Colombo Telegraph

Up The Creek Without A Paddle

By Sarath de Alwis  –

Sarath de Alwis

Do you know Prime Minister? The City is a funny place. If you spill the beans you open up a whole can of worms. I mean, how can you let sleeping dogs lie if you let the cat out of the bag? Bring in a new broom and if you’re not very careful you find you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. If you change horses in the middle of the stream, next thing you know you’re up the creek without a paddle.” ~ From the BBC comedy ‘Yes Minister.’

This piece of convoluted logic offered in the BBC comedy by the civil service Mandarin Sir Desmond Grazerbrook to his Prime Minister, nearly sums up the predicament of Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. I say nearly because he is not only up the creek without a paddle but is in a near state of undress.

When the Bond issue was first discussed in Parliament, the Prime Minister very authoritatively asked the house “Who amongst you can claim to understand the issue of bonds by the Central Bank?” Implied in that hoity-toity hoopla was the presumed superiority of the governing class of Charitha, Malik, Roland et al. Thanks to civil society activists, two years after, the ordinary folk far removed from the magical orbit of the governing class, now know that ‘Maha Bankuwe Bandumkara’ are an instrument that determines and facilitates government spending and the cost of it.

The Prime Minister has misconstrued Mark Twain’s dictum that truth is so precious that we need to economize it. His studied maneuvering to downplay the enormity of the scandal has backfired.

First, the government attempted to bury the truth with a handpicked committee of three lawyers who were also members of the UNP ex co. Even to this day the fact that the Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon whose role in the first transaction is yet to be revealed is also a member of the UNP ex co is carefully swept under the green carpet. What the lawyers committee did with its halfhearted efforts of subterfuge resulted in something that was not anticipated by the cabal that determines the economic policy of the government. It helped it to grow underground gathering so much power, that it has now become impossible to contain the inevitable explosion.

The people will soon learn how much Perpetual Treasuries paid for these bonds in the primary market and how much the EPF paid to Perpetual Treasuries in the secondary market. It seems that the Auditor General has been kind enough to include a chart that will help ‘yakkos’ like this writer to comprehend in a visual form the transactions between the company in which Arjun the ‘beau fils’ has a stake and the Bank under the care of Arjun the ‘beau-père’.

On Wednesday 29th June President Sirisena announced that he will announce the name of the new governor later in the day. On Thursday 30th it is reported that the President is still in consultation with the Prime Minister to decide on an interim Governor.

The truth of the matter is that the political survival and credibility of the Prime Minster is inextricably woven in to the process of determining who will be the next governor.

Hannah Ardent was a pretty smart observer of human nature. She is best remembered for her idea of ‘banality of evil.’ Evil takes many forms. What Hannah Ardent proposed was that what perpetuates evil is the willingness of ordinary people like you and I to collude in evil and to follow evil. Corruption at the highest level of governance too is evil.

She argued that evil is all too frequently the product of normal people accepting the tenets and prescriptions of a morally corrupted system. What we discuss today is institutional corruption. We can see it. Yet our government refuses to see because they do not consider it as corrupt. They have a good reason for their intransigence.

The text book interpretations of corruption is about bad people doing bad things for personal gain. That is what we read about in reports of investigations by the FCID.

We are eager to point our moralized fingers at the ‘Ratharans’ and Jonnies. But should we not broaden the definition of corruption to include Oxbridge types who write rules and prescribe norms that create an improper dependency of a vital institution on a few handpicked primary dealers?

Hannah Ardent has given us a lesson. We should focus the flood lights of exposure on people doing bad things because the system is either broken or rigged.

Ranil Wickeremesinghe was not interested in ‘yaha palanya.’ What he wanted was his ‘palanya’ instead of ‘Mahinda’s palanaya.’ To him Maithripala Sirisena was only an acceptable candidate to shoulder the burden of a surrogate mother who would hand over the baby and retreat behind the 19th amendment.

He is just as much an absolutist as was Mahinda though he lacks the natural Mahinda charm of sugarcoating absolute rule with popular acceptance. Absolutism is accepted by societies such as ours but it is the popular perception of the person at the top of the political hierarchy that determines its endurance. The power dynamics of the Sirisena Wickeremesinghe government has reached a crucial point.

The President is on record that Arjun Mahendran is not indispensable. He has now arrived at a point where he has to decide if his Prime Minster is indispensable.

I recall a conversation I had with Dr. S.A Wickramasinghe when he differed from his colleague Pieter Keuneman on the Communist party remaining in the United Front Government in 1975. He said gravely ‘It is not about pragmatic politics. It is a matter of class’ Does Maithri and Ranil belong to the same class?

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