No one really knows what made President Maithripala Sirisena give pubic expression to any private misgivings he may have had in the way the onslaught on corruption was carried out by the agencies assigned to that task and why he singled out the Bribery Commissioner for special mention. Had his broadside, made last Tuesday, been [...]


The Yahapalana blues and President’s right to sing it


No one really knows what made President Maithripala Sirisena give pubic expression to any private misgivings he may have had in the way the onslaught on corruption was carried out by the agencies assigned to that task and why he singled out the Bribery Commissioner for special mention.

Had his broadside, made last Tuesday, been to pull up these agencies for their incompetence, to complain over their long delays and to lambast their choice of priority in drawing in only the small fish that swum in shallow ponds whilst the sharks that lurked beyond the reef continued to freely roam the deep and even make oceanic crossings at will, the entire nation would have understood his frustration, shared his mounting anger and even sympathized with his plight.

After all, wasn’t he the presidential candidate who had ridden to power on the crest of a wave of attacking corruption and bringing to justice those who had plundered the nation’s wealth and had rendered bare its coffers? His inability to deliver the rogues so far and acquit himself with honour by discharging the heavy burden of the election winning pledge he had made to the nation had caused a blot on his performance sheet and, no doubt, would have given him many a night of restless sleep, brooding on how best to spur the investigative agencies to action and goad them to produce results.

If Rajapaksa’s theme song had been to gloat over the war victory and set fire to Sinhala chauvinistic passions to burn at a new high, Sirisena’s signature tune had been to float the dream of a new era he would dawn for Lanka where the mega corrupt would have no nook nor cranny to hide but would be brought before the nation’s courts to face judgment day. It would be done within a framework of just governance where all, irrespective of birth, status, rank, creed or wealth would be equal in the eyes of the law.

Rajapaksa’s future lay in his past achievements whereas Sirisena’s future lay in his promises. Rajapaksa’s past deeds, however glorious it may have been, were water under the bridge; and having flowed for five long years had long ceased to excite the imagination of a people. They had seen enough of the debris it carried, the effluence of corruption and abuses of power that had poured from the river banks of decadence and were sick of it and were waiting to see the last of it.

What they yearned, instead, and what they chose in January last year, was to see clear waters lit by the rays of an unclouded sun flow again, a babbling river of pristine waters, clean and transparent and devoid of fungi that would ensure the reinvigoration of life, a life able to flourish in an environment free from toxic pollutants which had debauched the national stream.

PRESIDENT MAITHRIPALA SIRISENA: Duty to protect the  armed forces


But the purification process is easier said than done for toxic germs don’t give up their ghosts easily. Though some change colour and some mutate, some dig in and resist all attempts to unearth and expose them to light which is fatal to their existence. Only concerted cleaning up action exerted relentlessly offer any chance at all for its complete eradication. Due to these unexpected complications, the entire process had taken too long but still the people, having understood the intricacies involved in turning slimy waters pure, were content to tolerate the delay and remain grudgingly patient, provided the task launched with all fanfare was continued unto the end without any letup.

But yet when the President rose to speak at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on October 11th in a ceremony held to give houses and lands to security personnel, it was not to rattle off the usual excuses of the complications involved in bringing the guilty to trial and then reaffirm his unbending will to pursue the task, no matter the obstacles.

Instead it was to give a public spanking to the FCID, the CID and a special six of the best to the Bribery Commissioner for being too arrest-happy and taking the former defence secretary and three former commanders of the navy to court without having an eye on the broader picture but bent more on giving effect to a political agenda. He took umbrage that he was not informed beforehand of such intended actions and thus, presumably, denied the opportunity to veto it, if he so desired, in the larger interest of the nation.

‘The action of herding the three navy commanders who had fought in the war to court was most despicable,” he declared his displeasure with vehemence. “There is a reason why independent commissions were established. Those in these commissions must know the special area that is required and relevant to their services. That is national security, the management of the armed forces. Those who are not aware of this, those who do not think of these correctly, those who do not have the ability to think about these, act wrongly with regard to these. As the defence minister and as the president, I express my revulsion and opprobrium that three former navy commanders were taken to court.”

It was indeed an unexpected and unprecedented outburst from Maithripala Sirisena and the nation’s mind boggled as to what possibly could have sparked the bombshell: this bolt from the blue that surprised all and plunged the nation to suffer the Yahapalana blues.

Though many theories have been advanced to explain away his tirade, why the president chose to air his misgivings in public is a secret known to himself alone. But during the last 22 months he had been in office, he has also emerged as a master strategist with a cultivated sense of timing in the artful manner of a boxer who knows exactly the right moment to land his punch to floor his opponent or a comedienne who knows exactly when to drop his punch line to gain the maximum laughter. In this instance it was not to deliver a knockout blow to anyone in particular or to have the masses in stitches.

