Who would you believe in this age of yahapalanaya? As the election campaign to elect to local bodies even larger numbers of parasitic politicians surviving on the public purse gets into high gear the more the public is regaled with stories, promises and old wives tales. Open-mouthed politicians are roaming the country spreading confusion with [...]


Confusion and confused in this miracle of Asia


Who would you believe in this age of yahapalanaya? As the election campaign to elect to local bodies even larger numbers of parasitic politicians surviving on the public purse gets into high gear the more the public is regaled with stories, promises and old wives tales.

Open-mouthed politicians are roaming the country spreading confusion with new political constructions whose shelf-life is 48 hours or less. One political high-up’s fairy tales told today are denied or contradicted tomorrow by a senior from the same camp.

So who is the public expected to believe- Tweedledee or Tweedledum? Is there anybody left who can be relied on to tell the people what is plausible and possible instead of selling contrived hopes or future political rearrangements? Is deception clothed in the garb of some new moral messiah the way out of the deepening crises in governance?

If these attempts at hoodwinking the people are seen through by an alert citizenry there is always the perennial scapegoat – the media – to blame and possibly shame. Or is a bored public to say a plague on both your stories and curl up and go to sleep? Has politics in this country reached a stage when a disgusted people cannot trust politicians or officials to tell the simple truth because they have so much to hide?

Officials are following their political masters blatantly breaking the law by refusing to reveal information at hand. That will be disclosed in the coming days as now this is the time for the political theatre of the absurd.

Arjuna Mahendran: Man in the centre of a controversial bond transaction

The glorious gaffes political leaders and their pandang karayas inevitably make because they cannot stop yapping or trying to wriggle out of some unholy mess they themselves have created, is sought to be quickly covered up before it becomes too embarrassing.
Time and again this column has pointed out the escape route these saviours of the nation and their diplomatic acolytes have carved out for themselves to camouflage the faux pas of their colleagues and friends.

At a recent campaign meeting he addressed in Ratnapura, President Maithripala Sirisena was reported to have said that he is willing to establish a government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (led by him that is), if all 96 United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) parliamentarians joined hands with him.

“I am ready to create an SLFP-led Government if the 96 UPFA members were ready to stand with me,” he was quoted as saying.
The Sunday Times of January 28 reported that the President had said the previous day “he is willing to form a new government, if all 96 members elected to Parliament from the UPFA at the last 2015 general election, stand with him.

“Some who have formed a new coalition are saying they will join if an SLFP-led Government is formed. I am telling them, if all those elected come and stand with me, I am prepared to form a Government led by the SLFP. Leave that garbage dump and sewerage pipe founded by G.L. Peiris and come.”

The Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror were not the only newspapers to report President Sirisena’s appeal to the sitting members of the UPFA. Other news outlets including at least two Tamil language media also carried the story.

Two days later a state-run newspaper reported Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Science, Technology and Research, trying to bury Sirisena’s fervent appeal under several tons of political garbage. Having put more spin on the Sirisena proposal than Muralidharan did in his heyday, Premajayantha returned to the politicians’ perennial pastime of shifting the blame on to the media.

Addressing the media at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headquarters, the minister had said that “the media had misunderstood the President when he said that he would form an SLFP government if all 96 UPFA MPs pledged their support to him.”

“It is true that the President wants all of the UPFA MPs to join hands with him. He emphasised that they need to maintain unity without being divided into several parties. He does not want to see them all going in different directions,” he said.

So that is what it is. It seems the local media consist of a dumb lot like some of those diplomats we have sent abroad to lie for the good of the country. All the media covering the president’s speech got it wrong. He, according to Premajayantha’s interpretation, was only trying to unite those not in the unity government, nothing about leading a new government.

OK, for the sake of argument let’s say the minister of research did some quick research and found the media got it all wrong. So maybe the minister could point to the media that reported it correctly, meaning giving it the same spin as the minister had.

