COPE, Licchavis and King Kosala
Posted on October 23rd, 2016

Editorial Island


Parliamentary standards continue to fall and space for political dissent is rapidly shrinking in spite of last year’s regime change, whose architects promised a radical departure from the past. Members of the ruling coalition are already intoxicated with power; they think they are omniscient, and always lord it over others as evident from media reports on the proceedings of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) on the Central Bank bond scams.

The knights in shining armour who vowed to slay the hydra-headed dragon of bribery and corruption and obtained a popular mandate for that purpose have now turned out to be buccaneers and defenders of rogues. They are flaying this newspaper for exposing their sordid operations. Nothing pleases us more than to get under the skin of the hypocrites in the garb of champions of good governance.

Thankfully, the COPE Chairman’s report has been completed at long last. It was endorsed by a majority of MPs present on Friday. But, it is doubtful whether this vital document will be allowed to be made public because it reveals malpractices and irregularities of serious nature in the bond auctions at issue and calls for action against the culprits as well as the recovery of losses from them, as we reported on Saturday. All signs are that the government will do its damnedest to prevent the damning report from being presented to Parliament and deprive it of its credibility. The onus is on the numerous self-appointed crusaders for good governance to crank up pressure on those they helped bring to power to release the report to the public forthwith.

The government and the Joint Opposition have locked horns over the constitutional provision granting the foremost place to Buddhism. Pooh-poohing allegations against them, the ruling party politicians insist that the status quo shall remain. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared umpteen times that in addressing crucial issues in Parliament and elsewhere his government emulates the Licchavis, who in keeping with the Buddha’s advice, met, deliberated and dispersed peacefully.

Government MPs’ conduct at COPE proceedings has been antithetical to the Licchavi method of handling contentious issues. On witnessing the sorry state of affairs one may wonder whether what King Kosala once feared in his sixteen premonitory dreams which the Buddha interpreted has come to pass in this land, where Buddhism is said to have been preserved in its pristine form. All those dreams are of relevance to this country but we will make brief mention of only some of them.

In one of his dreams, King Kosala saw a group of men replacing strong draught-oxen with some young steers which could not pull heavy wagons. Interpreting the dream the Buddha said that in the distant future rulers would overlook the wise and shower high positions on ignoramuses, who would make a mess of the affairs of the state, without seeking assistance or counsel from their capable seniors. (What is happening in fields such as education and finance in this country may serve as an example.)

In another dream the king saw a long line of people coming from all directions and pouring water into a big pitcher which was already full to the brim without caring to fill many other empty vessels around it. The Buddha said a situation would one day arise, where selfish rulers reduced to penury owing to their own foolish actions, would fleece the people by making them toil harder and fill the state coffers at the expense of public wellbeing. (The unconscionable VAT increase even on health care and education is a case in point.)

King Kosala was also disturbed by a dream in which a crow was being escorted by swans and the Buddha’s interpretation thereof was that in the remote future there would emerge weak, cowardly rulers who fearing revolt, would promote footmen, barbers, bath attendants et al to high positions and the capable others would find themselves in the same predicament as the swans. (A case in point is academics and professionals having to do as mediocre politicians say.)

In the last dream, the king saw goats hunting panthers and devouring them. The Buddha said that in the future misfits would grab the positions of the prominent members of society and when the latter sought justice they would be ridiculed and frightened into submission. (The appointment of political rejects as Cabinet ministers and indignities the Auditor General and senior Central Bank officials suffered at the hands of some self-important COPE members may be considered an example.)

It is a pity that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has not fulfilled his pledge to open COPE proceedings to the press. Else, the media would have been able to report extensively on the watchdog committee’s last few sessions characterised by fireworks with the ruling party MPs going berserk. At least now, the media should be given access to the proceedings of all parliamentary committees; the public has a right to know what goes on there because it is their sovereignty that conceited lawmakers exercise. After all, the present administration makes a public show of its commitment to right to information, doesn’t it?

2 Responses to “COPE, Licchavis and King Kosala”

  1. S.Gonsal Says:

    24 October 2016, 1:50 am

    BY A “Ceylon Today” Special Correspondent

    President Maithripala Sirisena publicly warned that he would take action against the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) as well as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) for ‘pursuing a political agenda’ at a function held on 12 October in Colombo. The President irately said those institutions should not operate according to any political agenda at the expense of justice.

    In response to this statement, then Director General of CIABOC, now Additional Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, tendered her resignation. After many rounds of discussion held with several parties, the President finally accepted her resignation on 19 October. Former DG of CIABOC expressed these comments during an exclusive interview with Ceylon Today on Friday.

    Following are excerpts:

    Q: Did you tender your resignation in order to defy the comments made by the President?

