Bellanwila prelate bluntly tells Sirisena the people feel let down because of continuing fraud and other misdeeds Sirisena responds strongly, assures that all bond issues will be probed and those found guilty punished Cabinet reshuffle likely soon; four UNP ministers may face change of portfolios Rajapaksa rejects plea by CMs to support SLFP at polls, [...]


Corruption continues: President must reverse the trend


  • Bellanwila prelate bluntly tells Sirisena the people feel let down because of continuing fraud and other misdeeds
  • Sirisena responds strongly, assures that all bond issues will be probed and those found guilty punished
  • Cabinet reshuffle likely soon; four UNP ministers may face change of portfolios
  • Rajapaksa rejects plea by CMs to support SLFP at polls, says Nugegoda rally proof of where the people are

By Our Political Editor
The many challenges for President Maithripala Sirisena, now in the early days of his third year in office, seem unprecedented if not too burdensome.

Since assuming the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leadership in 2015, his highest priority has been to reunify the party. That turned out to be a futile exercise. Thus, he urged SLFP Ministers who were summoned on January 3 to be told of his plans for 2017 to publicly “expose” the “misdeeds” of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and members of his family. He began to offer plum jobs to incompetent Rajapaksa loyalists saying they should be separated from the former President before “dealing a hard blow at him.” He offered diplomatic postings to those who were close to Rajapaksa. The reality that every such appointment angered hundreds of his own supporters, and his countrymen, to say the least, was lost on him.

Just 18 days after that meeting, it did not deter Sirisena from making another vain attempt for peace with the Rajapaksas. It came in the form of giving the green light to seven Provincial Chief Ministers to meet Rajapaksa last Sunday. Their main objective was to forge a united alliance of the two SLFP factions, one backing Sirisena and the other Rajapaksa, to contest the Provincial Council (PC) elections as one. Polls for the Eastern, Wayamba (North Central) and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils are due this year.

Local Council polls not yet
Interesting enough, those at the highest levels of the Government want to hold these elections first. As for the long overdue local council elections, they opine that there are more time-consuming procedural issues to overcome. In reality it was not so. Senior SLFPers backing Sirisena confess privately that such polls would end in certain defeat. If an alliance was forged, that would have paved the way for victory, said one of them. Another reason, they point out, is a decision first on the system of voting at the local council polls. As for the PCs, the existing proportional representation system is to be followed. Some Chief Ministers have been complaining to President Sirisena that the majorities in their respective councils were fragile. Those close to Sirisena felt that an accord of some sort with Rajapaksa would not only unify the party but would pave the way even for a future SLFP Government. For them, this patching up operation was a necessity, particularly in the light of irreconcilable issues that have cropped up with their United National Party (UNP) partner in the National Unity Government.

“SLFP policies have been sold”
It was an odd combination that paved the way for the Chief Minister’s dialogue. Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Maheepala Herath’s son Kanaka Herath, an SLFP parliamentarian who supports Rajapaksa, was the conduit. The former President, who agreed to the meeting, ensured some of his strongmen who were not in the best of terms with the Chief Ministers were present. Former Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga is opposed to his successor Isuru Devapriya. Former Minister Johnston Fernando is opposed to Maheepala Herath (CM Sabaragamuwa). Other CMs present were Sarath Ekanayake (Central Province), Shan Wijayalal de Silva (Southern Province), Dharmasiri Dassanayake (North Western) and Chamara Sampath Dassanayake (Uva). Other Rajapaksa invitees were Gamini Lokuge, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and Bandula Gunawardena. Dullas Allahapperuma who was due to attend was indisposed.

The Chief Ministers declared that they came at the request of President Sirisena to appeal to Rajapaksa not to break the SLFP. Rajapaksa first let his own invitees to speak but joined in later.

“You can meet me anytime. However, you all have joined our party’s enemy, the United National Party (UNP). As long as this arrangement continues, I cannot discuss anything,” declared Rajapaksa. He disclosed for the first time that he had been receiving offers that investigations against him and members of his family would be dropped if he chose to retire from politics. He said he was willing to discuss the demands of the Chief Ministers only if President Sirisena removes the UNP from his Government. He charged that the SLFP policies had been “sold” outright to the UNP. “How we can work with you all under these circumstances?” he asked.

Rajapaksa said he had retired on January 9, 2015. “They attacked me and my family. I thought it would be for two or six months. I can understand that, for it happens in politics. Even after two years they are doing it. They are chasing behind political opponents. They took into custody Wimal Weerawansa,” he pointed out. “Weerawansa’s party convention was a greater success since he was kept in prison.” Rajapaksa said adding; “They want my support to win the elections. Once they win, who knows, they may ask me to retire.”

