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CaptureWhile there is much uncertainty now about what will happen to the country, certain certainties are assured. Chief amongst them is the headlong destruction of his reputation that Ranil has precipitated in the last three years.

I do not refer only to his unashamed capers with regard to the bond scam, the continuing defence and harbouring of Mahendran and now Ravi, the snide attacks on the Auditor General and Nivard Cabraal without substantiating them, the blithe disregard for the massive loss the country suffered not once but thrice. What is also clear is his complete ignorance of economics, even though he used to masquerade as an expert in the field.

Indeed way back in 2003, when I begged him to stop the collapse of the English medium experiment that had begun in 2001, he said he could not work on that now since he had to concentrate on putting the economy right. He claimed then that no one else had the capacity to institute reforms, a position he seems to have moved on from now, with his recognition of the capabilities of the boy genius Akila Viraj.

But economics he thinks must continue as his preserve, and he has such confidence in the brilliance of his geriatric pet shop boys (plus Mahendran and Ravi) that he has not even bothered to find a permanent secretary for the Ministry he uses, in Basil style, to assert his control over everything and everybody.

Now however he has had to grant there is a crisis, which he claims is because of adverse weather. He fails to admit that, before the weather too turned on him, employment dropped between 2014 and 2016 (8.5 to 8 million), the surplus on Balance of Payments became a massive deficit (plus $1,369 million to minus $500 million), the trade deficit rose (from $8,287 million to $9,090 million), Foreign Direct investment dropped by nearly a third (from $1,635 million to $1,079 million), and our international credit ratings plummeted. We have sunk in indices with regard to the Ease of Doing Business and Global Competitiveness and Corruption Perception as well as the Rule of Law. Read the rest of this entry »

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CaptureAmongst the more endearing explanations offered by Ranil’s friends for his involvement in the Bond Scam is that he was taken for a ride. The response then to the question why he defended Mahendran so vociferously is that Mahendran also was taken for a ride. Then the answer to the question why Mahendran went down to bully the Public Dept Department was that he was following instructions. I presume the same answer would have been given to the question why he insisted on appointments within the Bank that facilitated Arjuna Aloysius having his wicked way with bond issues and the EPF.

The fact that Aloysius was Mahendran’s son-in-law is considered irrelevant it seems in this account of why Mahendran acted as he did, to knowingly cause such a massive loss to the country. But even if one believes that all this was done under pressure, it is clear that we will not find out from him who applied the pressure since he can now employ the Aloysius stratagem of refusing to give evidence.

I believe the Commission set a bad precedent in permitting Aloysius to get away with this stratagem, given that it has no judicial authority and is a fact finding body only. But even if it is right in the stance it took, it does have a mechanism to promote justice by ordering Aloysius’ arrest on the basis of the information it already has. The case for this is strengthened by the fact that he has not just refused to testify but was actively involved in suppressing evidence. And doing this would send a message to Mahendran that the Aloysius stratagem will hasten rather than delay judicial procedures.

But the Commission also has a wider responsibility, to find out who pushed Mahendran and Ranil to behave the way they did, on the friendly interpretation, who helped them to fulfil their dishonest desires on a more rational view. Fortunately the evidence, or rather a direction in which to search, has already been provided by Ranil himself. He declared in Parliament, in his infamous statement claiming that Parliamentarians were not capable of judging the issue,  that Mahendran had acted in accordance with desires expressed by individuals who had unprecedentedly gone to the Bank to request vast amounts of money.

Amongst those individuals were two Cabinet Ministers who held office in the UNP. What Ranil did not say is also significant. He omitted the fact that Malik Samarawickrema, the Chairman of the UNP, had accompanied the group that gave Mahendran an excuse. Fortunately Mahendran himself if I recollect aright gave the game way in COPE in citing Malik too. It seems he thought that someone who held no executive office also had a role to play in dictating the financial policies and practices of the country – an understandable view given the massive financial obligations of the UNP at the time and the view that the interests of the country and the UNP were synonymous. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureI still continue to have the highest regard for Eran Wickremaratne and am glad that he now has a position almost commensurate with his talents and capacities. I say almost because the position he should occupy is that of Finance Minister, and I say this because amongst his capacities is absolute financial integrity. This is obviously more important in the current context, when the integrity of most of the leadership of the United National Party has been shown to be non-existent.

