Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella was again in the limelight last week when he defended Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundere, who was caught apparently submitting to political pressure by answering a telephone call while speaking at a public meeting.
The IGP was submissively answering the caller addressing him as “sir” and giving an assurance to him that a “Nilame” would not be arrested. Kiriella replying to a question on the incident by the JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in Parliament stated that the “sir” referred to in Police Chief’s telephone call might be anybody, even a teacher of the IGP.
He ignored fact that it was highly unethical for the IGP to give anybody –even to one of his teachers-an assurance that somebody would not be arrested.
Especially this was inappropriate under a government that claimed to have dedicated itself to bringing in good governance in the country. This was the third time Kiriella made such remarks that ran counter to the government’s main pledge given at the last Presidential and General elections.
Kiriella seems to be an interesting person in that his realization of much talked about yahapalanaya or the good governance seems to be totally different from that of others. And he dares to openly say what many people think ridiculous or ridicules what many people consider serious.
During the height of the war between the armed forces and the LTTE and when the former had recaptured the latter’s administrative capital Kilinochchi in January 2009, he ridiculed the entire war efforts of the security forces by saying “Ona Gonekuta Yudda Karanna Puluwan” (Any bull can fight a war).
In last March he justified a letter issued by him to the Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Kelaniya requesting him to employ a person ‘known’ to him as a temporary lecturer in Political Science.
He first argued that he had asked the university authorities to appoint his supporter only if the latter was qualified, which was correct according to the initial reports. Then he challenged his adversaries questioning them on what was wrong in issuing such a letter on behalf of a supporter and later he argued that he was authorized to issue such letters under the Universities Act. He simply did not understand that political patronage in appointments, especially in the education field was unethical and wrong.
Then again responding to a question by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa in Parliament in July on the appointment of a large number of consultants and public relations officers to the Road Development Authority (RDA) the Minister had said that they were the people who had supported the United National Party (UNP) to come to power at the last Presidential and General elections.
“Wenasak” (A difference) was a household slogan that had been floated among the voters by the grass-roots level activists of the good governance campaign during the last Presidential election.
It made a significant impact on the ordinary voters as they wanted a government “different” from that of President Mahinda Rajapaksa after being fed up of corruption and highhanded activities of that regime. That was a time when dissent was not tolerated. Many journalists and media institutions were attacked. Upali Tennakoon, Keith Noyahr, Poddala Jayantha were some of the journalists attacked.
Sunday leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, was murdered. Sirasa and Siyatha media houses were also attacked. Some of the provincial and local politicians had the liberty to kill people and rape women in broad daylight with impunity. Questions regarding the controversial transactions running into billions of rupees, such as the Hedging Agreement, Greek bond Agreement and ruination of the National Carrier SriLankan Airlines are still to be answered.
Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who spearheaded the successful war against the dreaded LTTE was humiliated and incarcerated when he had politically challenged President Rajapaksa.
Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached after she had ruled that the Divineguma Bill had to be approved by all Provincial Councils.
Mattala airport and the Hambantota harbor built during that regime still stand as the symbols of monumental waste of public funds. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in such a manner that Rajapaksas could rule the country for life. Therefore, people’s craving for a change or a “wenasa” had been natural, in spite of the absence of open agitations against the Rajapaksa government for obvious reasons then.
In fact the new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took steps to show that their government was “different” by introducing several key changes in the country.
Main among them was the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which reintroduced the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions that were meant for the curtailment of the President’s executive powers. The Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions had first been introduced by the Chandrika Kumaratunga led “Parivasa” government in 2001 through the 17th Amendment and were abolished by the Rajapaksa regime through the infamous 18th Amendment in2010. President Sirisena has been repeatedly saying that he wanted to totally abolish the Executive Presidency.
Right to Information Bill (RTI) was incorporated in the 19the Amendment and a separate Bill was later passed this year for its detailed implementation. The ban imposed on several websites including the pro-LTTE Tamilnet was lifted soon after the present government came to power.
Actions taken by the new government were able to win the praise of the powerful countries which had in turn refrained from presenting any resolution on/against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC, allaying fears of possible international sanctions against the country.
However, the government is now fast losing its credibility in the field of good governance not only due to its failure or incredible delay in taking action against the people involved in large-scale corruption during the past regime, but also owing to the allegations of corruption against the leaders of the new government itself by the same civil society organizations that were in forefront in ousting Rajapaksas.
The audacious and shameless attempts by several Ministers including Kiriella to defend the Central Bank bond scam, even after the COPE had accused former Central Bank governor Arjuna Mahendran for it are frustrating and disgusting.
The very anti-corruption movements that helped President Sirisena to come to power were furious after his controversial speech on October 12 which they allege discouraged the whole campaign against corruption.
The IGP’s assurance to the “sir” that the Nilame would not be arrested comes in the wake of these controversies that had already begun to shatter the hopes of the people in respect of good governance. Adding insult to injury racism and extremism have raised their ugly heads again with impunity, making the differences between the governments of Rajapaksa and Sirisena diminish further.