‘There with the blessings of the Triple Gem go I’, seems to be the guiding policy of this unassuming people’s President of Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena as he makes his way through the manifold duties of presidential office with the same simple and easy, unpretentious style of his farming days, as if he was still tilling [...]


Take good care, Mr. President: Don’t play dice with the Fates

Trust in the Triple Gem but watch your back

‘There with the blessings of the Triple Gem go I’, seems to be the guiding policy of this unassuming people’s President of Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena as he makes his way through the manifold duties of presidential office with the same simple and easy, unpretentious style of his farming days, as if he was still tilling the land and harvesting its bounty and — apart from keeping a watch for the odd rogue elephant come to plunder his crop or the slithering snake in the grass — carrying out his tasks with nary a thought for his personal safety.

Impulse buying: People's President Maithripala trying out a pair of shoes for size at a shoe shop in Colombo this Tuesday. He entered the shop without notice, without any guards and was photographed by a shop assistant with a phone camera while browsing through the shop's shoe collection.

But today as he beats the nation’s swords with intent to turn it into ploughshares and usher the first blush of peace and prosperity upon a land long ravaged by war and morosely wrapped in discord, he should do well to be mindful that the daggers are drawn, the knives are out and his exposed face and figure are firmly fixed in focus in the telescopic sight of an unknown sniper’s gun.
His enemies need only one shot. He cannot afford even one slip. And though one may believe there’s providence in the fall of a sparrow, better play safe than be sorry or as the Christians would put it ‘trust in the Lord but lock thy doors.’

His sudden elevation to the presidency of Lanka has not changed him one jot. The simplicity ingrained in his character, moulded by the soil of Lanka and washed by her rivers, has not been transformed by the jester’s sceptre, the inane baubles of high office that had seduced lesser men. And the nation loves and respects him all the more for it. If he is enveloped in an aura of simplicity, his honesty shines through like a ray of light at the end of a tunnel. He is the lotus that bloomed from the Rajapaksa mire.

But it has also bred in him a cavalier attitude to danger — where the brave die only once; where, without giving a fig leaf to the need to cover his exposed self, he assumes the mocking air, bares his chest and says to his enemies, ‘my strength is the strength of ten for my heart is pure. Come do your worst, if you dare.”

But these qualities, howsoever admirable in any man, can find no place untempered in the person of one crowned by a people’s ballot to be president — not when he stands on the cusp of a great new era for Lanka and holds cupped in his hands the collective aspirations of Lanka’s twenty million people. When so much is expected by so many from one man, can this nation afford to have at the pinnacle of power, the Achilles’ heel of her manifest hopes for dawn to break?

From day one he has continued to do his daily dawn workout at Independence Square, freely mingling with the crowd and jogging with the ‘keep fit’ public, following a commendable habit he had picked up as Health Minister or even before; and, as the SUNDAY PUNCH of Feb 15 commented ‘testing fate to the utmost by presenting himself as a sitting duck to a sniper’s bullet’. But, ignoring all warnings, and despite his busy schedule, he still keeps regular hours and sticks fast to his fitness regimen at Independence Square, like a nicotine addict finding it hard to kick the habit. Remember, the vulture is a patient bird, as is the spider which, having woven its web, waits for its prey to visit at leisure its deathly mesh. Can this nation, merely for the sake of having the pleasure of a down-to-earth president mingling freely and stretching with the masses and displaying his common touch, afford such a luxury when so much is at stake? Or, for that matter, can he?

Can the nation afford to tolerate the lapses made by the Presidential Security Division (PSD) when it treats lightly the presence of an army corporal allegedly found to be armed with a 9 mm pistol not even twenty-five feet away from the President? Especially when it emerges later that this corporal is detailed to the contingent guarding the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa; that he had been ordered by the former president to accompany his son Namal Rajapaksa to a meeting in Angunukolapelessa attended by President Sirisena; that he had been let through without first being frisked by the PSD; that he had only been spotted by the Special Task Force personnel who had handed him to the PSD who had let him off and had not considered it a serious breach of security requiring investigation?

Is the nation to be amused when it learns of a cock-up barely eight days later where a security lapse in coordination results in President Sirisena getting into the Prime Minister’s vehicle by mistake after a Vesak pandal opening ceremony; and Ranil Wickremesinghe having to rush to get him out and get him in to the right car?

