JHU National organiser Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe in a candid interview with Dailymirror, spoke about the anti-corruption drive led by his party and of their opinions of the progress made concerning the investigations so far, the progress of the 100-day programme and of the plans of the JHU at the upcoming general elections. Following are the excerpts:
Q: Are you satisfied with the action taken so far against those who have been accused of corruption during the previous regime?
Fighting corruption was one of the main slogans and promises made to the people during the election campaign of President Sirisena. Probing into the mass scale bribing, corruption, frauds and plundering carried out by those of the previous regime was part of the mandate given to the incumbent President by the people. After the election, the people themselves were very enthusiastic about investigating into the misappropriations that they themselves investigated into the allegations, raided certain locations and were on the alert. Our anti-corruption movement was created to provide a platform for these people.
Since its establishment, during the first week alone we received over 1200 files and 300 e-mails. These were screened by a group of lawyers and compiled into 200 files. Out of that entire lot, we have handed over 17 files to the Bribery and Corruption Commission. But we realised that its bureaucracy was lethargic and was not being effective enough in probing into the allegations we made. That is why we staged a protest demanding their removal and accordingly, a new Director General was appointed. As of now 1600 files are at the Commission pending investigations. Why weren’t these files investigated into? It means the Commission officials were either lazy or it was due to political pressure.
These institutions should have held bi-weekly meetings and released an update concerning the complaints they have received, the progress of the investigation etc but no such activity was carried out. So today questions have been raised concerning its efficiency, whether it is vested with adequate powers to probe into the allegations and whether the necessary training is given to its staff. Its efficiency so far has only revealed that although appointed, its powers are inadequate to execute its mandate.
Q: What are your comments regarding certain politicians/officials with bribery allegations being part of this government?
I admit it is a serious issue. Particularly such state sector officials have integrated themselves into the new government starting with the President’s Secretariat itself. The public eye is fixed on such politicians but this layer of the corrupt bureaucracy always manage to go scott-free. This is a dangerous situation because the politicians are at least forced to maintain a certain sense of accountability - at least in a superficial sense - since they are scrutinized by the public every five/six years during elections. But the officials do not have such an obligation. So although the governing structure changes, these officials remain and continue the corruption.
Politicians alone cannot commit corrupt acts - these crimes are always committed with the assistance of public officials. This mafia should be investigated. We have already received complaints about such officials and within the next few weeks, we will expose a list of their names and ensure they are blacklisted. So far only a few names are revealed but the state sector is steeped in this corrupt culture. So if Sri Lanka is to be a corrupt free country, these officials too should be brought to book.
Q: What should be done to ensure the politicisation and corruption of the state sector does not recur?
Most issues in the state sector are results of the interventions of the Executive. Therefore, we believe arbitrary powers should be curtailed and the system should be democratised. The second most important factor is the electoral reforms. It is only through such a step that corrupt individuals and racketeers can be prevented from being elected into Parliament.
It is also important to ensure judicial independence and establish the independent commissions for the Police Department and the Elections Commission. Bribery and Corruption Commissions should be given more teeth. Public sector should be depoliticised and it is only through that series of steps of reinstating the checks and balances of a democracy that we can ensure this rampant corruption is ousted.
It is also important to ensure the right to information for all the citizens. The wealth and assets of public figures should be revealed - how they amassed the wealth, their economic status before entering politics and the wealth now. It is equally important to set a restriction on the amount of finances that can be spent by a candidate during an election. On the other hand, the media too level certain accusations against politicians. In such cases the journalist should be able to reveal the sources of the information and they have a responsibility to be accountable to their readers. The genuinity of their claims should be proved.
It is also important to establish the Auditing Act, the Procurements Commission and a Planning Commission to ensure the development projects are streamlined. During the previous regime, it was the Rajapaksa henchmen and cronies who decided what development projects the country required. These institutions are necessary to ensure such a situation does not recur.
QYou speak against the arbitrary powers entitled to an Executive president but wasn’t it an execution of that power that saw during the removal of the former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris this year?
It is important to right the wrongs that were committed during the previous regime and I admit that this process should have been carried out through the right course of action. But if that is going to take time, the Executive and the Parliament have a responsibility to intervene. During the recent election and even before, the former CJ’s attitude and his actions were called to question. It is in the President’s mandate to intervene if dubious acts that were committed by a Chief Justice and questions concerning the judicial independence arise. There is no doubt of the fact that he should have been removed but I admit it would have been better if the process was carried out through the Parliament.
