These are definitely not the best of times for the 82-year-old Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne. At the stage of life when other men of his age are placidly reflecting on the impermanence and fleeting nature of existence and the futility of pursuing worldly wealth’s baubles; and meditating on how great empires rise only to [...]


PM must come clean on ‘grease yaka’


These are definitely not the best of times for the 82-year-old Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne.

At the stage of life when other men of his age are placidly reflecting on the impermanence and fleeting nature of existence and the futility of pursuing worldly wealth’s baubles; and meditating on how great empires rise only to be levelled in the sands of time and how the morning’s rose is kissed with evening’s doom and awaits its nightly grave; the Prime Minister who is also the Minister of Buddha Sasana has to engage himself in warding off calls for resignation and even for his arrest all because of a letter sent by his coordinating secretary on his purported behalf to the Customs and Ports authorities requesting them to waive off demurrage and taxes and release a container of grease with heroin concealed in its midst.

It is not that anyone is saying that the Honourable Prime Minister is involved or shares any complicity with this shocking attempt to smuggle into Lanka 261 kilos of heroin, the largest haul of heroin ever detected, with an estimated street value of nearly Rs. 3 billion. God forbid the thought. What is disturbing and damning, however, is the way his ministry officials have reacted to the discovery of the narcotic haul and the subsequent revelation of the existence of the prime ministerial letter.

The Prime Minister washed his hands off the affair by announcing that that the letter in question had been sent by an official of his ministry without his knowledge and consent and that an inquiry will be held to probe the matter.

Last week when the Sunday Times queried the status of the inquiry, the Prime Minister’s Secretary, passing the buck, was quoted in the paper as stating that the official who had sent the letter was attached to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and therefore the inquiry should be conducted by that ministry. The Secretary of the Buddha Sasana Ministry passed the buck back stating that the official concerned was assigned to his ministry only recently from the Prime Minister’s Office and he was not an official of his ministry and as such no inquiry could be conducted by the Buddha Sasana Ministry.

Whilst this pass-the-parcel game was being blithely carried on what was glossed over was that the buck ultimately stops at Mr. Jayaratne’s table, no matter whether it is at the Prime Minister’s Office or at the Buddha Sasana ministry.

On Wednesday it was revealed that the prime minister’s coordinating secretary Keerthie Sri Weerasinghe had tendered his resignation on Monday the 9th stating that he did not know the alleged drug smugglers but had sent the request letter at the behest of a UPFA town councillor in Gampola, Mr. Jayaratne’s own electorate from where he first entered Parliament in 1970.

On Thursday the Prime Minister told Parliament that his coordinating secretary had done wrong to issue a letter in order to secure the release of a container of heroin imported from Karachi. He said, “I kept silent so far as there was an investigation in progress. My statements here could jeopardise the investigations. Therefore, I remained silent. Both, government and opposition members advised me not to say anything with regard to this. Lots of MPs who talk about it base their accusations and allegations on what appeared on newspapers. Some newspapers publish stuff with the intention of improving their sales. I read them and laugh them off. I admit that sending a letter to secure the release of a container with heroin was wrong,”

Read them and laugh them off?

When an attempt has been made to secure the release of a consignment of 261 kilos of heroin with a letter coming from the prime minister’s office issued by the prime minister’s coordinating secretary bearing the prime minister’s frank, it is definitely no laughing matter but one that must be treated with shock and astonishment that such an atrocious act committed so brazenly has been allowed to have taken place without the premier’s knowledge. And it is incumbent upon the premier to realise the gravity of what has occurred and to fathom that, like all serious wrongs, this glaring transgression is one that cannot be wished away by a mere confession to Parliament which though it may hear confessions is not a forum to grant dispensations.

It is simply not enough that the coordinating secretary Keerthie Sri Weerasingheh has resigned. In fact his explanation that he was only helping out his fellow party member and considered it as his duty to do a favour to a member of the same party and that the prime minister, the town councillor and he himself were all duped by an unnamed Pakistani businessman, makes it even worse. It reveals the enormous power wielded by this politically appointed coordinating secretary to grant favours to his own kith and kin and party pals at the expense of the country.

The letter sent by him issued purportedly by the prime minister contained a request to release the goods without the payment of demurrage and taxes. Even if the container had not contained heroin but only grease and had the customs and port authorities acceded to the request ostensibly made by the prime minister, would not the waiver of demurrage and taxes caused loss of revenue to the Treasury which along with Ports and Customs, directly comes under the President’s personal purview as minister responsible?
Whether other politically appointees in other ministries have practised the same and granted favours to their party friends and how many millions of rupees in revenue have been lost to the country as a result is anyone’s guess?

Though the whole scandalous affair has now proceeded beyond the stage of a mere ministerial internal inquiry and has entered the dimension of a police investigation, yet, before the whole sorry saga takes a nasty turn for the worst, it behoves the Prime Minister to conduct a thorough transparent investigation immediately into this specific instance and also to the issuance of letters under his name by his ministry. It will be a tragedy if any shoddy cover up by blustering ministry officials is allowed to happen for it will besmirch Mr. Jayaratne’s pristine reputation as an honest, respected and decent man, the most senior SLFP member, who is also charged with the heavy and hallowed duty of protecting the Buddha Sasana and the morals it upholds.. The inquiry’s findings and the actions taken should be made public without delay. As Mr. Jayaratne surely knows the Prime Minister of Lanka must, like Caesar’s wife, not only be not suspected but also be above suspicion.

Furthermore, it is also time for a general overhaul and a clear directive must be issued by the Government that no minister or any of his officials purportedly acting on his instructions should issue any ‘request’ letters to any ministry not his own. Generally ‘request’ letters issued by a senior minister to another ministry’s officials take the air of not a mere ‘request’ but as an implied order from the top. Henceforth it should be made clear to all ministers that any such ‘request’ letters should be directed to the Permanent Secretary of that Ministry and not to the officials concerned. Or else there would be a complete negation of the concept of ministerial responsibility and also the command structure of the service would crumble

The Prime Minister should thank his lucky stars that the narcotic consignment was detected by sharp nosed custom officials in the nick of time. Had 261 kilos of heroin gone undetected and slipped into the market wrecking thousands of lives, it would have been impossible for him to have survived the outrage that would have erupted if it emerged later that the detection was not made at customs because a chit from the prime minister cum Buddha Sasana minister had waved the deadly cargo through.

If that had been the case, as any garage mechanic would tell you, not all the waters of the Mahaweli that flow through the Gampola electorate would have been able to cleanse the premier’s hands off the indelible grimy stain left by the ‘grease yaka’.

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