Aug 20

The public watches in helpless amazement as Dr Mervin Silva MP dominates the national stage with various unique achievements. Although he got less than 3000 votes in the last Parliamentary elections that he contested, he was appointed a National List MP. The public is not aware of any noteworthy service that he has rendered the Nation to merit this recognition and is left wondering what is the magic wand that he waves to get whatever he wants.

His next claim to national fame arose when a religious MP belonging to the JHU had his genitals squeezed so hard within the precincts of Parliament that the injured priest required hospitalisation. Newspaper reports of the attack leaned towards crediting Silva with the painful manipulation. The priest, for his part, wisely decided that Parliament was not for him.

Once, when his son was about to arrive in Courts in connection with an assault on a rival of sorts, Silva was there threatening dire consequences for any photographer who dared to take pictures of the heir to the family name and fortune. The possession of a hand gun, which he said he would not hesitate to use if anyone crossed his path, was also mentioned, and not for the first time.

Later on, we had the unprecedented situation where, according to media reports, some unfounded, extremely offensive and scurrilous allegations made by Silva on a public platform about another MPs mother had not been reported in all its detail by RUPAVAHINI, to the satisfaction of Silva. The assault on the News Director by a thug who was taken along by Silva and the courageous action of many RUPAVAHINI employees who rose up against the intruders will one day be written in letters of gold in the history of Sri Lankas media. However, the Police, for reasons that are not difficult to guess, did not proceed very far with their investigations. Instead, several employees of RUPAVAHINI were insulted, physically attacked, harassed and terrorised into keeping their mouths shut about the vicious part played by those who invaded the premises.

In another episode, whereas those lawfully empowered to make the relevant regulations had stipulated a few days without meat or alcohol during the 2008 Vesak, Silva, on account of his self-advertised great devotion to the teachings of the Lord Buddha, and by virtue of his claimed descent from Dutugemunu himself, decreed that, in his Kelaniya area, the proscription on meat and alcohol should extend over a longer period. It is rumoured that the illicit market in alcohol did extremely well during this time.

Recently, Mr Lalkantha MP went so far as to argue that Silva is an innocent, who is being made the fall guy for the person or persons who are putting him up to do the nasty things that he is allegedly known to do. Yet, Lalkantha himself, even more recently, has charged that Silva manages to evade all punitive action because he knows too many secrets about those who hold the reins of power and is not afraid to make use of these to his advantage. The truth may, for all we know, lie somewhere in-between.

Ministers Maitripala Sirisena, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and Keheliya Rambukwella have, for public consumption, spouted some condemnatory remarks about Silva. For their part, Yapa and Rambukwella have given no indication that they plan to take any initiative of their own to bring Silva to heel. As a cover for his inaction, Sirisena has said that the members of the Disciplinary Committee of the SLFP are too busy with electioneering to devote any time to the Silva matter, hoping, no doubt, that the publics attention can soon be diverted to some other subject, such as the Indo-Sri Lanka one-day cricket series. In any event, he has virtually washed his hands off the problem by transferring the Committees disciplinary powers to God.

The Speaker has apparently chastised Silva verbally for his most recent descent into crude, unparliamentary behaviour and language (expunged immediately from Hansard). Sadly, the public do not expect anything more from the Speaker, if his past record is any guide.

Several uncontradicted newspaper reports have stated that President Rajapakse had strongly reprimanded Silva for his latest escapade with the SIRASA TV camera crew. Why would he have done that unless he was satisfied that Silva has acted in a reprehensible fashion? But this report of a reprimand has to be taken with a giant helping of salt when we see ourselves assailed by a later newspaper photograph of Silva entertaining a highly amused President Rajapakse, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister W.D.J.Seneviratne and someone else at a Very Important Wedding a few days ago.

The SIRASA TV camera crew fracas is being given reasonable and sustained coverage by the media but as it is sub iudice at the moment, we consider it to be largely out of bounds for any additional comment by us.

What do all these incidents mean to a public other than to cause extreme disgust? They prove the truth of the old adage that, if good men remain silent, the crooks will make hay for themselves. The Citizens Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) and many concerned commentators are all agreed that the principal reason for this descent into lawlessness is the absence of the Independent Commissions envisaged in the 17th Amendment, which shows no signs of being implemented despite some periodic pious vapourings from Minister D.E.W.Gunasekera and a few others. It is the duty of all Parliamentarians, civil society organisations and even ordinary citizens to press the President to honour the Constitution that he has sworn to uphold and not continue to violate it by preventing the 17th Amendment from being implemented. If this Amendment, which is now an integral part of the Constitution, were to be activated, the Police, in particular, would gain courage to do the right thing in all situations, knowing that they would be protected to a very substantial extent from political pressures and reprisals.

