Addressing a number of rallies for the Local Government Election, both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe have pledged to take action regarding the bond issue and other cases of corruption. They repeated this bold statement during separate addresses to the Nation as well.
As Prime Minister Wickremesinghe explained in his address, no attempt was made to cover up this issue at any stage. This is significant, given that the previous regime did not take steps to investigate any of the brazen acts of corruption reported at that time. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself once admitted that he “shaped” (hushed up) an investigation as the alleged culprit was an “apey miniha” (our man). A presidential Commission to probe an act of corruption would have been unthinkable in such a context.
On the other hand, this Government went ahead with several probes into the bond issue, knowing very well that names associated with the Government could come out. And for the first time in local history, a sitting Prime Minister was called to give evidence by a Presidential Commission. He was well within his rights not to attend – but he did and gave evidence for several hours. The President’s decision to appoint a Commission to investigate the bond transaction was a historic one. Many things happened even before its report was published, including the resignation of a minister.
The bond issue was a manna from heaven for the Joint Opposition, which was looking for a straw to hang on. They argued that the loss cited in the Bond Commission Report could never be recovered. Now it has been revealed that no financial loss will be caused to the government on account of the Central Bank Bond issue since the Government will recover the Rs 9.2 billion involved from Perpetual Treasures Ltd. according to the procedure recommended by the Presidential Commission.
The Central Bank functioning under the Ministry of National Policy has already blocked and retained a fund of Rs 12 billion belonging to the Perpetual Treasures Ltd from which this money could be obtained, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said in his special address to the nation.
As the Prime Minister stated, it must not be forgotten that the Yahapalana (Good Governance) Government came to power on a mandate to eradicate bribery and corruption. The voting public was overwhelmingly in favour of probing into and punishing the culprits behind the massive acts of corruption that had occurred during the previous regime. Their message to the incoming Government was that the Government should not also tolerate any acts of corruption by its own members or public officials. The Government understood this message perfectly – hence endeavours such as the Bond Commission.
It must be noted that in the past the President of the committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was a member of the Government in power. But the President’s post in COPE was given to an opposition member for the first time in the present Parliament. COPE investigated the issuing of Central Bank bonds and tabled its report in Parliament which debated it. This report was sent to the Attorney General on October 31, 2016 for necessary action. At party level, the UNP has appointed a committee chaired by Minister Tilak Marapane to conduct investigations on any party member(s) against whom any allegations had been made by the Bond report and recommend suitable action against them.
These are all positive steps that will gain the confidence of local voters as well as foreign investors. After all, no foreign investor will come to Sri Lanka if corruption becomes rampant. The onus is now on the Government to expedite the investigations into the massive acts of corruption that had taken place from 2005-2014, including those at the Central Bank itself. Many citizens are frustrated by the seemingly slow progress of these probes, which should be expedited to regain their trust.
The President has already promised to take additional steps in this regard. Special courts have also been proposed, as some cases could drag on for years in normal courts. He has also proposed a Presidential Commission to investigate alleged acts of corruption and malpractices at SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka, the latter being an egoistic project of the former President. Both airlines had faced colossal losses over the years. There is an ongoing search for a strategic partner for SriLankan, whose former partner Emirates was kicked out by the former President over a purely personal dispute. During that period, the airline was a profitable venture, but it went into a nosedive after Emirates’ exit.
Bribery and corruption is a cancer that can consume an entire nation. Recognising this stark reality, the Government is mulling an action plan aimed at ensuring sustainable development through the elimination of bribery and corruption. Strengthening public institutions such as the Police and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is vital in this respect. With Sri Lanka on the cusp of the 70th Independence anniversary, we look forward to a brighter future sans bribery and corruption.
Daily News, January 22, 2018