Once the meeting ended, Rajapaksa invited those present for breakfast. When one of them saw hoppers on the table, he remarked that there would now be media reports that they had come to eat hoppers. “Kamak Nehe. Aappa kaala giya ekkana ekka ney ogollo inney, or it does not matter, you are with the one who left after eating hoppers,” replied Rajapaksa alluding to the widely publicised instance when Sirisena partook of hoppers for dinner with the former President the night before he quit his government to contest him.

Although the Chief Ministers and Rajapaksa meeting ended on a sour note, there was still a ‘silver lining.’ That was certainly comforting news for Sirisena. There was heavy pressure on Rajapaksa this week to support Sirisena and his SLFP faction. That is even if they did not wish to forge unity for the time being. Last Tuesday, three of Weerawansa’s staunch backers — Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, Gunadasa Amerasekera and Nalin de Silva — met Rajapaksa. They urged him to support Sirisena particularly with regard to constitutional matters and electoral reforms. However, Rajapaksa holds the view that the Executive Presidency should be abolished.

Nugegoda rally: No speaker hit out at Sirisena
The mood of the SLFP was reflected in the crowded ‘Joint Opposition’ rally in Nugegoda on Friday. Although crowds chanted derogatory anti-Sirisena slogans calling him an “Aappa Hora” (hopper thief), speakers directed their venomous criticism only against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP. There was no pointed criticism on Sirisena or any personal attacks on him from the platform speakers. Mahinda Rajapaksa was to only repeat what he told Chief Ministers at last Sunday’s meeting – that Sirisena had driven him back to politics though he had chosen to retire. He also criticised the Central Bank bond scam. It is now becoming clear that the strategy of the pro-Rajapaksa SLFP group is to drive a wedge between the UNP and the Sirisena faction of the SLFP. The Central Bank bond scam and the controversial conduct of some UNP ministers, who are facing serious allegations of bribery and corruption, have come as grist to the mill for them.

President Sirisena having a friendly discussion with the Ven. Muruthhetuwe Ananda Thera during an Abhayarama Temple ceremony on Wednesday. At this ceremony, the President and Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thera exchanged strong views regarding corruption allegations.

Cabinet reshuffle discussed
Sirisena had another formidable task on hand — conveying to Prime Minister – Wickremesinghe some important decisions he had made during the latter’s absence. Hardly a few hours after the Prime Minister’s return from Davos (Switzerland) where he attended the World Economic Forum, the duo met last Sunday night. Also present was Malik Samarawickrema, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade.

Sirisena declared that he would appoint a Commission of Inquiry to probe the Central Bank bond scam. He also said that he proposed to effect a re-shuffle of his Cabinet of Ministers. Sources close to the Presidency said Wickremesinghe, who had earlier resisted moves for a reshuffle, wanted a month’s time. However, Sirisena is learnt to have noted that a month’s time would be too long. The same sources said that Sirisena proposed to change the portfolios of at least four UNP ministers who have become the objects of severe criticism. However, new faces to fill such positions would also have to come from the UNP. Allegations against the ministers’ range from corruption, secret deals with Opposition personalities to fixing projects for financial considerations.

Commission of inquiry
On Friday evening, Sirisena signed a proclamation appointing the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. It is headed by serving Supreme Court Justice K.T. Chitrasiri and includes Justice Prasanna Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor General Kandasamy Velupillai. The terms of reference, still being formulated, are to be gazetted next week. On January 22, Sirisena tweeted that he would appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry. However, he had changed his mind after legal advisors told him it would have to be a Commission of Inquiry.

The “Joint Opposition” leader Dinesh Gunawardena welcomed the appointment f a Commission of Inquiry to probe the Central Bank bond scam. Hel told the Sunday Times “The very fact that such a probe is being conducted is an acknowledgement that there have been serious irregularities and a colossal amount of public funds have been defrauded.”
The fact that Sirisena has chosen a Commission of Inquiry as against also a proposal before the Cabinet of Ministers to appoint Criminal Justice Commissions (CJCs) is significant. In doing so, he has also, in fact, accepted the recommendations made by a ten-member SLFP Committee headed by Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. The reports’ contents were revealed exclusively in the Sunday Times of December 11 last year.

The SLFP Committee recommended that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry comprising a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court, an expert in the field of finance and a professional expert in the field of audit should be set up. The Committee said that they “do not believe” that forwarding the report of the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), after it is debated and approved in Parliament, is the only process through which the situation could be corrected.

