Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Who will have egg on face?

Vote today on NCM against PM over treasury bond scams



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The elite Special Task Force (STF) had to be deployed last Wednesday (March 28) morning at Maskeliya in support of the local police, struggling to quell clashes following the appointment of Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) local heavyweight, G. Sembalawalli, as the chairperson of the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha.

There had never been an instance of the police para-military arm being summoned to reign in political parties ‘battling’ for control of local government bodies. Following call for assistance, the STF headquarters directed its bases at Maskeliya and Thalawakelle to intervene.

Nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, the country is in deep turmoil with recognized political parties in ‘destabilization mode’ much to the disappointment of the people.

The Maskeliya violence reflected a new crisis Sri Lanka is experiencing in the wake of massive electoral defeats suffered by yahapalana partners, the UNP and the SLFP/UPFA at the Feb. 10 local government polls.

While Maskeliya ‘battle’ was on, Home Affairs Minister and staunch Ranil Wickremesinghe loyalist Vajira Abeywardena declared, at Sirikotha, that the introduction of a new local government system that had doubled the number of members and caused unprecedented political unrest, was a national crime.

The new system pushed the number from over 4,000 to well over 8,000.

Asserting that the new system had cast an evil spell on the country, Abeywardena recalled the JVP led violence, directed at the UNP for introducing Provincial Councils, at the behest of New Delhi. Abeywardena stopped short of encouraging violence against newly elected councillors though he expressed surprise at the irate public for not attacking new councillors on streets.

Abeywardena had never publicly opposed the new system until the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) brazenly betrayed the UNP at the recent election of Chairman of the Galle Municipal Council (GMC) to enable Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to secure the top post. Abeywardena tore into Rauff Hakeem’s party demanding that punitive action be taken against the coalition member. The writer was among the scribes at the media briefing, called by the UNP, to issue a dire warning to President Maithripala Sirisena. The UNP retaliated immediately after Minister S.B. Dissanayake, on behalf of President Sirisena, declared the SLFP’s support for the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against PM Wickremesinghe on the basis of his culpability for treasury bond scams. When the writer raised the culpability of President Sirisena and the SLFP in treasury bond scams from Dissanayake, the minister struggled to explain their role. But he ended up admitting the SLFP couldn’t interfere with the UNP project. A damning admission, indeed.

On the other hand, Wickremesinghe loyalist Abeywardena made a foolish attempt to play down revelations made by the media regarding bond scams. In fact, the Galle District MP went to the extent of declaring Wickremesinghe’s innocence on the basis of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P-CoI) findings.

The massive defeat suffered by the UNP and the SLFP at the Feb. 10 polls should be examined against the backdrop of treasury bond scams. In spite of expensive propaganda, the UNP failed, pathetically, to explain the circumstances under which the treasury bond scams took place whereas the SLFP sought to deny its responsibility. Had the yahapalana partners managed to avoid a humiliating defeat at the recent polls, they wouldn’t have felt the need for far reaching reforms. The SLFP, too, is responsible for the treasury bond scams. In fact, the far bigger second treasury bond scam, perpetrated in 2016, couldn’t have taken place without the SLFP’s tacit support, though the party pretended otherwise.

Unfortunately, P-CoI didn’t inquire into the culpability of the SLFP, thereby depriving the public of knowing the circumstances under which the second bond scam took place over a year after the first.

President Sirisena’s decision to remove the Central Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission from Wickremesinghe’s purview last Thursday ((March 28) was meant to deceive the public. A gazette extraordinary, announcing the President’s decision, was issued a week before the NCM. The two institutions have been brought under the Ministry of Finance. In other words, the SLFP leader, in no uncertain terms, declared Wickremesinghe’s responsibility for treasury bond scams.

Now that a vote on the NCM, primarily based on Wickremesinghe’s role in treasury bond scams, is scheduled to take place today (April 4) let me recollect the circumstances leading to the showdown in parliament. MP Prof. G.L. Peiris moved a NCM against Mahendran a few weeks before the dissolution. Of the charges mentioned, two were directed at Wickremesinghe over his alleged role in the Feb 27, 2017, issuance of treasury bonds.

The ‘Great’ Central Bank robbery

Jan. 8, 2015: Presidential election

Jan.9, 2015: Maithripala Sirisena sworn in as President

Jan.9, 2015: Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Prime Minister

Jan.23, 2015: Then Finance Minister Ravi K recommended Arjuna Mahendan as Governor, CBSL

Jan. 26, 2015: President Sirisena appointed Singaporean Mahendran as Governor, CBSL.

Feb. 26, 2015: Mahendran met ministers, Ravi K, Kabir H and UNP Chairman Malik S at CBSL, allegedly to discuss a massive fund requirement of Rs 18 bn

Feb 27, 2015: First bond scam perpetrated. Within hours, the top financial sector knew how Primary Dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) had carried out the operation in connivance with Mahendran, father-in-law of Arjun Aloysius, owner of PTL. The PTL is a fully owned subsidiary of Perpetual Capital (Pvt) Limited, owned by Geoffrey Joseph Aloysius and Arjun Joseph Aloysius.

