LESSONS IN CRISIS CONTROL
Posted on April 7th, 2017

WINSTON DE VALLIERE Courtesy Ceylon Today

Though things were torrid for a while for the Unity Government, the President and Premier, as the perceived key players in the exercise, seem able to keep the ship above water and moving forward at least on the economic front, if not in the social and political spheres. Not even the Special Presidential Commission appointed to probe allegations relating to fraud in at least two Central Bank Bond issues seems to have done anything to deepen that crack that’s more like one appearing on the plaster of the wall and not in the structure of the wall itself. The mortar between the bricks would seem to be bearing the pressure without any strain. For those who felt that this was the first real hint of a split, a clash of opinions and stances, which emerged between the two leaders, disappointment is in store.

The very appointment of this, the SLFP’s total support for it, are public statements testifying to the enduring stability of the government: All this has crushed all hopes that detractors had in COPE Bond Report being used to drag all and sundry to jail while even the PRECIFAC and CIABOC with all the evidence lying around have not made it beyond square one. One will notice that those in the bandwagon yelling for legal action on the Bond issues are the very ones whose names adorn the lists of allegations being probed by PRECIFAC and CIABOC. By appointing the Commission, the government, specifically President Sirisena, dashed the hopes of everyone who hoped to exploit interference at COPE level by UNP members on that committee.

That interference by UNP members of COPE came in for heavy flak by other members of COPE and in Parliament where many perceived that interference to be a desperate effort by the UNP to retain its credibility which could be tainted by the Bond Scandal investigation likely to go against its members in Parliament. The SLFP MPs , seeing an opportunity to prop up yet another argument for more senior portfolios in the government, to date all but monopolized by agreement, by the UNP, began rubbing their palms in glee preparing to point more fingers at the Premier and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake. Their railing against Karunanayake’s tight…and right…revenue measures failed yet again. This is just to walk you through the factors which have been gradually used by the SLFP MPs to ask for more top portfolios, which is something the President cannot accede to because of the agreement with the UNP. Gradually though, the tone and timbre of the SLFP voices in Parliament have become more strident and suggest pressures being indirectly brought to bear on the President by Joint Opposition forces through their moles in the government, in a bid to cause a shift in the electorate before the next election which President Sirisena says can perhaps be held this year, quite deaf to the desperate calls of the Opposition for those elections.

Uneasy cohabitation

The main….and only… factor, which brought together this uneasy cohabitation, was perceived as being the common objective of ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa whose regime was becoming increasingly intolerable by the day. The ousting of that regime alone brought an end to the stream of killings of journalists and dissenting politicians, the arrogantly destructive emergence of the BBS that enjoyed former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s benevolence, the appointment of political thugs to exercise ‘muscle power’ over independent envoys abroad, a runaway Police hierarchy that got tainted with the blood of politicians and sportsmen, the vandalizing of the Judiciary and brutal control of the media with MPs free to wade into TV studios with armed thugs and leave them in shambles, under total cover of State impunity…and an endless stream of what can only be called crimes against anyone in society who dared express legitimate, honest and meaningful dissent. The ousting of that government restored lost democratic freedoms, only to see other forms of abuses of democratic processes taking their place.

In retrospect it would seem that the ousting of Rajapaksa was only a means to an end. That end is the longevity of this Unity Government at least for the remainder of its tenure. My prediction is that things will get rather more stormier, as the months pass by…months during which the Opposition sees time slipping through its fingers with nothing substantial to show by way of political gains by all the protest demonstrations and opposition in Parliament aimed at toppling the government. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the demand for elections alone demonstrates their lack of political intelligence and strategy. It all hangs on the Delimitation Committee proposals which through over 1,300 boundary changes are bound to ensure more votes for the UNP and the Sirisena-led SLFP.

History shows us that it does not take very much to topple a government irrespective of whether it was a good government or a bad one. The important thing here is that a ‘good government’ can prove to be barely marginally better than a ‘bad’ one in some respects, as the present government is.

But, though President Sirisena has been finding himself in increasingly difficult positions it is precisely such a position that compelled him to resort to a Special Presidential Commission to get to the bottom of the total facts about the so-called CB Bond scam. Survival being predominant we see mortals resort to numerous devices to ensure that survival. This is why the Attorney General informed the Speaker back in January this year that he would have to take legal action against those responsible for the Bond issue only after the CID investigations were completed. As deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva told Parliament subsequently, “The Attorney General has also mentioned (in his report to the Speaker) about the indemnity of the government with regard to the Bond issue. ”

In terms of Section 21D of the Registered Stocks and Securities Ordinance, in the event of the government incurring any liability or making payment of any sum due as principal, interest or redemption proceeds with regard to Scriptless Treasury Bonds, and where such liability arises or such payment is made in consequence, or by reason of any default of a direct participant or dealer direct participant, such participant may be liable on demand by the government, to indemnify the government with respect to such liability or payment” he also said.

Criminal liability

Are we then to assume that the legal action in the AG’s mind is only to go as far as that? Current Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy has made a complaint to the IGP asking him to probe the criminal liability of the Treasury Bonds auction on 27 February 2015. Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva also told Parliament that the Attorney General has also instructed the CID to probe the issue.

All of this was fully endorsed by a top SLFP Committee appointed by President Sirisena to also probe the allegations, comprising Nimal Siripala de Silva, and includes John Seneviratne, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Faifzer Musthapha, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, Dilan Perera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Kesara Lal Gunasekera.

Their probe fully exonerated Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe of the remotest connection to the issue and falling back on Section 21 D of the registered Stocks and Securities Ordinance, it would appear that the government’s crisis management just could make it the bridge over these troubled waters by demanding to be indemnified against any losses caused. So how far will any legal action by the AG go? Not much further than recovering hypothetical losses sustained by the State…and that too has to be proved by showing that market conditions were such that with no doubt the issues would have attracted higher bids.

It could ultimately be determined that what was actually lost by the government in these Bond issues was what is known as an ‘opportunity loss’ that has been calculated in the billions by factions intent on exploiting the matter to make their demands for criminal action stick. But the actual presence of that opportunity in the market has also to be proved. How?

Crisis management is not one of the government’s weak points.

Besides this issue that’s been destined to simmer, die and blow away ultimately if one is to be a realist and not an idealist, the only other hassle seems to be the burning desire that the GMOA has to grab the limelight, blissfully unaware that even its political handlers know that they’re a bunch of goats bleating about an inconsequential thing blown out of all proportions. My bet is that this too will be water under the bridge now that Thajudeen’s bone fragments have been spirited away from the SAITM labs. The continuing ho-ha shows how very deeply meshed in with the objectives of the Joint Opposition the GMOA membership is: toppling the government. Pity the State does not award degrees to only intelligent medical students who pass their exams. Appears that our lives are at the mercy of maggots with a penchant for the taste of medical tomes instead of intelligent medical practitioners!
As another old timer suggested to me “why don’t you say in your column that the government must declare a state of emergency, declare medical services as essential services and send out the troops to get rid of these arrogant, petty politicians masquerading as medical practitioners. They stink of the vermin who strutted around in this country under protection of the impunity afforded them by the former regime”.

Milton Friedman once said that ‘think the government’s solution to a problem is sometimes as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.

The President and Prime Minister, need to urgently ask themselves whether the solutions they have been applying over the past two years have solved….or made the problems worse?

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