How they must dislike the “Diyawanna Five”. Actually some of the 225, who parade themselves as the chosen people and the inhabitants of what they call an August Assembly, must surely hate the guts of the five colleagues who decided to open their assets and liabilities declarations for all to see. They could hardly have [...]


The good, the replaceable and the worthless


How they must dislike the “Diyawanna Five”. Actually some of the 225, who parade themselves as the chosen people and the inhabitants of what they call an August Assembly, must surely hate the guts of the five colleagues who decided to open their assets and liabilities declarations for all to see. They could hardly have won plaudits from fellow lawmakers and even state officials who have, over the decades, bent the rules over the years and done some fiddling when it came to declaring their assets.

The five upright parliamentarians who responded to numerous public calls over the years for politicians and others to come clean were the veteran Left politician Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Vidura Wickramanayake, State Minister Eran Wickramaratne, M.A. Sumanthiran and Tharaka Balasuriya. Later they were joined by Ranjan Ramanayake and Ali Zahir Moulana making up Sri Lanka’s “Magnificent Seven”. This was a grand gesture, though it would have been more meaningful and appreciated had it come much earlier.

Even so they have thrown open their assets declarations to public scrutiny. In doing so, they are showing the public, and more so their fellow parliamentarians and high-ranking officials, that they are clean and they have nothing to hide. It is a move that other lawmakers should follow, making available their own assets and those of their kith and kin for public assessment.

But will it ever happen? The public surely has entertained huge doubts about the dubious doings of MPs over the decades, so they know that there is little chance of parliamentarians opening their assets declarations to public view unless their declarations weight heavily on the side of liabilities. The tendency is to keep all the information as close to the chest as possible. One of the problems that have made the Asset Declaration law virtually deadwood is that it is not taken seriously. Granted, when the time comes, which is the end of March for those in public service, autonomous institutions and state bodies, the individual declarations are handed over to the relevant authority, some with much reverence and others with great cynicism. The cynics know that this is the end of the road for the declarations. They are faithfully bundled each year and deposited in some corner of a room, never to be seen again unless somebody accidentally stumbles on the accumulated bundles gathering dust and adding to the space problems that government institutions face.

Parliamentarians make their worth known when they enter parliament for the first time and regularly thereafter. But who on earth cares a damn about what 225 MPs say what their assets are unless some enterprising official desires to dig into these narratives. Several decades ago, when I was writing the regular parliamentary sketch for the Daily News, I remember asking Felix Dias Bandaranaike who it was that actually studied the declarations submitted to the authorities.

“Nobody,” said FDB, then at his laconic best. Whether he was serous or not, I could not say. Very few could; unless he made his intentions clear a few minutes later. One must say that some officials actually did, for they were not certain when Felix DB would ask them.

Over the years this assets declaration has turned into a huge joke. The first question to ask is whether, today, anybody peruses the information provided by Ministers, MPs or officials who are mandated to submit their declarations to higher authorities.

The Declaration of Assets law has been in the Statute Book for decades. If I remember correctly it was Felix Dias Bandaranaike, as a minister in Mrs Bandaranaike’s coalition government that introduced the bill in 1975. It seems that the Assets declaration law has now fallen into disuse. That is because those who should take the law seriously and those who should study the declarations submitted do not examine them for their veracity. So let culprits and cheats go by unhindered and unpunished.

There is an interesting anecdote that concerns a provision in either the assets or the bribery law that possibly Felix Dias Bandaranaike wrote into one of them, though I cannot be sure that it was he. If a politician or official was living rather ostentatiously and what seemed to be beyond his earnings, Felix placed the burden of proof on the politician or official to prove that his assets were legitimately earned.

When Hong Kong under British colonial administration was wracked with corruption in the 1960s and 70s and was seeking to set up an anti-corruption body it studied the laws of several countries, including Ceylon as it was known then. The newly formed Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) incorporated into its law what I would call the “burden of proof” law. Over the years the ICAC has proved to be a formidable force sparing nobody (not even the second Chief Executive of Hong Kong and its own high level officials) for bribery and accepting gratifications.

While the “Magnificent Seven” have set an example by opening their assets to public examination, they are but a minuscular group in an assembly that consists of individuals elected by the people. If this vast majority of MPs who came in through the peoples’ vote (of course there some who found the backdoor a more convenient way to enter despite the peoples’ rejection) appealed to the peoples’ vote, why is it not possible for them to trust the people and have their assets voluntarily opened for examination?

In the meantime, when one sees genuine signs of honesty and transparency in a limited corner of public affairs, we hear noises from that garrulous party ‘leader’ called Wimal Weerawansa. Not that this is unusual. The day I do not hear Weerawansa or Gammanpila or read about them I would feel that my day is not done. How can this country progress and prosper without a daily dose of wisdom from them?

In the years gone by, the citizenry was to hear so much about diplomatic passports, birth certificates which show people growing younger not older, about ministry vehicles being distributed liberally for the use of kith and kin, while Gammanpila was preaching the ‘dhamma’ in some Australian state, which is not a bad thing if you ask me.

But the strangest thing I read was that Weerawansa, this breakaway leftist (or whatever) has declared that he will pull out of the Rajapaksa orbit if the former president supports moves to abolish the executive presidency. Like hell he would! Who would he stand next to if he left Mahinda Rajapaksa. Television news have shown innumerable shots of Mr Weerawansa (if I might call him so) almost rubbing shoulders with Rajapaksa. Having virtually wormed his way to be by Rajapaksa’s side and thereby tried to win public acceptance, he is now threatening to part from the former president’s political circle.

Weerawansa is of no use to Rajapaksa, whereas Weerawansa’s political survival depends a lot on continuing to align himself with the former president. Weerawansa without Rajapaksa is a dead duck. He could only cackle but that is not going to do him any good.

Weerawansa’s bogus bravado is for public show. But then the public has already had enough of this loud-mouthed political nonentity. Those who have been misled in the past by Weerawansa’s theatric say his arguments are sound. I agree — his arguments are merely sound.


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