While Premajayantha was trying to wriggle out of Sirisena’s carrot-waving invitation, the president found himself searching for the reverse gear. Shifting his campaign from Ratnapura to far more familiar territory the president struck out on a different path at Polonnaruwa.

With Mahinda Rajapaksa and those in his faction of the SLFP guffawing at the presidential invitation to share a hopper or two with him, Sirisena quickly dropped the idea. He told a Polonnaruwa rally that he knew Rajapaksa loyalists in the SLFP will not join him to form a government.

“Although I said I will form a government if all 96 SLFP MP’s stand by my side, I know they cannot come near me because they do not accept my policies,” Sirisena reportedly said contradicting Premajayantha’s interpretation.

So while Premajayantha was looking for a way out to dampen Sirisena’s gung ho approach, the Rajapaksa loyalists were already hooting with laughter at Sirisena’s desperation. Not to be left out of this political farce Ranil Wickremesinghe was saying that the National Unity Government in which he is a leader and prime minister, will continue to 2020.

So the head of the Unity Government is reaching out elsewhere and looking for a different unity while Wickremesinghe wants to proceed with the unity deal he had struck three years ago despite the fact that for the last few months they have been throwing rotten eggs at each other, metaphorically speaking of course.

If there is confusion stirred up by the political leaders it is no surprise. They are confused as well and that confusion has spread among the people who do not know what lies ahead. Take the Bond Commission report which the UNP has accepted with alacrity, at least publicly, despite what appears to be some misgivings. State Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim would like to claim that no blame has been attached to the UNP though Ravi Karunanayake has been named over some other matter.

But however much the UNP tries to deftly turn matters away from the UNP, it cannot get away so easily. If the Bond Commission has named no political names the UNP cannot claim a clean bill of health. What one should do is retrace the steps that led to the appointment of the commission.

The principal dramatis personae in this bond (not James surely) play are the then Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran and the main beneficiary of the bond auctions Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd, now named as suspects.

Is there a connection between Mahendran and Aloysius? Of course there is. Governor Mahendran is the father-in-law of Aloysius.
In the absence of this nexus would such a ‘scam’ have been possible or even attempted? Yes but that would have called for another kind of relationship not one of such close ‘relativity’ as the Mahendran-Aloysius link.

Now who brought Mahendran in as head of the Central Bank? Prime Minister Wickremesinghe having grabbed the Central Bank from the finance ministry that traditionally oversaw it and plunked it down in his ministry that had to do with national policy and what not, nominated Mahendran as governor.

Mahendran occupied the post as head until his predecessor Nivard Cabraal’s unfinished term was completed. Thereafter Wickremesinghe reportedly insisted that President Sirisena reappointed him as governor.

Even in parliament, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe defended Mahendran when some around him were questioning Mahendran’s integrity and the unusual manner in which he acted and issued instructions to senior bank officials before the first bond auctions.

Would such a suspicious auction have happened so shortly after Maithripala Sirisena won the presidential election unless Mahendran and his son-in-law felt confident and politically entrenched to carry out what the Bond Commission says allegedly happened.

The question then is who brought Mahendran to the Central Bank and planted him there? Had Mahendran not been in such a position would this scandal have taken place?

So it was at least bad judgement on the part of the prime minister and UNP leader or something else that created the opening for the duo to act as the Commission says they did.

Is the UNP completely blameless then for it was the UNP leader in the role of prime minister who brought the man from Singapore to the top spot in the Central Bank?

There is the lighter side to yahapalana governance too. Last month the president and his finance minister were engaged in a battle over the bottle. Mangala Samaraweera got rid of a 60-odd year old law that banned women from buying liquor or working in liquor stores or distilleries.

A few days later the president wanted the old law restored. In support of the reinstatement of the law one minister claimed that 95% of women in the country do not consume alcohol. If that is so why not let them buy the stuff. Cheers.

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