After nearly 9 hours of Parliamentary debate on the now infamous Treasury Bond (TB) auction of February 27, 2015, what the public were treated to was the usual doublespeak from members of the ‘yahapalanaya’ Government, with their inability to speak in one voice on the subject, only lending credence to growing public perception that the [...]


The hot air just got hotter with another commission to boot

Debate on Central Bank Treasury Bond Auction

 After nearly 9 hours of Parliamentary debate on the now infamous Treasury Bond (TB) auction of February 27, 2015, what the public were treated to was the usual doublespeak from members of the ‘yahapalanaya’ Government, with their inability to speak in one voice on the subject, only lending credence to growing public perception that the Government lacks serious commitment to fight corruption.

The debate, which came by way of an adjournment motion titled” Irregularities in Issuance of Central Bank (CB) Treasury Bonds”, was moved by the JVP and was wholly backed by the Joint Opposition Group (JOG), with SLFP MPs in government too, pretty much on the side of the Opposition, doing their best to distance themselves from a subject that has cast a long shadow over the “yahapalanya” Government. UNP MPs on their part differed in their opinions, with some lawmakers convinced there had been wrongdoing, while others chose to take an easier way out by attempting to damage the credibility of the report of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) that looked into this TB issue, based on which the debate was held. The Auditor General, whose findings triggered the COPE investigations too, came under criticism from Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, while Prime Minister (PM) Ranil Wickremesinghe whose role in the matter was called into question by several Opposition MPs, chose not to speak during the debate.

Chief Opposition Whip and JVP MP Anura Dissanayaka who opened the debate, as he has done many times in the past two years, questioned as to how a government that took power largely on an anti-corruption platform, was now going the same way as its predecessor. “The expectations of the people of the country who voted for President Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015, was to see the corrupt punished and that, there is no repetition of the corruption that took place under the previous regime. But, what happened within weeks of the President taking office? This highly questionable TB auction took place, and left the Government tainted,” he said.

The JOG, on their part, took on the UNP and, in particular, the former CB Governor, Arjuna Mahendran and his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius, alleging their close connections with the UNP leadership secured for them the deal of a lifetime in the particular TB auction, resulting in losses running into millions to the State. “A company whose assets stood at Rs 331 million in 2014, now has an asset base of Rs 23 billion, after this TB auction. Like MP Anura Dissanayaka said, even if you are a drug trafficker, you cannot make this much of profits in such a short period,” said UPFA Kandy District MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

SLFP Ministers, one after the other, from Nimal Siripala De Silva and Mahinda Amaraweera, to Susil Premjayanth sought to take cover under the Special Presidential Commission (SPC) named by President Maithripala Sirisena to investigate the TB issues. Setting up of the SPC was announced suspiciously close to the date of the debate, but it was well received by MPs on all sides. Minister De Silva told the House that, the appointment of an SPC had been one of the recommendations of a committee of SLFP members that the President had set up to advise him on the line of action the Party should adopt on the matter. “The President is committed to fighting corruption and whoever is found guilty of wrongdoing will be punished,” Minister De Silva said.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, like many others in Government, reiterated the commitment by President Sirisena-PM Wickremesinghe to fighting corruption but, in doing so, chose to fall back again and again on what happened during the previous regime, to counter the allegations levelled at them. “We are not afraid of any investigations, which is why we have allowed this debate and held several separate inquiries into the matter. Now a SPC too will probe this subject. This is how transparent we are,” he said.

Other than the usual verbosity that people have got accustomed to hearing from politicians on the matter, the only MP who chose to look at the wider issue of corruption in the country was Leader of the Opposition and TNA MP R. Sampanthan. He came down hard on the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP. “The party which is the incumbent government is attacked and the other party comes to power. But corruption continues. They blame each other. But they all do the same thing and do not ever make any honest endeavor to bring this to an end. People are getting sick of this situation,” he said.

But if anyone was paying serious attention to Mr. Sampanthan’s words, one needs to take serious note of his warning, as to where unchecked corruption would lead the country to.

“My fear is that, if this present situation continues, this corruption which has become endemic and so widespread in this country, might be the cause for the end of democracy. Democracy in this country can come to an end unless corruption is brought to a halt. We all know that despotism and dictatorship have always been preceded in many countries by rampant corruption and that, rampant corruption has been the main cause for despotism and dictatorship taking place in many countries and democracy being terminated,” he said.

Next month will mark two years since this highly questionable TB auction took place. If there was serious commitment on the part of the Government, those who manipulated the system to their advantage would have been punished by now. However, expecting what hasn’t happened in the past 24 months to change, just because another commission has been appointed, is naïve. On the other hand, pussyfooting on this matter is only playing straight into the hands of those who seek the return of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has found reinvigorated support, as corruption by those near and dear to the “yahapalanaya” government becomes rampant and goes undeterred.

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