In a fine example of good governance and its principle of all being equal before the law, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday appeared before the Presidential Commission probing the alleged scams in the Central Bank bond issues and testified for about 90 minutes. Reports say he answered about 48 questions, including some related to economic development strategies, when he was examined by Attorney General
Leaving the Commission premises after his testimony, Mr. Wickremesinghe claimed that since independence in 1948, he was the first Prime Minister to have willingly and voluntarily testified before a Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission concluded its public sittings yesterday and its report is expected to be submitted to the president on December 8. We hope that with the publication of this report the people will know what really happened in line with their fundamental right to information of what is taking place or who is doing what with public funds. In this alleged scam the central figure is Perpetual Treasuries Director Arjun Aloysius. His father-in-law Arjuna Mahendran was the Governor of the Central Bank when the alleged scams took place and opposition leaders say billions in public funds was plundered.
When the Commission’s report goes before a court of law we hope that if there is evidence of guilt beyond reasonable doubt the person or persons responsible will be punished with a jail term, fine or both. More importantly, the money they plundered must be recovered and given to the people.
Accountability and transparency are vital especially when huge amounts of public funds are involved. Though the situation now is generally thought to be much better than what it was before January 8, 2015, most people believe that bribery, corruption and frauds have become so widespread that it cannot be rooted out unless tough action is taken against those involved. This action needs to be taken within weeks or months, not in 10 to 15 years because of the slow process in the
legal system. Thankfully a law was passed this month for the appointment of three special High Courts which would probe high profile cases of corruption or bribery, frauds and malpractice or other political crimes by elected representatives or high officials. These special High Courts will conduct trials-at-bar every day, with morning and evening sessions. We hope that through this process the Yahapalanaya National Unity Government will be able to fulfil one of President Maithripala Sirisena’s main pledges that politicians, officials and their lackeys who plundered billions in public funds would be brought to justice and the money recovered.
The president recently complained that the UNP or one senior minister appeared to be blocking the investigations for some reason. Thankfully the UNP’s Working Committee last week decided it would take urgent and effective measures to expedite the investigations and court proceedings in high-profile corruption cases. We hope the Police, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID) and the Attorney General’s Department will rise beyond political issues and act urgently, because justice delayed could be justice denied. Recently a high-ranking FCID officer is reported to have been questioned over his role in the delays.
With local council elections due to be held in late January next year, we believe the effectiveness of action in alleged corruption cases will influence the people as to whom they vote for. Inaction may drive many non-party voters to believe there is little or no purpose in voting because most politicians in most parties are bound by the chains of corruption and do not have the freedom to be servant leaders of the people.