The Phonegate
Posted on November 21st, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

All signs are that the sins of errant political potentates who stood to gain from the biggest ever financial crime in Sri Lanka—the Treasury bond scams—will be laid on a lesser person who has no political future to worry about and is in a position to run away, flashing a foreign passport. One shouldn’t be so naïve as to believe the bond drama, which is not yet over, will have an ending different from the frustratingly predicable climax of an edge-of-your-seat Bollywood thriller, packed with adrenaline-pumping action, with some cliffhanging moments thrown in for good measure. In other words, it will end like butler-did-it whodunnit with a hopelessly anticlimactic denouement. We bet our bottom dollar that there will be something similar to the report of the second COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report on bond scams. The political crooks who are too big to be caught will have the last laugh!

Meanwhile, some government worthies are writhing in pain like a knot of rat snakes (gerandi) doused with kerosene. They are making a song and dance about a CID investigation which yielded juicy details about their telephonic powwows with Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries under a cloud. They are out for the scalps of the police officers responsible for the successful probe. What we are witnessing is like a posse of cops who flash a light on a group of thieves, engaged in planning a burglary, being accused of violating the latter’s right to privacy!

We need a police force capable of probing those in power. The CID unit which assisted the bond commission has done both the Police Department and the country proud. Its personnel have unearthed valuable evidence with the assistance of a group of courageous Attorney General’s Department officials and the Central Bank professionals. These cops deserve praise and not barbs. They have done their duty by the public and stood on the side of justice unlike their backboneless, venal superiors who have sold their souls to government politicians in return for promotions etc. It is high time civil society outfits, especially the self-appointed advocates of transparency and members of the public leapt to their defence. They are likely to be the victims of a political witch-hunt, which is already underway.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sought to use the CID revelations which have riled some UNP MPs beyond measure in support of his much-touted claim that the telephones of Opposition politicians are tapped and that practice must stop forthwith. He is mistaken. The CID has not tapped anyone’s phones where bond scam probes are concerned; it has only obtained call data from service providers in compliance with a bond commission order. They mustn’t be blamed for doing their job. It is not being argued that the yahapalana leaders and their khaki clad lackeys don’t get their opponents’ telephones tapped. That issue must be tackled separately.

Fielding a question from a journalist, the other day, former President Rajapaksa said his government had not tapped anyone’s phone. He seems to have taken the masses for asses. His regime had got phone tapping down to a fine art and even set up its version of Gestapo to do its dirty work as is common knowledge.

If the self-righteous people’s representatives are the paragons of virtue they claim to be, then there is no reason why they should let out howls of protest, nay ululate, when the police ascertain their phone details.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the bond commission on Monday that the yahapalana government had adopted a system recommended by a US expert to carry out bond transactions. Let the UNP MPs who condemn the CID for obtaining their phone details be urged to learn from the US how to tackle financial crimes such as insider trading. It was with the help of wire tapping that the FBI blew the lid off Rajaratnam’s hedge fund racket.

The protesting MPs must emulate Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, who has explained why he received two calls from Aloysius instead of raising a privilege issue. He sounded convincing when he told Parliament that Aloysius had requested his help over the phone and they had also met but he had refused to comply with the latter’s request.

The MPs who gave and received calls from Aloysius while being members of the COPE probing the bond scams would not have got into this mess and incurred public opprobrium if they had lived up to the high standards and ethics expected of members of parliament. They have no one to blame but themselves.

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