UNP has given guarantees to corrupt SLFP ministers ­– Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya
Posted on June 10th, 2016

Courtesy The Island

Professor Sarath Wijesuriya took over the mantle of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera as the head of the Movement for a Just Society after the latter’s demise. In this interview, he speaks to C. A. Chandraprema about their campaign to have the corruption allegations against members of the previous government investigated.

Q. You had asked for the expediting of corruption probes against members of the previous government. Why do you think the probes are not being carried out expeditiously?

A. We have doubts about certain matters. The first is that due to this scramble to build up the SLFP, certain people are being protected. One example of this is getting Sajin Vaas Gunawardene involved in the SLFP again. We are not happy about that. Furthermore we got to know that no action is being taken on allegations against those members of the previous government who are now serving in the cabinet. We have got to know from a reliable source that Minister Malik Samarawickrema has given them guarantees in this regard. We are dead against that as well. If someone is corrupt and state property has been misused you can’t let someone off on the grounds that he belongs to a certain political party. If political deals are being made for the sake of political power, there is no good governance there. We have doubts about certain things that are happening within the judiciary as well. We can see that the judiciary is being interfered with to get certain things done. One example is the case of the Magistrate who was accused of owning an elephant without legal sanction. It appears that sections of the judiciary are trying to protect him. Then there was the example of Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka coming out of remand prison and claiming that he got bail without even applying for it, through a special team who had been tasked with obtaining bail for him. The reason why we asked for the expediting of corruption probes is because there is no justification for the delays.

Q. When I spoke to the spokesman of the Movement for a Just Society Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri before the last presidential election, what he said was that Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera should be the common candidate because a politician cannot be relied on. Ultimately however the common candidate was an individual who had been in the political system. What guarantee do the people have about how clean the people in the yahapalana government are?

A. The Movement for a Just Society began with a statement made by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera at a gathering at the BMICH that he will dedicate the rest of his life to abolishing the executive presidency. As our movement gradually took shape, the general opinion among us was that we cannot place our trust in people in the main political parties. We were thinking mainly on the lines of an apolitical candidate. We never thought the presidential election would come so soon. We were expecting to carry our campaign countrywide over four or five years. But when a snap election was called, we needed a common candidate. However it was not possible to build up an apolitical candidate in the short time available. We had to settle for someone who could face the election. It was in this background that Maithripala Sirisena’s name was suggested. But all of us had doubts whether we can achieve our aims with a politician who had been in the system for a long time. In the end we had to make do with what we had.

Q. None of the previous governments were really clean. There were allegations of corruption against the UNP government of 1977-94, the Chandrika Kumaratunga government of 1994-2001, against the UNP government of 2001-2004 and also against the Mahinda Rajapaksa government of 2005-2015. Those who make up this so called ‘good governance’ government were members of the corrupt governments of yesteryear. So why is it surprising that they investigate allegations of corruption against their political enemies but not against those in their own camp?

A. Those of us who represent civil society find it difficult to tolerate such a situation. It is difficult for us to say whether there are any clean politicians at all. However powerful civil society is, it’s not easy to turn things around.

But we are trying. It is because of protests by civil society that Tilak Marapone had to resign. People are disturbed by the conduct of Vajira Abeywardene as well. Professionals associated with the Movement for a Just Society are very upset and the Prime Minister will have to make a decision about this individual. We are of course aware that even if he is removed from the cabinet, the cabinet is not going to become clean. If the corrupt are not going to be punished, the least we can do is to prevent corruption emerging in this government as well. If those who promised good governance are engaging in corruption in this manner, we have to build a social force to prevent that.

Q. After the new government was elected to power in January 2015, the Central Bank bond scandal came just weeks later in February the same year.

A. We have requested both the President and the Prime Minister not to give this individual (the Central Bank Governor) an extension of his term. We are patiently waiting to see what happens. That the country has had to suffer losses as a result of that transaction is no secret. If this person continues to hold that position, that’s a very dangerous situation. It has been pointed out by some who have studied the last parliamentary election that the conduct of Arjuna Mahendran deprived the UNP of at least five seats. When I asked members of the UNP about this, they say that according to their assessment they had lost about eight seats because of that scandal. This can’t be made light of and swept under the carpet.

Q. When you pressurise the President and Prime Minister to hold expeditious inquiries into corruption allegations, one problem that emerges is that many of the corruption allegations made from the platform during the presidential election were not true. For example you can’t investigate allegations like the importation of ‘golden horses’ from ‘Buckingham Palace in America’ and the purchase of three helicopters for the use of Mahinda Rajapaksas’s sons. Though these were allegations made by Maithripala Sirisena himself, they cannot be investigated because they were fabrications to begin with.

A. Those allegations were made by politicians on the public stage. The truth or otherwise of these statements are known only to those who were political comrades at one time.

As civil society, what we wanted to protect was our freedom. There were restrictions on expressing our ideas freely. The freedoms guaranteed in the constitution were endangered. We concentrated on issues like the independence of the judiciary, the corruption of the foreign service and the administrative service. The politicians did not have much understanding of such issues and they concentrated instead on making sensational allegations. We also hold the position that they should be held responsible for the statements they made. If they said such things existed why are they keeping quiet now? That is a serious question. Of course it does not follow that all those things they said were pure fabrications. For example, with regard to SriLankan Airlines, I too have seen documents relating to the serious issues there. But even though it was said that the previous chairman drew a huge salary, the present chairman also draws a similar salary. We do see serious contradictions of that nature.

