statement of facts became public.         

The shadow of state corruption now seamlessly stretches, over not one, but two previous governments. The new government cannot run away from it, or pick only the corruption under the last government and ignore the one before it. Until the Airbus revelation, it was possible for the two alternating governing alliances to accuse one another of political witch hunt, and separately blame mutually opposing political interferences in the judiciary and the police. The Ramanayake tapes provided comic grist to every media mill that has vested interest in badmouthing law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to sway the cynical court of public opinion that every politically connected criminal jailed during the last five years should be freed because they had been wrongfully convicted by a corrupt judiciary. Never mind that the same judiciary is duly praised for its independence by whichever side that happens to get a favourable ruling, or even a mere recusal.  

Beleaguered Audit

The information in the Airbus DPA statement of facts was already known in Colombo. And it is telling that nothing was done about it until the Airbus statement became public in London. Even more telling, nothing would have been done if there was no Airbus DPA. The significance of the Airbus statement is that no one in Colombo would dare challenge, deny, or pick holes in the statement of facts. The way the beleaguered forensic audit of bond issuances is being picked apart clearly shows that. That is after mighty efforts to keep the audit, or at least its appendices, safely under wraps. And after mighty efforts, as well, to preemptively to discredit the audit by a former governor of the Central Bank whose credibility and credentials as a governor were never impeccable.      

All the technical pettifogging and journalistic wrestling about the audit is aimed at covering up, directly or indirectly, the inconvenient home truths that the audit seems to have laid bare. The nonsense about economic audit and social audit in this case is pure grandfather prattle. Even the questioning of the methodology of estimating losses incurred by the government is not immediately relevant. The real and immediate question is whether any crime was committed and, if so, who and who did it. At the least, does the audit provide sufficient grounds to start criminal investigation?

Dr. Harsha de Silva, still the UNP MP but seemingly feeling liberated from yahapalanya loyalties, did not mince words in the long interview he gave to the Daily Mirror. “What needs to happen, said Dr. de Silva, “is to take all the evidence available and get the Attorney General to begin the judicial process. The CID can certainly do any further investigations if necessary. That is perfectly ok. But let us not delay taking legal action anymore. Everyone, immaterial of status or party affiliation must be brought to book.” He went on to trace the evolution of corruption and the graduation of corrupt actors from one financial field to another – involving the stock market, the EPF, and finally bonds, spanning both the second Mahinda Rajapaksa government, as well as the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe one-time-only government. 

“The difference between the post 2015 and pre 2015 (governments), Dr. de Silva noted, “was that opposition members didn’t have powers in the committees. It was only under the Yahapalana regime that we appointed people like Sunil Handuneththi to chair the committee.” Prior to 2015, according to Harsha de Silva, “however much we tried in Parliament to get to the bottom of this, even the parliament was directed by outside parties (apparently by the then Central Bank) not to release information that was critical in analysing what had happened. He further recalled “how people like Wasantha Samarasinghe, the JVP former MP, being one of the most vociferous critics along with me. But unfortunately, all kinds of roadblocks were placed upon us. We couldn’t really dig deep into that.”

We do not have to rely on Dr. Harsha de Silva to know about the cover-up attempts after 2015, under the Yahapalana government. But the man is totally honest about having the entire ten-year period thoroughly investigated. In that vein, it is heartening to note that on Friday, parliament again selected JVP MP Sunil Handunneththi as Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). But what will happen after the parliamentary election, when, as widely predicted, the SLPP returns with a majority in parliament, and a two-thirds majority to boot?

Options and Constraints

Put another way, will the new parliament after the election be able to keep the search light on state corruption, or will it turn it off and return to same old business as usual? What options does President Gotabaya Rajapaksa have, and which way is he inclined to go? Keep the search lights on, or turn them off? With the Airbus DPA and the forensic audit both out in the open, it would be difficult to push them under the carpet anymore. At the same he will face constraints and resistance from vested interests who do not like being put under national search light. The new president can either make a mark or choose to spoil the current opportunity to expose and address corruptions.

First, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should allow the Attorney General’s Department and the Police services to act freely and protect them from outside interference including interference from the cabinet of ministers. This is something that has not happened under any government for as long as we can remember. Will Mr. Rajapaksa be able to achieve that. There will be plenty of pushback on this and from all corners – familial as well as political. He certainly gave no indication that he was going to do any of this during the election campaign. All that he has been assuring so far is that he will run a clean government. By implication, he clearly meant, let bygones be bygones. Now the Airbus revelation has brought all the bygones to the centre stage of politics. How will the President respond?