QHow much longer would it take for the proposed electoral reforms to be implemented?
The 100-day programme, we have come to realise, is not realistic or practical. This was not our idea, it was presented by the UNP. What is important now is not the schedule but how we would implement the pledges we made including he reforms. We believe that the reforms to the Executive Presidency and the electoral system should be carried out simultaneously as the two are interconnected and play a pivotal role in ensuring political stability of the country. If not, it can be detrimental to the sovereignity and national security of the country.
The Dinesh Gunawardena Committee report is more than enough to implement the necessary reforms. Issues have been raised on the redemarkation but that argument is not valid as it can be carried out swiftly through the use of modern technology. Accordingly, 140 seats will be given and seven will be awarded according to the ratio based system and another 15 will be given as national list seats amounting to a total of 225.
It has been pointed out that the new system could result in an unfair situation to the small parties. For example parties like the JHU we have a voter base that is spread out unlike TNA and SLMC, whose votes are concentrated to a single area. But the disadvantage can be ironed out by making certain minor changes in the ratio based system.
With concern to reforms to Executive Presidency, we believe certain powers should be retained such as decisions relating to national security. The decision on dissolving the Parliament we believe should be kept with the President but to be carried out upon consultation with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. As for the removal of an incumbent President - it should be enabled to be carried out through the Parliament and not solely through an impeachment since that is of no use against an individual holding executive powers.
QMinister Senarathne recently accused the Police of being lethargic and remaining inactive against those with allegations. Do you also think the Police should be blamed?
I believe the Police Department should be allowed to act independently, and the political structure should assist to maintain that independence. If someone is trying to disrupt the investigation owing to their personal affiliations with the accused, the Police should be given the chance to expose such interventions before the public. This is why the right to information bill is so important. Why has Wele Suda’s statement been kept a secret? The public have a right to have access to this information.
QAre you saying there are members within the government, who are offering protection to those who have committed crimes during the previous regime?
A justifiable suspicion has been raised concerning such a possibility. For example how did Yoshitha Rajapaksa leave the country while several investigations were on-going against him? His recruitment to the Navy itself has been questioned. Certain media reports claimed he travelled to transfer some of the assets in Dubai to another country. This chain of events that is currently occurring has created doubts in the minds of the public and before long, people will judge them if they continue to uphold this course of action.
QDo you believe that elections should be held in April?
We are not in a hurry to hold elections. We believe that electoral reforms should be dealt with before that. Once we make the necessary reforms and realize the people’s mandate, we will go our separate ways and contest at elections.
There are several options available for the JHU - one is to contest alone. If not, create an alliance along with several other parites. The third option is to enter an alliance with the SLFP. But for that to happen, the corrupt politicians should be ousted and reforms should be carried out and the party has to be re-branded. We have also received invitations from those in the UNP to create an alliance with them. But our final decision will be based on the political development over the next few months. But if those accused of corruption are not brought to book before the upcoming elections, we will be forced to embark on a stronger anti-corruption movement. This situation can be compared to the recently held Delhi elections. The BJP did not make use of the mandate they received and the people gave their answer at the elections by ousting the Congress without a single seat and by awarding an unprecedented victory to the anti-corruption front led by Kejriwal while BJP was able to win only three seats.
QIt has been said that in the unity government following the elections, the number of ministers will rise upto a 100. Is this true?
A mistake was made right at the start. Soon after the elections, the national government was supposed to comprise of both the SLFPers and the UNPers. A decision was made to limit the number of Cabinet Ministers to 30 and a proposal was made for the UNP to be awarded 15 positions and the rest to be divided amongst the SLFP, SLMC, JHU, JVP, TNA and Rishard Bathiudeen. As I said before what was in reality created was a UNP government.
So now if the SLFP is willing to enter into a national government - is the government to be expanded or will the UNP make a sacrifice and let go of seven ministerial posts to avoid the creation of a mega cabinet? The President wants to establish the national government and to do justice to the mandate he received. If the UNP does not take a stand and make a sacrifice, because of them, the creation of a mega cabinet will be unavoidable.
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