Even as President Maithripala Sirisena vowed this week to unsheathe his Sword of Excalibur and crackdown on the nation’s bog of corruption, the Sunday Punch on this New Year’s Eve craves your indulgence to embark on a stroll down memory streets of the year that was. But before we turn to the events that came [...]


Sunday Punch stroll down 2017: Well, that was the year that was


Even as President Maithripala Sirisena vowed this week to unsheathe his Sword of Excalibur and crackdown on the nation’s bog of corruption, the Sunday Punch on this New Year’s Eve craves your indulgence to embark on a stroll down memory streets of the year that was.

But before we turn to the events that came to pass, nothing beats handling the present. And where best to begin than at the very zenith of political power. So first the focus on the President’s declaration this week when he boldly declared to representatives of 31 political parties: “I would not hesitate to use the ‘sword’ on my relatives, friends or party supporters in my journey to create a clean, unstained and a people-friendly political culture”.
Great news. That’s the kind of New Year Resolution from the President that makes all wait the dawn of 2018 with good cheer. Especially after the nation has waited three years to see its fruition. It was there in his manifesto, it was there in his speeches for the last two years and here it is again now with gusto.

President Sirisena

As the Sunday Punch commented on the the 1st of January this year: “As Lanka wakes this Sunday morn to a New Year dawn of Good Hope, it must be the fervent wish of all that it will not turn out to be yet another false dawn”.
“On the Yahapalanaya front, the pre presidential election platform promise of the coalition government to crackdown on corruption made two years ago seems to have vapourised with the presidential outburst in October that the Bribery Commissioner should not arrest high power people without first informing him, thus making selective law enforcement once again, part of the unofficial Lankan legal system as it had been in the days of the Rajapaksa regime. Ever since that day, it is significant to note that no new single high profile person has been arrested, let alone questioned either by the new Bribery Commissioner or by the FCID. It’s poignant and right that the nation mourns – and symbolic it should do so by government decree though withdrawn – a year which saw corruption, like the devil in religion, institutionalized and accepted as a way of life in Lanka”.
Exactly one year after, it is indeed refreshing to hear the President reaffirming his vows he made to the nation. Now that he has declared he will use his sword to crackdown on corruption this coming year too, it is only to be hoped that he will not hesitate to unsheathe the Presidential Excalibur from its scabbard out of fear that the dew will rust it.

Chandrika Kumaratunga

Come February and to fields does the Sunday Punch leaps. What stands out is the bold no holds barred statement made by Chandrika. She called for party reform and gave echo what masses want from all parties: ‘Break free from rogues and come clean’.
The Sunday Punch wrote that week: Mother knows best! The Matriarch of the SLFP, the twice elected former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga struck a blow for all right thinking members of the party her father SWRD founded when she declared last week that the SLFP must break free from joint opposition crooks and murderers and go it alone with a new set of above board faces.
“All the crooks and murderers are with Mahinda Rajapaksa,” she told a group of foreign correspondents in no uncertain terms last week. “The SLFP can increase its vote base, if it makes a clean break with his group of MPs. Their campaign is aimed at scuttling the criminal investigations against them and not out of love for the future of the country.”
This call – even though it comes belated – must win a round of applause not only from SLFP members but also from the UNP supporters, from all those who clamoured for clean government and voted for the Maithri – Ranil combination in the belief that their ballot would lift this nation from corruption’s gutter

Ven Gnanasara Thera

March was on the Return of the Prodigal Monk, the Muslim battering Bodu Bala Sena Gnanasara who received a certificate of good character from the Venerable Asgiriya Chapter head, after he surfaced from hiding and surrendered to court to face charges of Court contempt. The Asgiriya statement read: While we do not condone the aggressive behaviour of Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera we do not reject his convictions. Politicians must not insult the Maha Sangha. Some politicians even refer to Gnanasara Thera by his name and do not give due respect as a member of the Maha Sangha. The government does not take any action against them.”
What the Sunday Punch had to say then was: “The reverence, the veneration, the worship that the people of Lanka pay to the Maha Sangha is not in question and is beyond doubt. But it is not an absolute privilege accorded to all who don the saffron robe but one qualified. And it rests upon the actions of its wearer”.
And on the monk himself, the Sunday Punch added the comment:
‘Ah, just when one had wondered whether the absconding monk, that fugitive of justice, had renounced the pleasures of the world and sought refuge in some quiet corner of some dense thicket to meditate upon the wise counsel of the Buddha and seek alone his own path to redemption and not lead others down the garden path to incite racial hatred, Galagodaaththe Gnanasara emerged this Wednesday from his unknown kuti and surrendered to court and thus spared cops the blush of having been clueless as to his whereabouts”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Sarath Fonseka