At the political level, how will the President deal with ‘political’ individuals whose names are part of the current corruption cases? Their legal jeopardy should of course be impartially investigated by law enforcement agencies and decided by the courts. On the other hand, they should not be politically rewarded – i.e. given political appointments to state institutions or nominations as candidates etc. The selection of candidates for the parliamentary election will be the litmus test for all political parties. In 2015, both the UNP and the SLFP spectacularly failed in their candidate selection by ignoring public warnings about the poor qualifications and legal shortcomings of large numbers of their candidates. Many of them were returned as Members of Parliament. And it showed. 

Will the new President have any influence in the selection of candidates for the SLPP? The question is all the more pertinent given the SLPP’s anticipated campaign for a two-thirds majority in parliament. Will the same MPs and Ministers whose names have been exposed in one or the other of the corruption scandals be allowed to contest and return to parliament? Will that mean another end to the parliamentary committees probing corruption allegations of the last two governments? We have no way of knowing whether the Ancien Mahinda Rajapaksa Regime will prevail in parliament, or a new Viyathmaga parliament will emerge under the new President. But the exposures of the forensic audit and the Airbus DPA will place new constraints on the selection of SLPP candidates and its overall campaign. They may create new and positive opportunities as well.     

Equally, how will the UNP and its allies fare in the selection of their candidates for the April parliamentary election? In the August 2015 general election, UNP insiders acknowledged that the UNP alliance failed to win a clear majority because of the first bond scam in February 2015. The UNP did not learn the lesson, or ignored it, and went ahead with more of the same. It has since lost two elections, the local government election in February 2018 and the presidential election in November 2019. The UNP’s slate of candidates in April, will show if the party has learnt anything, or if it has forgotten everything. 

The young Turks of the UNP, who might have plenty of ammunition on corruption for the election campaign, will be severely handicapped if they can have no say in the selection of UNP candidates before the election. The JVP can be expected to campaign vigorously on an anti-corruption platform, but whether it can improve its electoral fortunes on its own is still an open question. It may want to revisit the old model of electoral alliance, not the failed one of 2015, but the provisionally successful vehicle of 2004. For the TNA and the Muslim political parties, the upcoming election might be the opportunity to finally sever their bonds with Ranil Wickremesinghe. In one way or another, the spectre of corruption will haunt the parliamentary election in April. And it must.  

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    Sri Lankan courts are amazingly slow and sloth like when it comes to the prosecution process. Everybody knows how politicians escape from the judicial process using various excuses such as technical errors or something. Then we know even the National listt MP and deputy or State minister Ranjan was a god for supreme court judges. That is a pathetic situation that politicians have brought Sri lanka in to. . Even right now, Kapila Chandrasena and his wife may be staying in the Prison hospital. I think PTL owner also have been in the prison hospital. We know Lawyers would turn anything upside down for money.
    The best thing is establish different courts with strict or Judges working with their own conscience. It may be hard as we all are human. Then negotiate to see how much can be recovered from each politician.
    Ranil like people may negotiate in closed dpoor rooms saying, I do not have anything everything IO gave to my relatives. So, we may not get anything. Once there is a news blackout, he may come out side and say, I did not receive anything, So nothing happens. BECAUSE OF THAT, THEIR ASSETS AND RELATIVES ASSETS HAVE TO BE VALUED WITH THEIR earnings through out.
    FORENSIC AUDIT IS ANOTHER FRAUD. They did not include many important things. For example, DR. Wijewardane has said, out of 5000 or so bond sales most were losses and 1/3rd may be profitable. Yet, he did not show what were the interest rates offered at that time, number of billions borrowed, how much from EP/ETFs, what were the inflation and ban interest rate figures at that time and if Sri lanka has something called PRIME RATE.
    Judicial process as Harsha De Silva said is a Joke. Media is paid, they are partial too.

    • 2
      0

      Rajan Phillips is joking if he thinks that the Bondscam and stock market rigging was “home grown” in Sri Lanka?!!
      Bondscam was done with guidance from MCC and IMF part of the project to keep US puppet Bond Ranil in power and cause the debt trap to asset strip Lanka!
      In Brazil the same thing happened – the Central Bank was scammed, in Argentina Social security was privatized like EPF and ETF scam in Lanka.. Both are in the IMF debt trap..
      It is IMF and WB – Washington Consensus “advisors” who provide the advice to Mahendran who was good buddies with IMF’s Christine Lagard at the time, so too Cabraal was “advised” to buy Greek bonds by EU advisors. What bunk to say that the Bondscam was home grown fraud at the Central Bank.
      Check out: cepr.net › documents › publications › Sri_Lanka
      The IMF/World Bank Plan for Sri Lanka – CEPR
      PDF(IDA), and changes to workers’ funds, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and … “The Role of Social Security Privatization in Argentina’s Economic Crisis,.
      Foreign aid and fake development “experts” are the biggest corruption racket – far worse than MNCs like Airbus is the MCC project to set up military bases in Lanka and turn us into Haiti – under the guise of development aid!

