Sri Lanka: Punish bond looters, recover stolen state funds

It is heartening that President Sirisena has at long last declared that he will appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry this week to investigate the Central Bank bond scams which have cost the state coffers and the Employees’ Trust funds billions of rupees.  

by Prabath Sahabandu 

( January 24, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Police and security officers are on high alert to prevent robbers, wearing full-face helmets from staging bank heists. But, those who robbed the bank of the banks came in, donning three-piece suits and walked away with billions of rupees richer. They made a killing for themselves as well as their political masters through several bond scams. They are currently seen in the exalted company of yahapalana leaders advocating the rule of law! A man is said to be known by the company he keeps.

Had the UNP been able to secure the presidency on its own and secure a parliamentary majority in 2015 what the situation would have been is not difficult to guess; a high-level investigation into the bond scams would have had the same chance as a cat in hell. The government would have bulldozed its way through as its predecessors had done.

President Sirisena, while in the presidential race, made a solemn vow to eliminate the culture of bribery and corruption, impunity, waste, the abuse of power, nepotism etc and usher in good governance. The time has now come for him to act decisively on the bond scams without dilly-dallying or trying to please those who helped him win the last presidential election. He has, to his credit, not yielded to coalitional pressure on the question of bond thefts. He prevented the reappointment of former Governor Arjuna Mahendran and allowed the SLFP MPs to work according to their conscience. It was also thanks to him that there has been a damning COPE report on the bond scams.

It is heartening that President Sirisena has at long last declared that he will appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry this week to investigate the Central Bank bond scams which have cost the state coffers and the Employees’ Trust funds billions of rupees.

The government’s battle plan is clear. It wants a very weak case filed against the bond thieves in courts after a parliamentary debate on the issue so that the culprits can go scot free. The Attorney General’s Department decided against filing a criminal case in 2015 and suggested civil action instead. This file has since been shelved. The UNP is determined to go the whole hog to prevent the offenders from being thrown behind bars because they belong to the UNP’s ruling cabal.

The Constitutional Council (CC), a mere rubber stamp of the government, bobs up and down, sways and gyrates like a marionette. Packed with politicians and others who share a common political agenda and how it appointed the Attorney General and the IGP has left a very bad taste in many a mouth. The most eligible candidates for those posts were overlooked and others appointed for obvious reasons. The state prosecutor and the police chief cannot, therefore, be expected to act fairly in situations where the government’s very survival is threatened. The whole country witnessed the IGP’s servility when he answered a call from a minister at a public rally some weeks ago. The Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID), the CID and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) have lost their credibility owing to unbridled politicisation, which has crept in through political appointments to high posts in those institutions.

What needs to be done is not to rush the bond matter to courts solely on the basis of the COPE report which has been considerably weakened by footnotes inserted by the champions of good governance in the UNP in defence of former Central Bank Governor Mahendran and his son-in-law.

A presidential inquiry is called for to re-examine the COPE report and the findings of other inquiries before the bond thieves are formerly arraigned before courts so that there will be no room left for them to get away with their serious offence. A botched attempt by a group of concerned citizens to bring them to justice has already enabled them to make a false claim that the Supreme Court has cleared them.

The outcome of the proposed presidential inquiry will reveal whether what we have witnessed since the 2015 is yahapalana or the same old kleptocracy disguised as good governance. Somebody has rightly likened inquiries conducted by various committees to the process of a person relieving himself. They sit, deliberate for a while and then the matter is dropped with a report. We have seen this happen on several previous occasions.

President Sirisena is now in a position to deliver a politically smothered mate with the UNP badly cornered. It is hoped that the promised presidential inquiry will not be a political move on the part of the SLFP (Maithri) faction to tame the UNP, which is growing abrasive by the day and coerce it into fielding a common candidate again at the next presidential election as well. The UNP will not recover in the foreseeable future if the bond thieves are made to pay for their crime because they are sure to spill the beans thus ruining its leaders’ chances of facing the people again. It is going to be a case of Hobson’s choice for the UNP. However, should the President ever try to make the most of the situation politically instead of punishing the bond thieves and recovering EPF money and everything the state has lost due to the bond scams he would commit political hara-kiri.

( Prabath is the Chief editor of the Island, a Colombo based daily newspaper, where this piece first appeared)



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