2019 GENERAL ELECTION:
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 244
This article was written before the Supreme Court yesterday (Nov 13) suspended President Maithripala Sirisena’s gazette notification calling nominations for parliamentary polls from Nov 19 to 26. The election was scheduled to be held on January 5.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy recently advised the electorate as regards the next general election before President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament at midnight on Nov 09, 2018.
President Sirisena set nominations’ acceptance from Nov 19-26 and election for January 5, 2019.
Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement, made before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCol) on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, couldn’t have been made at a better time for those who expected a genuine change in the political environment. Unfortunately, the media, pathetically, failed to provide sufficient coverage to, undoubtedly, the most important statement made by a respected public official, in the recent past, on any issue.
Dr. Coomaraswamy told the P Col that the country was facing a non-virtuous cycle of debt and it was a very fragile situation which could even lead to a debt crisis.
"Of course my colleagues in the debt department have plans and capability to manage it. But it’s the duty of every citizen to act responsibly as regards the government policy," he told the PCol.
Dr. Coomaraswamy emphasized that people should elect MPs who were prudent enough to handle fiscal and monetary matters of the country. "I am not referring to any government, but it’s been the case ever since Independence."
Dr. Coomaraswamy couldn’t have been aware of President’s move at the time he appealed to the electorate. In fact, there hadn’t been a previous instance of a serving top public official advising the electorate how to exercise their franchise at perhaps the most crucial election in post-independence era.
Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of him taking over the CBSL in July 2016 from the corrupted and disgraced Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, the 13th Governor, of CBSL.
President Sirisena brought him in, in spite of fierce opposition from the then Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The change at the CBSL took place in the wake of the massive second treasury bond scam, perpetrated by the UNP, in late March 2016 - over a year after the first fraudulent transaction.
The writer stressed the pivotal importance of Dr. Coomaraswamy’s appeal in the live political programme Sirasa Pathikada on Nov 7, 2018 and in a piece to Irida Divaina in its Nov 11 edition. Political parties, civil society groups, as well as the clergy, conveniently refrained from reacting to Dr. Coomaraswamy’s important and timely advice to the voter.
Before discussing the current political developments further let me reproduce a brief report on Dr. Coomaraswamy, posted on the CBSL website: "Dr. Coomaraswamy completed his university education with a BA (Hons.) Degree from the University of Cambridge and went on to obtain his PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex. He joined the Central Bank of Ceylon in 1974 as a staff officer.
Dr. Coomaraswamy served the Central Bank for 15 years, working in the Departments of Economic Research, Statistics and Bank Supervision. However, from 1981 – 1989 he was released from the Bank’s service to serve at the Ministry of Finance and Planning.
He held a number of senior positions at the Commonwealth Secretariat, from 1990 – 2008, including Head of the Economic Affairs Division, Deputy Director of the Secretary General’s Office and Interim Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Social Transformation Programme Division.
He was a member of the Monetary Policy Consultative Committee of CBSL, from 2013 – 2015, and Advisor to the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, 2015-2016.
Dr. Coomaraswamy was also a Non-Executive Director of John Keells Holdings and Tokyo Cement Company (Lanka) PLC. In addition, he was associated with a number of research institutes in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Coomaraswamy was also a keen sportsman. He captained the Sri Lanka Rugby team and led the country to emerge runners-up at the 1974 Rugby Asiad, held in Japan. He also played first-class cricket."
Obviously, rapid post war deterioration of national economy and erosion of political standards had prompted Dr. Coomaraswamy to express his concerns over the status of the recently dissolved eighth parliament.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Addressing a massive celebration in Colombo, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared: now that the war was over his priority would be to eradicate corruption. However, revelations made before the ongoing PCoI on SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka had revealed how the then President Rajapaksa’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickramasinghe ruined the national carrier. Wickramasinghe abused the national carrier to his heart’s content while the political leadership looked the other way. It has transpired before the P CoI how Wickramaisnghe spent public money lavishly on some female employees, mismanaged the entire operation and thereby accelerated the rapid downfall of the once profitably Emirates-run enterprise.
The Rajapaksa government removed the Emirates management in 2008 at the height of the war on the Vanni front.
Thanks to PCoI on treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and the ongoing P CoI on SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, the public are aware how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe yahapalana (good governance and accountability) government and the Rajapaksa administration ruined the CBSL and Sri Lankan Airlines, respectively. Interestingly, the probe on airlines and Sri Lanka Catering also revealed the wrongdoings on the part of the UNP, after the change of government, in January 2015.
