Dr. Coomaraswamy vows to instil credibility to the nation’s supreme board of fiscal policy The confounding fog that had descended on Lanka’s Central Bank and turned it into Bleak House was dispelled on Monday morn when a welcome ray of English summer sunshine streamed through its portals to illumine the dark interior with sterling integrity [...]


The return of the prodigious son to brave Central Bank challenge


Dr. Coomaraswamy vows to instil credibility to the nation’s supreme board of fiscal policy
The confounding fog that had descended on Lanka’s Central Bank and turned it into Bleak House was dispelled on Monday morn when a welcome ray of English summer sunshine streamed through its portals to illumine the dark interior with sterling integrity and spirited professionalism, not forgetting a touch of old world charm and class.

President Sirisena: Appoints new Governor and says, ‘Do not fear to act’

While Britain’s Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, the Bank of England, was rocked with the nose diving pound following the nation’s decision to exit from the European Union, the Sri Lankan Central Bank had for long been engulfed in controversy over its scandal hit chief Mahendran’s reluctance to exit from his post as Governor after serving his term of office which was scheduled to end on 30th June.

The crisis was exacerbated by his publicly declared ambiguous intention to hang around near the Colombo Fort clock tower for as long as it takes, in the forlorn hope that the parliamentary committee on public enterprises will clear him of any wrong doing in the bond scam and thus make possible his grand comeback to his 15th floor Governor’s office at No 80 Janadhipathi Mawatha, Colombo 1.

Thus for the first time in its 66 year history, the country’s supreme board of monetary policy was without a Governor, left rattling like a headless spitting cobra on the 1st of July. Two days prior to that on the 29th of June, President Sirisena at a meeting held in Girandhurukotte on eradicating chronic kidney diseases, had compared the Central Bank crisis as being similar to the chronic kidney disease prevalent in the country and had publicly announced that he would appoint a new governor to head the Central Bank and that he would name him within a few hours that same day.

The die was cast for Arjuna Mahendran when the termination notice was relayed thus. As the 13th Governor of the Central Bank, he was, perhaps, also unlucky to have been one of the bank’s shortest serving chiefs, sharing the dubious honour with N. U. Jayawardena who held the post from 1953 to 1954, and left under a cloud.

It took the President a further 40 hours to break his silence and announce the name of the man who will henceforth sign the nation’s banknotes for the next six years. But when he did last Saturday, and simultaneously released the nation’s bated breath, it was well worth the wait. The name alone sufficed to lift the bank from its doldrums and resurrect visions of Lanka’s legendary grandiose pre historic past to provide a morale boost to a nation that was badly in need of one.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe gives his blessings and speaks of his vision for a brave new Lanka

This Monday morning, Indrajit — named after Ravana’s eldest son who conquered Vedic Hinduism’s King of the Gods, Indra of the Devas, and brought him prisoner to Ravana’s feet as related in the Ramayana — Coomaraswamy was officially appointed as the 14th Governor of the Central Bank. But even before he arrived at the Bank, his reputation as an economic scholar of note and a technocrat to his digital tips, vested with the aura of being a paragon of virtue no less had preceded him; and had placed a deserving halo over his silvery hair.

His credentials are impeccable. He hails from a highly respected family of distinguished civil servants, the only son of the legendary Rajendran Coomaraswamy who became the strident voice of the newly independent Ceylon at the United Nations in the Fifties. After a British public school education at Harrow – which, no doubt, made a gentleman out of him after his stay at the ‘learn or get out’ motto tattooed Royal school till the age of eleven – he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge where he earned his general degree followed by a doctorate from the University of Sussex.

He returned to Lanka in 1973 and, in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, entered public service. He joined the Central Bank as a staff officer in the Economic Research, Statistics and Bank Supervision divisions. Seconded to the Finance Ministry in 1981 as advisor on macroeconomic issues and structural reforms he remained in public service until 1989. Thereafter he joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1990 and held various posts including Chief Officer, Economics in the International Finance and Markets Section, Director of the Economic Affairs Division and Deputy-Director of the Secretary-General’s Office. In 2010 he was also appointed as the Interim Director of its Social Transformation Programme Division.

