Posted on March 16th, 2017
Editorial The Island
March 16, 2017, 9:21 pm
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration calls itself ‘National Unity Government’. But, the much-touted unity is conspicuous by its absence. The yahapalana leaders don’t see eye to eye on virtually anything save the postponement of elections, holding the Joint Opposition at bay and feathering their nests. UNP and SLFP members of the Cabinet are always at daggers drawn.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has declared that there has been no bond scam. In an interview with CNBC, he has said, “I give 100 percent guarantee there won’t be any area of dispute there. It is only anarchists who are trying to fish in troubled waters.” If so, has President Maithripala Sirisena erred by appointing a presidential commission to probe the bond controversy?
Karunanayake has stopped short of naming the ‘anarchists’. But, his sweeping statement, in our book, is an affront to all those who demand that those responsible for bond scams be punished and the stolen funds recovered. These campaigners include President Sirisena, who says there have been irregularities in the bond auctions at issue and wants to ensure that the culprits are arraigned on criminal charges. He revealed, in his address to the nation in the run-up to the 2015 general election, that he had demanded that Mahendran be removed from the post of the Central Bank Governor over the bond scams. His position has since remained consistent and even his political enemies have praised him for his bold decision to have the bond auction irregularities investigated.
It may be recalled that all parliamentarians including Finance Minister Karunanayake himself accepted the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report on bond scams and called upon the Speaker to refer it to the Attorney General for action last year. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself sent the document to the AG posthaste in a bid to put the matter to rest. The report has held Mahendran responsible for the questionable bond transactions and called for legal action against him and others. Are parliamentarians including the 26 COPE members ‘anarchists’ trying to fish in troubled waters?
The Finance Minister’s right to express his opinion cannot be questioned and he is, in fact, desperately trying to boost investor confidence which has suffered a crippling blow from the bond scams. The economy is in bad shape and the Finance Ministry in badly in need of foreign investment to keep it afloat. But, the question is whether it is possible for President Sirisena to have the controversial bond sales properly probed while the Central Bank is under the purview of those who are all out to defend the suspects involved in the alleged financial crime, which they deny publicly. These elements are in a position to influence or intimidate witnesses who are currently serving in institutions under them and suppress incriminating evidence that can be used against their chums in trouble. Some of these beleaguered officials fear that they may even be hounded out of their jobs and left without even their pensions.
Some intrepid Central Bank officials have retained their sangfroid so far in the face of a hostile political campaign against them. But, there is no guarantee that they won’t crack under pressure with powerful government politicians having ganged up against them. How does President Sirisena propose to protect these officials? He should at least meet these professionals regularly and try to prevent their morale from sagging; they have become marked targets because they have stuck their necks out for the sake of the country.
President Sirisena ought to give serious thought to taking over the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank if he is really desirous of ensuring that the perpetrators of the biggest ever financial crime in the country are brought to justice. That is the only way he can atone for the political sin he committed in 2015 by dissolving Parliament to prevent a damning COPE report on the bond scams being made public before the general election in that year.