The happenings connected to the long-delayed formation of the local councils around the country have provided an appropriate backdrop to the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, which is to be debated in Parliament next week. The jiggery-pokery that has gone on behind the scenes in wresting control of the many councils seems to have [...]


The beginning of the end of the Govt.


The happenings connected to the long-delayed formation of the local councils around the country have provided an appropriate backdrop to the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, which is to be debated in Parliament next week.

The jiggery-pokery that has gone on behind the scenes in wresting control of the many councils seems to have a direct bearing on two factors that epitomise the state of national politics today — a) bribery of the elected councillors, and b) three-way political manoeuvring resulting in the parties seeking to be coalition partners with the more likely winner. One can say without fear of contradiction that this is only a vignette of national politics in this country and that junior representatives of the sovereign people, coached by their seniors, are learning their trade fast.

These newly elected councillors are showing that they are eminently suitable for national politics and for seats in a future Parliament. Some are unashamedly going before the media and saying they received a bribe to switch allegiances. Some party leaders are complaining, knowing only too well that their own side is distributing wads of green notes. Here’s where the Bribery and Corruption Commission can catch ’em, if only it has the will and the wherewithal to do so. Sri Lanka’s people know that the biggest bribe-takers, and bribe-givers are the main political parties in the country.

This ugly spectacle made public has even extended to claims that ‘Honourable’ Members of Parliament are being offered bribes these days to decide how they will vote at the April 4 no-confidence motion. There’s one thing about offering bribes. It is usually done only when it is known that the would-be recipient is amenable to his or her palms being greased.

Some are ‘putting their price up’, as they say around these parts to keep the party leaders guessing on which way they will vote so that they too get a ‘santhosam’ in cash or kind. Loyalty to the leader; party whip; collective responsibility of a Cabinet are the lexicon of a by-gone era, thrown to the wind in recent times.

Since February 10, President Maithripala Sirisena has been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. This last Wednesday, however, he showed his hand when he did indirectly what he couldn’t do directly. Estopped from sacking his PM by virtue of a seeming impediment in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, he stripped the PM of his subjects and functions. The 19A states that the President must decide on these matters “in consultation with the PM… where he considers such consultation to be necessary” (Clause 43). It is unlikely that he bothered to do so and even if he did, it would have been an academic exercise. The framers of 19A ought to have interpolated the words “with the concurrence of” and not merely “in consultation.. where necessary”.

Be that as it may, now the President’s intentions are public. He wants the no-confidence motion against his PM passed by Parliament. By this he has driven the knife into the heart of the National Unity Government of January 2015 where the senior partner is the UNP (Please also see ‘The Presidency’ on Page 12).
Should the PM be sacked by the President, the Joint Opposition (JO) has shown no outward keenness in filling the vacuum. There’s no mention so far from the sponsors of the no-confidence motion as to who that new PM will be. Earlier, there was talk of senior SLFPer Nimal Siripala de Silva, but his name is no longer mentioned. A stop-gap UNP PM is probably in the President’s mind to throw the UNP into further disarray.

It also seems patently clear that the February 10 local elections has made the President, notwithstanding his recent pledge to send the JO leaders to jail and from there to hell for corruption while in office, to see them as the winning side in 2020 and hence, he wishes to sup with them again. A defeat for the PM might be his final curtain; but a defeat for the President might be his last hurrah.

The MiG scam and the bond scam
The arrest in the United Arab Emirates of Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to the Russian Federation is a significant step in a long drawn chase to get at a wanted man, who, by avoiding the long arm of the law, did himself no favours. It was eventually a case of ‘you can run, but you can’t forever hide’.

The one-time ambassador is wanted in connection with the controversial sale of MiG fighter jets that were purchased by the Air Force (SLAF) during the height of the northern separatist insurgency. It was this newspaper’s Defence Correspondent who broke the story of alleged corruption on the sale back in 2006, at the expense of his own personal safety at the time.

The timing of the former envoy’s arrest and imminent deportation to Sri Lanka to stand trial could not have come at a worst moment for the Joint Opposition (JO) comprising former Administration political stalwarts now spearheading a vote of no-confidence on the incumbent Prime Minister on matters relating to the Central Bank bond scam. Not that two wrongs make a right, but their claim that the sitting Prime Minister did nothing to stop corruption under his watch and protected the culprits — and in not bringing back the former Central Bank Governor to face charges, has a hollow ring in the face of this arrest.

There were similar wrongdoings between the Central Bank scam and the MiG scam. Both started with their appointments. They were both either related or chums of those who appointed them. The former ambassador to Moscow replaced an appointee of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who was a chairman of a multi-national tea company based in Sri Lanka and was selected to promote Sri Lanka’s tea and commercial interests in Russia and the new nations of the former Soviet Union. Then, he was a Sri Lankan resident abroad – much like the former Central Bank Governor who is also wanted in Sri Lanka by a court of law on criminal misappropriation charges, and is now a virtual fugitive from justice as well.

This is not to say Sri Lankans working abroad ought not to be considered for high public office, but it makes pursuing them all the more difficult when the dodgy characters among them want to evade questioning on their conduct.

Many were the people who cashed in on the three decade long ‘war’ Sri Lanka experienced. The ‘Merchants of Death’; the black-marketers in the arms trade; some elements of the military top brass, and the commission agents – all made their bucks.

It is now up to the former ambassador to defend himself and those who he dealt with in the MiG sale – and for the prosecution to prove its case. Fortunately, the Rule of Law still exists in this country, and he didn’t have some Navy Seals come to his apartment by helicopter, bump him off and dump his body in the high seas. The same applies to the former Governor of the Central Bank. They are both entitled to a fair trial, and justice must take its course.

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