Security experts have also reported their reservations in retaining personnel appointed by the previous president in the PSD but no major overhaul has still been done to change its composition. Wouldn’t the nation’s confidence that the President is in safe hands and his security is iron clad and infiltration proof be more strengthened if a thorough reassessment of the situation is done, if it has not been done already?

Last month the New Indian Express, quoted a former STF Commandant Lewke who spelt out four vital ingredients of good VVIP security. He said: “First, there ought to be a correct threat perception based on accurate intelligence. Second, the VIP should be aware that he or she is under threat and feel the need for protection. Third, there should be awareness among all that there could be threat to the President.” And as the last but not the least ingredient, he said: “The President himself should realise that his life is important for the stability and security of the country.”

That is what the nation fervently prays President Sirisena would consider seriously without delay. Since 1983, every Lankan president has been the target of Tamil Tigers. Even today the possibility of LTTE remnants staging a strike against the present president still exists and cannot be ignored. This obvious threat is further compounded by the emergence of a new and more insidious but less obvious and almost totally unidentifiable threat. It need hardly be said that it stems from those who fear the crackdown on corruption; whose desperation has turned rabid as evidenced by their recent speeches and acts.

Perhaps, next time President Sirisena is seated in his vehicle at the traffic lights – the only Lankan president ever to scrupulously stop at traffic lights and, possibly, the only head of state in the world to scrupulously do so — patiently waiting, like the rest of us, for the colour red to turn green, he will find ample time, no doubt, to contemplate the tragedy that will befall this nation if his trusted hands are not at the wheel to drive the nation’s destiny forward. How ironic, how tragic it would be if these same sterling qualities of his personal character that inspired millions to repose their faith in him and vote him president should serve to precipitate a nation’s catastrophe? His unassuming nature probably makes him think he is not worth a bullet.

Maithripala Sirisena should answer the prayers of the millions who pinned their faith on him. Not the beseeches made to demonic spirits by the corrupt few who plan to nail him to the cross. When a senior Rajapaksa rebel leader has declared opposition strategy to make Rajapaksa prime minister in order to make him acting president in the event of a vacancy in the president’s office, when a southern provincial councillor has stated publicly that when Rajapaksa becomes prime minister, all the police constables and officers, including DIGs now putting Rajapaksa loyalists into jails on corruption charges will be stoned to death, when a SLFP member of Parliament has declared that there is a plot to assassinate Maithripala Sirisena, when reason flees from brutish beasts and fear drives men to madness, it is time to take serious stock of the situation and take preventive measures.

President Maithripala must not gamble on the probability of an event occurring and place his life at risk wantonly. He must not tempt the Fates; nor must he play dice with the Fates. Take refuge in the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem by all means, but for gods’ sake stay protected. For as it is said, even the gods help those who help themselves. He has a duty to the nation to take care. He must, for the sake of his people’s welfare, discharge that duty responsibly and minimise their palpitations that they are only a heartbeat away from cataclysm.

OFFICIAL: Corruption Rules OK in India
Jaya CM again despite court finding Rs. 28m illicit wealth
Politicians and public officials in India last month got the official seal of approval to plunder the public coffers with impunity without fearing any corruption crackdowns as Tamil Nadu godmother Jayalalitha Jeyaram was sworn in again as chief minister of the state on May 23rd despite being proved in a court of law she possessed an illicit Rs. 28 million worth of assets over her declared income.

Jayalalithaa: Tainted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for the fifth time

Her surprise acquittal which was commented on by the Sunday Punch on May 17th outlining the legal jugglery and street voodoo that were employed to free her from her chains, came ten months after a trial court in the Karnataka State had found her guilty in a disproportionate assets case. She was sentenced to four years in jail. Her conviction under India’s Prevention of Corruption Act also disqualified her from holding any public post and she was stripped of her Tamil Nadu chief ministerial office in September last year.

Basically, the trial court found to its satisfaction that the prosecution had successfully proved that her assets amounted to Rs. 664 million. Included were costs of construction of her home and other properties which amounted to Rs. 277 million and expenses made for foster son’s wedding celebrations were placed at Rs. 64 million.

