Going by the occasional statements made by President Maithripala Sirisena about the so-called anti-corruption drive of the Government one would definitely wonder as to what his real stand was on the allegations of high profile corruption against the leaders of the previous government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He might be seen as blowing hot and cold on the issue.
Citing a corruption case in which former Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa had also been accused, he dropped a bombshell in October last year at a meeting at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) alleging that his own government’s anti-corruption mechanism had been politicised.
Then he was in turn accused by his own supporters for discouraging, through his statement the State institutions that had been assigned to probe the corruption charges involving huge amounts of money.
But last week he accused his partner in Governance, the United National Party (UNP) that allegations of high profile corruption against the leaders of the last regime, including the Rajapaksa family were being gradually swept under the carpet.
Following his outburst on alleged politicisation of the anti-corruption mechanism on October 12 last year he had to face a barrage of criticism by the civil society organisations that helped him come to power at the last Presidential election.
In a damage control process he and his Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne interpreted his SLFI speech as a protest against the Government’s lethargy in bringing to book the sharks that had plundered the public wealth.
But in reality what happened was the Director General of the Bribery Commission Dilrukshi Wikremesingha had to resign following his verbal attack on her performance and the institutions that were targeted by him in his speech – the Bribery Commission, the CID and the FCID - were rarely or less frequently in the news after that, with powerful or famous people being questioned or any other action being taken against them. Since the Police Department including the CID and the FCID function under Law and Order Minister Sagala Rathnayake and the Director General of the Bribery Commission, who stepped down was said to have been originally recommended to the post by the UNP leadership President’s outburst was an indirect indictment against his own partner in Governance, the UNP.
- Was the President hoodwinked by his own Government?
- The high profile probes against former rulers are not moving ahead
- Dropped a bombshell in October that his own Government’s anti-corruption mechanism had been politicised.
- UNP, JVP, JHU and the Maithri faction of SLFP accused leaders of the former Government of plundering billions of rupees from public coffers.
- If the Government failed to deliver in its investigations against former leaders..it would be tantamount to a witch-hunt.
- The public confidence on such actions would be further eroded.
- On the other hand the President seems to be now in a Catch-22 situation.
- Usually the people who had thus far been hoodwinked by politicians during elections.
- A matter of complaining by the President himself about a corrupt anti-corruption drive of his own Government.
However, this time the President was blunt in accusing the UNP for shielding Rajapaksas.
When the issue of extending the term of the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat (ACCS) came up at last week’s Cabinet meeting the President had stated that there had been no cases against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa or his family, as those in the UNP had brought pressure on the investigators periodically to slow down or not to proceed.
He had alleged that even the ones probed and actions against the members of the Rajapaksa family had been watered-down.
The President had also come out with how these happenings affected him personally. While lamenting that it was only persons who had been identified with him were being dealt with, he had told to the UNP leaders’ face that they had an understanding with “Rajapaksa’s people.
He did not mince his words when he said that if Rajapaksa came back to power none of the UNPers was going to be touched.
Questioning the relevant Ministers as to why there was no action on the high profile cases he had told that if the Attorney General’s Department and the Police were given to him he would catch all the culprits within three months.
In spite of all the repercussions of his outburst in October, his clarification of it was on a par with the essence of his last week’s expression of heartbreak, “Why the high profile cases against the former rulers are not moving ahead.”
In fact this was a question the ordinary people who had voted this Government into power had been asking from the beginning.
The answer given by the Ministers including the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Senaratne during the first year of the current Government was that under a Government of Good Governance the authorities could not bundle up the suspects without following the proper procedures, as happened during the Rajapaksa regime.
However, the President seems to have had his own doubts about the situation from the beginning as he also had once towards the end of his first year in office told the media that even he did not understand the delay in action against corrupt people in the previous regime.
The leaders of the UNP, JVP, JHU and the Maithri faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) accused the leaders of the former Government, especially the Rajapaksa family of plundering billions of rupees from the public coffers.
They alleged that the Rajapaksa family had helicopters worth millions, horses and castles in other countries and Swiss Bank accounts. It was told in 2015 that members of Rajapaksa family had bank accounts in Dubai where millions of dollars had been stashed.
The then Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in March 2015 that the Government was getting the backing of four foreign nations to trace USD 18 billion allegedly siphoned off by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family during their decade in power.
The Opposition parties during the Rajapaksa tenure alleged that more than Rs. Seven Billion is to be spent on each kilometre on the highway from Kadawatha to Kerawalapitiya, whereas the only about Rs. Three Billion had been spent on similar expressways in other countries.
However, the same people who had been accused of these corrupt practices are now ironically ridiculing the Government questioning where those billions stashed in foreign bank accounts, castles, helicopters etc were.
They are correct.
The Government has not so far been able to file a single case involving billions of rupees against any leader of the former regime except for the one against Chanuka Ratwatte.
Nor do the people now believe that any such case would be filed in the future either. Besides, a certain Minister of the Government that vowed to eradicate corruption had vowed that he would not allow former Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa to be arrested under any circumstances.
In fairness to the leader of the former regime, if the Government failed to deliver in its so-called investigations, the high profile corruption charges against the former leaders would be tantamount to them being defamed and the actions against them would be a witch-hunt.
And the public confidence on such actions would be further eroded. On the other hand the President seems to be now in a Catch-22 situation.
If the President, after having alleged that the investigations had been influenced by the UNP takes over the Attorney General’s Department and the Police under him and catches all the culprits within three months, as he had told the Cabinet, it would also be seen as those institutions having been influenced by him.
Usually it has been the millions of people in the country who had thus far been hoodwinked by the promises given by the politicians during elections.
Nonetheless, if the remarks made by the President on the failure of the anti-corruption drive of his own Government were to be taken for granted, interestingly it is a matter of complaining by the President himself about a corrupt anti-corruption drive of his own Government.
In other words, a leader of the State has also been hoodwinked for the first time in the history by election promises.