Dr. Coomaraswamy wouldn’t have appealed to the electorate to vote in suitable candidates if he was at least to some extent satisfied with members of the eighth parliament.
Had Dr. Coomaraswamy bothered to peruse regular reports released by parliamentary watchdog committees - Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) - he would have certainly recognized the unbelievably corrupt system in place to protect mega thieves. President Sirisena couldn’t absolve himself under any circumstances of the responsibility for dissolving parliament on the night of June 26, 2015 to prevent the then COPE Chairman Communist Party General Secretary Dew Gunasekera from presenting his report on the 2015 treasury bond scam, involving now disgraced and suspended primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL). The dissolution of parliament took place on the eve of the presentation of the COPE report. Had President Sirisena allowed the explosive report to be tabled, the outcome of the general election in August 2015 would have been different. The June 2015 dissolution paved the way for far bigger treasury bond scam in March 2016 and the President didn’t appoint PCoI till 2017 January to probe those massively corrupt transactions. Sri Lanka would have been certainly in a far more stable position.
Prez on corrupt political system
President Sirisena, in his first televised address to the nation since the dissolution, on Nov 09, alleged that he was prompted to dissolve parliament to prevent MPs being bribed to switch allegiance ahead of the expected showdown in parliament. Claiming that lawmakers had been virtually selling themselves for amounts, ranging from Rs 50 mn to Rs 500 mn, President Sirisena said that it was the primary reason for the dissolution. One-time SLFP General Secretary declared that he wanted to thwart bribe-taking lawmakers. President Sirisena gave two other reasons to justify dissolution of parliament. The President alleged that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s reaction to the situation as well as the possibility of violence in the chamber of parliament when it was reconvened contributed to his decision.
Unlike on previous occasions, President Sirisena didn’t cite the alleged threat to his life and the involvement of a minister in the plot from the dissolved cabinet as cause for the dissolution. In fact, no SLFP or Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) spokesman ever justified the dissolution of parliament to thwart bribe-taking lawmakers.
President Sirisena confidently declared that there hadn’t been such high level corruption in previous parliaments, involving members, since 1947. Referring to the C.P. de Silva crossover, in Dec 1964 leading to the defeat of the government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in the following year, the President asserted that there hadn’t been such large scale corruption in any of the dissolved parliaments.
However, there had been numerous accusations as regards lawmakers switching allegiance for personal gain over the years. Outspoken politician and academic Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, a year ago, revealed an unprecedented corrupt transaction involving some members of parliament representing the then SLFP-led People’s Alliance and the UNP. Wijesinha made the revelation in the wake of shocking revelations made before the PCoI on treasury bond scams, in 2017.
The writer dealt with Wijesinha’s letters to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) in his piece the in Nov 11 edition of Irida Divaina.
Prof. Wijesinha’s letters
All political parties brazenly utilize/exercise bribing in various forms, ranging from large scale payments to allocation of National List slots. Foreign diplomatic postings as well as plum ministerial portfolios are offered and asked in return for support. The UNP secured the New Democratic Front twice to field common candidates, General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, in 2010 and 2015 respectively. Chairman of that party Shalila Munasnghe was rewarded with a lucrative appointment. Munasinghe received the appointment as Chairman, Litro Gas, courtesy the Finance Ministry. Munasinghe lost his job after he was taken into custody over the illegal transfer of massive amount of money from a Taiwanese bank. Shamila Fernando, also of the NDF, too, received a plum state sector appointment. So it would be important to keep in mind that there are various ways and means to look after political buddies. The following letters written by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha are self-explanatory. The Island received copies from Prof. Wijesinha with his permission to publish them.
First letter dated April 21, 2015 (This letter was written in the wake of the change of government in January 2015)
COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF BRIBERY OR CORRUPTION
No 36 Malalasekera Mawatha,
I was away and have only just heard that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of bribing Tissa Attanayake with a ministerial position and that you wish to investigate this.
If indeed such matters come within the purview of the Bribery Commission, I would like to report that (the then member of the cabinet/name withheld), told me that (the then member of the cabinet representing a different political party/name withheld) had wanted payment to cross over to support the campaign of the current President. He had also told (the then MP) that he had to give (leader of another political party/name withheld) a portfolio because that had been a condition of his support for the current President.
I would not have thought that such promises would ordinarily come under your purview, but if the complaint against the former President is being investigated, then it would only be fair to investigate (the then member of the cabinet/name withheld) too, for what must similarly be considered bribery that warrants the attention of your Commission.
