The following is a translation of the speech delivered by the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to Parliament on wednesday, june 3.
My colleague Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena has posed some questions regarding the appointment of the Central Bank Governor. I hope to present to the House a detailed answer to these questions. In a way, I am glad that he gave me this opportunity to clarify the truth and to talk about the dark era that prevailed in our country.
Mr. Arjuna Mahendran was born, brought up, educated and employed in Sri Lanka. He is a learned and intelligent person who loves this country. His first job was also at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. He worked there for 11 years. He then held several executive positions in both public and private institutions.
In 2002, he became Chairman of the Sri Lanka Board of Investment where he served till 2004. He held this position under Minister G.L. Pieris who held several ministerial posts under different governments.
He left this position when the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UFPA) came into power in 2004. The Rajapaksa regime was the reason for him to leave his job and this country.
Therefore, in a way, the respondent for Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena’s question is the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Rajapaksa regime created a dangerous environment not only for Mr. Arjuna Mahendran, but also for many decent people who were not pro Rajapaksa. For the minority races, the situation was even worse. We lost several Tamil colleagues like Joseph Pararajasinghem, Raviraj and Maheshweran. The country was covered by terror.
This was the reason behind Mr. Arjuna Mahendran’s departure to Singapore. If not, he would have faced the same destiny as Lasantha Wickramatunga, Pradeep Ekneligoda and many others. Therefore, by escaping to Singapore, he was able to save his life.
Not only he, but a number of Sri Lankans left this country to save their lives. Keith Noyahr, Poddala Jayantha, Upali Tennakoon and Mandana Ismail had to leave the country after facing severe harassment. Such was the dark era that was defeated by the people of this country on January 8th. 6.3 million people were part of this revolution.
That was not the end. Soon after assuming his duties, President Maithripala Sirisena launched a mission correcting all these errors committed by the Rajapaksa regime. He decided to bring back all citizens who left this country in terror. Not only Arjuna Mahendran, we also brought back Prishantha Jayakody - the Police Media Spokesperson - who left the country because of threats by the Rajapaksa regime.
We also brought back several high ranking army personnel who had to leave the country because of death threats by the Rajapaksa regime, for the mere reason of being friends with Sarath Fonseka. We also invited journalists who left because of threats to their lives to come back to Sri Lanka.
Likewise the 100-day programme became one of error-correction. The Rajapaksa regime held General Sarath Fonseka captive and made him lose every respect he gained as an Army General. It was even prohibited to use the term General with his name. Yet, we made him the first Field Marshal of our country.
Not only that, we also did justice to the former Chief Justice Ms. Shirani Bandaranayake who was subjected to serious revenge by the Rajapaksa regime.
Now let us turn our attention towards the Central Bank. What did the Rajapaksa regime do? It appointed someone who was not an economic specialist to the position of Governor of the Central Bank. Even the charges regarding financial crimes against him were not taken into consideration. After this appointment, daily operations at the CB became problematic. Therefore the service of an economic specialist was required.
It resulted in requesting the services of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was not only popular as an economic specialist; but was also an alleged rapist. According to the contract, he received US $ 500,000 for his services.
But what was the result of spending such a large amount? The economy of our country had completely collapsed under the former CB Governor. Only corruption and fraud developed.
From 2007 the CB acquired commercial loans at high interest rates from the international market on behalf of the government: US $ 500 million in 2007 and again US $ 500 million in 2009. Even after the war ended, no investment was made in the private sector. The stock market did not expand due to the tactics practised by the henchmen of the Rajapaksa regime using the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF). In order to cover up this loss, the CB acquired loans of up to US $ 1 billion continually in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
This caused a crisis in the balance of payments and resulted in the rupee depreciating against the US $ from Rs. 110 to Rs. 130. An internationally ranked agency named “Standard and Poor’s” warned the government against the waste of using US $ 2.7 billion for securing the value of the rupee. In such a situation, our country which was ranked positive was marked down to the fixed grade by the “Standard and Poor’s” and “Moody’s”. As a result of the corrupt hedging deal, the CB had to pay US $ 25 million to the Standard Chartered Bank. And also we were indebted to Deutsche Bank.
Amidst all these corrupt deals, the former CB governor bought a huge pile of gold and paid at the rate of US $ 1600 per oz. This deal caused a great loss in 2013 and 2014.
Moreover, large financial irregularities took place in the government institutions. The CB was incapable of maintaining any financial discipline. It allowed large scale corruption in all the public institutions, including the Sri Lankan Air Lines. This caused colossal damage to our country. We required the assistance of a real economic specialist to salvage our economy from this damage.
But like the Rajapaksa regime, we are not bringing people like Strauss-Kahn to our country. We brought back a Sri Lankan-born specialist. But you are afraid of him because he is uncovering and exposing all the large scale frauds. You are afraid because the capitalist henchmen who were fed by the Rajapaksa regime would lose their chances of illegal gain, and also because eventually our economy was developing.