The Committee noted that considering the COPE report, “on the face of it, there are large financial irregularities and as a result the Government suffered a large financial loss.” It added; “Perpetual Treasuries gained a large profit in a short period and it is unusual in normal commercial transactions. Particularly the close relationship between the (former) Central Bank Governor and Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries creates serious doubts. The actions of the former Governor of the Central Bank and officials of the Bank of Ceylon also creates serious suspicion.”

The CBSL bond issue was the subject of a nine-hour debate in Parliament last Tuesday. Extracts of comments made by key speakers appear elsewhere in this newspaper. The next day, President Sirisena was at a ceremony where a 54-foot replica of the Avukhana Buddha was unveiled at the Abhayaramaya Temple in Narahenpita.

A strong speech made by Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera was to prompt Sirisena to make an equally strong response. Here are edited highlights of Ven. Wimalaratna Thera’s speech. The prelate is the Anu Nayaka of the Kotte Sri Kalyani Dharmasri Maha Sangha Sabhawa and Chanceller of the Sri Jayawardenapura University.

“At a religious event I do not wish to speak politics. However, I thought of saying something since the President also is here. The people in this country, ushered in a major political change two years ago. The people, therefore, expected a justifiable change in the level of governance. It is true that there has been some development activity, but people expected a change on issues like corruption and frauds. It is sad to say we have to question whether the expected change has taken place. I will come out with one example.

“I am a monk who has no political links or bias. I am not a person who takes sides or praises one side and criticises the other. I don’t need to do that, because I do not want any favours from the Government. I do not have the need to topple the Government. I am speaking about a colossal fraud in the country. Everyone is aware of. Even a small child will tell you this. This is a robbery, this is a fraud. Why is a Commission being appointed? Is it to cover up? It is being debated in Parliament and then there is also a case being filed — these are all jokes. The people are being taken for a ride. Don’t the politicians have some shame to allow some persons favoured by them to carry out this fraud? We know that you (President) are an honest person and you are trying to do something for the country. As Ananda Thera mentioned, use your powers. The people voted for you so that corruption and frauds are brought to an end.

“It is a difficult task. In history the two main parties have not got together to rule the country. This is like walking a tight rope. It is not easy. “Sri Lanka is a blessed country. Instead of depending on foreigners coming to develop the country, the locals should be empowered to develop it, irrespective of the foreign contribution. The President’s thinking is pure and clear. I feel that the President is caught in between. The country does not need a new Constitution. If there are any shortcomings they should be corrected. The Presidential powers could be adjusted and we can proceed.

There is nothing to be discussed about the position for Buddhism. Already Buddhism has been given priority. There are various proposals coming. One of them was to give legitimacy to homosexuality. It is a joke, because some things in foreign countries cannot be applied to us. The GSP Plus or whatever should be given to us should come in a manner that we can preserve our identity. Our culture need not be betrayed.

“I spoke on these because the President is here. I want to covey the pain we go through. We should give the strength to the President, who comes from a Buddhist, farming, rural family to understand the powers he enjoys and resolve these issues.”

President’s response
President Sirisena responded. Here are edited excerpts of his speech. The full speech can be heard on our website

“Yesterday, there was a Parliamentary debate on the Bond issue. Both sides hurled accusations at each other. Those on the Government side spoke about what those no longer in Government did while they were in power. Those in Opposition spoke about what those in the Government were now doing. In village terms, I would say ‘degollama naawa’. (Meaning both ‘bathed’ and subjected the other to disrepute). That is how I see it. When someone accuses another of being a thief, the correct response is not to speak about a theft that came before it. Theft is wrong, whoever does it. What is wrong is wrong. Everyone should understand how to carry out one’s duties. This is consistent with one’s integrity.

“Ven. Bellanvila Thera, you said that Commissions were a lie (or a cover up). You must forgive me for replying to this charge. I appointed this Commission after consulting some of the senior-most legal experts in the country. An investigation outside a Commission may take two to three years.

That’s the reality. The usual procedure is for the COPE report to be forwarded to the Attorney General. The Speaker spoke to me today. He told me that Parliament’s decision would be conveyed to the AG in the next few days. Once the report reaches the AG, there are two options available to him. As lawyers have informed me, one of these is to forward the report to the IGP to conduct an inquiry by the CID based on information contained in the COPE report, and to file charges against the accused.

