- The Attorney General’s Department might have inordinately been swift in taking action against him
- This was not the first time Rajapakshe had criticized the Hambantota project
- Now, Rajapakshe is attempting to portray him as a patriot speaking against selling out of national assets
- Rajapakshe had argued that special courts to try the leaders of the last regime could not be established under the Constitution
- Rajapakshe never protested when the lands in the proposed Port City and Galle Face were given outright to foreign companies during the previous regime
It was Ravi Karunanyake, who resigned on August 10 as Foreign Affairs Minister, who paved the way for the dismissal of Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe from the post of Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister on Wednesday. Finally two leaders of the UNP, the very party that vowed to eradicate corruption, had so far to go to the guillotine, while those who had been accused of large-scale frauds by them are still at large.
Parliamentarians of the United National Party (UNP) had been lightly and sometimes indirectly accusing Rajapaksa for the delay in legal actions against the leaders of the previous Government over the corruption charges leveled against them until Karunanayake’s resignation. But the pain and anger over how the Attorney General’s Department cornered Karunanayake during the proceedings of the Presidential Commission on Central Bank bond issue on August 2 were translated into an attack on Rajapakshe.
The allegation that Rajapakshe was the culprit behind the delay in the progress of the cases against the leaders of the former Government seems to be sound as he always tried to justify the delay instead of proposing, as the Justice Minister any strategy to expedite them. But the exertion of pressure on him by the UNP over that delay, two and a half years after they assumed power and only after Karunanayake was forced to resign, points to the fact that the action against Rajapakshe wasn’t genuine.
It was the public opinion that had been created after the exposure of his close relationship with and the benefits he received from Arjun Aloysius - one of those accused of the Central Bank bond scam- that Karunanayake was compelled to step down as Foreign Affairs Minister. The Attorney General’s Department might have inordinately been swift in taking action against him. But it doesn’t mean that he was innocent. If the UNP had been angered only by how Karunanayake was treated and not by what he had done, that cannot be a genuine motivation against corruption.
It is still a mystery as to what prompted Rajapakshe not to resign from the ministerial post until he was sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena on the instructions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He told the staff of his ministry after the dismissal that he was ashamed to be a part of a Cabinet that decides on selling national assets, but remained in the same Cabinet until he was shown the door.
Apart from the allegation on the delay in action against the leaders of the previous government Rajapakshe was accused of violating collective responsibility of the Cabinet by criticizing the government’s agreement with a Chinese company on the development of the Hambantota Harbour. However, as Health Minister Rajitha Senarathna argued, Rajapakshe who protests against leasing out of land to foreign companies had never protested when the lands in the proposed Port City and Galle Face were given outright to foreign companies during the previous regime.
It is clear Rajapaksa, at a time when the UNP MPs wanted his head for not taking action against the leaders of the former government has played into their hands by mixing up this allegation with Hambantota harbour issue. He was reportedly sacked officially not for the delay in corruption cases but for breaching collective responsibility of the Cabinet. He fuelled their anger further by indirectly attacking the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the Prime Minister by quoting former President J.R.Jayawardene who once said “I do not have a family or a prince to look after.”
This was not the first time Rajapakshe had criticized the Hambantota project. He had spoken in Parliament against leasing out of lands in the area to Chinese companies earlier as well and had posted those speeches in his Facebook page. But nobody bothered about collective responsibility then. However, when Rajapakshe attempted to shield him with the same issue after the Karunanayake saga, the UNP capitalized on it.
Now, Rajapakshe is attempting to portray him as a patriot speaking against selling out of national assets. This reminds us of the sudden transformation of Wimal Weerawansa from being a follower of Marxism and a champion of socialist revolution to be a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist, after he was unceremoniously dropped from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 2008. Another similar incident took place early this week in the north when a minister of the Northern Provincial Council was sacked from the board of ministers of that council by Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran.
If the UNP had been angered only by how Karunanayake was treated and not by what he had done, that cannot be a genuine motivation against corruption
Transport Minister of the Northern Province P Deniswaran was first sent a show- cause notice by his party, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) for signing in June this year a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister without the permission of the party. Later he was suspended by the party as he did not oblige and was dropped from the board of ministers as he lost the seat in the council. Having known well about the sympathy the Tamil people have for the former LTTE cadres, he then told the media that he was penalized by his party for supporting the former cadres of the LTTE whereas the TELO wanted to support only its former cadres.
The UNP seems to have wanted to expedite the cases against the leaders of the former government in order to counterbalance the effects of the bond scam on it apart from their anger over what happened to their Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake. They were not so concerned about the matter when President Sirisena accused the UNP in July this year that allegations of high profile corruption against the leaders of the last regime, including the Rajapaksa family were being gradually swept under the carpet.
Rajapakshe had argued that special courts to try the leaders of the last regime could not be established under the Constitution and that he could not interfere with the affairs of the Attorney General’s Department which is an independent institution. However, he had earlier in 2015 gone on record as saying that he would not allow former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is also a suspect of the Avant Garde case to be arrested, which is an indication of the interference with the Attorney General’s Department.
No government can change the course of the law in order to target a particular group or a family irrespective of the severity of the allegations against them. But eradication of corruption and bring the corrupt leaders of the previous government to book had been a major promise by the yahapalanaya leaders and they were given a mandate for it by the people at the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Hence, the government is duty bound to work with the Attorney general’s Department to keep this promise.
It would not be an interference with the affairs of the AG’s Department as the AG is the government’s attorney and not a judge as pointed out by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena during the debate over the validity of the impeachment motion against President Ranasinghe Premadasa in far back as 1991. The then Attorney General had ruled that the impeachment motion had been null and void as the President had prorogued the Parliament. The opposition successfully challenged the AG on the grounds that the President prorogued the House after the motion was handed over to the Speaker.
Even then the government cannot introduce new laws or mechanisms targeting only the leaders of the former regime, rather any new mechanism or law should be aimed at the expediting of corruption cases in general. On the other hand, the government is at a point of no return in respect of corruption, as it is on a halfway of a dangerous political game by way of an anti-corruption drive that had already multiplied the threat of revenge during a future government. Also now that Wijeyadasa is no more in their way the government leaders have to show results.