It is revealed that they have committed a real fraud which is 270 times larger than the financial value of the false charge they are placing against Mr. Arjuna Mahendran. That is why they are trying to disrupt his journey. They only know how to break the sequence but not how to mend it. They have proven their skills of breaking things up throughout the history.
They fragmented other parties; but their own party crumbled. This is called retribution according to Buddhism. They are facing their own karma today. But it won’t come to an end that easily. The pressure they imposed on the people of this country and the wealth they robbed from the people is immense. And the disappointment people have towards them is also tremendous. Therefore it is not so easy to escape from all these.
Even though they have no salvation from retribution, it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the common man of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) who voted for them, from being mislead by their deception. Today this responsibility is being taken over by President Maithripala Sirisena.
We have also promised to assist this purpose, even at the cost of our lives. In any charge they place against the President, we are the first to face it. Maithripala Sirisena is a President who won 6.3 million votes. Protecting him is the first step of defeating this counter-revolution.
We are ready to face it without any conditions along with the majority of the people of this country. So today they have started to chant the “get out manthra” against President Maithripala Sirisena. We saw our pumpkin Member of Parliament chanting this manthra at a meeting held in Ratnapura. If this is their charge against the people’s leader, against the Chairman of their party, against the Chairman of their own alliance, against the first person of the country - the President; then, their hidden motive in bringing up charges against a minority-intellectual like Mr. Arjuna Mahendran is evident to the people of this country.
We only defeated one part of that movement on January 8; there are several parts yet to be defeated. The partners of the Rajapaksa regime are trying to intimidate people with threats and coercion, and are trying to buy people with money. This was the way they governed the country in the past. People left the country to save their lives. Some left the country seeking opportunities that could not be gained in Sri Lanka and also due to many other reasons. What is wrong by receiving their service back in our country?
Any person has the right to work in his/her country. It is a world recognized tradition. And in our country this tradition has also been practised for a long time.
During the reign of the previous government, officers of the Attorney General’s Department, Judges and even Supreme Court Judges worked in the Fiji islands were against the policies of the Sri Lankan government, and no one had witnessed any error in that action.
We all know the procedure followed by Sri Lanka regarding the foreign citizens. Some who were born and bred in Sri Lanka had later acquired citizenship in foreign countries. There is no objection to foreign citizens doing jobs and business in Sri Lanka. The constitution has only drawn limits for foreign citizens becoming people’s representatives. But the previous government went far beyond that.
They provided protection to Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP who is a foreign citizen. When foreign countries requested the Sri Lanka Government to hand over him for terrorism-related investigations, the government rejected such requests and continued to protect him.
Hon. Speaker, when acquiring citizenship of a country, one has to take an oath. It is a legal mandatory. Gotabaya Rajapaksa also pledged an oath in America. So did Palitha Kohonna to acquire citizenship in Australia. I think it would have been fair if these people ask these questions when the previous government brought an American citizen and made him take over of the security of this country. The reason is the seriousness of that oath. The following is the oath that has to be taken when acquiring citizenship of America.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
It is to such a person that the post of Defence Secretary of this country was given. He became the Defence Secretary on November 24, 2005 and received dual citizenship on November 30. According to your views; doing so may not be correct. After gaining Independence, the first Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka was also an American citizen.
That was John Exter. I wonder why you did not talk about an American citizen becoming the Defence Secretary citing the former as an example. Besides, you neither raised these questions when our Foreign Service was under the administration of an Australian citizen. But the people who kept silent during such instances are now questioning Mr. Arjuna Mahendran’s citizenship.
I request you all to be happy, as at least now you have the freedom to question in such a manner. If Dinesh Gunawardena raised questions about American citizens, then he would have been abducted in a white van and would have been dead by now. Now there are no white vans. Therefore their tongues have become sharp. We are happy that those mouths that were previously shut are now open and vociferous.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not done anything that depicts his intention of giving up his American citizenship. According to American law, an American citizen can acquire citizenship in another country. But if he/she betrays America, America has the right to take legal action against the betrayers even though he/she has resigned from the citizenship. With regard to dual citizenship, American citizenship will always be considered the primary citizenship.
The citizen has no right to make decisions regarding the main citizenship. It is a right of America. That is why there is a Constitutional term that the people’s representatives and the President of Sri Lanka should only be Sri Lankan citizens because they represent the People’s sovereignty.
Apart from that, there is no objection of foreign citizens holding positions in Sri Lanka. Here is a list of names that serve as example; including Udayanga Weerathunga, Jaliya Wickramasooriya, Palitha Kohonna and Lakshman Jayaweera who are all are foreign citizens who held important positions in Sri Lanka.
Furthermore, I would like to inform this House that some people who acquired enormous wealth during the reign of the Rajapaksa regime, have secretly acquired citizenship in foreign countries. Therefore, I would like to request these people who make allegations against others to first look into these matters.