Then the avurudhu April brings with it the high noon duel between Gota and Fonseka over ‘who dun it’. The Sunday Punch comment was: ‘Both men can justly say they won the war. In their own way: with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as Defence Secretary, providing the logistics, ‘policy and strategy’ and Sarath Fonseka, as Army Chief, planning and executing battle tactics and directing the troops. It’s a tragedy indeed that the glorious victory won by these two war heroes should now be traduced in the dust by a bullet for bullet battle to shoot down the canard of the existence of a ‘death squad’ by a shadowy military intelligence unit. But if they were unaware, as Gotabaya told the Colombo based Foreign Correspondents on Wednesday, that “a lot of things happened without my knowledge” and Fonseka issuing an affidavit to the contrary, the question must inevitably arise in the public mind, ‘Who Dun It, then?’


The Wheel of Dhamma

The month of May brings the bloomed lotus when the Sunday Punch turns religiously and presents the Vesak Trilogy on the Birth, Enlightenment and the Parinibbana of Gautama the Buddha in a special middle page spread. In the article under the headline, ‘For epochs to come, none will stand forlorn; This comes to pass when a Buddha is born, the Sunday Punch says
Of his Birth:
“After thousands of years and countless births in his samsaric journey, on a Vesak full moon morn in another time, in another place, Siddhartha landed on the shore: this one last time on earth not only to see a mother’s wish fulfilled but to lead mankind from darkness to light.”
Of his Enlightenment:
“BORN TO BE BUDDHA: After countless births through Samsara, Siddhartha finally lands on shore to show mankind the way out of sorrow’s maze. Merit earned in earlier births, the riches he did gain; Now stood poised to blossom on earth, to cleanse the karmic stain; His flesh, his life, his blood, his eyes had he, in selfless sacrifice, bestowed to those in pain To rendezvous with destiny, And end sojourns through eternity.”
And of his Parinibbana:
“Night was falling. And even as the morning star must meet its evening doom, even as all life must end in death, what was true for all beings on earth was inevitably coming true for the mortal frame of Gautama the Buddha. The house, karmic action had erected birth after birth throughout the samsaric journey, now stood poised to fall and would not be built again”.

Flood havoc

In June come the floods and the Sunday Punch headlines its story of the devastation with ‘Tempest Thursday brews ‘Force Evacuation’ storm’ and writes of the destruction it caused “The death toll said it all: 208 dead, 90 missing and six hundred and thirty thousand displaced after one day’s rain last Thursday which had the nation horror-struck at how such a brief outburst from the skies could wreak such a terrible tragedy and leave such a trail of destruction in its wake”

Elephant symbol

In July, the Sunday Punch reports on the month when Sirisena got the jitters. “Cold feet as Sirisena’s hot seat starts to heat, rattle and rumble’. The column writes: “The President makes an impassioned plea and tells UNP ministers: You’ll be safe but for me and my family, it will be kaput if the Rajapaksas return.” And then came the heart rending tear jerker. Maithripala Sirisena looked at the UNP faces around him at the cabinet table and said: “If the Rajapaksas were to come back again, you all in the UNP will be safe. Nothing will happen to the prime minister too. But for me and my family there will be no such safety. We will be hounded to the end.”
It was also the month when the column commented on When President Sirisena looked in the UNP eye and point blank stated that there were two UNP Ministers in his cabinet who had endeavored to scuttle his promise to the nation to bring the mega corrupt in the Rajapaksa regime to justice, no one around that high table would have been left bewildered as to exactly whom he was referring. Especially when he mentioned that had he been given the Attorney General’s Department and the Financial Crime Investigative Department, the Rajapaksas’ would have been history within three months.

