Accidents happen in the best of families. So do mistakes. In the case of the world’s film capital, Hollywood, it tripped on its own red carpet which it had rolled out to greet the night of a thousand stars last Sunday but, amid many a blush, still managed to call for a retake, identified the [...]


Hollywood’s Oscar bungle and La La Lanka’s gazette blunder


Accidents happen in the best of families. So do mistakes. In the case of the world’s film capital, Hollywood, it tripped on its own red carpet which it had rolled out to greet the night of a thousand stars last Sunday but, amid many a blush, still managed to call for a retake, identified the culprit who caused the ‘envelope malfunction’ which led to ‘La La Land’ being declared the best picture of the year instead of ‘Moonlight, and took the necessary action to set things straight and said the religious sorries to all concerned.

CB GUV DR COOMARASWAMY: Impractical to have complied with the law

In the case of La La  Lanka this week, there was neither a glitter of apology nor any star etched on Lotus Road’s  walk of infamy  nor any red carpet broad enough to hide the scandalous dust which had erupted from the bond scam volcano which first blew its top in 2015 and now threatens, with its latest aftershocks, to cover all in its vicinity with its tarring molten lava.

Unbeknown to the rest of Lanka, the Central Bank has been shooting first and legitimising later. For the past 20 years, it had been issuing government security bills in non-compliance with existing law and only giving it legal validation through the dubious means of backdated gazettes.

FM RAVI KARUNANYAKE: Blames ‘hyperactive Auditor General for not spotting the anomaly

It only came to light when, in the course of the Presidential Commission’s hearing  in to the Bond Scam,  a smart state counsel spotted the printed date on the gazette as November 2016 which apparently gave the legal okay for the issue of bonds in 2015 – nearly two years  after the event. And though it had been brought to the notice of the acting Government Printer by an alert proof reader at the Government Press and passed on to the relevant officials at the Central Bank, it had gone unattended.

But to the newly appointed Central Bank Governor, Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, who brought with him to the Governor’s chair last August all the promise that henceforth the Central Bank would be scrupulously governed with strict adherence to the rules and regulations governing it, this anomaly is no big issue. Even if, strictly speaking, it is against the law.

At a press conference held this Monday, Dr. Coomaraswamy stated that the issuing of government securities had been regulated under the Registered Stocks and Securities Ordinance No. 07 of 1937, which was held to be an obsolete law.  This Ordinance required the Central Bank to gazette government security issuances at the start of a year which it did till 1997. According to Dr. Coomaraswamy, “Until then it was practical to conform to the law’s requirement. But with the advent of a market dimension and when the auctions started, it became impracticable.”

He declared: “In the 1930s all Government instruments were issued on an administered basis and by that I mean there was no market dimension to the issuing of Government Securities. The Government administratively decided the amount, interest rates and other details, which meant at the beginning of the year it was able to fulfil the requirements of Article 4.1 of the Ordinance, which calls upon the Government to issue a gazette notification prior to the issuing of the bonds. In those days when everything was done administratively and there was no market it was possible to set out in a gazette Government borrowing for the year.”

Well, perhaps, on a practical level, it may seem at first hand to those at the wheel that expediency demands such a course. But isn’t it a shocking indictment on the Central Bank and successive governments since 1997 to have allowed the nation’s main bank, the monetary Mecca of the country, to issue government securities in noncompliance, nay, in defiance of existing law which compel the Bank to publish the gazette notification giving legal cover at the start of the year and not two years after the issuance. And even more shocking when the bank’s present Governor readily endorses the practice and shabbily seeks to justify it on the spurious grounds of expediency. Isn’t it quite out of the Coomaraswamy character — to what the nation had been led to believe he possessed given his unmatched credentials — to express such an unbecoming view?

WEERAWANSA: Independent but still with Appachchi

Consider what he says of the devilishly ingenious method used to flout the law and pull the wool over all eyes in a bid to convince that somehow practice makes legit a legally questionable wrong: “So the Central Bank at the beginning to the year gets a gazette number from the Government printer, then, at the end of the year, after all the bond issuances are completed, that gazette notification is issued. It is what you would call a post-operation,” he explained at the media meeting.
Can the nation subscribe to this devious device used to give the deceptive appearance of compliance with the legal requirement retrospectively when no law in the land authorises the Central Bank to resort to such ingenuity on the basis that it is an obsolete law and that other factors have made it impractical to follow it but it has tried its best as they could to conform to the law, as Dr. Coomaraswamy says, ‘only in the spirit.’