  • 3
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    Its not only both government bond crooks and Sri Lankan big boss and his wife, those SL individuals who took money from $2mill bribe also should be urgently brought before the special court.

  • 2
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    The President is a clever man and silent in his future plans. He is silently digging his heels in and building a solid foundation so that he stands dug in and no one can topple him.
    All that ails the country such as strikes, corruption, lethargy, laziness, etc will gradually come to a end.
    This is what the land needs to bring it out of the cesspit that it has fallen into because of the yakko attitude of the former politicians.
    Sri lankans have had it too easy all their lives and now its time for them to learn a bit the hard way.
    Let us all wait patiently before the fun starts.

  • 1
    1

    whilst on the 2019 presidential hustlings the now victor promised many a doing.?
    it was like in the 1970s when the then PM the first lady to sit on this throne vociferously stated that she was prepared to get down rice from the moon.?
    =
    it never to this very second was an occurrence.?
    =
    the present dubious president too promised that corruption will be a thing of the past, his choice of cabinet ministers will be those who have 150% out of 100% integrity, unlike his older brothers era between 2005/2015 no relatives or friends with be given plum positions and so on and so on.
    he also appointed a committee of three who has had a criminal and soiled reputation to overlook all the appointments to the various government and state institutions appointments.?
    =
    sadly to date, this was only to take the 6.9 million foolish yokels who by casting their holy sacred ballots have now been made to be the globe’s biggest fools.?
    they have no other choice but to hit their stupid heads against the rocks moan groan and well that the rajapuk’s have let them down again.?
    =
    even the choice of cabinet ministers, the members of the various heads of governments and the nominees to the various state bodies have been met with joyous ridicule and the hapless poverty-stricken citizens have no other choice but to accept the saying – vasi patthata hoiya, in a crude format it says the sun now shines on the backsides of those who are criminally corrupt and fortunate enough to drive this once resplendent isle down the pallan further into the bog from where a dream is and only will be a wet dream.?

  • 1
    3

    You do not have to worry about Prez Nanadasena…
    I am sure he is not going to let any of those crooks to enter Parliament .
    Not by force ,but by the revelations of their own dirty deeds in the last five years.

    Here are a few in Point form,
    Robbed 11 billion from the EPF and the BoC.
    Spent 28 Billion importing 78 super Luxury Vehicles to move those Yahapalana Bums of Dr Ranil’s Government.

    That is a whopping 39 Billion Ruppiah loss to the Nation ,which the Tax Payers have to fork out to pay for the next 30 years.

    Dr Rani and Dr Raji and Mr Ranwaka could not find even a 50: 1 Die Cast Model Lamboghni in Namal baby’s possession.

    But Dr Rani allowed BMW MX 5 Top of the Range SUV for Daham Baby .
    And Lexus 230 Soports for Chaturi Akki.

    Those two alone with the Highway Minister’s Mercedez Maybach was a collosal 100 MILLION Ruppiah…
    .
    Them there were others costing an average LKR 40 Million each for the 78 Ministers and Juniors including Wig Ranjan, Dr Ranil’s Gonja Tape boy in Welikada.

    And most of them pocketed up to LKR 34 Million each by selling the Car permits to mainly rich Muslim business blokes –

    Dr Rani himself and mate Sira imported fully armour plated Mercs costing nearly 200 Mil each in addition to another 10 Vehicles.

    It is so disgusting to see those crooks burdening not only the poor Yahapalanan suckers but also their the children and grand children with so much Debt…

    Then there were free Real Estate for Prez Sira , Dr Rani and his Opposition Leader Samba to live comfortable lives in Cinnamon Gardens after retirement.

  • 2
    1

    It is the LAW MAKERS who engaged in corruptions. TOP officials when it is happened without the knowledge of the politician, they git caught go to jail. A very common corruption case is school principals getting bribes to admit children to schools. I saw some time ago, one female teacher, went to jail for EIGHT YEARs for getting a bribe of rs 25,000. Sri lankan politicians and top officials engage in corruption with the knowledge of prominent politicians and/or cabinet ministers. I do not think they ever will recover what is lost.
    With respect to bond scam money, they all can get together and approve a legislation to give back money because some keep their money. Those who do not pay can be exposed before the election or stop giving nominations to them.
    They all gang up, they make others fraudsters by giving them too money or keeping files. So, it is not an easy task.

