The Commission of Inquiry on the Central Bank Bond scam concluded its public hearings earlier this week and as they say in legal circles, it unearthed some exhilarating evidence ‘beyond a shadow of doubt’. It will now be the onerous duty of the Commission to distil that evidence and pronounce its recommendations. A powerful Cabinet [...]


Parliament’s honour at stake


The Commission of Inquiry on the Central Bank Bond scam concluded its public hearings earlier this week and as they say in legal circles, it unearthed some exhilarating evidence ‘beyond a shadow of doubt’. It will now be the onerous duty of the Commission to distil that evidence and pronounce its recommendations.
A powerful Cabinet Minister has already lost his job on the sheer weight of some of the evidence that made it imperative for the Government to ask for his resignation post-haste to save itself from the embarrassing disclosures.

As with the case of the Minister, a lot of collateral damage has been caused by what transpired before the Commission over the past eight months – fortunately made public due to the hearings being open to the media. It has also redeemed the image of the Attorney General’s Department, whose reputation was repeatedly tarnished by the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) and some Government Ministers accusing the state’s law officers of dragging their feet on corruption cases.

The fact that the FCID was producing half-baked investigations, and with new revelations that Government Ministers were applying the brakes on some of these investigations, painted a negative picture of the AG’s Department which unfortunately had no spokesman to respond to the allegations and defend the honour of the Department.

One of the damning pieces of evidence happened to surface only on the penultimate date of the public hearings. That was when the telephone calls and text messages exchanged between members of the parliamentary oversight committee (COPE) and the alleged perpetrator of the bond crime were revealed.
The reaction of some MPs was typical. They said their rights were violated. Some MPs were compared to the rat-snake that got kerosene thrown on it. Some ran to the Speaker to complain that their phones were tapped – something put to rest by the Commission. But what about what they have done?

The Prime Minister has long advocated the need for non-partisan all party parliamentary oversight committees going into public accounts. Even in the best of democracies, though all this sounds good in theory, at the end of some heated issues where a political party is at stake, voting usually is on party lines. The COPE inquiry into the Bond scam was a classic example of how some MPs operate under cover. The exposure of the telephone calls and text messages only corroborates what everyone otherwise suspected.

It behoves the Speaker not to allow this episode to go without investigation. He has referred the matter to Parliament’s Privileges Committee. The respect and honour of Parliament, and Parliamentary democracy are at stake, while it has been a body-blow for the PM’s advocacy that Parliament and its members should be vested with the authority to scrutinize public enterprises.

On Friday, party leaders met in Parliament with the Speaker to discuss recent political developments, but the outcry on the further delay in holding local government elections took the attention of the leaders and the conduct of the MPs vis-a-vis the COPE hearings went on the back-burner.

The Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act has been drafted by MPs themselves, so it is not surprising that it is heavily weighted against those who obstruct MPs and the work of Parliament, and light on MPs who violate Parliament’s own standing. While jail terms are specified for lesser folks, the maximum punishment for an MP is a suspension from the House for a month. There have been calls to change these laws; but that is another story. For now, the public will see how Parliament safeguards its own image from alleged miscreants within.

The conversation on Dual Citizenship

In recent weeks, the issue of Dual Citizenship has come into focus not only in Sri Lanka with the disqualification of a Member of Parliament, but the subject has rocked the Australian Parliament and its Government.

Even these pale into insignificance with what was to hit Lebanon where the Prime Minister dramatically tendered his resignation from foreign soil – Saudi Arabia where he has Dual Citizenship. One can imagine the shock of the people of Lebanon. It was a stark reminder how a political leader as high up as a Prime Minister could be arm-twisted and made a puppet by a third party (nation).

Some argue that at least the Lebanese PM quit his job under such pressure – and now returned. What if, they ask, unknown to his countrymen, his politics were fashioned and dictated by a foreign capital of which he was a Dual Citizen. When a political leader has some umbilical cord to another country, with vested interests in another, including owning property – chances of compromise are much higher.

The question is whether the disqualification from holding political office on grounds of Dual Citizenship – introduced under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to keep certain individuals out of the electoral playing field in forthcoming elections, should be extended to those who hold non-political, public office.

The on-going debate on the Central Bank’s former Governor, now disgraced, who renounced his Sri Lankan citizenship for another country is of interest. The argument then was whether it was proper to have a non-citizen – even if he be of Sri Lankan origin, sign the country’s currency notes. The argument today is whether such a person will return to Sri Lanka to face criminal charges.

Today, the diplomatic service of Sri Lanka is filled with persons with Dual Citizenship. The debate over sovereignty and of national borders will continue for a long time. Europe experimented with a ‘one border’ policy and on the other hand, the US is now closing its borders in an insular reaction to the terrorism and refugee influx. The refugee problem in Europe in particular, is a global debate now.

Many Sri Lankans overseas still support the national side when they play against the country in which they reside. Dual Citizenship has helped them continue to have links to the country of their birth. The question of non-citizens, or Dual Citizens therefore holding public office will continue to be a knotty problem, especially when some of them abuse the office they hold, and end up not being accountable to anyone.

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