And yet, though those in the joint opposition feel emboldened by the President’s remarks against the FCID, CID and the BC and welcome with relief that the heat may now be turned low and even off, still they harbour deep within, the nagging doubt what the president has up his sleeve, remembering full well the hot potato he timely dropped on the eve of the last general election when he suddenly pulled the rug under Mahinda’s feet and rained acid on the rebels’ polls parade and thus soured Rajapaksa’s prime ministerial hopes. No one who could crunch through so many hoppers with a dead pan expression and leave egg on host Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face the morning after, is to be underestimated.

The only clues left for theorists to glean from the president’s diatribe against the Bribery Chief, are how public officials should not forget the broader picture when taking action and how he will not allow positions to be used to serve political agendas. These two pointers may serve to reveal all and yet may reveal sweet nothings but be mere red herrings for others to fry while the real import of his tirade may lie elsewhere? That only Sirisena knows. As his able and loyal lieutenant, Minister Senaratne remarked this week, “If the cap fits, let them wear it.”

But one thing is certain. The President would not have sacrificed his Yahapalana image and appeared to be compromising on his Yahapalana principles and transgressing on his Yahapalana promises on which he rode to power merely to get Bribery Commission’s Director General Dilrukshi Wickremesinghe to tender her resignation. Weren’t there other ways to skin a cat? More than one way to catch a fish? There was no need to burn Dilrukshi at the Yahapalana stake and see Yahapalanaya itself perish in the pyre’s flames.

Many Yahapalana followers were aghast to learn of the President’s no-holds-barred full frontal attack on the investigative agencies; and some, morale sapped, even went so far as to describe it as the end of the Yahapalana dream and the beginning of the all too familiar Rajapaksa nightmare. They feared that Maithripala had betrayed the cause, caved into joint opposition demands to end – what the joint opposition termed – was a political witch hunt in order to pave the way to unite the splintered SLFP and make it a winning force to triumph the traditional foe, the UNP, at the next elections.

But were their fears groundless? Was it possible that, not having read the entire speech, they misunderstood the true import of what President Sirisena’s speech contained? Had a single para, taken out of context, led them to think that the President, a month before the nation marks the first death anniversary of the most Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera which falls on November 8th, had thrown the Yahapalana baby with the bathwater? Could they countenance the thought that the man who had carried the torch of Yahapalanaya, first lit by Ven. Sobitha two years ago, would now extinguish its flame and, in the ensuing darkness, snuff out his own political existence as well?

Let us not forget that Maithripala Sirisena is the man who, after becoming president kept his promise to establish the Bribery Commission as an independent body along with 4 other bodies thus reversing the draconian step Mahinda Rajapaksa had taken to consolidate his power further and make it near absolute five years ago to bring them under his own direct purview through the 18th amendment which was repealed and replaced with Sirisena’s 19th amendment last year.

Would a man who had run the gauntlet to see the liberating 19th Amendment introduced and approved by a two third majority in Parliament against all odds and in the midst of midnight feasts held in the Well of the House by the Rajapaksa rebels; and hailed by all as a most enlightening piece of legislation, now wish to see it traduced in the dust 18 months later? If he were to trample it in a fit of fury, would he not be dancing on his own political grave, too?

True, the production in court of three former navy commanders who had fought in the war, had irked him and he had spoken against the act not because he had any personal connection with them and batted for them but out of national interest. Hadn’t the President who had guaranteed the right of free speech without fear and vowed to respect the opinions of all, the right to express his own opinion on the anti corruption drive he initiated without it being condemned as negating the principles enshrined in the Yahapalana philosophy?

As the President, in his speech, advised the investigative agencies not to forget the broader picture when executing their duties, does it not behove the rest to also consider the broader picture before rushing to criticise the President’s comments?

To be fair to the President, his speech was devoted in the main to explain his duties as President. He said he was not elected by the people as president to make telephone calls to the courts, exert pressure on judges, to influence independent commissions, but to reform the whole system of government. Neither was he interested in sending people to jail. That, he said, was not his business.

“As President of the country, as the Commander in Chief and the Defence Minister,” he declared, “I have a higher duty to protect the interest of the armed forces. It is my duty to ensure that the defence of the realm is maintained. To each of these independent commissions, though the constitutional council appoints members, the constitution has reserved the right to the President to appoint the Director General and the secretary. This is because the constitution has taken cognizance of the fact that there is a need for the President to take into consideration the stability of the government, its management, its responses to changing circumstances and act accordingly and give direction in that regard.”

He said that as the elected President of the country he has been entrusted with many duties and responsibilities and one prime responsibility was to protect the armed forces. These are factors that also must be taken into consideration when heads of commissions seek to act. They should not take decisions as if their own area of responsibility was all that mattered and if the FCID, CID and the Bribery Commission act based on a political agenda then he will have to take a decision on them too.

Obviously the President sees himself as a conductor of a symphony orchestra. His role is not to draw the bow on the violin or pluck the viola or play a movement from a Bach suite on the cello. Neither is it to slap the strings on a double bass or blow the conch as a shell trumpet but to assemble the woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings and let the music play in unison.

