Would you believe it! Would anybody with a thinking process still in working order believe it? Well you better believe it my friend. Did you not know that Sri Lanka is under the benevolent star of yahapalanaya. So whatever happens and however inexplicable it may seem to the average mind, it is all for the [...]


This mad, mad world of yahapalanaya


Would you believe it! Would anybody with a thinking process still in working order believe it? Well you better believe it my friend. Did you not know that Sri Lanka is under the benevolent star of yahapalanaya. So whatever happens and however inexplicable it may seem to the average mind, it is all for the good of our wondrous isle also known by other sobriquets some not entirely complimentary.

Anusha Palpita former director-general of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority was elevated to the rank of an additional secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry while a case for misappropriation is still pending against him.

Many readers have already heard the story. Still it is worth repeating just to illustrate what a crazy world we live in. A week or so ago several media outlets reported that a high-ranking official in the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration who has been indicted in the Colombo High Court on charges of misappropriating state funds amounting to some Rs.600 million was elevated to the rank of an additional secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry while the case against him is still pending.
Shocked and bewildered by the news the public wondered whether this yahapalanaya government was going completely mad or whether it was merely dishing out insanity in ever larger doses since it began to do so shortly after the presidential election around 16 months ago?

Civil society organizations which had been in the forefront of the campaign to oust Rajapaksa and install Maithripala Sirisena roundly condemned the reported appointment of Anusha Palpita, former director-general of the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, who along with the former president’s secretary Lalith Weeratunga, is indicted for using state funds to purchase “sil redhi” for distribution among Buddhists who gather at temples for meditation on Poya days.

Such was Palpita’s commitment to Buddhism and to the followers of the dhamma that this act of great magnanimity was to be performed strangely enough (or is it?) shortly before the presidential election last year. So it would not be deemed unfair to conclude that Palpita’s commitment was more to political jiggery-pokery than to an undying reverence for the five precepts.
While this matter is still pending in the courts, how could a government which pledged to eliminate corruption and fraud, to take punitive action against persons convicted or suspected of misappropriating or misusing state funds, promised to cleanse public life of nepotism and overweening politics and declared its public actions would be transparent and accountable, clearly breach its own promises to the people who elected the president and the government to power?

That surely was uppermost in the public mind at this bizarre news that an individual who is before court indicted with what must be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, misappropriation of public funds, has been handed a senior public service positions.
How, asked the public, could anybody with a modicum of self-respect and principles jettison these solemn promises with such impunity having accused their predecessors of doing so and still hope to earn the respect of the people. That was a conundrum better left to the tattered ranks of the yahapalana government to answer because no sane person could.

As far as the majority of the people who watched for days this political charade with growing wonderment at the sheer audacity of the elected, the immediate question that troubled the public mind was who named Anusha Palpita to the post of additional secretary and who authorized this appointment.

The Constitution states that the president shall appoint secretaries to ministries. I am not certain whether additional secretaries also fall into the category of presidential appointees or it is left to any person in contaminated ministerial garb to perform this task with the now established fanfare that accompanies such events.

I remember reading not too long ago that the President and Prime Minister intended henceforth to collectively decide on high-level appointments to state corporations and other state-owned bodies, presumably to make certain that responsible, capable and efficient persons would fill these positions.

Whether this scheme of things is already in place and whether it applies to appointments in the public administration I am not aware. But surely the filling of a position such as that of an additional secretary of a ministry – a high post in the public service – cannot be undertaken lightly and at the whim and fancy of a minister.

A minister and spouse can decide to employ whoever they wish to as their house boy or kussi amma. But the same cannot apply to a high position in the public service where officials are bound by sets of rules such as the long standing Establishment Code, Administrative Regulations and Financial Regulations known in official shorthand as ARs and FRs.

The minister Vajira Abeywardena is a member of the UNP which is an integral part of the National Unity Government of Good Governance, itself a mouthful that is increasingly becoming distasteful. When the media reportedly inquired from the Minister about the appointment he defended it. On May 23 one website quoted him as saying:

”During the disaster struck situation, it is impossible for me to carry on the ministerial tasks. There is a staff shortage of about 30 in number. There is a shortage of three additional secretaries. No accountant. One Audit officer. No engineer. How can the ministry be run under these circumstances? Anusha Palpita was in the pool. He is not interdicted. I studied his case, there are no charges against him. The charges are there against the former secretary to the president Lalith Weeratunga. Anusha has only carried out Weeratunga’s orders. This case will be dismissed”

The next day another website having apparently spoken to the minister reported: “However subject minister, Vajira Abeywardena defended the appointment insisting that the world order was ‘everybody is innocent, until proven guilty.’
“At this rate, all ministry secretaries must be guilty then. Even everyone who worked for Basil Rajapaksa has been produced in courts, but that doesn’t mean they are guilty. Yes, there are charges against him (Palpita), but nothing has been proven, and he has not been convicted, plus work wise he has never been suspended,” Abeywardena told the Colombo Telegraph.

Abeywardena also said that the appointment was not a personal decision, but it was made by the Public Service Commission and the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Division after he requested that steps be taken to fill in several existing vacancies at his ministry. “After the floods, it became critical that the shortage of 30 officials at the ministry be filled urgently. It was they who sent me the names and filled them. I have not done any personal favours for anyone,” Abeywardena claimed.

When asked what Palpita’s role will be at the ministry, the Minister said that it was only ‘just’ two days since he was appointed, nothing specific has been given over, but he was currently overseeing flood relief related work.”

It must indeed be a relief to the victims of the recent floods and landslides that such an honourable official has been entrusted with the task of providing relief-monetary and other assistance such as the remaining sil redhi one presumes.

As though Palpita has found himself a new defence counsel the minister says that everybody is innocent until proved guilty, waving a long established principle of jurisprudence as though he had just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.
If Abeywardena has no personal interest in Palpita’s case why has he gone to the extent of saying that he read the case against him?

What is more he goes on to say that there are no charges against Palpita, only against Lalith Weeratunga and that the case will be dismissed. It would appear that Minister Abeywardena has taken over the task of the High Court and pronounces that the case will be dismissed.
How does the Minister know this? Who told him so? Is this not an interference in the judicial process?
Abeywardena has obviously not read the case even cursorily even though he talks as if he is a very knowledgeable lawyer. That or he cannot understand. For it is clear even to any person literate enough to read that Palpita has been indicted.
Having pontificated for days on legal and other matters, Abeywardena suddenly does a volte face. The state-run media—no surprise there— comes to the rescue of the minister and tries to bail him out of the contretemps that he himself has created.
The minister denies any knowledge of the appointment going back it would seem on the comments he had already given to news media.
Then he looks for a scapegoat to blame for this bovine mess. Why there is always a convenient one at hand. The media of course! But was it the media that issued statements condemning the appointment or was it several civil society organizations that first broke the news.
These were organizations that supported the yahapalanaya campaign and had become aware of the appointment. The media did what any responsible media would do— report the bizarre activities of the Home Affairs Ministry.
Now that the blame has been shifted to the Public Service Commission let’s await its response. Or would this body that should be independent simply succumb to political pressure and plead mea culpa.
Await the next thrilling episode of the appointment that never was.

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