Immediately after the present 17th Amendment is implemented, if it ever is, it will need to be improved on the lines already recommended by many experts and civil society organisations. The most important change should be to make the Inspector-General of Police free of presidential patronage, interference and unlawful directions so that the Police Department could revert to regaining the respect of the public which it enjoyed during the early years of this countrys independence.

Aug 02

         

Discerning members of the public value greatly the work which was done by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), during the chairmanship of Mr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe MP, in inquiring into a number of alleged acts of corruption.  To date, the government has not shown any interest in getting the relevant authorities to investigate these misdemeanours thoroughly and have the culprits prosecuted. Instead, Mr Rajapakshe appears to have become persona non grata among many of the rich and the powerful for helping expose to the public gaze many major acts of corruption.  In this situation, Sri Lankans owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Mr Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Mr Nihal Sri Amarasekera for the motivation, hard work and persistence shown by them, as duty-conscious citizens, in following up on the COPE report, namely, to bring the Lanka Marine Services Limited (LMSL) deal before the Supreme Court (SC) for its authoritative inquiry, judgment and directions. 

 

Newspaper readers, with even a modicum of interest in good governance, would have learnt what was said by the SC in the LMSL case and thereby gained a revealing insight into the ugly world of collusion that encompasses big business and the executive arms of the State.  It is in this context that the lucid and fine judgment given by the SC gives us a measure of hope for the future.  It may be noted that the punishment imposed by the SC was quite nominal; the sting was in the tail:  AAll parties to the proceedings will take necessary action on the basis of the findings stated above.  Among the total of thirty-three Respondents named by Mr Nanayakkara, those on whom the main burden of acting in line with SC’s order are the Secretary to the President, the IGP, DIG/CID, the Chairman of the Bribery Commission and the Attorney General.  As tentative optimists, we hope that more shoes will get worn out by diligent hurrying and scurrying around to carry out the SC order than by administrative and executive foot-dragging to protect the crooked.  The public must remain vigilant and keep up the pressure to see that the guilty do not get away with their ill-gotten gains.

 

Mr Rajapakshe, as reported recently in the press, has reminded us of some things we may have forgotten.  Referring to the work done by COPE, he has stated that the LMSL deal A… was not an isolated case but a part of a series of similar transactions.  He has A… accused some of his ministerial colleagues of blocking the investigations.  He has also stated that the Aministers named in the first COPE report should be removed without any further delay and that A… COPE had identified former UNP ministers Karu Jayasuriya and Milinda Moragoda as the two politicians as having played a direct role in the LMSL and SLIC (Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation) transactions respectively.  Besides looking into these two privatisations, the first COPE report dealt with the ACentral Bank, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, CEB, BOC, CPC, National Lotteries Board, Geological Survey & Mines Bureau, RDA, Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital, BOI, Airport & Aviation Services, National Water Supply & Drainage Board, National Child Protection Authority, Institute of Policy Studies, People’s Bank, State Engineering Corporation, MILCO, LRC, Samurdhi Authority, PERC, SLPA and UDA. 

 

Considering the explicit nature of Mr Rajapakshe’s observations, it is incumbent upon the Attorney General, the IGP and the Bribery Commission, in particular, not to wait for more Nanayakkaras and Amarasekeras to do their work for them but to get on with a purposeful programme of investigation and prosecution of at least those cases where sums in excess of, say, Rs10 Million are believed to have been squandered or robbed.  Not least of all, if anyone has been blamed unfairly or inadvertently by COPE or the PAC (Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Mr Rauff Hakeem MP), it would be most desirable to have their good names cleared without delay.

 

A curious aspect which needs to be investigated meticulously is why the Secretaries to the relevant Ministries did not bring to the notice of their Ministers that Cabinet approval was being sought belatedly for (unlawful) legal commitments that had already been taken by PERC and BOI beyond their authority.  Are we expected to believe that these highly experienced Secretaries forwarded papers to the Cabinet through their Ministers which any moderately competent Assistant Secretary would ordinarily have held back for clarification?

 

In view of Mr Rajapakshe’s charge that some of his ministerial colleagues had blocked the COPE investigations, we are shocked that the voting in the new COPE and the new PAC has gone against the earlier good tradition, with Ministers being now elected to chair these Committees.  This does not bode at all well for the future of the fight against corruption, particularly where Cabinet colleagues’ actions may have to be called into question.  The honest and gentlemanly thing to do would be for the two Minister-Chairmen to resign their chairmanship forthwith, notwithstanding any pressure that may be put on them, and get moderate members of the Opposition to be appointed in their place.