Q. When some allegations were figments of the imagination, I suppose they have no option but to do nothing. For example even though Maithripala Sirisena said that a special plane for the use of Mahinda Rajapaksa had been ordered from Airbus Industries through Sri Lankan Airlines, that was not true. This was not a plane but a conversion kit to set up a luxury cubicle after removing several seats from a commercial airliner which is given as a free gift with the purchase of the aircraft. . Airbus Industries had mentioned a notional value of 16 million USD for this kit not because it cost that much – it was a figure arrived at by calculating the cost of the kit plus the money that can be earned by selling tickets to travel in it over its projected lifetime. They have no option but to remain silent about such allegations.

A. It is clear that there are contradictions in the allegations made.

Q. You had mentioned in one of your speeches some allegations which did have substance such as Wimal Weerawansa’s passport issue and the ID card number of the Siriliya Saviya bank account. But such issues don’t match up to the mega allegations made on the public platform. There may be an issue with Wimal’s passport but it is Wimal’s passport and only he has been using it. Likewise with regard to the Siriliya Saviya bank account, that is the official bank account of that organisation, the names are correct, the addresses are correct the signatures are correct, the persons who sign cheques are real persons, and the only issue is with the ID card number. What was discussed on the public platform were not minor issues like this, but mega deals running into billions of rupees and billions of dollars.

A. A report on 38 investigations that had been concluded has been compiled and I too have seen that report. If you add up the amounts mentioned there, it’s huge. We also realise that politicians in the past decade have engaged in corruption with a great deal of knowledge and expertise and that is one reason why the law cannot be implemented easily. Professionals have abused their knowledge and conventional legal mechanisms cannot be applied to probe corruption charges.

Q. There was a change in the political culture of the country since the early 1990s when false allegations, character assassination and the like became the mainstay of politics. This unsavoury trend reached its apogee at the presidential election of 2015.

A. I agree. It started as a small rivulet and has now developed into a torrent.

Q. If the President is asked today about that special plane for Mahinda Rajapaksa, what will he say? What will he have to say about the golden horses and helicopters for the sons? I don’t remember R.Premadasa, Ranil Wickremesinghe or Chandrika Kumaratunga uttering falsehoods of that magnitude at presidential elections they fought. Because Maithripala Sirisena was with Mahinda Rajapaksa until the last moment, the falsehoods he uttered gained traction among the public.

A. That is correct.

Q. There is also a question as to how careful anti-corruption activists are in sifting through these allegations. Recently a chauffer was shown on TV claiming that he had cashed cheques amounting to Rs. 1.2 billion within five weeks during the presidential election campaign. He was introduced to the public as an important ‘witness’ to Rajapaksa corruption. Yet this was obvious nonsense. How can a blue collar worker cashing cheques amounting to Rs. 12.5 billion over a period of five weeks ever go unnoticed for one year? If he was not noticed by the law enforcement agencies he would have been noticed at least by thieves. This would have been the largest amount of cash withdrawn from the banking system by one individual in such a short time in the history of the country.

A. People are concerned about various deals that have been arrived at to protect prominent individuals from both sides. It is true that there are questions over the manner that some people have conducted themselves in the midst of such frustrations. Complaints are handed over to the Bribery Commission and nobody knows what happens to these complaints thereafter. Now everything is completely confused. Recently at the wedding of a son of prominent politico, almost everyone accused of being corrupt had been invited as guests.

Q. You had mentioned in one of your speeches about the sale of 40 tonnes of gold and that there are documents relating to this transaction. What do those documents say?

A. A lot of these documents were published in the Ravaya.

Q. Last year immediately after the presidential election, it was said that it was Shiranthi Rajapaksa who had sold gold belonging to the treasury.

A. The story about this gold came out of the military. It was said that the military had collected a lot of gold. By that time none of those documents had been uncovered. The documents came out because something went wrong in the transaction. If the transaction had gone ahead smoothly those documents would never have come out. That is why I said that they have engaged in corruption with a great deal of expertise. The story about Basil Rajapaksa’s house in Malwana came out because the contractor could not get his payment. Before that he had been dealing with them without any tender procedures. Revelations are made by people who were involved in the deals.

Q. No party in Sri Lanka whether it be the LTTE or the government could possibly have 40 tonnes of gold reserves. The LTTE was buying all their arms for cash and they would never have been able stockpile gold in that manner.

A. I was informed by the Central Bank that the ‘tonnes’ mentioned in relation to gold is not the same measurement unit as a tonne of sugar. I was told that this was the Sinhala name of the unit of measurement used for gold.

Q. What was the value placed on these 40 ‘tonnes’ of gold?

A. I don’t remember at what price it was valued, but the amount was very large.

Q. Wouldn’t it be useful for the organisations looking into these matters to compile a document outlining all the allegations against the previous government and to release it to the public?

A. I understand that a document like that has in fact been compiled and it is now being proof read. I agree this should have been done earlier.

Q. The Anti-Corruption Front run by CAFFE placed advertisements in the newspapers asking for details about corruption only after the election. They had no real details or facts about the corrupt deals they spoke of before the election.

A. Before the election the situation in the country was not conducive to looking for details and evidence of corruption. People would never give details due to fear. Before the presidential election there were only suspicions and in some cases, information that had been leaked. It was only after the election that the space opened up to collect information on corruption.

One Response to “UNP has given guarantees to corrupt SLFP ministers ­– Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    This son of a no good mother – Prof Sarath Wijesuriya does he realise the calamity he has brought upon the nation by relying on people like Ranil and his UNP. This rank idiot is talking from his back mouth. This rascal s=deserved to be hanged in public!

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