- Karunanayake was the Finance Minister during that controversial bond transaction took place
- Only defence the party has is the offence- threatening the Joint opposition to drag all corruption charges against the members of the latter into the debate on the motion, in case it could not hide behind a law point, sub-judice
- A debate over corruption in general or the bond issue in particular is something like an invitation for trouble for the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction as its adversaries are armed to the teeth with similar or more horrendous allegations against the leaders of it
Why shouldn’t a Minister in Sri Lanka receive a gift worth, may be Rs. 10 million from one of his friends?
In Sri Lanka there are no laws or traditions or generally accepted ethical values that prevent a Minister from accepting such gifts. Then why did Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake tell the Presidential Commission inquiring into the controversial Central Bank bond issue that he wouldn’t have accepted the penthouse, where his family resides now, had he known it was given to him by his long-time friend Arjun Aloysius?
As if adding to the pressure...Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too had told that there was no room for thieves in his Government.
It is a well known fact that Ministers and other politicians receive highly valuable gifts from so-called friends and businessmen for obvious reasons and some do not hesitate to reveal it to the country.
For instance, when S.B. Dissanayake along with some others left the Government led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2001, the State media, while showing visuals of a mansion in Hanguranketha built by Dissanayake questioned as to how he earned money to build such a huge house. Dissanayake replied that the building cost for that house was Rs. 40 million and his friends helped him to construct it.
However, Karunanayake was not prepared to tell the country that he knowingly accepted the penthouse from a friend whom he had known from the days of the latter’s grandfather. As if accepting something from Arjun Aloysius is a sin or a taboo he said that he wouldn’t have accepted it, had he known that it was given by Aloysius.
By then everybody knew that something fishy had taken place during a Central Bank bond sale in February 2015 and a company related to Aloysius had profited in that sale. Also it was a well known fact that the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) had accused that Aloysius’s father-in-law, former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran was involved for the scam.
Therefore one has to infer that Karunanayake, who was the Finance Minister during that controversial bond transaction took place, has also admitted by this statement that the transaction involving the company related to Aloysius was a scam as the COPE described it.
In Sri Lanka there are no laws or traditions or generally accepted ethical values that prevent a Minister from accepting such gifts.
However, leaders of the United National Party (UNP) including Karunanayake were hell bent earlier to deny the fact that the bond sale in February 2015 was flawed.
At the beginning of the controversy a three-member committee appointed by the UNP leadership to look into the allegation had cleared the former Central Bank Governor from the charges. When the COPE was probing the matter the UNP members of it did their best first to deny that a fraud had taken place and later to absolve Mahendran from the charges.
The recent striking proceedings of the Presidential Commission that was appointed following the COPE findings on the matter had created such a strong public opinion against Mahendran and Aloysius, while confirming those findings that even the UNP leaders such as Karunanayake are attempting to dissociate themselves from the issue and those involved in it.
However, now the public opinion has turned against Karunanayake as well and an opinion that he has to resign from the Ministerial post is fast gaining ground.
Minister Karunanayake might still be thinking that he had successfully faced the commission. But nobody in the country seems to accept his answers for the questions on receiving a penthouse from Aloysius and travelling to Singapore 13 times with him, among others. It was interesting that several newspapers as if having an agreement among them carried a picture of him touching his nose along with the report on his testimony before the commission, reminding us of Pinocchio.
Even the UNP bigwigs, who were earlier attempting to cover up the controversial side of the bond sale in question and to defend Mahendran, seem to press the beleaguered Minister to resign compelling his daughter Onella to make an impassioned plea on her Facebook page asking why only her father was to blame “in such a huge Government.”
As if adding to the pressure by the members of the UNP, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too had told that there was no room for thieves in his Government.
Even if the allegation against Karunanayake is proved one can argue that compared to the huge amounts of public money that had allegedly been embezzled through the bond scam he had received only a lollipop.
The call for Minister Karunanayake’s resignation by the members of his own party, UNP is in fact an indictment not only against the minister, rather it is one against the party as a whole, since the Commission is probing not any allegation against the minister but a scandal that took place in the Central Bank which was attempted to cover up by the entirety of the party throughout.
The Joint Opposition or the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has handed over a no-confidence motion to the Deputy Secretary General of the Parliament over Karunanayake’s alleged close relationship with Aloysius on which he was questioned by the Commission.
This has in a way placed both the UNP and the Opposition parties, especially the Joint Opposition in a quandary. After the COPE investigation and the thus far proceedings of the Presidential Commission on bond, issue the UNP is in a difficult position to defend Karunanayake.
Apart from the power struggle among the leaders of the UNP this is why Minister Sajith Premadasa had said he would resign if he was forced to defend corrupt people.
Only defence the party has is the offence- threatening the Joint opposition to drag all corruption charges against the members of the latter into the debate on the motion, in case it could not hide behind a law point, sub-judice. If a sizable number of members of the party voted for the motion or refrained from voting due to the public pressure, it would be a slap in the face of the other leaders of the party.
The SLFP members of the Government, especially the Maithri faction of the party would also face the same situation as their vote for the motion would embarass Government they are in and the cohabitation between the two main parties in the Government would further strain.
In fact, a debate over corruption in general or the bond issue in particular is something like an invitation for trouble for the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction as its adversaries are armed to the teeth with similar or more horrendous allegations against the leaders of it. On the other hand if the motion is defeated in the numbers game in the House Government might use it to justify its stance in the larger issue, the bond scam.
Whether the no-confidence motion succeeds or not, whether Minister Karunanayake resigns or not, the facts that a huge fraud has taken place during the bond sale in February 2015 and the UNP is still attempting to shield the corrupt are well established by now.
However, two things are still disheartening the not so politicized people of the country. One is the possibility of the culprits of the main issue escaping the net as only a fact finding process is on for the past two years. The other one is the fact that people have no choice or they are not prepared other than entrusting their destiny to one corrupt party to another.