Two years after assuming office, the National Unity government is facing one of its biggest crises in the aftermath of the bombshell revelations made last Wednesday at the sittings of the Commission probing the alleged multi-million dollar bond scam in the Central Bank.
At the Centre of the crisis is the former Finance Minister and now Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake along with the Perpetual Treasuries boss Arjun Aloysius who is one of the main figures in the alleged bond scams.
Media reports say both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have urged Mr. Karunanayake to resign from his post at least until the Commission concludes its sittings at the end of October. At Wednesday’s dramatic sittings, which hit the headlines in the mainstream and social media, Anika Wijesuriya, the daughter of millionaire businessman Nahil Wijesuriya—testified that she had met Arjun Aloysius and he had offered to pay a lease of Rs. 1.45 million a month for the Karunanayake family to move into the luxury Monarch apartment, next to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Mr. Karunanayake, during sometimes heated cross-examination by Additional Solicitor General Dappula de Livera, denied any knowledge of Mr. Aloysius’ involvement and said it was his family that had worked out the deal with the controversial Perpetual Treasury’s boss. The Minister said he often worked at the Finance Ministry from 7am to 11 pm and therefore personal matters were worked out by his family. He also admitted that after the lease agreement ended, his family company had purchased a luxury apartment for Rs.165 million.
Responding to questions by the Additional Solicitor General and denying charges that he may be lying under oath, Mr. Karunanayake said he could not remember whether he had gone in the same flight with Mr. Aloysius to Singapore and how many times he had met him there. The other major allegation was that the Karunanayake family company chairman had paid for the apartment complex and its penthouse in cash that he brought in two bags, one containing Rs. 75 million and the other Rs. 70 million. This money was kept in the company safe, raising questions as to whether there was any link with money laundering which is alleged to have taken place in multimillion dollar proportion during the past decade.
Media reports also say several cabinet ministers representing both the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had proposed that Mr. Karunanayake should step down from the portfolio because of the national and international embarrassment the revelations had caused to the national government.
In 2015, the President and the National Government had been elected to office with one of their main promises being that stern action would be taken against the former regime’s VIPs who were allegedly involved in the plunder of billions of dollars in public funds. President Sirisena also calls for a simple and humble lifestyle by party leaders and other politicians. He said he would set the example in ‘Alpechchathawaya’ and servant leadership. But two and half years after being elected to office, the President has publicly expressed concern over delays in probing allegations of large scale corruptions by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family members, top officials and associates.
The President also expressed concern that some UNP front-liners were delaying the investigations, though the reasons for it were not clearly spelt out. Some element of the mystery unfolded when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a speech on Saturday said he had not signed the Joint Opposition motion of no-confidence against Mr. Karunanayake and would not vote for it.
President Sirisena also said he had quit the former regime because it was largely corrupt and would not remain in any corrupt government. Therefore the decision by the President and the Prime Minister to call for Mr. Karunanayake’s resignation could also have some positive impact in showing that the current government would prosecute not only former VIPs but also present ones if there was substantial evidence of involvement in corruption or frauds.