    A: Yes indeed. I have always given my utmost to the cause. I am a person who believes that we could fully eradicate corruption in this country. I still believe in that. All we need is a strong commitment. I associated a zero tolerance policy at the Commission when disbursing my obligation. Although the President’s comments were not made against me directly, he undermined the independence of the Commission in which I served as the Director General. Mind you, he is the first citizen of the country, making this comment on an independent Commission, and not any common man on the street. Also, I wanted to make this remark, during my tenure the President had never called me and interfered into any affair. I should give that credit to him. I believe that he was misinformed on certain facts.

    However, I did not like to hold the position when the leader of this country is displeased with the turn of events or had an iota of doubt about the Commission.

    The President had pledged to the people that he would establish good governance and fully eradicate corruption in the country. If the President feels that the existing investigative authorities are a hindrance to his cause, I honestly don’t think that I should hold that position. I had always lived by principles and here I am walking my talk.

    ?: Did you divulge any information to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Cabinet spokesperson accused you of doing?
    A: I fully deny this fabricated story. I see this as a cowardly act to divert the blame on me by the minster. There were so many politicians and others that knew this. I am sure even the Joint Opposition and the SLFP will not believe this concocted story that I gave info to the former President. If the minister thinks that the citizens of this country are fools, he is sadly mistaken.

    Q: Criticisms arose from many corners of possible bias when probing into allegations against the members of the United National Party. What is your response?

    A: I must make this very clear to you. CIABOC is an independent Commission. I always strived to foster independence when probing into complaints lodged at the Commission. I never extended any preference to cases handed over to me by the Commissioners. Political affiliation of the accused was never a consideration to me when disbursing my obligation to the Commission. I read in the media the several comments made on the bond issue. I probed into the controversial bond issue the same way I probed into other cases. I must make this very clear that former Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran was summoned before the Commission to record his statement. The inquiry is underway as we speak. Also, Minister of Health Rajitha Senaratne was summoned and presented before the Commission multiple times to record statements. Therefore, the so-called bias is a fiction created by some accused politicians for their personal gain.

    There are a number of Cases under investigation at this very juncture. The Commission will definitely file action once facts are established. So, how can you frame me or the Commission as biased when we are duly and honestly fulfilling the requisites of the Commission?

    Moreover, the investigations are forwarded to me by the Commissioners. I never ever take decision to investigate. That is the role of the Commissioners. My duty is to get the investigators to work, provide them with the resources to enable them to investigate. I have no discretion in selecting the complaints. It is a very transparent process.

    Q; How do you describe your tenure at CIABOC until the time it came to a controversial closure?

    A: Well, I assumed duties in my position on 12 February 2015 at a juncture when the reputation of the CIABOC was at stake. People had lost trust due to various political influences that surrounded the Commission. Therefore, much work needed to be done to bring it back to a socially accepted state. Also, it was a time when there was a heap of complaints lodged at the Commission just after the change of government. We found it extremely difficult to cope up with the number of complaints due to various constrains existed in the Commission.

    CIABOC was virtually paralyzed during the last decade, so we needed to take appropriate actions to put the system back in place and to build the capacities of the existing staff. Also, we had recruited many new faces to the Commission and trained them in conducting discrete investigations. It is not like any other institution; we needed to assure the extreme virtues of integrity and efficiency of the recruits. Also, the process of employee induction was somewhat a challenging task.

    However, we managed to gradually uplift the reputation of the institution to a higher state. We have managed to develop close coordination with the UN and other foreign institutions to coordinate with us when training staff and exchange of technology and new methodologies. I must tell you that some of the complaints lodged at the Commission were extremely complex in nature and we did not have required resources at our disposal when conducting inquiries. Therefore, we needed to equip the Commission with modern techniques and capacity building when investigating the virtually impossible inquiries.

    As you know, the State has recognized the international treaties and conventions on corruption thus it had been included in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution under Section 156A (1) C. Therefore, as a Commission, we had to take appropriate measures to comply with the guidelines stipulated in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). UNCAC is a multilateral convention negotiated by the members of the United Nations, including Sri Lanka. It is the first global legally binding international anti-corruption instrument. We had to redefine the conventional methodologies to comply with the stipulated standards.

    It was a hard task but I was able to pull it through with the immense support extended to me by the Commissioners and the staff.

    Q:You were referring to the qualitative aspects of the Commission. What can you say about the quantitative aspects during your tenure?

    A: I must state this very clearly. These qualitative aspects have produced what is termed as the quantitative outcomes of the Commission. If you go through the past records you may see the Commission had filed only around 60-70 cases a year in Courts. With the commendable support extended by the staff, we managed to file 87 cases during the first 10 months of this year. We successfully managed to bring the Rs 125 million bribery probe related to some Customs officials before justice. This is historical as this is the biggest raid conducted by the Commission. Both Kumara Welgama and Wimal Weerawansa went before Courts seeking orders to prevent the Commission from investigating them. Namal Rajapaksa has refused to come before the Commission, which led the apex court of this country to issue charges on contempt. Why did they have to do it if the Commission itself is a dead duck? As you said, we have proved in both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

    Q: Some media reported that you had no plan to spread the financial allocations throughout the year. What’s the validity in this statement?