  • 3
    0

    To run an effective election campaign there must be ample funds. Sri Lankan elections are run almost entirely on corrupt money – be in kickbacks from government contracts, sale of illicit drugs, illegal sand mining, bond scams or any other vice, where the politicians can influence or be directly be involved in. And the purse strings on such black money is held by corrupt politicians and their crooked sidekicks. They can also go to the extent of buying up media organizations that will lie, distort, censor information to mislead the public. Therefore, they call the shots on who will run for elections and we end up with the scum of the earth in parliament, except for a few. And we call it a democracy!

  • 2
    1

    Optimistic to expect the tiger to change its spots. Why raise hopes? Forget war crimes. Forget corruption. Both will keep recurring. Economy will slide. No tourism after corona virus. No Chinese to bale our. So, down the drain we go.

  • 1
    1

    “Deep State Of Corruption”

    Gota should know all about it. It runs in the family.

  • 2
    0

    Mr. President what action could be taken of the two Central Bank Governors along with people like W A Wijewardena and others who were involved in Bond Scams, and of course the politicians involved. Justice must not only should appears to be seen done ,but should be done. If one sees comments made on W A Wijewardena’s comments and Cabarrals comments you will clearly se the public opinion. Please let this not go under the carpet. I think the decision not allowing others to take decision and giving instructions other than the Permanent secretaries of ministries is a good one. However they have to be accountable for the Instructions of the Ministries , they cannot pass the Buck ,By the way PM ‘s delegation to India had the kith & kin of the PM, and the most unwanted MP in parliament who was seen by the whole world throwing chili powder into eyes of fellow parliamentarian, I am sure you will not approve of this too.!!!!

  • 4
    0

    The MIG deal should be up for prosecution and the very next in line. Who were the backers and the beneficiaries? We’ve holding our breath.

  • 4
    0

    How can the President allow the AG’s Department to act freely when he too has skeletons in the cupboard? Moreover, how can he possibly rein in his brother’s cronies? He said clearly that he does not expect any interference from the judiciary or the legislature during his period. He will decide and others will have to follow.
    There will be some cosmetic plastering like for example, allowing the CID to question Kapila Chandrasena and wife and put them behind bars for a little while, just to win over the masses, but nothing really effective to combat corruption or to punish the real culprits.

  • 2
    0

    The risk we are facing is coronavirus, if Gota does not address it now, we might have a serious plague in our hands. Chineese are coming with the virus as the Airlines are still bringing them, very haphazerd management. CCP has control of gota, and gota is looking after ccp interest.

  • 1
    0

    Rajan Philips,I am glad that you are still an optimist on good governance in Srilanka,notwithstanding your three score and ten and a couple of months!

    I hope President Gota and the new Govt:[Most probably the SLPP sans a majority ] will be able to keep the search light on State Corruption.
    Set a thief to catch a thief has indeed worked throughout history!

  • 0
    0

    The corruption was injected to whole key of institutions of executive ,legislative and judiciary by UNP alliance; and their political elites of think-tanks including Westerns, Tamil Diaspora and rest of Indian Republican .
    The democracy has shifted New Height corruptions which that system of governance was incorrigible that cannot even move ONE Step forward after UNP regime lost power in State 16th November 2019?
    Which was that … 2019 November 16th,that USA +UNP was planned by before the election !@
    Five years of Rule of governance of “good faith ‘ & “rule of law’ lost it cause very inceptions. By and large that regime has bring an island of that point collapses of nearly order political-economic-social catastrophic by UNP of RW,MS and CBK The regime has upside-down “new normal democracy” that function of institutional democracy being to paralysis.
    These are all Man -made catastrophic by rule of UNP that Neo-Liberalism
    policies in short they needed supposed to die. An advocated by Ranil Wicks,that long-before since 1977 of 1994, JRJ -Premadasa rule of Dharamistar of UNP !while As for the rest of democracy outlook was long-term degenerated .
    Where we have go? By the way RW CBK & MS of that gang of UNP regime a shocking and rather pathetic even came to light 21 April 2019 .
    Regime in power-of politics has discovered 300 death bodies of citizens & foreigners in of THREE Church and Hotels in that large stylish hurt of Colombo. All citizens in a mass suicide by Muslim terrorist. Each Victims was found in ground in weathering normal cloth
    The Muslim Terror attacked casualties has rose up to were more 500 of innocent citizens.
    What a lesson we have learn of a country ,democracy system was failure to guaranteed civil liberty of that security of Citizens by UNP regime.

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