Ravi K

There was nothing august about August, in the sense of dignity, when the former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake then Foreign Minister was forced to tend his resignation to the President after it came to light that he had enjoyed the hospitality of the man at the centre of the bond scam probe. And confessed that he did not know who paid for the bed and pillow he slept on at the penthouse suite of his Rs. 1.4 million apartment at Monarch Towers.
The Sunday Punch comment on the scandal: “Even as many politicians from both sides of the political divide joined in to add voice to the nation’s chorus and let know to both the President and the Prime Minister, ‘ you can tell your cabinet minister there with you, he’ll have to go,’ this week’s welcome resignation of Ravi Karunanayake from his foreign minister portfolio served to strike a blow for the Yahapalana policies of this government and redeem, to a certain extent, the faith, hope and trust the people had reposed in Sirisena when they voted him to presidential office two years ago on his solemn vow to usher in a government that would be just, transparent and accountable to the sovereign people of Lanka.

Even though it took some while – and a great deal of plodding by the media – to make the Yaha Government realise the death wish it would harbour within unbeknown if they played footsie and dilly dallied any longer; and failed to take remedial action in a situation where immediate action was called for. But no matter. Better late than never.

It was inevitable that Ravi K had to go. The writing had been on the wall for long. With the word RESIGN writ large.
But none are so blind as those who refuse to see or so deaf as those who refuse to hear. And when the bell tolled for Ravi K he did not send to ask for whom it tolled but remained mute with ears muffled for he knew it tolled for him – in the same manner Mahinda Rajapaksa did not sign the vote of no confidence motion the joint opposition presented to the Speaker against Ravi Karunanayake last week, for he discerned in the beat of the distant drums, his own summons to answer Fate’s imminent call.

But the die was cast and he had to go. But he did not make his exist with a whimper but rather with a self praise bang.
First let’s be served with a sample taster of choice rump steaks from Ravi’s banquet farewell feast.
On Thursday afternoon as the House clock chimed half past one, the former Minister of Finance and the nation’s Foreign Minister the honourable Ravi Karunanayake rose to address parliament and deliver his valedictory speech.

He said: “The media and some Opposition politicians demand that I be crucified over being probed by a presidential commission of inquiry. I decided to resign to set an example in keeping with the good governance policy we introduced and I do so without regret. “
Martyred on that self same cross he would have been crucified upon had he not bowed out with grace at the eleventh hour, he first arrogated to himself fulsome credit for introducing good governance policies to the nation. And said he is resigning to set an example in keeping with Yahapalana policies.
Good. But how much better would it have been if he had followed the Yahapalana policies from the start and steadfast refused to accept the gratuitous Rs. 1,450,000 per month hospitality of bond scam Arjun Aloysius for eight months ensconced in Monarch Residencies penthouse suite? But, of course, he knew nothing. Didn’t know, as he had told the presidential bond commission only a week before, that it had all been done by his wife and daughter and he had never asked them as to how he had been blessed with such good fortune to wake up each morn in such luxurious surroundings.


Pro-Rajapaksa monks begging for alms

If August was bad enough, September turned worse when Buddhist monks took to the streets begging for alms to pay the fine of two found guilty of misusing public money to promote the former president Rajapaksa in his third term election bid. The Sunday Punch headline on the September story was: “Moneypura sect’s new refuge: “Salli Saranang Gatchchami”:
and its comment was: “Perhaps, it signaled the beginning of the end for the ingrained respect the people of Lanka have long held sacrosanct in their hearts for the sacred saffron robe”.
“Last week, as monks took to the streets to ask the public their money to tinkle and jingle in monks’ begging bowls as alms, what the nation witnessed was a radical departure from the Vinaya Code as laid down by the Buddha for monks to follow in their speech, conduct and behaviour; and the emergence of a breakaway sect that seemed prepared to flout all religious norms and traditional practices in the interest of corrupt partisan politics”.
“Meet the Moneypura Nikaya, which has dared to add a new and fourth refuge: “Salli saranang gatchchami” or take refuge in money. Especially as a way of atoning the sins of public servants found guilty by Lanka’s courts of misusing public money to the tune of Rs. 600 million; and sentenced to 3 years rigorous imprisonment and ordered to pay Rs 4 million fines for their crimes and Rs. 104 million as compensation to the plundered public”.

