“I am proud to resign” says Ravi Karunanayake: but the proud moment belongs to the free media Even as many politicians from both sides of the political divide joined in to add voice to the nation’s chorus and let know to both the President and the Prime Minister, ‘ you can tell your cabinet minister [...]


Yahapalanaya wins the day


“I am proud to resign” says Ravi Karunanayake: but the proud moment belongs to the free media

Even as many politicians from both sides of the political divide joined in to add voice to the nation’s chorus and let know to both the President and the Prime Minister, ‘ you can tell your cabinet minister there with you, he’ll have to go,’ this week’s welcome resignation of Ravi Karunanayake from his foreign minister portfolio served to strike a blow for the Yahapalana policies of this government and redeem, to a certain extent, the faith, hope and trust the people had reposed in Sirisena when they voted him to presidential office two years ago on his solemn vow to usher in a government that would be just, transparent and accountable to the sovereign people of Lanka.

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Even though it took some while – and a great deal of plodding by the media – to make the Yaha Government realise the death wish it would harbour within unbeknown if they played footsie and dilly dallied any longer; and failed to take remedial action in a situation where immediate action was called for. But no matter. Better late than never.

It was inevitable that Ravi K had to go. The writing had been on the wall for long. With the word RESIGN writ large. Pity that long sighted Ravi had not put on his reading spectacles to read and discern the import of the message. And had to have it read out to him by the nation’s free press, representing as it does the voice of the people.

But none is so blind as those who refuse to see or so deaf as those who refuse to hear. And when the bell tolled for Ravi K he did not send to ask for whom it tolled but remained mute with ears muffled for he knew it tolled for him – in the same manner Mahinda Rajapaksa did not sign the vote of no confidence motion the joint opposition presented to the Speaker against Ravi Karunanayake last week.

But the die was cast and he had to go. But he did not make his exit with a whimper but rather with a self praise bang. First let’s be served with a sample taster of choice rump steaks from Ravi’s banquet farewell feast. On Thursday afternoon as the House clock chimed half past one, the former Minister of Finance and the nation’s Foreign Minister the honourable Ravi Karunanayake rose to address parliament and deliver his valedictory speech.

He said: “The media and some Opposition politicians demand that I be crucified over being probed by a presidential commission of inquiry. I decided to resign to set an example in keeping with the good governance policy we introduced and I do so without regret. “Martyred on that self same cross he would have been crucified upon had he not bowed out with grace at the eleventh hour, he first arrogated to himself fulsome credit for introducing good governance policies to the nation. And said he is resigning to set an example in keeping with Yahapalana policies.

Good. But how much better would it have been if he had followed the Yahapalana policies from the start and steadfastly refused to accept the gratuitous Rs. 1,450,000 per month hospitality of bond scam Arjun Aloysius for eight months ensconced in Monarch Residencies penthouse suite? But, of course, he knew nothing. Didn’t know, as he had told the presidential bond commission only a week before, that it had all been done by his wife and daughter and he had never asked them as to how he had been blessed with such good fortune to wake up each morn in such luxurious surroundings.

Perhaps he thanked his patron saint St Anthony of Padua for his good fortune and never dreamt that it had come courtesy of St Aloysius of Perpetual. And as far as resigning to set an example was concerned wasn’t it only this Monday when he dismissed media reports that President Sirisena had called for his resignation and stated indignantly: “ Why should the president ask me to resign, I have done nothing wrong?”

Last week on Wednesday, he had admitted at the Presidential Commission of inquiry into the Central Bank Bond Scam that he had lived at the penthouse suite of Monarch residencies. He had admitted that the rent was Rs. 1.450,000, per month He had admitted that he had lived there for eight months enjoying the patronage of Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries, the primary bond dealer who is presently at the epicenter of the bond scam inquiry.

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Ravi Karunanayake had admitted that he had not known of this. He had admitted that he had not known that there was no lease agreement between him or any of his family members with the owner of the premises. He had admitted that the family had bought the premises for Rs 165 million. He had admitted he had not known that it was bought by cash deposited in the safe of the chairman of the company he owns and of which his wife and daughter are directors. He had confessed that it was all done by his wife and 25-year-old daughter and that he knew nothing of it. And admitted he never thought it fit to ask them how they managed to pull it off and work their miracle and cocoon him in the lap of luxury.