The trophies gained throughout his illustrious career have earned him the reputation of not only being a top notch economist but also a first class administrator as well. On Monday when he arrived at the Central Bank door after a period of twenty seven years to assume office as its new Governor, it was nothing less than the welcome coming home of the prodigious son – ‘ a native here and to the manor born’ – back to the old residence to take his rightful seat.

From his maiden address to the bank staff, made no sooner he was ensconced in the Governor’s seat that Monday, it was clear that, though he may have been away from these isle shores and involved with great global issues, he had kept close watch on the gradual erosion of the bank’s credibility in international financial eyes during the last decade. Perhaps he had even bemoaned and watched with growing alarm and horror the trend continuing, the assault on the bank’s reputation carried on regardless despite the paradigm shift made in the political ideology of the nation with the advent of the new government and its professed commitment to good governance.

Coomaraswamy: applause all around as Indrajit was made Governor of the nation’s bank

But good governance is no chariot conjured out of a pumpkin which can be wished into instant existence by a series of wand waving accompanied by magical intonations on public stages. It has to be worked at, not only by the president and the prime minister but by the entire body politic. Thus Coomaraswamy hit the nail on the head when he told his staff that he will do his utmost to uphold the credibility and reputation of the Central Bank. He said, “The primary responsibility of the Governor is to uphold the reputation and the credibility of the Central Bank. I assure that I will do my utmost to do so at all times.” He added that he required the cooperation of all the staff to do so.

It is this credibility and this reputation of the Central Bank which is vital to be upheld at all times and at all costs that mattered most to him. Not the credibility or reputation of the individual who heads it or who serves on its staff whose actions, howsoever innocent it may appear to be on legal paper, might cast an iota of doubt in the minds of reasonable men and serve to slander and besmirch the good name and integrity of the nation’s bank.

Tasked as the Central Bank is under the Monetary Law Act of 1949 for the maintenance of economic and price stability and the maintenance of financial system stability, the coin of credibility must be genuine mint and its reputation forged to withstand the hottest furnace of international inspection.

The Central Bank is the nation’s bank; and it is heartening to note that the new governor has ingrained in him the realization that the credibility and good image of the bank cannot be trifled with or placed at risk.Much though it may be to the chagrin of the joint opposition, prophesying as they had done the imminent interment of Yahapalanaya and the bout of revelry they had planned to hold post July 1st when they would dance upon its freshly dug grave, the nation would be relieved to learn that infant Yahapalanaya is still alive and well – had not transgressed beyond the pale of redemption, had not met with a premature end but had somehow survived to find, within its palpitating heart, the faint pulse of a nation’s aspirations for good governance still beating, though irregular.

Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have thus demonstrated their commitment to Yahapalanaya by taking the necessary steps to reset its course whenever it is found straying from its chartered path. Many a time have they recognized its tendency to waywardness; and many a time have they come forth to guide its return to the straight and narrow.
Not only must President Sirisena be congratulated for his wise decision to appoint Dr. Coomaraswamy as the new Governor, but his instructions to him upon handing over the monetary brief must be commended. As Mr. Coomaraswamy said in his speech, “President Sirisena told me, ‘work honestly and do not fear anybody in the discharge of your duties’.

And that’s not all. Mr. Coomaraswamy is twice blessed. Shortly after the President had decided on his appointment, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also extended his blessings and gave a detailed account of his vision for Lanka to the chosen one.
As Coomaraswamy recounted in his address, “When I met the Prime Minister he read out the vision he has for the country and said that there is a big role for the Central Bank to play. If we do not work the way we should, the country will not be where it should be. Strong macroeconomic stability is essential. If that does not exist nothing can be done.”

Now armed with presidential licence to shoot the moon if he must sans fear to achieve his aims and blessed with prime ministerial grace to receive the vision the prime minister beholds for a brave new Lanka, Indrajit Coomaraswamy will have no excuse if he fails to live up to the great feats expected of him.

But emboldened though he maybe with presidential fiat and entranced as he surely must be by prime ministerial vision, the new guv of the last resort bank must peg his hard earned credibility buck to the state ship’s mast with extreme caution. For many a qualified man, steeped in specialized navigational knowledge and immaculate of character had stepped aboard many a ship as captain only to end up walking the plank, due to the sudden landing of a political albatross.