I hope that Mangala Samaraweera, who understands little of Finance, will leave the bulk of the work in Eran’s hands. When the ridiculous exchange between him and Ravi took place both selected deputies of great capacity, which I wrote then was the silver lining in the clouds that were darkening the country. I believe both at least knew they knew little, and were willing to delegate productively – which would have been impossible in Foreign Affairs had Ranil had his way and appointed the delectable Anoma Gamage as Ravi’s Deputy (I half expected him to resurrect her as Minister of Justice, but thankfully someone who represents some of the UNP’s old values has got that position.

While I am happy then that Eran is in a position where he might be able to do some good, I do wonder how he can in all conscience continue working with this bunch of crooks. I say this because the manner in which the Bond Scam was perpetrated made a mockery of what he had been telling us in COPE over the years. Read the rest of this entry »

I returned from Azerbaijan on June 23rd and had to go that morning to Parliament for a COPE meeting. The report on the Bond scam was being drafted, and it was clear that it would show that Arjuna Mahendran had interfered egregiously with bond placements to the great detriment of the economy. The Opposition was feeling quite confident, but this made it push its luck and indicate that it would press for a motion of No Confidence on the Prime Minister, who had clearly been responsible for what had happened, as indicated by his spirited defence of his acolyte – and indeed the instructions he had given to less scrupulous members of COPE to delay proceedings.

But this was not the only issue of importance, and it should not I felt be allowed to detract from the reforms that had been pledged in the President’s manifesto. The most important of these, which had been ignored when the Constitution was amended in April, was electoral reform, but the President had promised that he would not dissolve Parliament until that was accomplished. I believe he was sincere, but I worried given the rumours that were circulating about an early dissolution. However Nimal Siripala de Silva, the Leader of the Opposition, assured me during this week that the President had again promised that he would ensure electoral reform before having an election.

One area that I had not been able to address in the Manifesto was the need for a comprehensive Bill of Rights. This had been pledged in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 2005 manifesto, and he had indeed appointed a Committee headed by Jayampathy Wickremaratne to draft one. But by 2007, when I was appointed to head the Peace Secretariat, this lay forgotten, with the President and Jayampathy clearly no longer trusting each other. I was sorry about this, and told Jayampathy he should proceed, but it was clear he did not think the effort worthwhile in the prevailing dispensation.

But when in 2008 I was appointed also to the position of Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, following a renewed pledge in Geneva that a Bill of Rights would be introduced, I felt I could press, and Jayampathy was persuaded to reactivate his committee. We used many of the people who were also working on the Human Rights Action Plan that had been promised in Geneva, and well before the end of 2009 we had good drafts ready.

The silly season however had set in by then, and the President was concerned now only about the election. He had said work on the HR Plan should only continue after the election, and Mahinda Samarasinghe was not willing to press, nor even to bring the Bill of Rights to his attention. I foolishly asked him whether I could put it on the Ministry website as a draft, which he forbade, whereas I should have gone ahead without asking him, so that he would not have got any flak. Read the rest of this entry »

COPE began its investigations on Friday June 5th, and we met every day the following week, except on the Friday – again my fault, for I had arranged another trip, our High Commission in Delhi having succeeded in getting visas for Azerbaijan. During the weekend I read the reports the Bank had prepared on the whole business, and found the situation even worse than I had thought. Because of Mahendran’s actions, the interest the country had to pay on bonds had shot up, so that not only had Perpetual Treasuries, the company associated with Mahendran’s son-in-law, made a massive profit, but also the interest payments Sri Lanka had to make on loans after February 2015 reached ridiculous heights.

Our questioning of bank officials revealed an even more sordid side to Mahendran’s machinations. The first Deputy Governor we interviewed seemed to me a very shady character, and not very bright. I actually asked Nivard Cabraal why he had promoted him, to which the answer was that he was good at some things, and had seniority on his side. But he knew nothing of debt, so it was suspicious that Mahendran had put him in charge of that area.

The Director in charge of that area also knew nothing of the subject, but my sister told me that she was known for her honesty. She had called my sister when she was transferred to that position, expressing worries about her capacity to handle the job, but my sister told her that integrity was vital and that was perhaps the reason for the move. Certainly she exuded decency, to the point of practically breaking down when we reprimanded her for not having told the Governor that it was wrong to take 10 billion worth of bonds when the advertised amount had been 1 billion, and the few bids for large amounts were at high rates of interest. She declared that they had told him this repeatedly and, though they stopped him from insisting on 20 billion being taken, he had been adamant about 10.