There is no defence known to law which allows a man to claim absolution on a plea that, in his own opinion,  it was not practical to follow the dictates of a particular Act to the letter but that, at least, he tried, in his own way,  to follow it, “in the spirit’. Neither is it a defence to plead that he considered it ‘an obsolete law’ that had become redundant and thus held he was possessed with the right to violate it. If that were possible, he might as well claim ignorance of the law as another possible defence.

But it is clear that the jitters have sent in. After the Governors’ defence of the ‘impracticality’ of following ‘an obsolete law’ and the Finance Minister’s buck passing had stopped, it was evident that both had realised the gravity of the Central Bank not complying with the provisions of the existing law and both sought to assure investors that ‘the Government Securities issued in the past are valid and that they should not be worried’.

“All securities issued by the government of Sri Lanka are absolutely safe. So no one should be concerned about the validity of government securities,” Dr. Coomaraswamy explained while Ravi Karunanayake assured that the ordinance will be amended before March 15th, thus confirming the position that both the Central Bank and successive governments including the present government had acted outside the laws governing the issuance of government securities.

But, even as Hollywood placed the blame for  its Sunday night Oscar bungle on the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ accountant Brian Cullinan for handing the wrong envelop to Warren Beatty and ignored actress Faye Dunaway’s lead role in announcing La La Land as best picture and got her off the hook, so did both Governor and Finance Minister shunt aside their own roles of responsibility in the gazette scandal, with the Finance Minister attempting to pass the coin to the nation’s accountant, the Maithripala appointed independent Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe, by casting the snide remark: “Why has the hyperactive Auditor General not found this?”

Before it had landed on the AG’s desk, perhaps Ravi Karunanayake should have asked himself the question why the base coin slipped through his own fingers in the first place.

From darkness to light
President reaffirms nation’s judicial independence for the second time

THE NEW FOUNT OF JUSTICE: President swears in Justice Priyasath Dep as the nation’s 45th Chief Justice

For the second time round, the president reaffirmed judicial independence by following procedure and appointing the most senior judge on the Supreme Court bench Priyasath Dep as the nation’s 45th Chief Justice to succeed the retiring Chief Justice K. Sripavan whom he had appointed in the same manner in February 2015.

Whilst wishing the much respected justice, former Chief Justice Sripavan a happy retirement, the Sunday Punch welcomes the new Chief Justice as he takes his place at the fount of Lanka’s justice.

The appointment of this much respected justice, famed not only for his academic brilliance at the Colombo University and thereafter at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague but also for his athletic, cricketing and rugby prowess at St. Joseph’s College, renews Lanka’s hopes that the efforts to restore confidence in the judiciary which had been traduced in the dust during the previous regime, augur well to establish the legal pillar of democracy on solid ground.

Wimal vows to walk alone — in JO’s shadow, of course!
Testing the water: Precursor to Mahinda’s strategy await  Speaker’s ruling on opening sluice gates for independents

WEERAWANSA: Independent but still with Appachchi

Ranil Wickremesinghe sees it as the first harbinger of the breakup of the Joint Opposition. Mahinda Rajapaksa considers it part of his much vaunted political strategy to topple the Government this year. And as news comes that Wimal Weerawansa has taken to art in his prison cell and is drawing his graffiti on Welikada walls, another Muse of the Arts seems to have suggested to him to burst into song with a lyrical line of Milton Mallawarachchi’s hit song, ‘Thani wee sittinnai ma adahas kale” and assert his will to walk alone, though faithfully following Rajapaksa’s joint opposition footsteps in the manner a well pedicured, manicured, stylised puffed-up poodle will freely follow his master whilst pretending a degree of freedom on a short leash.