Rohingya refugees

October saw the ordeal of the Rohingya refugees unfold on Lankan soil when a monk led group of thugs chose to display their cowardice and chauvinism at the Mount Lavinia doorstep of those to whom this Buddhist nation had given safe refuge temporarily.

Commenting on the refugees plight who having fled Myanmar’s terror and braved the seas seeking any port, the Sunday Punch said: “They were the innocent civilian casualties caught up in a conflict not of their own making: forced to flee their burning villages in fear of their lives and their children’s lives, abandon their homes in fright to face a dark fearful future unknown. And carried with them naught but the only wealth they possessed: their lives and their children. They had endured the terror in their ghettoes of fear, where danger sprung from every government sewer and the swish of the machete slash could be heard cracking the silence of the night, followed by the death wail of a neighbour being hacked to death.

“They had braved the perils of the sea, faced the tempests that brew in the Bay of Bengal and dared the gulfs to swallow them purely to flee the Myanmar Government’s military crackdown against their indigenous race; and seek refuge on some safe shore”.
“Perhaps, they never even intended to come to Sri Lanka and had set their sails to some other shore; but, merciless fates, as they sometimes mockingly do to those in dire straits, may have directed some foul wind to blow their fishing boat to bob adrift off Trinco’s coast when the coast guard naval vessel arrived to their timely rescue”.

Sujeewa Senasinghe

What did the month of All Souls bring to two ministers of the Government, one from the UNP and one from the SLFP, ex UNP, ex MR, now MS. Evidence presented at the bond scam proceedings revealed these two MPs, namely Sujeewa Senasinghe of the UNP and Dayasiri Jayasekera of the SLFP whist being members of the COPE probing into the bond issue last year had had secret talks with the man at the centre of it all: Arjun Aloysius.
Whilst Sujeewa said, ‘I have every right to phone any one I like: and Dayasiri said, “I need tell none my meeting with Aloysius”, the Sunday Punch had this to say:

Dayasiri Jayasekera

“If UNP’s Sujeewa Senasinghe and SLFP’s Dayasiri Jayasekera, two ministerial members of the COPE committee that probed the bond scam last year and were exposed last week as having made and received calls to and from primary bond dealer Arjun Aloysius during COPE’s inquiry into his role in the affair – if they had hoped, as often happens in Lanka’s political climate, that the storm that suddenly erupted when CID revealed their phone records to the Presidential Bond Commission last Thursday would soon swiftly blow away, it didn’t”.

Sujeewa Senasinghe had received 227 calls to and from Arjun Aloysius, 63 during his tenure as a member of the COPE committee probing Aloysius. Dayasiri Jayasekera had made and received 18 calls to and from Aloysius, and one incoming and one outgoing during the period he served as a member of COPE. But he had gone the extra mile to grant Aloysius a private audience with him behind closed doors at his ministerial office. And he had not considered it vital to inform his fellow COPE committee members of the meeting that the man, who was the subject matter of the COPE probe, had solicited his help.” But both had not revealed their secret communications to the rest of COPE members who were probing the issue. They only admitted to it when a year later the presidential bond inquiry’s proceedings revealed it.

The Sunday Punch question was: if any clarification is sought, should it not have been be done in the open during the Committees’ proceedings? Especially when it is empowered to summon any person and to question him or her to shed light on the subject at hand? Not go moonlighting in the dark making furtive phone calls and keeping it secret until it is exposed.


Duminda Dissanayake

If Santa brought any gifts throughout the year from the land of the midnight sun, it would have been to the owners of a particular building in Rajagiriya which lies unoccupied but for which the Government pays a monthly rent of Rs 21 million. But then the Lankan public, the majority of whom are Buddhist can be quite Christian in their charity when it comes to doling out the dough by the shovel.

The scandal is not in the price and terms of the lease. But why, after a period of 20 months – from April 2016 to now – after the government has dished out with a shovel Rs. 504 million as two years’ rent in advance and a further Rs. 420 million as rent for the last 20 months, totaling Rs 924 million plus another Rs 63 million as a security deposit in April 2016 when the lease was entered into, why the building is still unoccupied? Why is it still vacant?
Hopefully the nation will take a turn for the better in the coming year as bells will ring out the old and ring in the new at midnight. Wish you all a very Happy New Year.


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