Can Ranil and Ravi Live down sullied reputations ?
Posted on August 1st, 2017

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

When Mahinda Rajapaksa became Sri Lanka’s sixth President in 2005, we were up against three wars – terrorism, poverty and corruption. We won the war against terrorism in 2009. By 2014, the key economic indicators in comparison to 2004 reveal the economic revolution we have had during this period.

Briefly, the economic indicators in 2004 and 2014 were:

GDP in 2004 – USD 20.7; in 2014 – USD 80.0

Average inflation in 2004 – 9%; in 2014 – 3.3%

Foreign reserves in 2004 – USD 2.3 billion; in 2014 USD 8.3 billion

Debt/GDP ratio in 2004 – 102.3%; in 2014 – 70.7%

FDIs in 2004 – 24 billion; in 2014 – 1.6 billion

All share price index in 2004 – 1506; in 2014 – 7299

Unemployment in 2004 – 8.3%; in 2014 – 4.3%

The war against corruption on the other hand lost the political will. Overconfident in a grateful nation, the Rajapaksa administration did not counter or investigate the allegations. This only fuelled more stories of corruption. This in turn tarnished the gigantic and rapid infrastructural development projects of the time as they were portrayed as channels to earn massive commissions. In fact, it was alleged that one third of the money went to line the Rajapaksa pockets. Basil Rajapaksa who played a key role in these projects earned the nickname, ‘Mr. Ten Percent’.

People angered over these allegations never stopped to question the obvious – if one third of the money received from foreign bank loans was pocketed, then how was the project completed. This anger translated into Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, who left office in 2015 labelled as a thief and a rogue. Some posts on social media requested the new government to forget everything and just catch the thieves – that’s enough!

With Maithripala Sirisena coming in as the new president, an era of good governance was expected as never before. He immediately made Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister. Despite the fact that there already was a sitting PM, which made the new appointment unconstitutional, it did not create a ripple. Though the Opposition accuse Wickremesinghe of securing the premiership through the backdoor, it was not so. Throughout the 2014-2015 Presidential Election campaign, Sirisena openly pledged to make Wickremesinghe his PM. That is the main reason for the loyalists of United National Party en mass to vote for the Common Candidate, who throughout his political career had belonged to the arch-rival Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Wickremesinghe does not fare well at elections. Still, UNP stalwarts believed him to be a great administrator. In the 70s he worked through the party ranks and became the youngest Cabinet minister in his uncle JR Jayewardene’s government. Against the likes of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, he did not shine. Though he was instrumental in introducing the Sri Lanka National Guard and the National Youth Services Council (NYSCO) to provide vocational and career training to school leavers, schools in rural areas remained rural and training programmes for teachers were halted.

However, during the Premadasa government, he won the confidence of the business community, despite the role he played in suppressing the ’88-’89 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprising. The Premadasa administration’s excesses were seen a necessary evil to counter the JVP brutality. During Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time, he stabilized a dangerously tottering economy. This further accentuated the business community’s confidence in him. It was believed that it was the people who did not give him the chance to perform the economic miracles he is capable of.

The Unity Government, that saw all political foes united, was the opportunity for Wickremesinghe to unleash his potential and take the country to the next economic revolution. Furthermore, his liberal views won the trust of the West, which the Rajapaksa administration did not have for most of its tenure. Together with this capability and confidence of the West, many believed the country needed Wickremesinghe.

The other attribute that stood in Wickremesinghe’s stead was that he was widely regarded as ‘Mr. Clean’. Under him, voters surmised the country stricken down by corruption would get the much needed break.

Though Sirisena was the Executive President, it was the more politically savvy Wickremesinghe who took hold of the new administration’s reigns. Again, it was expected as Sirisena came to power to abolish executive presidential powers and leave after his first term.

However, when Wickremesinghe appointed Ravi Karunanayake as the Finance Minister people were unhappy. Many perceived it as letting the fox guard the chicken coop. Wickremesinghe soothed these concerns by taking the Central Bank, which has traditionally been under the Finance Ministry, under his wing.

At the same time, Wickremesinghe appointed Arjuna Mahendran, a Singaporean citizen, as the Central Bank Governor. Though to the general public Mahendran was an unfamiliar entity, Sirisena loyalists including Sirisena himself objected. It was only after Wickremesinghe pledged to take responsibility that the appointment got through. The objection to Mahendran arose not because he disparaged the country’s economy in 2005, but because of his close family links to Raj Rajaratnam.

In 2006, Karunanayake and Mahendran met Rajaratnam in his Madison Avenue ‘Galleon Fund Management’ New York office, , and received a cheque for USD three million to buy Union Bank shares in his personal name through his Securities Investment account.

