There is every reason to investigate Ranil Wickremasinghe after removing Ravi Karunanayake from the Cabinet and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs immediately. If Mr Wickremasinghe is clean, he himself should come before the Commission and should give evidence.
by Laksiri Fernando-
( August 6, 2017, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is no point in waiting for the Presidential Commission to conclude or the No Confidence Motion to take place. There can be a Parliamentary debate on the Penthouse Issue or Public Corruption in general for the members to express their views and show their determination, if anything remaining, against corrupt practices. The President must remove Ravi Karunanayake, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, from the Cabinet forthwith.
The Members of Parliament can ask Ravi Karunanayake to completely resign from Parliament. If not, or even otherwise, it is left for the UNP to remove him from the party membership and inform the Elections Commission accordingly, for the world to see where he would stand thereafter.
There is enough evidence to politically determine that there had been a shady deal between Ravi Karunanayake and the businessman Arjuna Aloysius, who is being primarily investigated by the Presidential Commission on the controversial Treasury Bond issue. Removing a Minister from the Cabinet is a political act and not a legal procedure. The legal procedure to take course, of course, one must wait for the conclusion of the Presidential Commission.
The removal from a Cabinet must be done to clear the good name of any government when a Minister is involved in unethical, corrupt or dubious financial deals. ‘Justice should not only be done; it must also be seen to be done.’ This principle also applies in the case of transparency, accountability and responsibility.
The usual practice in a democracy is for the Minister to resign even in the slightest doubt against his/her financial integrity. In these columns, I have written about ‘A Bottle of Wine Throws a Premier Out!’ in June 2014. As I was writing, “The Premier of the New South Wales (State) of Australia, Barry O’Farrell, announced his resignation yesterday morning (16 April 2014) over the issue of receiving a bottle wine as a gift that he failed to declare in 2011 in the ‘Pecuniary Interest Register.” He didn’t claim the bottle of wine was received by his wife or daughter. It became revealed only after three years only by accident. But in the case Ravi Karunanayake it is already revealed.
As I stated then, “This is a case of ‘accountability and responsibility’ that all Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Ministers and all Members of Parliament or members of any such representative institution in a functioning democracy should abide by.”
But in the case of Sri Lanka, it is difficult to imagine that many of our ministers or politicians would abide by these principles of ‘accountability and responsibility’ voluntarily. Our past practices were so corrupt, they would think that these practices are their privileges. Therefore, it is necessary for the President to act without delay. As far as I am aware, contrary to what a Minister has told the Colombo Telegraph, there is no prohibition whatsoever for the President to act against a Minister when there is a No Confidence Motion scheduled in Parliament. It can even be in the form of a Cabinet reshuffle.
If the President delays action against Ravi Karunanayake, serious doubts will be cast against him as well. If Ravi Karunanayake’s removal as the Finance Minister was warranted for some reason, in the last Cabinet reshuffle, there is now more reason to remove him as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. His remaining days as the Foreign Minister would be a total disgrace for the country as whole within the UN, among the Commonwealth countries and in the whole world, East and West.
According to all reports available, Mr Karunanayake has not denied that he was living in the said Penthouse and its rent was paid by Arjuna Aloysius for nine months. What he has childishly denied is his knowledge about the deal. According to him, it was done by his wife and daughter! Even the daughter, in her face-book posting, has not denied the accusations but asked “Why only one man’s name comes up all the time in such a huge government?” There is all indication, in that questioning that directly or indirectly, there are other people in the government who are involved in the bond scam, if not the Penthouse issue.
This was the suspicion of many who observed and criticised the unprecedented auctions of bonds, beginning February 2015. I had occasion to analyse the bond issue of February 2015 which was announced for 1 billion first and then issued for 10 billion through direct intervention of Arjuna Mahendran, the then Governor of the Central Bank (‘Awoth Atha Thamai: Cabral is No Excuse for Mahendran,’ Sri Lanka Guardian, 23 May 2015). The person benefitted was Arjuna Aloysius, his son in law.
The immediate reason for my article was Ranil Wickremasinghe’s disgraceful defence of Arjuna Mahendran in Parliament on 21 May (also thereafter) even distorting the findings of the Committee appointed by him to ‘cover up’ what appeared to be controversial bond sales, at that time. It was quite puzzling why Mr Wickremasinghe opted to defend Mahendran so vehemently.
Of course, Mahendran was Wickremasinghe’s appointee and college friend, from Royal. There also could have been some ideological reasons like both believing strongly in ‘neo-liberalism’ where profit making is freely allowed for entrepreneur classes at the expense of the ordinary masses.
I also suspected another reason although somewhat hesitant to articulate directly without much evidence before. That was about the UNP’s party coffers. It was almost by accident that Ranil Wickremasinghe became the Prime Minister in January 2015. By that time the UNP was in a bad shape both organizationally and financially. It is quite possible that Wickremasighe allowed Arjuna Aloysius to make money on the understanding that he funds the UNP, particularly at the general elections.
This is of course not an established fact but a reasonable doubt or accusation. This is how the capitalist political parties work. The SLFP also cannot be innocent on these grounds, but the issue at present particularly before the Presidential Commission is who benefitted from the bond scams at the expense of the people of this country. This is also the issue before the country and the people.
Even otherwise, Ranil Wickremasinghe’s possible complicity in the bond scams cannot be ruled out. He, Ravi Karunanayake and Malik Samarawickreme are a very close group within the party and in the government. They are almost like a ‘kitchen cabinet.’ The Central Bank, where all these shady deals happened, was under the Prime Minister. Without his knowledge, it is unlikely that Arjuna Mahendran could act unilaterally in favour of Arjuna Aloysius or Perpetual Treasuries. Even on the Penthouse issue, it is quite unlikely that the other two in the ‘kitchen cabinet’ were not aware of what was going on.
Therefore, there is every reason to investigate Ranil Wickremasinghe after removing Ravi Karunanayake from the Cabinet and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs immediately. If Mr Wickremasinghe is clean, he himself should come before the Commission and should give evidence.
Party Reforms for Good Governance
In January 2015, there was a major change in our political system, the people of this country stalling the attempt of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family to grab presidential powers for a third term. There were many and major allegations of corruption. These are still not properly investigated. Almost the whole SLFP and many parties in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) were complicit in this corrupt-power scheme. Although half-hearted, there have been some changes within the SLFP as of now. These must move forward to make it a more democratic, accountable and a responsible party.
However, the UNP is the same old political outfit, inheriting the corrupt-power practices of JR Jayawardena and Premadasa times. The present god-father of this scheme could be Ranil Wickremasighe. It has been the practice of the leaders, the funders and the organizers of these parties to enrich themselves and the parties through shady business and other deals after coming to political power. As the UNP has come to power after a very long spell, the urge for these corrupt practices could be even higher. Some of the SLFP leaders who enriched themselves during Rajapaksa or Kumaratunaga times may even appear or pretend to be magnanimous or honest now! There should be a change within the UNP as well to make the party more democratic, accountable and responsible. The funding of these political parties also should be transparent.
Two civil society organizations, the National Movement for a Just Society (NMJS) and the ‘Puravesi Balaya’ (People’s Power) are asking the supporters who voted for the January 2015 change to come to Colombo on the 15th August to demand the government to implement their promises. One of their slogans and demands undoubtedly would be a New Constitution. I would suggest that the ‘Removal of Ravi Karunanayake’ should take more prominence at this rally or the meeting as it would constitute the acid test of this government’s avowed promise for good governance and anti-corruption.