As the President said in his speech, “The people placed a great trust in me. As a result of that trust on January 8th 2015, the people elected me president not because they wanted food or clothing from me or to build roads but to bring many political reforms that had to be brought within the country. To safeguard the law and protect the peace. To guarantee the supremacy of the law. To guarantee freedoms, democracy human rights and fundamental rights. “

Thus it is clear that he regards his role as being one to create the ensemble of institutions that are needed to give practical effect to his vision and, in the manner of a conductor, to act as its unifier, to direct its performance and set the tempo and style of its activities. And should the flutist blow too hard and split the air and jar the tone or the cellist draw the bow too harshly upon the string and turn the musical score to a cacophony, he will wave his baton and call the errant to line to restore the symphony’s harmony.

It may not only be a necessary interference with the individual cellist’s performance but also a duty to ensure no one swerves away from the musical composition and spoils the orchestra’s collective performance. In the manner the baton stops in the conductor’s hand and he must face the final music if he defaults so does the buck stop at the president’s table and the incumbent must meet the public rage if he is derelict in his duty to the nation.

It must also be acknowledged and appreciated that as Executive President, Maithripala Sirisena has many responsibilities and duties to bear upon his shoulders and he cannot concentrate solely upon one and discharge it effectively without paying due consideration to the impact his action in discharging one duty would have on his other onerous duties.

He said: “As the President I have been entrusted with great many duties and it is my fundamental duty to protect national security. In order to guarantee the defence of the realm, I am bound to protect the Armed Forces, bound to safeguard their honour, bound to promote their welfare. These are things that any nation, any government, any head of state are bound to do. I will never work to weaken the Forces. Neither will I allow anyone to do so.”

In such an instance, bound by duty as commander in chief, defence minister and as executive president, if he fears that there is a sinister campaign to undermine the good standing of the armed forces, isn’t he duty bound to rise and raise the issue with a view to protecting the armed forces? Or do you expect him to throw the forces’ honour to the wolves and stay mute?

Rightly or wrongly, if, in President Sirisena’s opinion – and it is only his opinion that matters, not every Tom, Dick or Harry’s view for the people haven’t voted them as president – he considers that the investigative agencies have stepped out of line and are acting outside the scope of their brief, motivated by some political agenda – doesn’t he have the right to express it and then seek to put the house in order?

Even Supreme Court judges the world over do not arrive at their judgments based on sterile law alone but often take into consideration public policy and the effect their decisions would have on society. For judges have a higher duty that transcends the merits or demerits of the case they are called upon to presently adjudicate. Even when the strict interpretation of the existing law demands the decision must undoubtedly be in favour of one litigant, supreme court judges may hold that it should not be so decided, if they determine that the effect of such a decision, however right in law, may be wrong to award for the social injustice it would create or the evil that would flow from setting such a precedent.

It is in this same manner, in the art of government, that the President too has to take account of factors external to the corruption crackdown and sound the alarm when he finds the investigators, wittingly or unwitting, have overshot their mark. That does not ring the death knell to the anti-corruption drive. Only steers it back to course.

This Wednesday, a 20-strong FCID team raided Joint Opposition member Kumar Welgama’s Matugama estate in search of a bullet proof car and found none. The President called the action rather immature and warned that “what would happen at the end is people would just laugh at such acts”. Was it wrong of the President to have condemned it, does it negate his commitment to the crackdown on corruption? Likewise, if Wednesday’s raid reduced the corruption crackdown to a mockery, would not evidence of a secret political hand deciding whom to charge or whom to clear taints its credibility?

For even as the rest of the nation has a right to indulge the Yahapalana despair so has its chief constructor have the right to swing its blues when he finds his masons, confused of speech and ignorant of another’s lingo, not sticking to the original design but piling on more bricks slipshod on this modern tower of Babel than the weak and shallow foundation can take.

Fall gal Dil

DILRUKSHI DIAS WICKREMESINGHE: Resigns as Bribery Commission’s Director General

Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe never wanted to be the Bribery Commission’s Director General. She had steadily risen through the ranks at the Solicitor General’s office and was quite happy to be serving as the Deputy Solicitor General when she was handpicked by the new political masters just after the presidential poll last year for the job as the nation’s number one corruption hunter.

It was one that would thrust her into the limelight and would win her many powerful enemies. It would also make her place her neck on the line, in the line of selfless public duty.
But then she had the personality, the verve and the force of a German Panzer. She also had the spirit which would fill a container ship and still brim over. And she never could resist a challenge. For nearly twenty two months she slogged away, overtaxed and under resourced, to track down the bribe takers: the corrupt men and women of Lanka.

When the Bribery Commission filed charges against the former defence secretary and three former navy commanders and took them to court on Sept 1st for allegedly causing a Rs 11.4 billion loss to the government, it was the biggest case she had handled since assuming office. But following the President’s speech last week, where a reference was made to the case, she decided to tender her resignation on Tuesday. She need not have done so. But she chose to go. It was accepted the following day.

Thus the nation on Wednesday lost the services of Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe, widely regarded as a strong, incorruptible, brave officer, a person whom the public had grown to trust, respect and adore. It is unfortunate she had to become the fall gal caught up in a political world not her own and it is sad to see her go.

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