While Good Governance also must include adequate provision for the security and developmental needs of the governed, the terms is more widely used with reference to what might be termed the moral aspect of government. Having myself supported the candidature of Maithripala Sirisena because of what seemed to me increasing authoritarianism and corruption in the last two years of the previous regime, I am of course particularly concerned with our commitment to get rid of these latter aspects.
Unfortunately we seem to have instead abandoned both ensuring security and promoting development, whilst engaging in corruption and authoritarianism, albeit in more subtle ways. Utter contempt has been shown for Parliament in the last four months, illustrated most obviously by the failure to have meetings of Parliamentary Consultative Committees (the Schedule given me by the Committees Office on May 20th indicated that only four had thus far met, four months exactly after the day on which we had pledged that ‘Oversight Committees will be set up comprising members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet’.
The Prime Minister had in fact insisted, according to Priyani Wijeyesekera, that proposals about the Oversight Committees he wanted should not be presented until after the 19th Amendment was passed. I suppose he had lost interest in the President’s manifesto when the change he wanted, to commit to handing over powers to the Prime Minister, was omitted. But even so, he should not have allowed the existing Consultative Committee mechanism, which should also be strengthened, to have fallen into abeyance. His lame excuse, when I brought the matter up, was to say that he planned to have a meeting of his own Consultative Committee soon – well over four months after he took office.
This commitment was with regard to discussion of the Report of the Committee he had appointed to look into the Central Bank Bond Issue. the most startling example thus far of the fact that corruption seems to be alive and kicking. The appointment of that Committee itself seemed irregular, because the Prime Minister simply appointed three lawyers whose main qualification seems to have been that they were part of his party’s network. His explanation to Parliament was that he did not think Parliament had the capacity to investigate such a matter, since Members would have assumed that a question of bonds was a reference to James Bond.
This evidence of his age and cultural mindset is perhaps pertinent, given that the forms of parliamentary democracy have been ignored, as well as the interests of the country. Typically, he also tried to downplay the issue – as was shown in Parliament in his aggression towards Nivard Cabraal, another former UNP stalwart disgusted by his authoritarianism, along with Shiral Laktilleke, whom he accused of being behind revelations about the Scam. What he did was to issue terms of reference that involved inquiry into previous transactions of the Central Bank, no bad thing in itself, but it should not have been brought in to confuse the current issue.
Worse, the terms of reference of the inquiry seem designed to whitewash the matter, since they did not include an obligation to go into the culpability of the Governor or any other official. This omission is significant, since the report refers to the Governor having issued ‘certain directives’ but it does not specify what these were or when they were given. There is a tantalizing ‘Therefore’ after the account of the Governor’s enunciation of the policies he followed, but this is with regard to the original announcement of the Bonds. But then it seems that, knowing the amount tendered, the Governor had ‘requested to seek the possibility’ to adopt a different approach that led to the Public Debt Department deciding to go for ten times more than the amount originally advertise.
The committee did not compare this decision with previous decisions. As far as I can make out, on the occasion that is cited, very little more than was advertised was taken up. Regrettably, the Committee, while seeming to buy the Governor’s argument that private placement was not a good thing, does not examine the difference in cost when that method is used as opposed to auction. The former method does allow for fixing a lower interest rate, whereas auction can lead to excesses, gross ones it would seem in the present case.
To its credit however the Committee has made clear the weakness of its mandate, and in several pages suggests that a full scale inquiry would be in order. Unfortunately such an inquiry should have taken place straight away, whereas it has now been delayed three months, and there is no sign of the Prime Minister, or the Board of Directors of the Bank of Ceylon, ordering the inquiries that the committee says are desirable.
These pertain to activities of officials of the Central Bank and of the Bank of Ceylon and the actitivies of Perpetual Treasuries, which is linked by marriage to the Central Bank Governor. Given the latter’s active involvement in the whole process, and the issuing of what seem to have been last minute instructions (or requests, if that is the wording he preferred) and the last minute bidding (and later than last minute, but still accepted) that took place, it is clear that, as one of our most committed public interest litigants puts it, ‘Something Stinks’.
I have been appointed to the Sub-Committee of COPE that is meant to go into the matter, though I hasten to add that I write this on the basis of the Report, not our deliberations, which have not as yet begun. Sadly my suggestion that we ask W A Wijewardene, former Deputy Governor of the Bank and a man of great integrity and intelligence, to brief the preliminary meeting, could not be taken up, though it was decided to ask him to subsequent meetings.
However I also had a note from Chandra Jayaratne, and looking at it again after I wrote the above, I notice that he too has focused on the telltale sequencing I noted. I can only hope, given the strange wording of the Tender Committee, that COPE goes carefully into the timings of all interventions and all decisions.
What is infinitely sad about the whole business is how cynically our ideals have been crushed. We all knew that previously government officials gave in too readily to political pressures (which is why I am horrified that no one else is protesting publicly about the continuing politicization of Ministry Secretaries and the failure to hand over their appointment to the Public Service Commission). But there was never any question of Nivard Cabraal making money for himself or helping his relations to do so. The manner in which the government is trying to denigrate him, allowing falsehoods about impounding of his passport to spread and pretending in Parliament that he will be exposed if we press inquiries into this Scam, is quite disgusting.
I suppose low cunning involves red herrings. But to see relentless recourse to these from a government pledged to Good Governance is extremely sad, and I can only hope the President will at least now move swiftly to restore his own reputation for integrity and commitment to the public interest.