In his address Dr. Coomaraswamy spoke of the dangers of politics mixing with economics. He said, “Ever since this country gained Independence, economy has been mixed up with politics. I don’t want to point the finger at any party but just want to emphasis that politics and economics have been mixed up by all governments. But I would like to stress that good economic policies result in good politics,” he said.

Aye, there lies the rub: for in that bourn of politics, expediency rules, whereas in the sterilised sphere of economics, theories hold centre stage. Both may claim its right of way but history, especially modern Lanka’s, has always held it to belong to the one who had the bigger tipper.

But that’s no cause for alarm. No reason for Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy to lose heart. Though history often repeats itself, that’s no compelling reason to give up the ghost and rashly jump overboard and swim back to old Blighty where he sojourns four months of the year. For twice blessed as Dr. Coomaraswamy is with both President Maithripala and Prime Minister Ranil’s blessings, he is also thrice blessed.

He has the blessings of all Lanka who rise today as one – 20 million of them – to anoint him with their best wishes and to pin upon the lotus adorned lapel of his honourable character their utmost trust and supreme confidence in him to lift the central bank from its nadir and make it soar to reach the ideals it was created to achieve 66 years ago in 1950, the same year Coomaraswamy was born.

And if it be of any comfort to him – given the fact that he revealed last year in a media interview that what he appreciates most is when people he has worked with say to him that they have benefitted from working with him – let it be known to him as he starts the first year as the Governor of the Central Bank that at the end of his six year term, that all Lanka hopes to say in one voice: ‘Thanks for the experience, thank you for the music and play it again, Indra of the CB.”

Gammanpila drops his dung in the nation’s pot of milk
While the entire country, including senior members of the joint opposition, have welcomed the appointment of Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy as the new Governor of the Central Bank, one lone figure, namely, Udaya Gammanpila, has crawled out from his remand prison to come out to the open and drop his excreta on the nation’s pot of milk.After being sprung from a remand cell where he had been kept incarcerated on a charge of “using a forged power-of-attorney to sell shares held by Digital Nominees (Pty) Ltd and thereby causing a misappropriation of Rs. 110 million”, Udaya Gammanpila was released back into society on bail last Thursday.

Like those insects that perish in light denied, he immediately sought the limelight of television cameras to recharge his egoist cells and denounce the appointment of Dr. Coomaraswamy. At the media event held this Tuesday, he charged: “Coomaraswamy was involved in an insider trading case. Founder of the Galleon Group, an American-based investment fund management firm Raj Rajaratnam was jailed for 11-years in that case. In 2009, when the incident took place, our newly appointed Central Bank Governor was an adviser to the group.”

He claimed that Mr. Rajaratnam was a person who funded the LTTE and implied that Coomaraswamy being a Tamil was also a Tiger sympathiser. “The Government’s decision to appoint Dr. Coomaraswamy to replace former CB Governor Arjuna Mahendran is similar to exchanging a woman with snot with a woman with whooping cough,” he said, revealing in one bizarre 10 minute spot of television glory, how one could be a racist and a sexist all rolled into one; and simultaneously pass judgment upon another while claiming that he himself was innocent of the crimes he had been charged with till proven guilty in a court of law.

The fact that Dr. Coomaraswamy had been a consultant of a subsidiary of the Galleon Group was known right from the start. It did not take, it did not need this self appointed leader of the one man party of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya to come from his remand prison and reveal it to the public.

Dr. Coomaraswamy need not even have bothered to reply. But he did and this is what he had to say. “I set a framework when I was in London to provide him with macroeconomic research. He knew my background and he wanted me to help. This happened for about 10 to 11 months and then he was charged. So it took about a year after that for me to legally wind up the operations,” he said. “My job was to provide him with research reports, I provided him with professional services.”

Perhaps Gammanpila does not understand the independent nature of professionals. That professionals are independent entities who are merely paid for their professional services and are not tainted by the company their professional life demands they keep, even as lawyers representing swindlers cannot be branded as despicable rogues.

To their credit, Dinesh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardena and other seniors of the joint opposition have hailed President Sirisena’s choice of Dr. Coomaraswamy as the new Governor. The sooner Udaya Gammanpila, this wagging tail of JO and acolyte of opportunity, crawls back into the hole from whence he emerged, the better it will be for the rest of decent society.

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