Instead, the cheque was wired via Standard Chartered Bank to an unrelated party, Nexia Corporation Services Limited, a nominee account of Lincoln Piyasena, without the Central Bank’s authority. The prosecution accused Karunanayake of aiding and abetting Rajaratnam to attempt laundering money. In 2009, Karunanayake along with Nexia Corporation Services Limited and Piyasena were indicted on charges of not following the usual procedure.

Interestingly, shortly after Karunanayake returned to Sri Lanka with the said cheque, Rajaratnam came under US authority’s investigations. Someone from Sri Lanka tipped the authorities there that Rajaratnam was funding the proscribed terrorist group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Indeed, investigations revealed that Rajaratnam had generously contributed USD 3.5 million to the LTTE fronted Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, but not since it was accused of its connection to the LTTE and had its assets frozen. Thus, there was no proof that Rajaratnam knowingly contributed to the LTTE.

However, the extensive wiretaps of conversations he had with his associates revealed ample evidence of insider trading, which had helped him generate profits or avoid losses of US $72 million. US Attorney Preet Bharara stated that the 11-year sentence Rajaratnam received proves “privileged professionals do not get a free pass to pursue profit through corrupt means.”

When Rajaratnam began his prison sentence in 2011, Karunanayake was already embroiled in the court case for money laundrering.

It was under the same black cloud that he assumed duties as the Yahapalana Government’s Finance Minister. In fact, on 29 January 2015, Karunanayake could not present himself to the Colombo High Court as he had to present the 2015 interim Budget before Parliament. The Court thus postponed the hearing to 4 March.

On 18 May 2015, the Colombo High Court discharged Karunanayake on all counts. However, the website ‘Colombo Telegraph’ reports that on 10 March 2017, Attorney-at-Law and Public Interest Litigation Activist Nagananda Kodituwakku complained to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption that former Attorney General Yuvanjana Wijayatilake had abused his office to unethically grant favours to Karunanayake in the money laundering case.

It was not only this case that stood against him. Karunanayake was the Trade, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister from 2001-2004. During this time, his name was linked to two major scandals – the Sathosa bankruptcy and an issue with tin roofing assigned to the poor.

Today, he is linked to the alleged 2015 Central Bank Bond scam – considered the biggest heist in Sri Lanka banking history. On 24 July 2017 the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing this scam heard from the former owner of Monarch Residencies that a company connected to Arjun Aloysius had paid the lease for a 4,000 square foot luxury apartment for the use of Karunanayake. After eight months, this apartment was purchased for Rs 165 million by a company whose directors are directly related to Karunanayake.

Wickremesinghe who initially made light of the CB Bonds scam makes no comment about it now. Recently Wickremesinghe pulled up Ranjan Ramanayaka for his indisciplined ramblings and asked him to leave the party if he must criticize it. Thus, his silence over mounting evidence against Karunanayake is very questionable.

This alleged scam took place over two years ago. Given Sri Lanka’s general tendencies, it should have died a natural death.

Furthermore, powerful trade unions such as the GMOA are more interested in the fate of SAITM, to which the Joint Opposition had lent its weight. No one protests or threatens trade union action over the CB Bond scam. Yet, the Presidential Commission keeps it alive. It is similar to the supplementary budgets estimates for ministers’ luxury vehicles which pop up just when the country is reeling after a disaster. Eventually, after the public’s feathers are sufficiently ruffled, President Sirisena kicks these to the bin, thus emerging as the champion of the people.

Though he lamented that his directive to sack Mahendran soon after the scam was ignored, he cannot exonerate himself. The simple reason being, he dissolved the 2015 Parliament to stop the COPE from exposing the scam and those who engineered it.

The tragedy for Yahapalana voters is the loss of an idol. The CB bBnd scam has smeared Wickremesinghe’s ‘Mr. Clean’ image with dirt. Successive trade union action by the powerful GMOA and CPC and the general unrest in the country has shot down his reputation as a good administrator. The falling key indicators have shredded illusions of him being a great economist. Exactly 30 years to the day after JRJ signed the Indo-Lanka Accord,Wickremesinghe signs the Hambantota Port agreement on 29 July 2017. The shameless genuflecting to the West who are interfering with our Constitution, national security and insisting on persecuting our military have turned Yahapalana to Yamapalana. The Yahapalana Government, brought in to catch the thieves, is accused of worse and voters do not know where to turn next.

3 Responses to “Can Ranil and Ravi Live down sullied reputations ?”

  1. AnuD Says:

    Good investigative and analytical journalism.

  2. Nimal Says:

    Very sad for our country to read the above article and all crooks who fleece the country should face justice and face punishment.

  3. helaya Says:

    Excellent analysis. Thanks Shivanthi.

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