    A: I honestly do not like to comment on these bogus news. The Commission had at its disposal a sum of Rs 123 million at the time this report was published in the media. The person who wrote the web article never questioned me. Had I been questioned, I would have given documentary proof to them.

    Q: Also, there were concerns with regard to claims of rigidness of your administration. Did you intentionally victimize employees?

    A: I agree that I am a tough administrator. When I took office, people were used to a lethargic life. The output by almost all the divisions was minimal. So, I needed to take several administrative steps to wake them up. Their grouse was about leave. Not that they were not given leave, if they wanted more than 5 days leave within 3 months, they needed to get approval from me. One web media report said I did not allow a cancer patient to take leave for her treatment. Do you really think I am that inhuman? I do not do such things even to my worst enemy, if I ever had one.

    A very senior incompetent legal officer, who was constantly in the habit of taking leave, had initiated the story to cover her incompetency. As soon as I learnt that a staff officer needed treatment (actually periodical checkup after her cancer treatment), I immediately called her to my office and granted leave. I also did not fail to call the senior legal officer and confront her on the issue.

    People who know me know that I am a person with a big heart; do you think I lack moral standards or empathy? I have supported all my staff at the Commission during their difficult times. That’s exactly what my religion has taught me too.

    Q: Don’t you think that you had underutilized the media to make people aware of what is happening in the process of investigation at the Commission?

    A: I am a great believer of people’s rights. In terms of Article 13(5) of the Constitution, every person is presumed innocent until such person is proved guilty, which means any individual accused of any allegation must be treated as an innocent person until they are convicted in a court of law. Also, remember, had I told the media that this person and that person is before the Commission, I would have directly violated the ‘innocent man’ principle. The Commissioners and I strived hard to protect, preserve and uphold the law at all times.

    Apart from the legal position, we considered it as a moral obligation too. They have children and families. When individuals come before the Commission their image is tarnished. This affects the kids, family and the kith and kin. I did not want to let them walk in society as criminals unless they’ve been convicted in a court of law.

    Apart from that, some clouted media organizations reported that I paved the way to relax the overseas travel ban on Chairman of Avant Garde Nissanka Senadhipathi. See, it’s the Magistrate who had lifted the travel ban and released the passport for him to travel overseas. It’s a judicial affair, so how can I intervene into that?

    We had conducted many events to stimulate public awareness on preventing bribery and corruption. Seminars, walks and public displays are a few of them.

    Most importantly, we work under an oath. We cannot disclose any information relevant to investigations to the media. I clearly know that the Commission and I could have captured public attention if we had gone after cheap publicity. But, we didn’t do that considering the duty before fame. I kindly request you to go through our annual report so that you would know what I mean.

    Q: Do you regret the decision to tender your resignation, considering that your name was not even mentioned in the President’s speech?

    A: I was on a mission to totally eradicate bribery and corruption from this country. But, I had to comply with my conscience at the given situation. I wrote a 4-page resignation letter and explained how the President had forced me to tender my resignation. The citizens want good governance. My resignation is part of that process that the intelligent fully understand.

    However, what worries me is that the President had, by accepting the resignation letter, sent a strong message to all public servants of the outcome of standing up for principles and good governance without being subservient to politicians.

    I do not have to harp on the pressure exerted by politicians on public servants. Only a few like me can withstand it. I do not think this would augur well. That’s my only regret.

    Courtesy:Ceylon Today

  2. S.Gonsal Says:

    Kosol Maha Rajathuma ( Pasenadi) is not a simple “king” but he was always called “Great King” even by Buddha. His kingdom was large and powerful.
    It is interesting to know how Kosol Maha Raja died.

    The Great king often visited the Buddha to hear the Dhamma. When he did, he was in the habit of removing his crown at the monastery gate. The king then left some of his guards at the entrance to ensure the security of his crown. Vidudhabha, who was familiar with his father’s behaviour, used this opportunity to steal the crown. Seizing the crown, he had his men kill the king’s guards. He then left a servant at the entrance to inform King Kosala that he was now the ruler and that the king was no longer welcome in the kingdom.

    The great king was dismayed to hear from the servant about his son’s behaviour. Since it was late in the night and starting to get cold, he walked to a neighbouring kingdom, but the city gates were closed for the night. He then walked back to Savathi hoping that his son would let him into the city, only to find the gates closed. The old king lay down in a hut outside the city gates in the extreme cold and wrapped his robe around him to keep warm. But his heart was weak. He could not tolerate the cold or the sorrow of his son’s conduct. Great King Kosala died in loneliness outside the city walls, in a hut, alone with one servant

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