Governance by Blackmail
Posted on March 17th, 2017

Dilrook Kannangara

The most potent governance tool of Sri Lanka is blackmail. Presidents use it extensively to buy compliance from friend and foe alike. President Sirisena sits on at least nine (9) investigation reports. The president doesn’t seem to care about punishing the corrupt. He is not at all interested in the massive drain of state coffers due to the Central Bank bond fraud of 2015. His only intention is to use these reports to blackmail his friends and foes if they turn against him.

His aim is the 2019 and 2020 elections. If UNP leader Ranil contests the presidential election against Sirisena in 2019, corruption reports and a judicial process will commence to sling mud, defame and prosecute Ranil for this alleged offences. Similarly, reports on alleged corruption by the Rajapaksas are also with him. He will use these in 2019 and 2020 elections to get the Rajapaksas toe the line. As feudal politics rules Sri Lanka, his strategy is a perfect one to give him an unfair political advantage.

President Sirisena has already used blackmail to steady his ship. Most of his ministers have allegations of corruption, misuse of power or other crimes including murder. Fearing the fate of Weerawansa (or worse) they toe the line. The Joint Opposition has been prevented from leaving the SLFP thereby weakening it by the use of blackmail. If the JO forms a new registered party with its MPs, these MPs will face corruption and abuse of power charges and end up in jail.

Sirisena is not an exception as all Sri Lankan Presidents have used this tactic. A former president publicly declared that he had personal files of all those who opposed him at the presidential election. Old details of a former army commander and a chief justice emerged after they failed to toe the government line. These were obviously known well before but were kept in personal files only to be put out when needed.

There are many problems with governance by blackmail. It lets off criminals if they comply. On the other hand it makes corruption, murder and other offences a valuable qualification for ministers and public officials. A president would fear appointing a clean minister or an official as the president will be unable to reign in the official in the absence of skeletons in the closest. This is the main reason why known criminals are appointed to responsible positions.

At times in leads to a series of tragicomedies. Within just months after a politician was blames as a narcotics peddler by Sirisena himself, he was made a district organizer by the president. A perpetual minister since 1994 was blamed for immoral violence against dissidents before the January 2015 election. However, he was appointed a senior minister by the very same people that blamed him. A number of Tamil terrorist war criminals were pardoned of their sins and crimes when they politically aligned with political leaders. Even infamous drug dealers and money launderers.

Misfortune introduces us to strange bedfellows. Since the President appointed a high-powered commission to inquire into the Central Bank bond fraud, Ranil has met Mahinda in Singapore to plan out a counter to the president’s blackmail game. Both are victims of Sirisena’s blackmail game plan. Ranil’s UNP has 106 MPs and Mahinda’s JO has 51. Together, they have 157 MPs (or the required two thirds) of parliament necessary to effect constitutional change and/or impeach the president. They may use this to impeach the president or abolish executive presidency.

However, Sirisena seems to have thought about this as well in 2015. UNP’s 106 seats include non-UNP MPs who are more loyal to Sirisena than to the UNP. They include Rajitha, Fonseka, Hirunika, Wijedasa, Venerable Rathana Thero, Arjuna, Patali and a few others. They will not support the UNP-JO plan and it will collapse for want of two thirds. President Sirisena has also caused the fracturing of the Joint Opposition by splitting the NFF of Weerawansa with five MPs.

All in all, the nation is in a political quagmire. It distracts the leaders from attending to people’s problems. Political bickering at the expense of the nation continues.

Since governance is intrinsically connected to corruption and blackmail, people should not have any hope of reducing corruption, ever. Corruption is the essence of governance in Sri Lanka. No president or government has survived in Sri Lanka without corruption and blackmail. Unless the Constitution is changed to abolish the executive presidency, make it an offence to use blackmail by politicians and give teeth to anti-corruption agencies, the future will be worse.

5 Responses to “Governance by Blackmail”

  1. Christie Says:

    I do not think India will side line Sirisena. He has been a good Governor for the Indian Empire in Ceylon.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dilrook,

    Your prescription of abolishing the Executive Presidency as a remedy for corruption is worse than the disease!

    It will merely shift the leadership to an executive Prime Minister who will happily use those very same files in the same way to govern by blackmail.