On appeal in the Karnataka High Court, the sole judge Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy, however, saw the figures in a different and more favourable light. He slashed the construction costs of buildings and the values of properties from Rs. 277 million down to Rs. 64 million. And the wedding celebrations were slashed to Rs. 2.5m despite it being listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s biggest wedding with over 150,000 guests.

The end result was that even after the High Court judge had cut the value of her assets to the bone, Jayalalithaa was still left with Rs. 28 million worth of assets over her declared income which was Rs 347 million.

The ever considerate High Court judge came to her rescue. He held up a 38-year-old Supreme Court precedent set in 1977 which can now be called India’s Supreme Court official Charter of Corruption. In the case of Krishanand Agnihotri Case of 1977 the Supreme Court had ruled that if the disproportionate assets are less than 10 per cent then it deserves no punishment.

Even though the courts have in recent times moved away from the 10 per cent criteria and instead focussed on the nature of the offence and its social impact, Justice Kumaraswamy made no attempt to distinguish the precedent but held himself rigidly bound by its legal force. A quick calculation thereafter showed that Jayalalithaa’s illicit Rs. 28million was within the 10 per cent parameter amounting to only 8.2 per cent and thus merited no punishment. She was acquitted on that ground. And she was free not merely from jail, but also free to be sworn in for the fifth time as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, India’s eleventh largest state and the sixth most populous.

Section 13 of India’s Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988 declares that a public servant should be able to prove that assets owned or controlled by him or her are attributable to proven lawful sources.But though she was acquitted of the criminal offence of public corruption on a legal loophole, the fact remains that both the Indian trial court which convicted her and the Indian High Court which acquitted her found that she is guilty of possessing assets which she cannot attribute to a lawful source, giving rise to the presumption that it is ill gotten money earned by plundering the people’s wealth.

For the first time in India’s recent history a politician, despite being publicly proved in court to be corrupt, is allowed to be the chief minister of a state of India no less, adorned with all the power, perks and privileges of high office. And that’s not all.
According to the figures presented in court, her declared income stands at Indian Rs. 347million. The reduced figure of Rs. 28million slashed down from over Rs. 300million thanks to an accommodating high court judge amounts to 8.2 per cent. The cutoff point is 10 per cent of declared income which amounts to Rs. 34.7 million. Since she has not reached by the law’s reckoning the allowed 10 per cent of corruption which invites no punishment, she is also vested with the legal licence granted by the Supreme Court of India under its 1977 Official Charter of Corruption the absolute right to plunder the public wealth of Tamil Nadu by another Rs 6.7 million with impunity and immunity.

And it does not stop there. It applies to every public official and elected politician, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They can also sit down and, using the Supreme Court formula of 10per cent of declared income to calculate the figure they are publicly allowed to swindle from the public purse with no questions asked. Following Jayalalithaa’s case, today public corruption has been officially institutionalised and recognised as acceptable lawful conduct.

Thankfully, Lanka does not have ten per cent immunity on corruption’s spoils in her statute books. Nor does any Supreme Court precedence entertain the notion in any manner. But can we rest assured that we are safely insulated from such a perversity?
When fugitives are welcomed with garlands on arrival to our shores, when the nation’s voice has been hijacked and public opinion has been grotesquely distorted to denote tacit approval for those tainted with public corruption, when insidious moves are made to negate the peoples’ mandate, is it wise for the innocents to remain cocooned in complacency whilst evil is at large and prowls the land?

Especially when this nation takes her cues from India, has borrowed everything from India, including her religions, her arts, her culture and her ethos; and when even India’s Supreme Court precedents still have a persuasive force in Lanka’s own courts and can be used to sway legal judgments, is it not naive to dismiss the elevation of corruption in India to official status as one that will have no bearing upon this country at all in the future? Especially when there is a whole regime of corrupt politicians who will dearly love to have their 30 per cents or more made legit with the help of a phantom chief judge?

Thus, when the appeal in Jayalalitha’s case comes up before the Supreme Court, it is hoped that it would remove this bizarre anomaly and set in motion once again the Wheel of Dhamma emblazoned on India’s flag to symbolise her claim to be the moral light of the world — lest certain Lankans get the wrong signal from Big Brother Bharath.

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