Not that he was a stranger to luxury. As he proudly boasted in his resignation speech, “I have no need to acquire a house through illegal means. Many MPs in this House know that I have a house in Battaramulla. Not only have those on our side but also those in the opposition visited that house. They came there to have political discussions, as friends, to eat and drink and enjoy and sometimes to crossover to this side.

“All those who came there know of my assets. They also know that I have never earned through illegal means. They also know that I never made use of my political power to earn money. Many of those who signed the no-confidence motion against me, too, are aware of this fact.”And thus the nation wonders and thus the wonder grows, how one small man the heavens blessed with such great business genius to own so much could crave for so much more?

But let’s give the new UNP backbencher his right of reply. Especially after he accused the media of crucifying him.
First his own elevation to the ranks of Christ and the Buddha when he said that both Jesus and Gautama had been accused wrongly even as he had been done wrong by the media – the harbinger of bad news to all politicians. On a secular front, he said that even Dudley Senanayake had been accused of corruption though none can recall any such instance and would consider it an unwarranted blasphemy to make such reference to such an unblemished character and to drag the gentle statesman’s time honoured name into this sordid episode merely to save one’s own skin.

But there was more to come from him in his resignation speech. And it came in the form of him quoting the scriptures. But it was not to quote chapter and verse from his Catholic Bible but to quote from the Buddha’s Dhammapada he sought refuge in.

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He said: “In the Dhammapada, in Ashta Loka Dharma, the Eight Worldly Conditions, anyone would have to face challenges and situations similar to this. The Buddha had stated if one who himself has done wrong attacks another, then, like the dust that’s flung to the winds, the wrong will visit him. If one wrongs a person who should not be wronged, one who is pure and is free from moral defilement, the evil falls back upon that fool, like fine dust thrown against the wind.”

Don’t get the message yet from the morally undefiled? Then wait for the rejoinder to reinforce innocence. Again from the Dhammapada, his New Testament of faith, he said

“As a mountain of rock is unshaken by wind, so also, the wise are unperturbed by blame or by praise.”In other words, like the rock of Gibraltar against which the winds unleash their fury, remains unmoved and unshaken, he, too, remains, like the pundits of old, unshaken and unstirred by the insults hurled against him.

Impressive, isn’t it? But not convinced yet? It was then time to draw in Hinduism. And, in the manner of ancient mariners who will seek any port in a storm, to quote from the Tamil poetic epic Thirukkural: “Act with righteousness. At all times. At all places, “and then proceed to declare that he was in the company of the saints; and if not manifested in flesh and blood, then, at least, found in the same spirit.

He stated without a blink that his own personal manifesto held: “To do the right thing always. My intention is to serve the people honestly. Come what may I will continue to serve my people, my party and my country. I will always stand for truth. I will continue with my struggle to eliminate crime and corruption from my country.”

And as a final resort, perhaps, to wrap his ignorance in purdah, he peeped out from his unveiled eyes to reveal to us all what the Koran had to say: “How much one tries to suppress the truth, the truth cannot be suppressed. Those who seek to suppress the truth would gain massive defeat. “
But wouldn’t it have been more helpful to him – rather than summoning the aid of poets and prophets to justify his blissful ignorance and placing the Buddha and Christ in the same cell as he is in and say that there were allegations made against them too and to imply that it’s the natural order of the world to hurl calumnies against great men of equal temper – had he lent ear to that most pertinent question posed by his cabinet colleague Mangala Samaraweera as reported in the Sunday Times’ political column last week:

Samaraweera observed: “That it is not a case of a telephone number of a colleague being found or his name appearing in an SMS that has come to light. There was a specific instance where it has transpired that Ravi Karunanayake had lived in an apartment that had belonged to Arjun Aloysius and had denied any knowledge of how it had happened.

Minister Samaraweera’s question in distilled form is simply this: “Is it right for any finance minister to enjoy the hospitality of any primary bond dealer? Irrespective of whether that particular bond dealer is bereft of guilt of any scam? “

It’s that failure to understand the conflict of interest that would arise in accepting favours from such men, it’s the failure to understand that a defence of “ I know nothing” would not hold water, it’s the failure to realise that accusing the media – though the Sunday Punch column never did – of attacking his wife and daughter when he himself had put them in the pillory and invited the quashed tomato and the rotten egg to be thrown at them, that made Ravi K pay the price of his ignorance which led to his own downfall.

