COPE Report is not damning enough

COPE report out; action needed

Island Editorial

The much-awaited COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report on the Central Bank bond scam has been released at last. It is being described as damning, but, we reckon, it is not damning enough.

The COPE report has, as we reported last Friday, reveals that there has been a bond scam and holds the then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran responsible. It has also called for legal action against the culprits and recovering the losses the state has suffered because of them.

The UNP members of the COPE raked us over the coals for reporting facts and even threatened to sue the editor of this newspaper for doing that. A UNP MP yesterday repeated the call for summoning editors and reporters and questioning them for reporting on COPE proceedings which were not open to the media. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should have fulfilled his promise to open COPE proceedings to the media in time for the committee’s last few stormy sessions. Better late than never!

We believe that it is media pressure that compelled the government to act with restraint and come to terms with the inevitable as regards the COPE findings. Else, perhaps, the COPE report would not have seen the light of day or it would have been heavily watered down before being released.

COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti, presenting his committee’s report in Parliament yesterday, stressed what had been in the previous report (which we quoted from) remained unchanged. Interestingly, he revealed that 16 COPE members had taken exception to footnotes in the final report, but nine others had endorsed them. One member, Ranjan Ramanayake, has chosen to remain noncommittal. His silence is eloquent!

It is a pity that Handunnetti was prevented from revealing to the public his ordeal at the hands of the UNP members of the COPE. The government took cover behind parliamentary traditions and ethics to silence him. So much for its much-flaunted commitment to right to information!

The billion-rupee question is what will happen to those responsible for the bond scam.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sought to scotch rumours that Mahendran had fled the country. He said the latter would return after attending a wedding overseas. It will be interesting to see whether complaints against the former Central Bank Governor will be entertained by the FCID, CID and other such outfits whose raison d’etre is to arrest the political opponents of the government. A bond fraud which has cost the state coffers billions of rupees is surely a far worse offence than keeping elephants without permits or misusing one or two state-owned vehicles, for which the backers of the former government get arrested.

One should not be so naïve as to expect legal action to be instated against Mahendra or others on the basis of the COPE report. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the Attorney General would have to be consulted first of all. The AG’s department has been reduced to an appendage of the government and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa must take the biggest share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. It has earned notoriety for helping further the interests of governments in power. Under the previous regime, it let the then Rajapaksa loyalist Mervyn Silva, who owned up to a cheque fraud off the hook. Any other person would have been sent to jail for that.

So, as for the damning COPE report and action to be taken against those responsible for bond scams there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

It may be recalled that the COPE headed by Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, once, blew the lid off several illegal transactions under the UNP-led UNF government (2001-2004). Subsequently, the Supreme Court declared them null and void and the state took over the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and the Lanka Marine Services bunkering facility, which had been sold illegally. But, strangely, nobody was arrested and prosecuted for those illegal deals.

It is now clear that President Maithripala Sirisena was right in denying Mahendran another term as the Central Bank Governor even at the risk of the government breaking up on that issue. Will he go the whole hog and ensure that no one responsible for the fraudulent bond auctions will go scot free?

(Also the rajapakshas who drained the country.  They still insult the intelligence of the people in general, if not the grass roots -TW)

Cartoon from Island’s (racist (sister) paper Divaina