Her Deputy was a very smart young man, and it was clear that he had made the position clear to Mahendran, but they had been over-ruled. It transpired too that Mahendran had come down to the bidding floor twice that morning, and had interfered egregiously in the process. It was absurd therefore that the UNP lawyers had claimed that he had no direct responsibility for what occurred.

Other suspicious details included the fact that Perpetual Treasuries had obtained a loan from the Bank of Ceylon for its bid, and that this had been approved straight away with no proper assessment of the request. It was unprecedented that the Bank, which was also a primary dealer, should not have bid to any substantial degree for bonds, but had instead underwritten the bid of a private company. Read the rest of this entry »

When I got back to Colombo from Uzbekistan, the Central Bank Bond issue was hotting up. Ranil had tried to suppress the report his own lawyers had produced, which made it clear that chicanery had taken place. They had I think been asked to protect Arjuna Mahendran, and this they did with a dogmatic claim regarding his innocence, which the rest of their report belied. Even devoted UNP lawyers, it seems, were not prepared to put their reputations on the line by claiming that nothing wrong had occurred.

The Opposition demanded a debate on the subject, but the Speaker, perhaps trying to maintain a balance, decided that the issue should be investigated by the Committee on Public Enterprises. D E W Gunasekara, its dedicated Chairman, was keen to start immediately, but I was due to go abroad again on May 24th and he decided to postpone sittings. Though others perhaps would disagree, he saw me as the most valuable member of the Committee, and felt I needed to be present to deal with what he realized would be obfuscation on the part of UNP members.

I make no bones about the fact that the transformation of COPE had been largely because of my initiatives. I had not asked to be put on this Committee, having asked instead for Consultative Committees in areas which I knew about. But the myopic Ministers the President had put in charge of subjects relating to Reconciliation obviously wanted no one around with significant capacity. So this was the most important Committee I was appointed to, apart from the one on Standing Orders, and that ceased to meet after a few months.

Assessing what COPE was about, I found that we were supposed to report on a couple of hundred institutions, but managed in a year to look at fewer than 50. This struck me as ridiculous, so I suggested sub-committees, which D E W Gunasekara institutionalized, against opposition I should note by Ravi Karunanayake who thought the whole committee should look at any institution (despite the evidence that this was not possible). Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.30889285Tarzie Vittachi’s ‘Island in the Sun’ is perhaps the best piece of political satire written in this country. It has graphic desctiptions of the politicians of the nineties, with Sir John Kotelawala for instance being the Rogue Elephant and Dudley Senanayake the Tired Tortoise. J R Jayewardene was the Seethala Kotiya, a description that perhaps would not fit his nephew, familiarly known as ‘Poos’ in the family, a milder member of the Cat family.

But there is another description that fits Ranil well too, given the strange goings on at the Central Bank. Tarzie suggested that R G Senanayake could not move straight even when that was the easiest thing to do. So now we find that, what might have been an understandable – if capital friendly – change of policy was not done direct as a principled man like Eran Wickremaratne might have done. Rather there was clandestine activity which, in a Watergate style operation, has been concealed so that the ugly truth emerges only gradually.

Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.30283437I was surprised to be told recently that the Secretary to the Cabinet Ministry under which I was supposed to work as State Minister of Higher Education had been dismissed. Eran Wickremaratne explained the reasons to me, but I will not go into those since, much as I respect Eran’s own integrity, there may be another side to the story, which reflects less well on the Cabinet Minister than the Secretary.

In particular, after the admission that Kabir Hashim, along with Malik Samarawickrema and the Minister of Finance, had been in the Central Bank to raise the issue of obtaining more money, shortly before Arjuna Mahendran’s fatal decision to take 10 billion by auction, I have my suspicions about what has been going on there. Thankfully, Eran said very clearly that he was not at that meeting and had known nothing about it, which I suspect would be true of the Secretary too.

I did raise with Eran the question of the failure of the 19th Amendment to address a fundamental principle of Good Governance, which is the strengthening of the independence of Public Servants. Certainly there should be provision to dismiss public servants if they do something wrong, but that should not be a political decision, it should be made by the Public Service Commission. And we must go back to the usual practice in parliamentary democracies where Ministers come from within Parliament, which is that Secretaries to Ministries are in effect Permanent, and not changed with every change of government.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2018
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