It is being reported that these people have acquired citizenship in Seychelles, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Andorra, Monaco and Uganda. If possible, I request you to provide details to this House about them.
Hon. Speaker, MP Dinesh Gunawardena is not an SLFP member. You are disrupting the effort Hon. Maithripla Sirisena is taking to build up the SLFP.
You are also interrupting our effort to build up this country. You all only know to disrupt the activities. If you need a ministerial post or the post of an organizer in the opposition, we’ll discuss it with the President. It is not a big deal for us. But please do not interrupt the development process of this country.
The people of this country have completely rejected your racism, religious or caste discrimination. On January 8, people chased you all away to Medamulana. We won’t allow you to reign again. The People won’t allow you. Only the slaves of the Rajapaksa regime want to do so. You are trying to launch a counter-revolution against the revolution that took place in this country on January 8, 2015. But the people of this country are more than ever ready to defeat such efforts.
The era that has now dawned in this country, is not an era of people leaving and not an era of escapism. And neither is it an era where the intelligent who could serve the country were chased way. This is an era we welcome the people who are willing to serve this country. A respectable environment has been created for them to come back and work here.
We have no right to interrupt such people by questioning them about their citizenship. We won’t allow it to happen. You who raise the issue of Mr. Arjuna Mahendran’s citizenship you have not made the effort to properly read or study the Sri Lanka’s Financial Regulations Act.
You only know to blabber without any legal basis. You didn’t utter a word when Treasury Bonds were offered to private buyers during the Rajapaksa regime without public auction, when foreign commercial loans were acquired at high interest rates, and also when financial frauds took place in the CB and the Stock Market. No investigations were carried out.
But what did we do with regard to the recent Treasury Bond issue? We appointed a Committee to investigate on the matter. We created a space to investigate the matter in front of a Parliament Select Committee. We gave the opportunity for the Financial Crimes Investigation Unit to investigate the matter.
You should question yourselves as to whether this was possible during the regime of the Rajapaksas.
Hon Speaker, at this point, I would like to explain the House regarding the Financial Regulations Act. The 11th clause of the Financial Regulations Act clearly explains the disqualifications when appointing a Governor to the Central Bank and the Finance Board. A Member of Parliament or a member of the Provincial Council or Local Government cannot be appointed to this post. Neither a public servant nor a judicial officer can be appointed. A person who receives a salary from the government or an elected representative too is not eligible to hold this post.
Not even a Director, officer, employee or a shareholder of a bank/financial institute that is related to a bank or any other institution monitored by the CB can be appointed to this post. However, it does not disqualify the non-Sri Lankan citizens. Therefore Arjuna Mahendran has no legal disqualifications that question his appointment as the Governor of CB.
Some people are using their favoured media to spread rumours and international issues with regards to Mr. Arjuna Mahendran. But no such issues were evident when local or international Central Bank deals were examined. We know that the henchmen of the Rajapaksa regime are pressurizing the banks and financial institutes in Sri Lanka. But such attempts have not been successful.
Now I would like to focus your attention towards two main facts; you kept silent when foreign citizens robbed state resources, engaged in large scale frauds and corruption. But when a foreign citizen is engaged in protecting State resources, preventing frauds and corruption and in establishing financial discipline, you are against him.
It is regrettable that members of this House have degraded themselves in to such a low ebb. Those who spent a night here to protect the corrupt, find it difficult to utter a word for the prevention of corruption in this country.
The other point is the people, who advise them to present such questions in this. House. The person who is behind all this is a so-called lawyer who hasn’t even seen a Courthouse!.
Finally, I should mention one thing. Those days, one family secretly robbed the wealth of this country without the knowledge of this Parliament, its members, and the people of this country. We are investigating these robberies and we will somehow give that robbed wealth back to the people of this country. It is your duty to help us in doing so.
Today all the countries in the world are assisting us. We are not left alone. So we are kindly requesting you to not to stand for the robbers. Instead of feeding one family, we have now launched a mission where each child gets a school, each youth gets a job, indebtedness is decreased and the whole country is fed. Therefore, we kindly request you to stop pulling our legs and to unite with us to help our President Maithripala Sirisena, the Chairman of your party to build this country.
Only by doing so, can you save your souls from the sin of helping the corrupt Rajapaksa Regime, and only then would the people consider forgiving you. But what are you doing instead? Tarnishing the image of Maithripala Sirisena and the hope of the majority of people of this country and going against him.
The closest example of this is the media release by Hon. Susil Premajayantha. He said that “It is evident that some people who were hostile towards our party are trying back to acquire positions and cause its decadence. But the SLFP members who never left the party would always stand for its supporters.”
During the last election, you worked against President Maithripala Sirisena and you are still acting the same way. The people who acted to send Maithripala Sirisena 10 feet down are once again trying to put him down. But we will never allow it to happen.
We will protect our President and his programme. We will stand for the truth and will obstruct robbers, culprits and hypocrites. We will be committed towards building a decent Sri Lanka.