Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has referred to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee, a complaint about an alleged breach of privileges due to the disclosure of telephone conversations among some government members of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Perpetual Treasuries PLC owner Arjun Aloysius. Why not also investigate the ethical aspect of those clandestine phone conversations that took place while Mr. Aloysius’s company is being investigated by the COPE?
The Leader of the House, Lakshman Kiriella in a statement to parliament, has said the CID or the Attorney General’s Department should have obtained the Speaker’s permission before seeking information on the telephone calls of MPs, but neither of them had done so. This constituted a breach of privileges of MPs, he argued.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank Bond has refuted these allegations. It claimed that it had found information during the forensic investigation of several electronic devices used by Mr Arjuna Aloysius and his father –in-law, former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran. “The claims that the telephones of several Members of Parliament and other persons have been tapped or recorded in the course of this examination, are utterly false,” it said in a statement.
Minister Kiriella has also argued it was ‘highly improper’ to publish details about MPs’ telephone contacts. “The confidential information had been put out for public consumption. Media is now in a frenzy giving all sorts of twisted interpretations to this information,”
But, what if they provide crucial clues of a potential collusion? There are genuine concerns of a conflict of interest when the government MPs, including one who was appointed during the mid- way of the COPE investigation, made several hundred calls with a man whose company was being investigated by the COPE. A sizable number of such conversations had taken place during the period of the COPE investigation of itself.
These concerns cannot be brushed aside as a coincidence. Coincidence does not happen over four hundred times. This is a pattern of events and in most likelihood, a case of collusion. Rather than investigating these concerns, scheming to hide behind Parliament privileges would set a dangerous precedent, and if anything it gives the impression that Sri Lankan politics has not changed much since the end of the Rajapaksa regime.
The difference between a functioning democracy and one that is crippled is not how loud their parliamentarians can quarrel or how often protestors could block public roads, but how their elected leaders are held accountable for their actions. It is easy to feign democracy, but implementing it takes more than words. Sri Lanka celebrated seventy years of Parliamentary democracy this year. However, we are still not a mature democracy. Elected Members of Parliament are far less accountable to public than their predecessors in the last State Council could have been during the British colonial rule. The fundamental problem lies at the heart of weak independent institutions, which have been progressively weakened by the successive governments since the independence. This is not something unique to Sri Lanka, see everywhere in the former British colonies (with a few exceptions such as India, which albeit having millions living hand to mouth also have independent institutions that could check regressive impulses of both the government and public). That failure in our countries may have much to do with certain retrograde social, economic and cultural dynamics of native leaders and populace which can not be discussed without being accused of cultural relativism.
Leaders elsewhere tempt to abuse power when it serves their interests, but where there is a functioning democracy, they are held accountable for what they do. When there is no such oversight, you can see them denying those charges with a straight face, pooh-pooh the independent institutions- and still better, divert the discourse by blaming the former government
Leaders elsewhere tempt to abuse power when it serves their interests, but where there is a functioning democracy, they are held accountable for what they do. When there is no such oversight, you can see them denying those charges with a straight face, pooh-pooh the independent institutions- and still better, divert the discourse by blaming the former government. (Mr Sujeewa Senasinghe went a step further and blamed the President too).
What is equally disturbing is the response of the so called civil society and NGO types, who condemn many things at the drop of a hat; when an anti-Muslim graffiti scrabbled on a wall, or LTTE detainees stage a hunger strike. Their concerns in all the above are laudatory, but why keep mum now, when there is a perceptible rot at the highest of the political institutions. So are the Ven. Mahanayakas who had spoken out selectively, though not so constructively.
The peripheral problems like the above deserve attention, but they are only the symptoms of a wider political decay. If Sri Lanka could evolve a system that ensures equal rights to all its people, much of ethnic and religious grievances could wither away, whatever the left over can then be addressed proactively. But, nothing is possible when the legitimacy of political institutions is compromised by corruption. That makes public, especially the Sinhala majority to distrust the government, and traps the country in a progressively worsening political decay. That is exactly why the public, civil society and politicians should worry about the implications of the ‘bondgate’.