Sri Lanka

Walking the talk

Jan 5, 2018
A landmark was created in the country's political history concerning the question of tackling corruption, with decisive action emanating from the Head of State that assuredly would see the slaying of the hydra headed monster of bribery, corruption, sleaze and intrigue in the upper echelons of political power, that has been eating into the country's vitals since the dawn of Independence. President Maithripala Sirisena, silencing critics, that the Bond Commission report too would go the same way of all other commissions, in the past- pigeon holed after presentation of the reports- revealed to the nation in a live television broadcast, the pith and substance of the Commission report. What is more, the President re-iterated his stand that he would act on the recommendations of the Commission and not only bring to book all those responsible who caused a massive loss of Rs 8.5 billion to the state but also take positive measures to recover the loot.
 
This is the first time that a government appointed Commission had not only found fault with the high and mighty in the same government but also recommended punitive action against a powerful government politician. Hitherto, Presidential Commissions only sought to whitewash governments and target the Opposition, as in the case of the Special Presidential Commission which recommended the deprivation of the civic right of former Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.
 
In that respect the Yahapalanaya government should be commended for walking the talk and making a positive start, though belatedly, in redeeming the pledge made at the election to completely eradicate the scourge of corruption from the body politic. To the credit of President Sirisena, when he appointed the Commission, he took a huge political risk. This was a probe that did not figure in any Rajapaksas and the guns were trained on the functionaries of the Yahapalanaya government. He knew the fallout of the revelations could bring to naught all professions and pledges made at election, for clean governance. Still, he went ahead with appointing the Commission, and, what is more, has vowed to implement its recommendations.
 
Could this be the turning point in the country's political culture the people have been waiting for all these years that will see an end to the impunity with which state funds are embezzled by those wielding power? It is too early to tell. The public, no doubt, will be waiting in anticipation to see the President's next move. He has promised to act in terms of the recommendations and bring to book those responsible. Not only that, in terms of the Commission’s recommendations the President has also vowed to bring in special legislation to speed up legal action against the offenders. It appears that he means business and he is determined to close the chapter of corruption in local politics once and for all.
 
The Commission hearings also saw a refreshing departure from the government witnesses being treated with kid gloves by State Counsel. A powerful minister was subjected to a virtual inquisition and two other senior ministers made to answer summons of the Commission. What is more, for the first time ever, a Prime Minister took his place in the dock to answer questions put to him by the Commission.
 
This was in stark contrast to the time suspects arraigned for murder and rape having their cases withdrawn by the Attorney General's Department upon receiving telephone calls from powerful personages. Besides, all allegations made against the ruling family was brushed aside. No Presidential Commission was appointed to probe charges of mega corruption in the purchase of MIG jets or the colossal losses suffered by the national carrier.
 
The Commission report, no doubt, would have pleased the Rajapaksas, no end, hoping that this would be sufficient distraction from the public spotlight that was focused on their own doings, since the fall of the government. Mahinda Rajapaksa, understandably, was measured in his response and stated that he would make his views known when the report is presented to parliament. MR, perhaps, is concerned with another recommendation by the Commission, which was also revealed to the public by the President, for a full forensic audit on bond transactions, particularly, where EPF monies are concerned, from 2008, followed by action against the felons.
 
No doubt, a whole can of worms is going to be opened and the extent and magnitude of the losses revealed to the public. At the time the media was full of news of how captive funds were being splurged on the market by those holding responsible positions in the financial sector. One recalls how the Chairman of the Security and Exchanges Commission was forced to resign after he came out with certain revelations that were unpalatable to certain people at the very top. President Sirisena has already hinted at what is in store. In his address, on Wednesday, he said that he was not targeting any party, but, that, when all the scams unravel, members of the both main political parties are going to be exposed. This could only mean members of the Joint Opposition, who, after all, entered parliament from the SLFP/UPFA.
 
Daily News, January 5, 2018

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