Wimal Weerawansa’s unilateral declaration of independence from the UPFA fold made last week is nothing new. Ostensibly it was to gain more air time in Parliament which grants the privilege to parties recognised by the Speaker as independent.  He made this same appeal two years ago but was rebuffed by the Speaker who refused to entertain his request to be recognised as an independent political party and thus denied one man rap bands equal show time with the tenors on the parliamentary stage.  For a Joint Opposition UPFA upstart to  sing the same chorus again reveals the pathetic state of the Joint Opposition itself, which, fast running out of new political hits, now has to play old scratched records again merely to stay rocking somewhere in the public charts and evergreen in the public eye.

On February 23rd, the leader of the National Freedom Front Weerawansa, temporary set loose from his Welikada remand cell to attend Parliament sittings, told the House that he had written to the UPFA Secretary that he and his party of four have determined to break free from UPFA. That, after having wriggled its way to enter Parliament on the back of the SLFP driven juggernaut, they now wished to get off the vehicle whilst thanking its truckers for the free ride.

He also asked the Honourable Speaker to recognise his small band of hitchhikers as the proud and independent owners of their cranky five-seater jalopy, conveniently kept running at the close by pit-stop on the parliamentary free way, in which rattletrap they planned to continue their journey independently but still towed by the SLFP driven UPFA chariot; and beseeched the Speaker to heed their horn whenever they tooted in the same manner he gave ear to the UPFA container truck’s strident trumpet.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed the announcement and hailed it as a happy news event. He stated: “I am indeed thankful to Mr. Weerawansa and his party for this decision, as it means that he cannot work with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.”

But the former president and now the ruling chieftain of the so-called joint opposition, Mahinda Rajapaksa soon stepped in to allay fears that there was any real split and that it was just another façade employed in pursuit of his political stratagem to topple the Government this year. “Wimal and his four will remain as members of the joint opposition even though they will no longer be a part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance. It’s a strategy. It’s part of the plan. We cannot reveal those tactics in public.” Of course Mahinda Rajapaksa can shoo his hounds away for he knows he can always whistle them back.

So what makes Wimal think that the situation has changed for the Speaker to consider a change of heart? What are the waters that have flowed under the bridges these last two years that have drowned the buoys of precedents that will enable Parliament’s supreme judge to reconsider the ruling he gave hardly two years ago? Not forgetting of course, a similar ruling given against the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress by the former Speaker when, after having contested the election under the UNP banner, it wanted recognition as a independent party in 2014.

All will have to wait till Tuesday this week to know what the Speaker has to say in the matter. Whichever way he may hold, why is Rajapaksa calling Wimal’s go it alone journey as part of the grand strategy to topple the Government which he says cannot be revealed now? As he quipped last Friday, ‘one must first eat the hopper and then see what happens.” But having partaken of this Dutch favourite and suffered its consequences on November 18th 2014, he can be forgiven for being ‘once eaten, twice shy’ and for not revealing the details of his strategy to oust the Government.

But if the local hopper conceals conspiracy and the rounded yellow moon in the middle betrays egg on the face, perhaps Ceylon tea leaves at the dregs of the morning cup reveal Rajapaksa’s intention to test the water before placing the wary foot in it.

If the Speaker should rule in favour of Wimal and recognise his quintet as an independent band separate from the UPFA orchestra, he will be opening the sluice gates to other parliamentary soloists waiting in line to be accorded the same independent status. First in line, banging at the gates, is Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the 78-year-old leader of the Democratic Left Front and its only member, claiming independent status for his party.

Another one aiming for entry will be Lanka’s gift to mankind, Udaya Gammanpila, the leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya which is not even a registered political party. This whiter than white man of pristine character and clean conscience — who declared crying in November 2014, that, having decamped from Mahinda’s bandwagon and jumped over to the Maithri camp, he had had a restless night battling with his sacrosanct conscience which had triumphed over his thoughts and dictated to him to jump back to Mahinda’s fold overnight –hasn’t still formally asked the Speaker  to provide him a seat at the High Table as a leader of a political party of one in Parliament.

Perhaps the present criminal trial, which began this Wednesday and will continue tomorrow where he is charged with defrauding Rs 20 million from an Australian couple by allegedly using forged proxies, has kept both his mind and his clean conscience busy to press the issue in the House.
But why this sudden clamour to gain independent status? What would they gain, if the Speaker gives the nod?

