Avant Garde development :’ What is really going on?’
Navy to conduct operations of the security firm
After about ten months, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and some of his loyalists have finally broken their silence over the Avant Garde controversy Even then they have not subscribed to the debate on the controversy surrounding the security firm with their own inputs, rather they have opted to express their solidarity with the former Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana who last week cleared the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) of all the allegations levelled against it by many politicians from both the government and the Opposition.
The eerie silence the Mahinda loyalists maintained for months amidst serious allegations levelled against the controversial firm by the leaders of the newly appointed government since the first arms ship was arrested in January, must be an indication that they too were of the opinion that something fishy had taken place. However, soon after Marapana defended the company following a scathing attack on it by JVP leader and the Chief Government Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake in Parliament, the former President rushed to praise him.
Rajapaksa’s vociferous lieutenant, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa too followed suit by asking the JVP leader to take the challenge thrown by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeydasa Rajapakshe to have a debate over the issue on any TV channel. Linking this issue as well to the ethnic problem, he does as usual he stated that the whole controversy had been created to divert the people’s attention from the government’s moves to release the “Tigers” and create a “hybrid court.” He might have forgotten that the first arms ship was arrested long before the issues pertaining to the release of LTTE suspects and the hybrid court emerged.
The most important point that one has to be concerned about is that people in the country are in the dark or in utter confusion over what really has happened at the Avant Garde, as both the government as well as the Opposition are divided over the controversy. JVP leader, while speaking in Parliament last week quoted the prime minister as saying that no licences have been issued to the weapons in the floating armoury. He also said that some weapons treated in the books as unserviceable and condemned to be destroyed were in the ship.
However, the former law and order minister cleared the company of all allegations while the FCID was still conducting an investigation into the arms on board the ship. While Justice Minister Wijeydasa Rajapakshe was also defending the security firm some other ministers such as Rajitha Senarathna and Champika Ranawaka want to take action against it.
Justice Minister Rajapakshe said that he prevented the arrest of former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa over the Avant Guarde issue, raising questions over the much- talked -about good governance. The acceptance of Marapana’s resignation from the portfolio by President Maithripala Sirisena indicates that the latter is not of the same view as the former over the matter.President Sirisena who vehemently spoke against corruption before and after the last presidential election at which he was elected to power made an innocent claim following Marapana’s resignation that he would accept the majority decision of the Cabinet on the matter and later took it over under his wing. Then on Wednesday he had instructed the authorities to revoke all agreements between the government institutions and the Avant Garde and hand over the operations carried out by the security firm to the Navy. All in all, people who voted this government with the hope that corruption would be eradicated are bewildered as to what is really going on.
If everything was fine with Avant Garde as claimed by Marapana and Wijedasa the president’s instruction to revoke all agreements with the security firm would be a high-handed act. On the other hand, had there been reasons for the president to do so, the stand taken by the justice minister and the former law and order minister is highly questionable.
Avant Garde was one of the trump cards used by the UNP and those who supported President Maithripala at the August 17 Parliamentary elections, and none of those in the Maithri camp defended the company before the election. Therefore the message passed on to the masses was bad and the damage caused by the controversy to the Yahapalana government’s image was immense and irreparable. Already a controversy surrounding the Central Bank bond issuance had also created doubts in the minds of the people. The Mahinda Rajapaksa camp is no doubt capitalising on the situation, although they do not have a moral right to question the integrity of any government.
Politicians of the Maithripala camp are also no saints. Many candidates including those who were defeated at the August general election are said to have spent more than Rs. 100 million on their election campaigns. Since they had to earn that money back, sooner or later they would have to steal public funds. But here is a case where a government has got its image tarnished with corruption changes within ten months into
The government’s much-publicised anti-corruption drive entails a two-pronged danger for its very leaders, due to its vacillating nature and consequently its untrustworthiness. On one hand, the incredibly slow pace of the drive and to date the failure or fear of the authorities to arrest a single shark who the leaders of the government claimed had plundered billions of rupees of public funds have already eroded public trust in the government immensely. Coupled with this frustration, the continued questioning of leaders and officials of the former regime without any tangible result would be seen as a farce and with the passage of time drive the masses to sympathise with even the most dreadful rogue of the past.
The Mahinda camp would not waste such a situation. On the other hand, in the event of such a turn of political tide in future, the leaders of the present government would have to face the music of their present vacillation. The Mahinda camp would not forget what they call the ‘harassment’ meted out to them by the present government and would not drag their feet in taking action against their opponents [ should that time come].Former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and former Chief Justice Shirani Banadaranayake would attest to that.