Rajiva Wijesinhna, MP
Second letter dated Sept. 20, 2017 (This was written following the last parliamentary polls)
Justice T.B Weerasuriya
Chairman, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Corruption and Bribery
No 36 Malalasekera Mawatha,
Last Sunday evening I was informed by Mr. Nahil Wijesuriya that, in 2001, he had, as requested by Mr (the then MP/Name with held), given (the then MP and party leader) Rs 60 million. He had given this, in the form of two cheques he said, to Mr (MP) who had said he should hand them over direct to the then (the then MP and the party leader/Name withheld).
He then went to the (address withheld) and gave him the cheques. I believe this money was used to bribe members of Parliament to cross over so as to bring down the government which President Kumaratunga had constituted, following the 2000 election.
This is a very serious matter and I would urge you to investigate it promptly, since it is obviously improper for a politician to continue in office if his practice is to bribe members of Parliament to ensure support. Given too the extraordinary behaviour of (name withheld) to try to cover up the criminal activities with regard to the Central Bank bond scam, you will be placing the country in grave danger if you do not take up this matter.
I wrote to you previously about (name withheld) own admission that he was going to see (name of political party leader/ name withheld) on Christmas Day, 2014, to ensure his support for the candidacy of Maithripala Sirisena for the Presidency. A statement from me was recorded, but I was not told about any follow up. In this case there are clear lines of investigation open, since Mr Wijesuriya said I could quote him, and his statement was in front of witnesses who would also I believe be happy to testify.
Third letter dated April 21, 2015
HE Maithripala Sirisena
I attach a copy of a letter (the first letter that dealt with Attanayake matter) I have sent to the Bribery Commission, with regard to statements of the (name of the party leader withheld) which suggest that he too has been involved in dealings such as the former President is accused of. I had not thought, given the traditions of Sri Lankan politics, that such matters would warrant investigation. But perhaps this is a good opportunity to make it clear that bribery, and certainly bribery involving money, as led to the downfall of two SLFP governments, in 1964 and in 2001, is not to be tolerated.
While the matter is being investigated, it may be best for the (name withheld) to step down, and an (position withheld) appointed.
Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
A corrupt institution like
When Dr. Coomaraswamy had advised the electorate to be mindful of those elected to the parliament, the much respected official, perhaps inadvertently made no reference to the National List. In accordance with the Constitution, 196 members are elected and 29 appointed to parliament through the National List. Attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku over two years ago found out that the wording of the provision in the 14th Amendment in respect of the appointment of National List MPs, is different from the wording that was presented to and was passed by parliament in 1988. The original version obviously excluded defeated candidates at the general election from being appointed on the National List. All three branches of state seemed to have colluded in this fraud at the highest levels.
Actually, the National List is meant to accommodate suitable professionals such as Dr. Coomaraswamy, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha or perhaps Gamini Wijesinghe, current Auditor General. Unfortunately, all political party leaders had packed their National List with defeated candidates or inexperienced politicians. The National List has been also traded by political parties with minority parties abusing the National List of the UNP in shameless way. In the last parliament, two National List MPs representing SLMC and the ACMC quit their seats to enable two others to enter parliament. That move enabled two more persons to receive tax exemption amounting to a staggering Rs 33 mn each for serving parliament perhaps about a year. In other words, two persons had been allowed to immensely benefit from a hugely corrupt system collectively maintained by all political parties represented in parliament.
The writer raised the National List abuse at a media conference called by Dinesh Gunawardena, Susil Premjayanth, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and C.B. Ratnayake at the Prime Minister’s Office on Nov 11. None of them contested the writer’s assertion that the National Lists had been abused by all political parties, including the UPFA, undoubtedly the worst culprit, and whether they could give a public guarantee that it wouldn’t happen at the forthcoming general election.
Now that President Sirisena, in his latest statement, declared that the electorate now got an opportunity to elect well-educated experienced lawmakers, it would be his responsibility and of his partner Mahinda Rajapaksa to field suitable persons and also to name qualified and those genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the people in their National List.
All political parties should declare that those rejected wouldn’t be accommodated through their respective National Lists, under any circumstances. The writer believes there is absolutely no dispute over Dr. Coomaraswamy’s wish for prudent MPs in the ninth parliament. But that wouldn’t be a reality unless political parties make drastic changes to their nomination and National Lists. It’s time for tangible measures and not mere rhetoric as happened hitherto.