It was again Kussi Amma Sera (KAS) who prompted the idea for this week’s column. As the sun’s rays crept through the trees, KAS, sweeping the garden as she usually does every morning, was mumbling to herself. Annoyed, I said: Speak up. “Kathakaranna bayawenna epa.” Looking up, she says, “Mahattaya hari wedai — ara EPF [...]

Business Times

Spilling the beans, mistress and all!


It was again Kussi Amma Sera (KAS) who prompted the idea for this week’s column. As the sun’s rays crept through the trees, KAS, sweeping the garden as she usually does every morning, was mumbling to herself.
Annoyed, I said: Speak up. “Kathakaranna bayawenna epa.”

Looking up, she says, “Mahattaya hari wedai — ara EPF mahattaya. Hari narakai. Evage minissu innavade mey ratey?”
Puzzled and before I could respond, the silence of the morning is broken by a telephone call. It’s my economist-friend, Good-for-Nothing Pedris on the line.

Pedris: “Machan, that bu ….r has spilled the beans.”
Me: “Who?”
“Why that EPF fellow is singing away.” It was then that I realized he was referring to the same issue as KAS – the ongoing inquiry into the bond scam.

Ending the brief conversation, I rummage through this week’s newspapers and find some juicy stuff about Senior Assistant Director of the Central Bank, Saman Kumara, who was a dealer in the EPF department, his assets and his mistress. His assets, it was reported to the President-appointed Bond Inquiry Commission included three personal vehicles, a filling station and two fuel bowsers, a gem export business, a company named ‘Country Kitchen’, a factory named Eco Tex, a few properties and 19 accounts in nine banks in addition to his bank monthly salary of Rs. 208,000.

If the 3-member committee comprising UNP lawyers that first probed the tainted February 2015 bond transaction did not bring the necessary relief or the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) produced a ‘this-way-that-way’ report that only created a stir and nothing else, then the 3-member Commission – though it doesn’t have punitive powers – has produced far greater results even before it has concluded sittings.

These public hearings have been reported daily in the media – unlike the previous confidential probes – implicating the key actors, former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and Perpetual Treasuries Ltd owned by his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius’ family, over and over again as evidence was expertly led by the Attorney General’s office.

While some of the evidence from witnesses was known before-hand, there was also information that shocked the public like the alleged interference with a witness by Aloysius, compelling the Commission to examine whether action could be taken against him. And then about tainted dealer Kumara’s mistress! Court reporters are having a field day.

Undoubtedly, the President’s move to appoint a commission of inquiry came amidst overwhelming public calls for a proper inquiry. And, in opening the proceedings to the public (and the media), the ‘trial’ reported daily has gripped the nation and is eagerly followed just like any famous murder case proceedings.

Key players or brazen culprits in the bond scams in 2015 and 2016 have been exposed, while the pump-and-dump transaction first exposed in a confidential Central Bank report last year is coming out in detail before the inquiry.

The banking regulator has been rather late in taking action against key officials and Perpetual Treasuries. It was only earlier this month that this money market trader was suspended from all trading activities and only recently suspending EPF manager Sarath Kumara, several months after the tainted deals. While no one expected Mahendran to act, being part of the problem, new Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy was slow and cautious in the midst of overwhelming evidence against the perpetrators.

Though the Auditor General has estimated the loss from the two tainted bond issues in February 2015 and March 2016 at an estimated Rs. 1.7 billion, other experts say it would be much higher.

It was the Central Bank’s own report that revealed pump-and-dump trading patterns in the money markets allegedly involving Perpetual, Pan Asia Bank and DFCC Bank (as primary dealers) with the EPF buying these securities in the secondary market (when it could have bought it cheaper in the primary market), the Business Times reported last year.

This newspaper was among the first to report on the bond scam in a March 8, 2015 story headlined “CB Governor faces ‘family company’ charges; calls mount for probe”, just a week after the February 27 transaction.

In its March 15, 2015 editorial ‘Central Bank Governor under fire’, the Business Times said that it was “rather ironic that less than one month after Ajit Nivard Cabraal stepped down as Central Bank Governor under a cloud of allegations, his successor Arjuna Mahendran is under fire over a bond deal in which his son-in-law’s firm allegedly had access to inside information”.

It said, “With this important chair being politicised by Cabraal, over the years, and now Mahendran kicking up a political storm, will this position ever be free (or perceived) of political interference or manoeuvring?” and noted that “the fact that the public and the media are able to express their views without fear is a sign that the Maithri-Ranil combination has achieved some good after the departure of the Rajapaksa regime. It now needs to improve this environment and bond with the public with an investigation into the bond issue that would be to the satisfaction of all stakeholders”.

Thus though late in the day, the public is waiting with anticipation over the final verdict of the commission.
Kudos to the 3-member commission which includes two judges in – from what it appears – conducting the proceedings fairly. This speaks volumes about the conduct and dignity of today’s judiciary compared to under-pressure judges during the former regime.

By the way, how does one dispense justice, earning just 35,000 bucks a month? This is hardly enough to buy a meal for the family plus a couple of local beers at a star-class hotel. I am referring to an advertisement in the newspapers last week calling for applications to the post of magistrate at Rs. 34,335 per month plus allowances. Is this enough for a judge who has to maintain a certain standard of living, have impeccable integrity, honesty and unquestionable loyalty to the law irrespective of who the victim or the perpetrator is?

Most of the accused, witnesses, lawyers and even policemen earn more than the poor judge on the bench who, apart from his stentorian authority, must also command respect from others. Surely one would have expected judges to get a decent salary by today’s standards at a time when parliamentarians get new cars, perks and other benefits?

Be that as it may, Maithri’s commission is ferreting out more information and revealing scandalous happenings and dishing out to the public in daily doses far more than what the other agencies like the FCID, Bribery Commission and Police are doing in the hunt for criminals of the past (present too) and to ascertain the truth.

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