Massive media coverage of the bond scam sent shock waves through the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

March 10, 2015. Wickremesinghe, following consultations with Sirisena, appointed a three-member committee to probe the issuance of treasury bonds. The committee comprised attorney-at-law Gamini Pitipana, attorney-at-law Mahesh Kalugampitiya and attorney-at-law Chandimal Mendis.

May 21, 2015: The Joint Opposition made representations to Speaker Chamal R demanding a special debate on the bond scam.

May 22, 2015: Special Sub Committee of CoPE appointed to probe the Feb 29, 2015 issuance of treasury bonds. The 13-member Sub Committee had its inaugural meeting on the same day under the chairmanship of Dew Gunasekera.

The committee comprised Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and General Secretary of the Communist Party, D. E.W. Gunasekera, UPFA MP Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine Rajitha Senaratne, UPFA MP Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Democratic National Alliance MP Sunil Handunetti, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Arjuna Ranatunga, UPFA MP Hassan Ali, Deputy Minister of Highways and Investment Promotion Eran Wickramaratna, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Deputy Minister of Justice Sujeewa Senasinghe, UPFA MP Weerakumara Dissanyake, Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) MP E. Saravanapavan and State Minister of Child Development Rosy Senanayake.

Parliament had never before appointed a special committee comprising members of COPE to investigate a specific allegation against a senior state official.

May 26, 2015: Probe commenced with Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga and Director General, Department of Treasury M.S.D. Ranasiri being questioned.

June 18, 23, 2015: CoPE questioned Mahendran. The Singaporean was the last to appear before the committee.

June 25, 2015: Wickremesinghe alleged CoPE denied him of an opportunity to appear before the watchdog.

June 26, 2015: Sirisena dissolved parliament to thwart CoPE presenting its report on treasury bond scam. General election set for Aug. 17, 2015.

The dissolution prevented the CoPE Chairman Dew Gunasekera from presenting his report on the first treasury bond scam. In a related action, UNP Deputy Justice Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe moved court to bar Gunasekera from releasing his report to the media.

The writer sought an explanation from Gunasekera, in January this year, at a media briefing, as to the responsibility of Sirisena and the SLFP in the second bond scam, perpetrated in March 2016. Asked whether, far bigger second treasury bond scam could have been prevented if not for the dissolution of parliament in June 2015, Gunasekera said that question should be posed to President Sirisena as he had done so.

Much respected veteran politician Gunasekera explained the unacceptable growth achieved by PTL at the briefing held at the Communist Party headquarters, Borella. "Let me explain the phenomenal growth of PTL since its establishment in 2013 during the previous administration. Having launched operations with Rs. 300 mn as capital, how could PTL manage to obtain Rs. 11 bn in profits within five months?"

June 28, 2015: The writer in an exclusive story based on Dew Gunasekera’s suppressed report headlined ‘COPE inquiry finds Mahendran had intervened in bond issue’ in June 28 edition of The Sunday Island dealt with Mahendran’s clear complicity in the first scam.

The report drew an angry reaction from the UNP in the wake of Sirasa giving heavy coverage to The Sunday Island report. The ruling party insisted that it be given immediate opportunity to counter The Sunday Island report. Senasinghe and Mahendran told the writer there was no basis for the Dew Gunasekera report. Senasinghe flayed Dew Gunasekera for playing politics and making a despicable bid to undermine the UNP for the advantage of a section of the SLFP (Bond scam: UNP rejects COPE report as biased with strap line ‘Govt. MPs did not endorse the document’-The Island, June 29, 2015).

July 3, 2015: Dew Gunasekera declared that Sirisena could take tangible action on what he called ‘dossier of evidence’ produced by his committee. Gunasekera asserted that Sirisena could call for a copy of the 447-page report from the Secretary General of parliament W.B.D. Dissanayake. The writer covered the briefing at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute where the Communist Party chief explained how those responsible for the worst financial scam here could be dealt with (COPE bond scam probe: Prez can act on evidence-The Island, July 4, 2015).

Aug. 17, 2015: parliamentary polls.

Sept. 4, 2015: Karunanayake re-appointed Finance Minister. Malik Samawickrema appointed Development Strategies and International Trade Minister.

Nov. 27, 2016: COPE reconstituted with JVP MP Sunil Handunetti as its Chairman.

March 31, 2016: Second far bigger bond scam perpetrated.

June 29, 2016: Sirisena visited the CBSL much to the discomfort of Wickremesinghe and Mahendran.

July 2, 2016: Renowned economist Dr Indrajith Coomaraswamy succeed Mahendran as Governor, CBSL. Wickremesinghe made an abortive bid with the support of Karunanayake to secure Sirisena’s approval for Charitha Ratwatte. But disgraced Mahendran remained in Wickremesinghe’s entourage.

