As the campaign trail for the local government polls reaches full swing, the controversial bond transaction of the Central Bank has become the dominant topic for all the major political forces in the contest. Right at the beginning of the election period, President Maithripala Sirisena kept the ball rolling in this regard as he made a televised statement outlining the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the bond scam which caused a financial loss of Rs.11 billion to the state.
- Bond scam incurred a financial loss of Rs.11 billion to the state
- Possible swindling of EPF funds during MR rule
- President seeks mandate to establish a corruption-free country
- UNP on the defensive rather than offensive in this election campaign
- President said he would take over the operation of economy after elections
Initially, it appeared to be a mild rap by President Sirisena on the United National Party (UNP). In the similar fashion, he tried to make a salvo at the political camp led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as he mentioned the possible swindling of funds of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) during the former rule.
Subsequently, it resulted in a political outcry in the run up to the local elections with the main political parties trying to take on each other in this regard. In fact, the electoral debate on other matters such as cost of living, economic development and local administration took a back seat as the spotlight is cast on the bond scam.
President Sirisena, who spearheads the campaign of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), started projecting himself as the anti-corruption crusader. Let alone, he is at pains to discredit both the UNP and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the same time, over allegations of corruption and frauds. In fact, he is seeking a mandate to establish an administration cleansed of corruption. Proverbially, it is similar to ‘killing two birds with one stone’.
Alongside, SLPP led by the former President keeps on directing its criticism to the UNP in main over the frauds in bond trading and even demands Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down. Also, the SLPP argues in its electoral rallies and meetings, that President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFF) was an appendage of the same UNP-led government, and therefore he could not evade blame incurred over the bond frauds.
Hair-splitting arguments are hurled to and fro on the merits and demerits of the government’s actions in dealing with the bond scam. The UNP is under heavy attack because of its purported attempts to sweep everything under the carpet at the beginning though the party vehemently denies them.
The JVP, accused to be acting in collusion with the government in Parliament, is all out against the UNP on the bond issue and asks people to reject the UNP and all the other parties in the fray and opt for a novel form of local administration with zero tolerance of corruption.
UNP defensive on the bond scam
Amidst all such attacks, the UNP seems to be defensive rather than offensive in this election campaign. The UNP’s attempt is to absolve itself and its leadership of any responsibility in the frauds at the Central Bank. Simultaneously, its aim is to stake a credit for what it called ‘taking action against wrongdoers within first’.
The election campaign proceeds with full steam with arguments and counter arguments on the bond scam in this manner.
Kiriella declines debate on bond scam before Feb.10
Against this backdrop, the Business Committee of Parliament met on Monday to arrange the proceedings of Parliament for the current parliamentary week.
JVP MP Vijitha Herath and Joint Opposition’s parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardane sought a debate on the bond scam prior February 10, 2018. Obviously, they have calculated that such a debate prior to the local government polls would enable them to fix the government and to score politically.
Aware of such electoral effects, the UNP, as the main ally of the government, was not ready for such debate ahead of the election.
Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the report was a lengthy volume and there was no adequate time till the elections were over to peruse it and have a debate appropriately.
Wheel-barrow needed to lug report
Along with the report on the bond matter, the report of the Presidential Commission that probed serious frauds was tabled in Parliament. In fact, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the volume contained over 9000 pages, and therefore, one would need a wheelbarrow to lug it.
Bitterness between UNP and SLFP reaches new level
In another development of this election campaign is the resurgence of bitterness between the UNP and the SLFP despite being part and parcel of the national unity government. It started mainly after the President’s apportioning of blame on the bond scam to the UNP. It led to acrimony between the two sides. The UNP viewed it totally unethical during the election times.
The second salvo was made when the President said he would take over the operation of economy after the elections. He allowed the economy to be run by the UNP for the last three years, and it was high-time for him to take it over now.
It is an innuendo that the UNP mismanaged the economy. So, the UNP received the second bout of attack from the President raising bitterness to a new level.
UNP MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha countered the President in this respect at a rally early this week. He said the SLFP was also part of the country, and it should also be held responsible if there was any dismal performance of the economy.
Constitutional conundrum awaits President in attempting to take over economy
The President’s avowal is a mere political bombast as he is bound to face a constitutional conundrum in attempting to take over the operation of the economy.
First and foremost, the Prime Minister holds the key Ministry related to the operation of the economic affairs. All the three main ministries relevant to the economic affairs are with the UNP. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Strategic Development and International Trade Malik Samarawickrema and Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim are from the UNP.
The President can take over these ministries only in consultation with the Prime Minister as per the requirement laid down in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Therefore, it is practically difficult to translate the President’s words into action.
It is also difficult for the two parties to part ways
The Joint Opposition or the SLPP for that matter believes that the UNP and the President are staging a drama to hoodwink the voters. “There is a revulsion against the UNP among people. President Sirisena is trying to convert some of these disgruntled people to his votes, “former Minister Prof. GL Peiris said.
There is nearly two more weeks for the campaign. Bitterness could fade away or reach new heights during the period. It would finally have a bearing on the outcome of the election. The outcome would eventually shape the future of Sri Lanka’s politics. There are elections, years ahead for Sri Lankans.