Conflict of Perpetual Interest
Posted on November 24th, 2017

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake Courtesy The Island

Ranil Wickremesinghe did get a good score by being the first Prime Minister to present himself before a commission of inquiry, with a huge retinue of ministers of all ranks, and other UNP politicians; the cheerleaders who had no place to cheer. He also had the deference of the Attorney General himself present to lead his evidence, with considerable calm and regard, unlike when others were questioned, deservedly.

But, the Prime Minister, in fact, had little cause for joy. The issue of conflict of interest, which has been at the very core of the Treasury Bond scandal, was staring him right in the face, which he had admitted in his affidavits, too. There was little he could say, other than an unverified claim that there had been a general consensus within the Government that Arjuna Mahendran should be appointed to the post of Governor of the Central Bank.

How was the consensus built? Did it have the support of President Sirisena, the leader of the Government, and all Cabinet Ministers? The Attorney General saw no need to pursue this line, respectful as he was.

Even if there had been such a consensus, at the initial stage, why did he have to keep insisting on Arjuna Mahendran remaining the Central Bank Governor, even after the second major bond scam in 2016? What of the clear confrontation with the President over the need to replace him, and the President had to prevail, by appointing Dr. Coomaraswamy?

The Prime Minister admitted to the reality of a conflict of interest, with Arjun Aloysius, son-in-law of the Governor Mahendran, being so closely involved with the Treasury bond dealer, Perpetual Treasuries. Let’s give due credit to the PM for informing Governor Mahendran of this conflict of interest. But, what was the cause for the absence of any action when it was clear the Central Bank father-in-law had reneged on any assurance to sever links with the Perpetual son-in-law, involving Treasury bonds? This is a conflict of interest of major proportions that remains.

What was and is the need to have such a person who did not live up to his “assurance” to deal with the “in-law” conflict of interest, within the administrative structure of the government, and within the Prime Minister’s domain?

The media buzz today is all about the UNP members of COPE who had telephonic contact/dealings with Perpetual Aloysius, while the COPE inquiry was on. We do remember all the concerns they raised by wanting to place footnotes to the COPE report, giving the impression that COPE was going on a course that was in conflict with the UNP thinking on related matters. COPE Chairman, Sunil Handunnetti, even told of the necessity to resign. All that was also a major example of conflict of interest, which did not seem to bother Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Is there much doubt that those planned footnotes were an attempt to show that the father-in-law Arjuna was not responsible for any wrong or suspicious and wholly incorrect acts of the son-in-law Perpetual?

The phone links that UNP COPE members had with Perpetual do not seem much different to the contacts that Prime Minister, too, had with this stuff of the conflict of interest. These were not on the phone, but at parties – where the PM was told by Aloysius that his interests were moving towards Mendis Distilleries. There does not seem to be a need to say ‘cheers” – because the conflict of interest remained!

The Prime Minister had his hour of political glory that his party is making a big boast of, including posters covering the walls all over about a fearless PM; but such glory has limitations when the causes of the conflict – of interest and of corruption, still remain. What is the need to have the Central Bank of Sri Lanka under the Prime Minister, when all these years it was under the Ministry of Finance.? It could be that there were concerns about the former Very Forgetful Minister of Finance … Has the situation not changed?

Moving on to another conflict of interest, what action has been taken about Ravi Karunanayake, as Minister of Finance, asking State Bank chairmen to bid low at the Treasury Bond auctions.

If the UNP is so committed to fighting corruption, as we are often told, why is Ravi Karunanayake so crookedly forgetful, still in the leading ranks of the party?

The conflict of interest on in-law connections that have clearly broken the norms and laws of decency will continue to taint the UNP and its leadership. What is even worse is the uncleared Conflict of Corruption that prevails. The Conflict of Perpetual Interest!

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