January 27, 2017: Sirisena appoints P-CoI consisting of Supreme Court Judges Kankanithanthri T. Chitrasiri and Prasanna Sujeewa Jayawardena and former Senior Deputy Auditor General Kandasamy Velupillai to probe treasury bond scams.

Aug. 2, 2017: Karunanayake humiliated at P-CoI over the lease of a fifth-floor super luxury condominium apartment at the Monarch residencies, that was allegedly paid for by Arjun Aloysius.

Aug. 10, 2017: Foreign Minister Karunanayake resigned over corruption charges that transpired at the P-CoI. Earlier Karunanayake received foreign ministry portfolio on May 25, 2017. Karunanayake switched portfolios with Mangala Samaraweera.

Nov 16, 2017: Evidence at the Bond Commission revealed how Arjun Aloysius had been in touch with some members of the Parliamentary watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) during COPE hearings.

Aloysius had spoken a total of 227 times to Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe, 18 times with Dayasiri Jayasekara, 176 times with Harshana Rajakaruna and 73 times of Hector Appuhamy during periods commencing January 2015.

Nov 20, 2017: Wickremesinghe received kid glove treatment at P-CoI with AG Jayantha Jayasuriya assigned to question him. But Wickremesinghe’s affidavits received by P-CoI in response to questions sent to him by the P-CoI and the AG’s department and PM’s responses to AG Jayasuriya established the UNP’s leader’s complicity and failure to thwart scams beyond doubt. P-CoI concluded.

Dec 30, 2017: P-CoI report handed over to Sirisena.

Jan. 4, 2018: Sirisena addressed the nation regarding the P-CoI report. Sirisena mounted a devastating attack on the UNP over treasury bond scams in the run-up to the Feb. 10 local government polls. Sirisena’s strategy caused heavy damage to the UNP at the Feb. 10 polls. Sirisena’s relationship with Wickremesinghe suffered irreparable damage due to Sirisena’s verbal attacks.

Feb. 10, 2018: UNP and SLFP suffered debilitating setbacks. Their sidekick JVP devastated.

Feb. 19, 2018: Constitutional expert Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne on behalf of the United Left Front (ULF) called Wickremesinghe role in treasury bond scams the third primary reason for the humiliating defeat suffered at the Feb. 10 polls.

March 28, 2018: Sirisena removed Central Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission from Wickremesinghe’s purview-1,125 days after the first bond scam and 727 days after the second bond scam.

Strangely throughout this period, Western powers conveniently refrained from publicly commenting on the treasury bond scam though they worked overtime to discredit the previous Rajapaksa administration with the US pledging to help Sri Lanka recover stolen funds. India also pledged to assist yahapalana efforts.

In fact, the current political leadership certainly owed an explanation to the public as to how Mahendran, Aloysius and PTL CEO Kasun Palisena had committed the second bond scam 13 months after the first controversial issuance. Obviously, they had been sure nothing could go wrong. Most probably, they believed Mahendran was going to have his own term as the government after having completed the period allocated to his predecessor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. Cabraal quit immediately after the Jan 2015 presidential polls.

The public should be grateful to former CBSL Senior Deputy Governor Dr W. A. Wijewardena, and the media for relentlessly pursuing the treasury bond scams. Primary dealer PTL receiving prior information as regards the CBSL’s last minute decision to issue treasury bonds to the value of Rs. 20 bn in spite of its initial call for bids for only Rs 1 bn worth of 30-year treasury bonds had been established beyond doubt now.

In spite of being mauled by a section of the media, Wickremesinghe, somehow had managed to convince the majority of the parliamentary group to vote against the JO’s NCM today. Those UNPers who had initially believed Wickremesinghe could be removed in the wake of the Feb. 10 debacle are in a dilemma in the wake of the UNP leader consolidating his position at the Working Group meeting last Thursday. Although Sirisena’s faction, comprising 44 members of parliament, last Friday (March 30) pledged its support to the NCM, the possibility of some of them switching their allegiance to Wickremesinghe today cannot be ruled out.

Similarly, the JO, too, should be certainly worried about the UNP trying to secure the support of its members. In the run-up to the Feb. 10 polls, Sriyani Wijewickrema (Ampara District/SLFP) and Weerakumara Dissanayake (Anuradhapura District/National Freedom Front) switched their allegiance to Sirisena’s SLFP. JHU’s Ven Atureliye Rathana thera (UNP National List) deserted the UNP some time back. Ven Rathana is unlikely to come to Wickremesinghe’s rescue though his JHU colleagues, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Karunaratne Paranavithana are certain to stand by Wickremesinghe. Still, the UNP seems confident of defeating the NCM on April 4. Perhaps, Wickremesinghe and his key advisors believe none in the UNP parliamentary group wants to be tainted with being a part of a JO operation directed at incumbent UNP leader whatever the leader’s flaws are.