“According to advice given to me, this is a very lengthy process. It will take years. It has also come to my attention that the report has been forwarded to the AG’s Department and then to the IGP for observation before the report was approved by Parliament. I inquired into this. According to investigations already conducted, they have ruled that the probe should be conducted not as a criminal case but as a civil one. I disagree with that. I want this to be done right. I have to emphasise this to the country.

“There are two types of Commissions in this country. One is the Special Presidential Commission and the other is the Commission of Inquiry. The best one to probe this incident is a Commission of Inquiry. We are also planning to impose a time frame on this Commission through a gazette notification. I am of the view that it should be three months. While that time may change according to the views of the justices who will be appointed to the Commission, I will not agree to this dragging for a very long time. I appointed the Commission of Inquiry as this probe must be genuine and if there is any wrongdoing, then charges must be filed and the law allowed to take its course.

“Some politicians say that the Commission was appointed to suppress the issue. I have no reason to suppress the issue. I withdrew from a Government which was plagued with frauds and corruption. I did not get out from such a Government to carry out a similar rule. I am clear on that. If they are rouges they are rouges. It does not matter who they are. I am doing my job in a proper manner. It does not matter whether they were former persons (former regime) or the current persons (present regime).

“When I continue to do a proper job, the people will rely on me. To all those in Parliament, whether they are in the Opposition or the Government it does not matter, I appeal to them to support me to take action against those who are at fault.
“The Bond issue came up only in the past two years, but it is clear that the issue has been going on for seven or eight years. After the investigations are completed on the issues in the past two years, I wish to say that we will appoint another Commission to investigate as to what had happened during the past seven or eight years.

“I want to make this country a better place for the future generation. I accept your advice with deep respect. I am not prepared to run the country according to the wishes of other countries. I have mentioned this earlier.

“There was mention about the proposal of legalising homosexuality. When the issue was brought up at the Cabinet it was I who rejected it. There was even a proposal to legalise prostitution. It was I who rejected it. I could go on listing out many other things adverse to the country and rejected by me.

“It was I who removed Arjuna Mahendran. It was I who appointed Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy who is accepted worldwide. The country accepts that the current Auditor General is an efficient officer. The entire country accepts that the current Central Bank Governor is an efficient and clever officer. I appointed him. I am doing my job properly. I am prepared to correct the shortcomings. But if anyone is doing any misdeed, whether they are in the Government or the opposition, I will not protect them. I will take whatever decision is needed for that purpose.

“We need to think of the country. We need to think of the composition in Parliament. We need to see how we need to run the country with this composition. According to the Constitution, Parliament cannot be dissolved for four and half years. We need to run the country with the present composition in a manner that the governance is not affected. I believe that the collective governance carried out by the two main political parties gives us a very optimistic situation.

“Usually, under whatever government and whatever economic plans, if there is good rain the economic growth rate is more than four per cent. I am willing to accept criticism and I accept advice from the Maha Sangha. I do what is required by the people. I will not bow down to anybody’s wishes, but will work in accordance with the wishes of the people. I will only bow down to the peoples’ wishes.

“The issues we face today are not those which have cropped up during the past two years. The former President called for elections, with two more years to go due to these problems. That is the true story. He went for another election due to the adverse economic situation and the (resolution before the) UN Human Rights Council. We took over the government and we faced these problems. I was able to get over the issue of the international war crimes tribunal and the issue about appointing foreign judges. I am not prepared to accept foreign judges.

“We now have the international support. We are building up as a nation. With the economic issues it is the responsibility of politicians, officials and others to perform their duties for the country without corruption, fraud and waste. Therefore, I am not prepared to protect those who do misdeeds, but I will punish such persons for their offences. I will take action against any person who commits offences.”

People veering away from Yahapalana Govt.
At the Nugegoda rally on Friday, some speakers also spoke of misdeeds in the present Government. Former President Rajapaksa was to note that the corruption index on Sri Lanka by Transparency International was now much higher than what it was during his administration.

That apart, the large turnout in Nugegoda laid bare an important political reality. The people, most of whom voted for a Yahapalanaya Government, were veering away from it. Though some in the Government may claim crowds were paid for and bussed, a charge from which they are not altogether free, the fact remains that the Government has forced most people to veer away from it.

President Sirisena, has in his Abhayarama Temple speech conceded that the country is “plagued with frauds and corruption.” Both at the presidential and parliamentary elections, pledges were made to bring to book those who are corrupt and were responsible for other serious misdeeds. Two years after those pledges were made, the fact that no tangible action has been taken against any person is one thing. It is another when the people complain that such activity is higher now than during the Rajapaksa administration is another. It is still not too late to reverse this deteriorating trend.

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