15 March 2015

Ranil puts good governance on hold

Should it be re-named the Wheeler-Dealer Headquarters of Sri Lanka?
Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs, referring to the controversy surrounding the Central Bank bond issue of February 27, 2015 (i.e. allegations of insider trade where Governor Arjuna Mahendran is on the spot over his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius making quite a packet within a few days) pats his Prime Minister and party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on the back for appointing a 3-member committee to investigate relevant allegations.  He says ‘good governance is about due process (and) should apply to all, those in the previous government and the current one.’
Indeed.  Wrong is wrong regardless of identity and affiliation of wrongdoer.  It is a welcome direction-change from previous governments which have almost exclusively probed ‘past crimes’ while sweeping under the carpet allegations directed at them.  There is a problem however in backdating investigations only to allegations made since January 1, 2012. That’s pretty arbitrary.  But that’s only one of the problems.  To understand the politics that frame the issue and to make a proper assessment of Harsha De Silva’s ‘graciousness’ on has to bring in other elements of the context.
First we have UNP’s General Secretary Kabir Hasheem in a chest-beating frenzy, threatening to take to the streets if Parliament is not dissolved by April 23, 2015. ‘It’s a campaign promise,’ he screams.  True.  He need not scream.  Even a whisper would be loud enough if he has been as vociferous about electoral reform.  As things stand what we are hearing from his party is, ‘elections now, reforms later (maybe)’.
By giving the investigating panel a wide mandate (wide in terms of time period to be reviewed) the UNP can, theoretically, can hope for damage control.  It’s a long period to cover.  No one will blame the panel if it takes a few months to come up with a ‘comprehensive report’.  And if they can’t do it before April 23, then the UNP will not have to deal with flak.  Convenient. 
Upul Jayasuriya, President of the Bar Association, an early beneficiary of the election result and a man who was associated in a case against Mahendran’s predecessor now says that his association is selective about which corruption cases to champion.  Jayasuriya is a staunch supporter of the party.  We can leave him alone.  Far more serious is the identity of the investigating panelists.  It is made of three lawyers, none of them of any great distinction.  All of them are associated with ‘UNP Lawyers’ Collective’.  They are to investigate, let us not forget, a matter in which the accused is said to have used for the transaction a state bank chaired by another (and more prominent) member of the UNP Lawyers’ Collective! 
This is a matter of urgency.  The panel has to make a determination on this particular issue right away because the Central Bank Governor is implicated.  The man has serious responsibilities. His actions have serious and far reaching repercussions, ‘good’ and more crucially ‘bad’.  If he’s under a cloud, it spells dark days for the entire economy.
We are talking about a case where one dealer puts in bids to buy so much when the capital required for such a transaction is way beyond the particular bidder and a state bank is used for the purpose.  It is a massive naduth haamuduruwange baduth haamuduruwange  (that’s Sinhala for grand insider deals) made even more scandalous by getting friends to pass judgment on it all (at their convenience!).
Enough.  This is not the Rajapaksa Regime.  This is the yahapaalana dispensation.  Good governance is the signature theme.  There’s way too much ‘shadow’ on the Governor for anyone to believe any ‘good’ will come out of it.  He has to resign forthwith.