The proceedings of the Bond Scam Commission providing mind-blowing details of how big bucks have been made and how VIPs have behaved without even a semblance of probity is now drawing to a close with the recording of much of the testimony and cross-examination of witnesses by counsel from the Attorney General’s Department. The performance of these lawyers, who pursued the eliciting of the truth with bulldog tenacity, if not ferocity, has evoked much public admiration. Most people are convinced that the AGs department is not lacking in skills and can rise to the occasion. The fact that the two ministers who testified a few days ago were not questioned after their evidence was recorded certainly raised some eyebrows. But the commission made up for that with a Supreme Court Judge who is one of its members asking a question that was in the minds of many people – did Perpetual contribute to the UNP during its high rolling period? The answer was a firm ‘No’ from the party’s chairman and general secretary. Perhaps an aggressive counsel going for the jugular might have asked “had it (Perpetual) ever contributed?” Whether this is an appropriate or permissible question we do not know. However we would wish that contributions to all political parties would be made public sooner than later.
Once the public part of the commission’s proceedings is concluded, the three commissioners will have to get down to the daunting task of analyzing the evidence that has been led and testimony recorded and getting down to the demanding job of writing their report. Being a Presidential Commission appointed by the President of the Republic, they would report to the appointing authority who will decide what will be done with their report. It is President Sirisena who has to decide on whether the report will be published and when. While the commission itself will make findings and determinations, and most probably make recommendations, it has no punitive powers under which it can punish wrongdoers who, on the face of what has transpired, appears to be not lacking. The president can, of course, send the report to the Attorney General who can get on to the next stage of filing indictments against those believed culpable. Mr. Arjun Aloysius chose not to testify and the commission ruled that was his right. The AG’s officials appearing before the commission are on record saying they did not agree with that ruling. It is not clear whether they would canvass that position elsewhere and if so what the implications would be. Given the torrid time that some witnesses who testified had, we can see why Aloysius, no doubt under legal advice, chose not to testify. Many must surely wonder whether former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake might have also taken the same route. If he did, he may still be minister!
Quite apart from the Bond Scam Commission’s proceedings which we once categorized in this space as a “full serial,” the week that has passed has provided other startling details of the venality of goings on in high places. We are glad that the Taiwan authorities have recovered most of the millions of dollars that hackers into their SWIFT system had spirited away. Part of the proceeds of that scam had been wired to Sri Lanka and the former Chairman of state-owned Litro Gas, Shalila Moonesinghe, is now in remand custody on that matter. Fortunately the concerned authorities lost no time in removing him from that position but questions will naturally arise on the basis on which powerful politicians pick people to appoint to high office in state owned enterprises under their purview. This is an area that stinks to high heaven. No government of this country can claim clean hands in this business of appointing their supporters and, yes, funders, into public office. Rank bad appointments are legion. Supporters of the former regime are having a ball saying that time was when the hurrah boys of the present regime gushed eloquently on personalities of their predecessor’s administration stashing their loot abroad. Now the wheel has turned a full circle with proceeds of foreign scams finding their way into the hands of the protégés of the present regime, they exult.
Deputy Finance Minister Eran Wickremaratne went on record a few days ago faulting Airbus Industrie for entertaining massive aircraft orders from a small airline (SriLankan) in a poor country in deals that were patently unviable. As a former senior banker, he would well know that most businesses including giant multinationals are all about making money. Airbus, now under investigation for bribery, wouldn’t have cared a jot from where their orders came. They took the precaution of getting the buyers to sign watertight agreements protecting their own interests as evidenced by the massive penalties payable for cancellation of orders. Which Lankan today, given the sad predicament of the national airline which is bankrupt but for Treasury guarantees, would not rue the termination of the arrangement with Emirates which turned the airline to profit due to the personal pique of a president of this country who appointed his planter brother-in-law as chairman of the national carrier?
Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, who once worked for our Central Bank and since had a distinguished career as an international civil servant has contributed an article to this week’s issue of this newspaper on the sad predicament of this country replete with poverty, sleaze, drugs and lawlessness. Much of these ills, unfortunately, must be laid at the doors of our political leadership who have extended their patronage to the dregs of society. Writing to yesterday’s The Island, Mrs. Goolbai Gunasekera, an accomplished educationist, said much the same. We do not know whether the Bond Commission report will be published in time for the much postponed local government elections that we are now told will be held in January next year. The Provincial Council elections will follow. These elections will provide a reading on how the voters feel about their rulers. God forbid that it heralds a return of rascals defeated in January 2015. But is there an alternative, and if so what is it?