Hard on the heels of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and the United National Party (UNP) led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the so-called National Government having lapsed on December 31, the President on Wednesday made public the findings of the report of the Presidential Commission on Central Bank bond scam, to the utter disappointment of the UNP.
The personal interest taken by the President to make the findings of the report public would surely have hurt the leaders of the UNP and worsened the already strained relationship of the two partners of governance, as the report incriminates directly and indirectly some of the leaders of the UNP for one of the biggest frauds in the Sri Lankan history.
Worse, the report is being released during the height of the campaign of an election at which parties led by the President and Prime Minister are contesting.
Also the Sri Lankan voter has a slavish mindset, which is always prepared to justify any crime committed by the leaders of his/her party
It is not clear as to what the direct impact of the findings of the report on the general voter, given the intricacy of bond transactions in general and the findings of the report in particular to the voter.
Also the Sri Lankan voter has a slavish mindset, which is always prepared to justify any crime committed by the leaders of his/her party.
Yet, the report can have some bearing on the educated people who voted for the UNP at the last Parliamentary elections.
However, it is too early to conclude that all wrongdoers including former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran, his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius and former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, as named by the report, would be punished or the more than Rs. 11 billion allegedly plundered through the controversial bond transaction, would be recovered by the Central Bank, given the Sri Lankan history against corruption.
The report is being released during the height of the campaign of an election at which parties led by the President and Prime Minister are contesting
It is noteworthy to remind that there had been criticisms even on some of the proceedings of this Commission as well.
Basically, Sri Lanka’s track record on Commissions of Inquiry has been disappointing and dismal.
Many past Commissions, as with the case of the Bond Commission, had made startling revelations during their proceedings, but ended up in flops.
Of around fifteen various Commissions that had been appointed by various governments since early 1960s, no justice has been meted out to anybody who had been suffered due to the incidents that had prompted the appointment of those commissions.
Nor was the legal system of the country benefitted by the findings of those Commissions.
The Commissions on the death of former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, 1977 ethnic violence (The Sansoni Commission), killing of 67 civilians in Kokkattichcholai, in the Eastern Province in 1991, Batalanda Torture Chambers during JVP’s second insurrection in 1988/89, Killing of inmates of Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre in 2000, ethnic violence in 1981, several Commissions on disappearances of people during armed conflicts and the commission on the failure of the Cease Fire Agreement of 2002 (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission - LLRC) were the major Commissions appointed during the past 50 years in the country.
It is not clear as to what the direct impact of the findings of the report on the general voter, given the intricacy of bond transactions in general and the findings of the report in particular to the voter
The reports of all these Commissions were swept under the carpet by all Governments.
The Commissions on disappearance of people during armed conflicts were the worst in respect of the findings and follow up remedial actions.
There had been nine commissions inquired into the disappearances of people during the armed conflicts in the south as well as the north since 1991.
President R. Premadasa during whose tenure it was said that around 60,000 persons disappeared in the south, appointed three Commissions followed by another one by his successor President D.B. Wijetunga.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed four Commissions on the same matter and her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed one, the recent Paranagama Commission.
But, none of these nine Commissions could help trace a single man or woman said to have disappeared.
However, the reports of two Commissions have been different from the others. The report of the LLRC appointed by President Rajapaksa was internationally accepted, though with reservations and four resolutions were adopted at the UNHRC in four consecutive years, based on it, pressing Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of that report. However, the Government is still dragging its feet.
And now the Central Bank Bond Commission has issued a serious report with unprecedented recommendations to take legal action even against the bigwigs of the ruling party, the UNP.
However, there is still a long way to go through a complex legal process and promulgation of new laws, as the President vowed to do, before the culprits are punished and lost moneys are recovered by the Central Bank.
The UNP cannot give vent to their anger or disappointment in public over the release of the report or making public of some of the findings of it by the President, in the light of its claim that it has created a new culture with Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation from his ministerial post, soon after his relationship with Arjun Aloysius was exposed at the Commission and with the appearing of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe before the Commission.
It also cannot absolve itself from the allegation that it attempted to cover up the fraud from the very inception of the controversy.
However, both the President and the Prime Minister are in a tight corner over the matter, as being at each other’s throats would jeopardize the very survival of the government.
The President can play politics with issues but only to an extent that would not endanger the cohabitation of the two parties.
Thus, he seems to have attempted to pacify the UNP and justify his appointment of the bond commission by declaring that he would appoint a commission on the activities of the National carrier SriLankan Airlines and the Mihin Air, the outcome of which would be detrimental to the leaders of the former regime, especially the Rajapaksas.
On the other hand, despite the rhetoric by some ministers, the UNP too cannot take any drastic action against the President or his SLFP, since it has only 106 seats in the Parliament – seven seats shorter than what it requires to form a Government of its own. In case of a fall out between the two parties in the government, the UNP would have to win over or buy over President’s men or men from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp to secure the Parliamentary majority. One cannot rule out such a possibility.
In the light of the current criticisms leveled against the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) by the Tamil nationalistic and extremist forces as well as a section of the Tamil diaspora for supporting the Government, it is unlikely that the Tamil coalition would come forward to fill the void and help the UNP to form a Government.
The maximum extent it can go to is to support a minority UNP Government from outside. But then it would give ammunition to the racist elements and the Joint Opposition to carry out harmful propaganda against the UNP during the future elections- Provincial councils, Parliamentary and Presidential elections.
Therefore, if the UNP did not resort to horse-trading with the President’s or former President’s men, the only option left with the Prime Minister, as well as the President, is to put up with the situation, until the next major national election is held, though it would be a bitter experience.