Former Minister, and former Chairman of the COPE and leader of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, DEW Gunasekara discussed the current political situation in the country, the Bond scam and US policy on Sri Lanka under Trump administration. When the Dailymirror spoke to him, he shared
You requested during a recent media briefing that President Maithripala Sirisena appoint a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the Central Bank Bond scam. Your views on this....
Yes, it is correct that I demanded to have a Presidential Commission appointed to inquire into the Central Bank Bond scam. In my view, a normal judicial process via the Attorney General (AG) as suggested by the Prime Minister would make the COPE report finally a dead – duck.
The Bond scam was a complex issue and an inquiry by a Commission will undertake a forensic investigation. Courts simply cannot find time and energy to undertake such an assignment. It needs a full time investigation at least for three months. According to the terms of reference of the COI appointed by President Sirisena, though the COI is not mandated to impose punishment, the scope of the inquiry is wider enough ot any viable alternative process within the provisions of the Constitution.
Why must a probe on the Bond scam not take the normal legal process and the AG file a case in a court of law?
Our judicial history shows that a normal legal process via the AG would take years and that too may finally reach a dead end.
So, Do you think COI is the ideal answer?
Unless a new legislation is framed within the provisions of the existing Constitution, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry is what is feasible, practical and desirable. In the national interests, this is the only available alternative judicial mechanism the people of the country can keep hopes on.
You were the chairman of the COPE sub committee that investigated the Bond scandal in the first half of 2015 before the dissolution of Parliament. Do you think there is a prima-facie case here?
As the chairman of COPE in the 7th Parliament, I was mandated by the Parliament to undertake the first investigation. It was tasked by a special committee of 13 members of the COPE as directed by the speaker.
I commenced investigation on May 22, 2015 in response to a request by Parliament. I attempted to present a parliamentary report without recommendations. Due to the sudden dissolution of parliament, I was not able to comply with that request. So, the final phase of the investigation had to be undertaken by the new COPE of the 8th Parliament. By then, I had concluded collecting oral evidence from 42 witnesses which ran into 449 pages. Those evidence was given on oath and hence admissible.
The new COPE committee has accepted that those evidence was admissible. The new COPE committee has also questioned a further 23 witnesses including those who were re-summoned for cross-examination. On the face of my evidence report, there is already a prima-face case.
The Joint Opposition vows it would topple the unity government before the end of 2017. Do you think the JO is capable of doing this?
Toppling a government in a democracy simply means defeating a Government. I believe it may happen easily with crossovers. Otherwise it may be possible through an insurrection or in a military coup d’ etat unconstitutionally. In my assessment, even though the contradictions between the Government and the people have been sharpened due to various factors, conditions have not matured enough for a change in the balance of social forces. Political forces are so much divided and no such realignment of forces in the opposition has taken place as yet. So, both subjective and objective factors are not yet matured, in my view. Wishes alone are not sufficient for changes.
However, the SLFP is in total chaos and split to three factions in legally accepted SLFP led by President Sirisena, SLFP group in the JO led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLFP splinter group in the SLPP. The UNP does not have a significant challenge from within and has a better chance to emerge as the winner in any future election. Do you agree?
I agree. The UPFA is sharply divided; horizontally and vertically. As far as the Communist Party is concerned, though we were a part of the UPFA government, we were never a constituent member of the UPFA. At the elections, we entered into an MOU between the SLFP and CPSL. Prior to that of course we were a part of the People’s Alliance (PA). The UPFA was formed at the instance of the JVP in 2004. We were not prepared to subscribe to the UPFA programme. That was why we entered into an MOU for the purpose of winning the general election.
We don’t hear much about the UPFA these days. Is it history now?
The UPFA is now in a disarray. The JVP is in the official opposition. Part of the SLFP is in the Government and the other half in the JO. Some are aligned with the UNP. The CPSL is functioning as an independent in the opposition. We align ourselves with the JO on the basis of issues. In fact the it is neither a party nor an alliance.
As it is, the UNP remains undivided despite contradictions within. To that extent, the situation may be favourable to them just at the moment. This is precisely what the two factions of the SLFP do not comprehend, absence of a self critical assessment of its 20 years in power has placed the SLFP in this predicament.
I have already set out the situation. I do not know as you suggest whether it has become history already. As I see it, it is all subjective factors that have pushed them into this situation-not policies at all. Subjective factors do not permit them to produce a correct strategy.
While the entire world is turning to open market policies, the newly elected US President Donald Trump has resorted to a policy of protectionism. He is to build a protective wall along the boarder of US’s southern neighbour Mexico and threatens to abrogate Trans Pacific Treaty. How do you see this?
Donald Trump is a political novice. He had never been in politics prior to his nomination as Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. So, he is under test. Donald Trump being that, he faces unprecedented and formidable challenges both domestically and globally. Some challenges are legacies of course left behind by his predecessor Barack Obama. He is also called upon to face new challenges as well.
Firstly, the emergence of China as the second economic power of the world, the emergence of Asian economy leading to world economy and the divisions within the three poles of world capitalism – the US, EU and Japan.
Secondly, the decline of US economy which accounts for only 22% of world’s GDP where it was 50% under President Ronald Reagan. Insurmountable debt problems cause a negative effect on its aggressive foreign and defence policies.
Thirdly, USA’s isolation from Asia, Africa and Latin America despite rapid globalization.
Fourthly, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, EU and other Pacific rim countries are in jeopardy and the Brexit has further aggravated the situation. The TPP has already been abandoned by Trump himself. As a result, American influence both in Atlantic and Pacific regions is threatened.
Fifth, Trump’s electorate’s high expectations would pose a greater challenge from within if clashed.
Sixth, the US is fast leaving its closer friends such as Mexico, Turkey and the Philippines.
As regards to protectionism, how could Trump run to counter globalization, the existing reality. Late Ronald Reagan was the President who accelerated the pace of globalization through neo liberalization. Trump seeks isolation through protectionism at the expense of the current world order.
What is your view on Trump’s positive rhetoric on Russian President Vladimir Putin?
I don’t see Trump’s moves to woo Russians as a strategic move. It is only a tactical shift. Perhaps, Trump unlike Obama, sees China as a bigger challenge. This is the main contradiction between Trump and EU. EU and Obama considered Russia as an immediate threat. They wanted to bring NATO forces closer to Moscow.
Is Sri Lanka at a disadvantageous or advantageous situation with Trump as the US President?
Basically, in my view, the US policy on Sri Lanka remains unchanged whether Obama or Trump. The Republican Party – the grand old party in the US is less sensitive to issues like Human Rights. To that extent, Trump administration may perhaps be more advantageous to Sri Lanka – short term of course.
Under Trump, would there be a major policy change on SL by the US and what would be the US government’s attitude on allegations against SL on alleged violation of the International Humanitarian Law at the final phase of the Humanitarian Operation in 2009?
There would be no major policy change towards Sri Lanka. As I said earlier, Trump may be less sensitive on Human Rights issues. If there is any difference, it would not be significant. The world community keeps watching the US under Trump with much interest as US policies are becoming interesting than ever before.