Never too late to learn in politics
Posted on November 1st, 2016

By The Nation

Still recovering from the aftereffects of President MaithripalaSirisena’s speech regarding the Bribery Commission and the subsequent resignation of Bribery Commissioner Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe, the government this week encountered another hurdle: the controversy surrounding the sale of Central Bank Treasury Bonds.

The focus of attention in this instance is a company linked to the son-in-law of former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran which made profits amounting to over five billion of rupees, allegedly through the sale of these bonds.

Now, the Parliamentary Committee On Public Enterprise (COPE) is investigating the issue. However, COPE is unable to reach a consensus on its findings. A majority reportedly believe that the former Governor is culpable while others, mostly from the United National Party (UNP) are of the view that he is not.

Already, COPE Chairman Sunil Handunetti from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has stormed out of a committee meeting, stating that UNP parliamentarians were trying to influence the Auditor General to withdraw his observations.

There is obviously much grandstanding going on. The UNP members are hell-bent on disputing the majority findings of COPE and that gives rise to the question, why?
It will be recalled that there were moves to reappoint Mahendran as the Governor when his tenure expired earlier this year but those were thwarted by no less a person than President Sirisena who appointed respected economist Indrajith Coomaraswamy for the prestigious job instead.

Even at the time it was felt that the outcome for the government and especially for those sections of it which worked actively to shield Mahendran,was a blessing in disguise. Had the issue of reappointing Governor Mahendran festered on, the government would have been left with a lot of egg on its face, given its lofty pronouncement on good governance from election platforms during the polls campaign.

At that time, the response of those wanting to shield the former Governor was to offer the face-saving excuse that the matter should be probed by a parliamentary committee, so that Mahendran could present his side of the story and an ‘independent’ inquiry could determine what really happened.

It will be remembered that this was also an issue that threatened the harmony of the ‘National Unity’ government because even members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the government were opposed to the reappointment of Mahendran as Governor. On that occasion, assertive action by the President saved day both for the government and the UNP.

So, when the same issue comes back to haunt the government in the guise of the COPE Report, the best course of action would be to accept its findings, deal with Mahendran in an appropriate manner and let the law take its course. Unfortunately, the UNP thinks otherwise.

It is ironical because sections of the same UNP are unhappy over the President’s recent remarks about the Bribery Commission and his criticism of ‘herding’ former service commanders to give evidence before the Commission. They claim it interferes with the independent functioning of the Commission and want corruption probes to run without fear or favour!

Surely, in light of the recent developments, the public will come to realise that such high ideals are being pursued only selectively: the leniency that is extended to Mahendran’s family is not extended, for instance, to the Rajapaksa family!

The UNP once had its commitment to good governance questioned over the Central Bank bond issue. It was reported that it cost the party at least half a million votes – and arguably, an overall majority in Parliament – at the general election because it was a hot topic of discussion before the poll.

Quite apart from issues of morality and integrity, it was purely bad political strategy as well. Now, instead of learning from those blunders, it is trying its level best commit the same mistakes again.

It is never too late to learn in politics but when persons or parties try to fool all the people all the time, they only end up fooling themselves!

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