By Malinda Seneviratne –
The previous regime was the most corrupt in remembered history, according to those who sought to bring it down. That’s a claim that is a common cry by the Opposition. The regime of Chandrika Kumaratuga was similarly chastised. The lady was even dubbed ‘Chaura Regina’ (The Thieving Queen).
This Government, however, moved quickly to bring to book alleged wrongdoers. High ranking individuals associated with the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency have been arrested, charged or questioned. A special unit to investigate financial corruption has been set up. And it is not just politician and officials, even top business persons are being investigated. Lilith Jayaweera, for example.
All this is good. Good to investigate and if wrongdoing is proven, then good to charge and convict. However, any legal system that is selective in such matters is an insult to the intelligence of the public it purports to serve and is morally bankrupt to boot. That’s exactly what the discerning public might be forced to convict if one corrects all the dots that are getting placed with respect to the travails of and the possible resurrection of the troubled Ceylinco Group.
The big boss of Ceylinco, Lalith Kotelawala was charged with defrauding depositors. He spent time in jail. His wife Cecille, also charged, fled the country. The depositors have fought hard for many years to win some compensation. Some had lost their life savings. Some committed suicide. They are yet to recover.
What might have been seen as a silver lining, namely the promise made by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to ensure that they are compensated PROVIDED THEY WITHDRAW THEIR CASE, now looks like yet another red herring.
The reason for doubt comes in the form of mysterious purchasing of Ceylinco Insurance shared by entities that have or are suspected to have close business relations with Lalith Kotelawala. It might be the case that Kotelawala is using these entities to win back control of Ceylinco Insurance.
Kotelawala was a strong backer of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during the latter’s failed bid to become President in 2005. Is a ‘friendly’ Government going to give a leg up to a man who has fallen quite a bit from the dizzy heights he strolled in happier times?
What is the Securities Exchange Commission saying about all this? What is the Central Bank, a co-respondent in the case filed by the depositors, saying? Is it all about good friends and old boys’s clubs? Is it an us-them case where ‘our guys’ can do no wrong (as in they CAN do wrong and get away) but ‘your guys’ will be drawn over the coals?
We saw Ranil Wickremesinghe shamelessly defending the Central Bank Governor who has not been cleared by the committee investigating the controversial bond issue (‘Not directly involved’ implies ‘could have been indirectly involved’, and indirect involved is what insider trading is all about!). No steps have been taken to act on the recommendations of the committee.
For these reasons we are compelled to ask Ravi Karunanayake whether or not he (or the Government) has cut a deal with Kotelawala and if so what the deal is. Of course deal-makers don’t easily acknowledge the fact. However, if Kotelawala does make a come back, under whatever conditions, it would be a signal to what the people can look forward to (with anguish and trepidation of course).
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com