Ravi K’s resignation speech may well have been his swan song though only the naïve would write of his demise. Even after pubic crucifixion, his reincarnation on an Easter soon to come as a different Avatar cannot be ruled out. For even whilst seated in the backbenches of that almighty Maithri court, no doubt, he will be marking time to make his second coming.

His final words, “I am proud to sacrifice my position. I do so for my party and people whom I always considered above me and my personal gains,” may have sounded sonorous in the ears of those who enjoyed his own brand of hospitality and who lined the road of his Kotte residence to greet the prodigal’s return home.

But for him there was nothing to be proud of. The proud moment belonged to Yahapalanaya. And to the candle lit by the free press of this country a long long time ago which, despite the many gusts of wind bellowed by all governments to snuff its flickering flame, still burns steadfast in the dark and windy night to rival the light of a thousand stars in the interest of the Lankan people; and to reveal to them the light of day.

No sooner had Ravi K bid adios from the front stalls to retire in shame to the backseats, though still a honourable member of the august House, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was quick to rise to his feet and hail the untold merits of Yahapalanaya.

He said “The Assistant Leader of my party told me that he needed to resign from the ministerial portfolio. I told him to take that decision after discussing it with the President. He met the President on Wednesday. Later he went to meet the President with me and Minister Rajitha Senaratne and handed over his resignation. Some were demanding his resignation this morning, too, but he had already submitted his resignation.”
But does Ravi’s resignation, mean that all’s well that ends well.

A sitting commissioner of the bond scam probe, a judge of the Supreme Court, observed at the Presidential Commission of inquiry last week that the whole scenario which unfolded before the commission may well invite a money laundering probe, when the facts emerged from the evidence given by Chief Financial Officer of Global Logistics and Transportation Brian Sinnaiah that:

n Ravi Karunanayake’s penthouse suite Monarch residencies had been bought with Rs. 165 million with the finances coming from the chairman’s safe of the Ravi Karunanayake owned Global Logistics and Transportation Ltd. of which he was chairman and his wife and daughters are directors of:

n That the loan facility acquired to purchase the Penthouse was to be paid back using money belonging to GLTC Chairman T.V. Lakshmikanthan who lives in Britain. Lakshmikanthan’s money, of which the origin is undisclosed.

n That it was kept in the GLTC’s money safe since February 2016. Lakshmikanthan has visited Sri Lanka twice in February 2016 and February 2017. At both instances, Lakshmikanthan has placed Rs 70 million and Rs 75 million of his personal money in the GLTC money safe. But no receipt had been issued to him after receiving the money.

n That the monthly installments of Rs. 11 million were taken in cash by the accountant of the company Sinnaiah and Ravi Karunanayake’s only answer was to say” I know nothing”. He, however, stated in his resignation speech that it was bought with a loan from the Seylan Bank. But reserved his right to remain silent as to how his company was going to pay back the loan, though his own chief accountant had already disclosed to the commission that monthly installments of Rs. 11 million for the last nine months had been paid in cash drawn from the chairman’s Ali Baba safe. And that the company books did not reflect or record these payments.

Ravi K’s resignation speech may have served to save the government’s bacon for the day. But did it salvage the Government’s Yahapalanaya promise to the people. If by the simple expedient medium of resignation, if the government suffers the belief it can wish away the call for a money laundering probe into the whole affair as touched upon by the Supreme Court Justices when they heard the testimony placed before them at the Presidential Commission last week, then it will be only kissing its own fate goodbye; and would find it signed, sealed and delivered on their Paget Road and Fifth Lane doorsteps, come elections 2020.

Yahapalanaya has survived not because the government has willed it. But because the free media have demanded democracy’s tenets to be followed to the letter. Thankfully, due to the Yahapalana policies of this government and its attempts to preserve its facade, however feeble its endeavours may appear, we have seen a commission been appointed. We have witnessed a minister been summoned. We have heard the Attorney General’s representatives – lap poodles under the former regime turned Rottweilers now- ferociously question witnesses with no respect to rank, as indeed they must. And that is to the credit of both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Yahapalanaya has won the day but it it cannot be a pyrrhic victory. For Yahapalanaya has many more miles to go and many more promises to keep before it can afford its deserved sleep. The people cannot be fobbed off that easily with a blind anymore.

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