Consider the following advantages Wimal would be crowned with should the Speaker elevate him to the status of a leader of an independent party:
Wimal’s quintet will be recognised as a separate party and Wimal, as Party Leader, will be able to  raise questions relating to matters of public importance  under 23 (2) of Standing Orders.  Such questions can only be raised by the Leader of the Opposition or a leader of a recognised political party after due notice has been given to the Minister concerned.

Wimal — and the same goes for Vasu and Gammanpila — can also canvass to attend the meetings of the House Committee as party leaders who decide on parliament business and related matters.

Wimal can also ask for additional air time allocation for him and his members to croak their swansongs in a Parliament.
But if the Speaker, come Tuesday, decides in his wisdom to recognise Wimal and his four merry men as an independent outfit, perhaps Mahinda, as part of his secret strategy, plans to dominate parliamentary time, plans to have his proxy parties occupy important seats in the select committees, plans to control parliamentary affairs, plans to employ delaying tactics to the Government’s legislative programme and thus hold in his hand the Ace of trumps as a bargaining chip to dictate to the Government regarding its pledged crackdown on corruption.

And, with the floodgates open and the necessary scene set, he may perhaps decide to exercise his full options and roll out the brand new luxury vehicle, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) from the G.L. Peiris’ garage where it is presently parked; and, packed with the 40-odd members of the joint opposition loyal to him, chauffeur it himself on to the public highway when the opportune moment arrives. Aided and abetted by his proxy independent parties, he can easily set forth, with the SLPP leading the convoy, to cripple the government’s agenda and hold the Government to ransom if it does not seek a compromise by relenting to see his way? Is this his silk route, his ‘string of pearls’ strategy to encircle the government and lay siege on it, until his demands are met?
But if that is his strategy which he understandably refuses to reveal, it will flop overnight should the Speaker refuse this Tuesday to recognise Wimal’s request. But if that be Mahinda’s desperate tactics, which one can only surmise, it’s also his privilege to do what is necessary to save the skins of his corrupt band, no matter that he falls in the attempt.

But another question must occupy the public mind. Wimal Weerawansa stated last Thursday that he had sent his letter containing his intent to break free from the UPFA and go it alone to the UPFA General Secretary. That was a week ago. Until this Friday, it has not been accepted by the Secretary with or without a Post Script: GROBR: Good Riddance Of Bad Rubbish. Why ever not? What is UPFA’s General Secretary Amaraweera waiting for?
The SLFP is the elephant in the United People’s Freedom Alliance, around whose tail the rest of the insignificant gathered round to hitch a hike to Parliament and prominence. And the chairman of both the SLFP and UPFA is the President.

If Wimal Weerawansa, accused of a corruption and presently remanded for the last one and a half months on account of it, has expressed his intention to sever his ties with the SLFP dominated UPFA, its chairman Maithripala Sirisena should grab the voluntarily resignation with both hands.
If the Mahinda faction of corrupt members should offer to do the same and board the Podujana Peramuna bus on their own accord in the near future and take to the expressway and go their own way, Sirisena, as the UPFA president, should order his party secretary to accept it without further delay. Why wait, when the opportunity to get rid of the rotten jetsam has been presented to him on a platter? Why save the termite ridden driftwood as souvenirs when it will only serve to lay at waste the sturdy SLFP teak?

As Chandrika declared a fortnight ago, it’s best to boot out the corrupt in the joint opposition within the SLFP-dominated UPFA and go it alone to seek the people’s mandate with brave new honest above board faces that portray the ethos of its founding father SWRD Bandaranaike. An opportunity, like this, doesn’t knock twice. Especially, not when one’s enemies threaten to commit hara-kiri without any prodding. The prudent thing to do in such circumstances will be to take the Machiavellian advice: “You let them.”

What better and easier way of cleansing a house of sin than to let the sinners go when they beg to leave?
The ball is now in Maithri’s court. The joint opposition and its breakaway factions have served a feeble drop shot at the net. What prevents Sirisena, with Chandrika cheering him on in the grandstand, from returning the ball with a smashing volley to win game, set and match?

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