    Abolishing the Executive Presidency will only make the country more UNSTABLE and exposed to DIVIDE and RULE politics of the minorities enabling them to checkmate the national interest represented by an Executive President. If CBK had not been the Chief Executive who had the power to dismiss Ranil’s UNP government, today there would be a Sovereign State of EELAM ruled by Prabhakaran. (That was the only good thing the the Court Rajina did in all her years at the helm of Sri Lanka. Today, driven by jealousy, she is conniving with those same traitors to destroy our motherland.)

    EVEN TODAY, for all his faults, it is only MS as Executive President, who stands in the way of Ranil and the EELAMISTS to prevent the disintegration of Sri Lanka!

    If you have watched the British TV show “Yes, Prime Minister!” the job of the governing Party Whip, was exactly that: to discover dirt on the MPs and hold it in readiness to exact their compliance.

    Some (eg. SLVlog’s Dharshana Handungoda) pretend that governance by blackmail is unique to Sri Lanka, and bemoan why we cannot be like Western democracies!

    But, WE ARE EXACTLY LIKE THEM in our little fish pond! Our PARA-GATHI AGA-MATHI even took courses abroad on how to do that effectively!

    Blackmail has always been, and will always be, part and parcel of GOVERNANCE of both democracies and monarchies! The only REAL QUESTION IS: Is the level of governance by blackmail TOLERABLE to the people! When it is not, HEADS ROLL! It is only a question of degree!

  3. Dilrook Says:

    @Ananda

    In the post war period, minorities call the shots at presidential elections. This includes extremists like TNA. Al general elections they contest alone and do not join governments. This is why Sri Lanka had more stable governments when there was no executive presidency. Further, political parties didn’t dance to the tune of minorities then as they do now.

    I agree executive presidency helped Sri Lanka during the war as most Tamils could not vote at elections reducing their clout. It is not the case after 2010. The 2010 election was different as triumphalism saw Mahinda through.

    If there was no executive presidency, Ranil won’t be the prime minister, Sambandan won’t be the Opposition Leader and Weerawansa won’t be in prison. He became prime minister purely because of executive presidency. This trend will continue.

    If Sirisena is serious about stopping Ranil and Mangala’s Tamil Eelamist moves, he can. But he opts not to do it because he knows he came to power with a massive Tamil vote and he needs them to get re-elected and for his son-in-law or daughter to become the next president after him.

    Even the presidential allocation runs to a few billion rupees. Photos of his extended family members (and even their dogs) enjoying helicopter rides are all over the internet.

    If executive presidency is so bad for Sri Lanka, TNA/LTTE, India, UNHRC and NGOs must be seriously and persistently demanding its removal. This is not the case. Only Sinhalese demanded its removal and all SLFP presidents promised it (1994, 2005 and 2015).

  4. Dilrook Says:

    Correction

    If executive presidency is so bad for minority extremists, TNA/LTTE, India, UNHRC and NGOs must be seriously and persistently demanding its removal. This is not the case. Only Sinhalese demanded its removal and all SLFP presidents promised it (1994, 2005 and 2015).

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    Why did the GREAT CENTRAL BANK ROBBER transfer 500 CB officers in 2015?

    TO CLEAR THE WAY for the ROBBERY to PASS UNDETECTED & UNPUNISHED?

    …………………………
    Mahendran transferred 500 CB staff in 2015

    DailyMirror.lk
    16 March, 2017

    When Arjuna Mahendran was the Governor of the Central Bank, he had transferred 500 members of the bank’s staff, including some senior officers and heads of departments, in year 2015 alone, an official said.

    Assistant Governor and Secretary of the Monetary Board of the Central Bank, H.A. Karunaratne told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into the Issuance of Treasury Bonds, on Thursday, that it was the first time in the bank’s history that so many transfers had been made within one year.

    He said about 200 transfers usually took place during a year. He said that in 2015 alone, some 34 officers in 30 departments had been transferred by Mr. Mahendran.

    He said that the transfers were unnecessary and the bank’s staff were displeased about the transfers. “Due to these transfers some departmental heads met Mr. Mahendran to discuss the matter,” he said. (Manopriya Gunasekera and Ranjan Katugampola)

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