‘May ape Mahanama!’
Posted on May 7th, 2018

Reports that President Maithripala Sirisena was surprised at the recent arrest of his chosen Chief of Staff, H M Mahanama, and another senior aide, in a multi-million corruption scandal, should not shock the nation. It has been in the making for long, and in every administration for decades now, no questions asked, or no solutions sought to be found.

What, however, should surprise the Sirisena camp, though not the necessarily the nation as a whole, is the fact of the President seemingly caught unawares over the arrests. If the media narratives alone are to be believed at the moment, then no one seemed to have alerted the President’s Office about the ongoing investigations, however covet they maybe, involving a high-level official on his personal, political and administrative staff, when rolled into one.

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Barring his closest acolytes nearer home and ‘friends’, if any, overseas, none had believed the ‘high moral ground’ that Sirisena had taken since the closing days of his ministerial career under then boss and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he sought to replace – and replaced, indeed. But anyone who knew the trajectory of the nation’s politics and political class should have expected that his UNP allies would be waiting for the day when they could pull out the ‘corruption sword’ that he had dug deep into their skin and beyond, and push it deep under his own – without pain or prevarication.

Rather, as and when Sirisena took the pulpit on the bonds scam, it should have been known that given a chance, his political allies and adversaries alike would target him, if and when they found an opportunity. To think that the arrested duo, and whoever was behind them, if any, had not looked at the possibilities, and acted in such a callous manner should show how casual has corruption come to dominate the present government and the polity that they guide – as it used to be under the predecessor Rajapaksa regime.

The irony of the current situation is that even on the day his top aides were being hauled up for corruption President Sirisena was reported to be talking about his government having ended up as much. This does not mean that anyone can pre-judge the issue, particularly in the political and moral contexts of it all knocking at the doors of the President – but the dictum that ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’ is as much applicable here as with the ‘bonds scam’ as with every other graft charge, big and small, against the Rajapaksas.

Normal course…

“May ape Mahanama?”, or ‘Our Mahanama?”… Sirisena is reported to have exclaimed twice when the news about the arrest of his top aide was broken to him. News reports have also spoken about their long, personal equations even before Mahanama had retired as Secretary in the Land Ministry.

According to these reports, the President had been alerted TO some deal or the other of the kind where an aide or aides of his might have been involved, but no names seemed to have been mentioned, at least to him until after the arrests. Did it mean that Sirisena wanted to stay above all graft arrests of the kind, or his camp did not anticipate anything of the kind being investigated to the point of such arrests being made without informing his office, and possibly obtaining at least an informal clearance in the matter?

Since being informed of the arrests, Sirisena is known to have directed the sacking of the two, including State Timber Corporation Chairman, P. Dissanayake, and also strict action against the ‘offenders’. In the normal course, an outright sacking or a forced resignation would have preceded such arrests of top aides of highly-placed government leaders, if only not to ‘compromise’ the high constitutional positions they hold in the national scheme – whether in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

No-holds barred attacks?

If this has anything to do with the political one-upmanship between the UNP leader of the government and the SLFP leader of the State is anybody’s guess, but digging deeper, someone or the other is bound to throw up more mud against each other – especially the high offices that their leaders hold in the present dispensation. From now on, it could well be a no-holds barred attack on each other, to the merriment of their common SLPP-JO adversary and the utter dismay of the rest of the nation!

Mahanama was reported to have more skeletons in his cupboard for long, and was said to be under investigation not very long ago. Any full-scale probe just now could well seek to know the truth behind such allegations. More importantly, there could be questions why in such a case Sirisena put him up at an even more important post after his retirement.

If probed by a parliamentary committee, MPs may want to know the kind of pre-appointment verification processes, if any, to such high positions closer to the centre of power. Even without such a probe, parliamentarians would want to know if Sirisena would now want to appoint a presidential commission of inquiry to probe the case as with many others against the Rajapaksas in particular – and if so how does he intend insulating himself and his office, to make it all look non-partisan.

A sitting Supreme Court Judge heading such a probe alone may be in order, but that requires other formalities to be completed. A retired judge heading such a probe, where the appointing authority may also be the unintended subject matter of the probe, could create more problems of credibility than solving any in terms of morality – where Sirisena’s public standing from the day he became the presidential candidate first, and President later, is all at stake.

Quiet operator

It is not as if Sirisena’s moral standing was impeccable through his four decades and more in public life before he became the presidential candidate. Ahead of the presidential polls of 2015, anyone was better to a section of the voters (who were also the ‘deciding factor’ in a close tie) than incumbent Rajapaksa. Multiple factors, including the ‘ethnic issue’, were involved, and as Health Minister under Mahinda R, Sirisena was known to have quietly cultivated a section of the TNA leadership, both at the national-level and also in the Northern Province, where the Alliance had come to elected power in 2013.

But then, post-poll and after Sirisena had become President, a brother of his was killed in an ‘incident’ in native Polonnaruwa, where the family’s name was not as impeccable as was being sought to be made out later on. The fact that Sirisena did grow up in esteem and stature, and visibly so, could not be questioned, particularly in such departments as the one where Mahanama has since been arrested, cannot be questioned. But then, he retained and built upon his poll-image as a quiet operator par excellence may be working even more against him, now from the poll-time friends of his choice and making than the enemies that he had made then and continue to make them feel so, despite their advances during the later-day twin polls to Parliament first, and the local governments across the nation, more recently!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: [email protected])

3 Responses to “‘May ape Mahanama!’”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    “Ape Mahanama”

    How come he became “Our Mahanama”? because My3 was looking up to him being a highly qualified and a clever official. My3 can not identify how cunning these people because these guys dictate the terms with all uneducated ministers by making things complicated. In front of a such qualified official, an uneducated politician is helpless and he has to depend on the official.

    President Premadasa was an exception since he was a practical man with an in depth exposure to everything. that is why he dictated terms with highly qualified professionals. In front of President Premadasa, the GM of SEC used to hold the tape measure when a question was asked how long or how wide a certain thing.

    When the President is of a Grama Sevaka mentality, these cunning crooks take the advantage.

  2. Christie Says:

    “Is that our Mahanama?; Is that our Mahanama/

    What went through the head of Sirisena is:

    meika mona huththige puthekdha? meiwage podi vAdakwath hariyata karanna behenae. aawenam dolar biliyana gaanak pitarata patawannam kiyala. veisige puthala.

  3. Christie Says:

    No it is India’s Sirisena.

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