Daily Mirror Editorial
During the past two years, the national government has come in for severe criticism by opposition members, civic action groups and the people for its failure to take legal action against those involved in the Central Bank’s multi-billion rupee bond scam.
An important step was taken yesterday. Amid conflicting and contradictory statements, the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) presented a much awaited 55-page report to Parliament. Headed by the outspoken Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna frontliner Sunil Handunnetti, COPE in a unanimous report said there was substantial evidence to indicate that the Central Bank’s former Governor Arjun Mahendran was responsible for the questionable transaction of billions of rupees in public funds. COPE also pointed a clear finger of involvement at the Perpetual Treasuries company headed by Mr. Mahendran’s son-in-law Arjuna Aloysius.
COPE chairman Handunnetti told Parliament yesterday, he was recommending that legal action be taken against those responsible. He said the allegedly plundered public funds should be recovered while new laws should be enacted to ensure that such alleged rackets did not take place in the Central Bank in future.
Responding positively to the COPE report, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he was recommending to Parliament that the report be submitted to the Attorney General for necessary action. The Prime Minister said the COPE report provided proof of the transparency and accountability of the national government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and himself. The Prime Minister said previous governments had taken little or no action on earlier COPE reports which had alleged serious misdeeds by top politicians and officials. The Leader of the House and senior Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that about 30 earlier reports by COPE had ended up in the wastepaper baskets of the Rajapaksa regime.
The Joint Opposition leader Dinesh Gunawardena insisted that a parliamentary debate be held on the COPE report before the budget was presented on November 10. Parliament is not scheduled to meet again till then but government leaders said the proposal for the debate could be considered at a meeting of party leaders.
This cartoon is from Ceylon Today
On Thursday joint opposition members alleged that Mr. Mahendran had flown away to Singapore the day before the COPE report was presented to Parliament. But the Prime Minister clarified the situation saying Mr. Mahendran had informed him he was going to Singapore to attend a wedding and assured he would be back within a few days. The premier lashed out at joint opposition members, saying they were tight lipped about former diplomat Udayanga Weerakone who was flying around the world though he was wanted in connection with an alleged multi-million rupee racket over the purchase of Mig aircraft during the Rajapaksa regime.
It is the fervent hope of most people that the Attorney General will act urgently and effectively on the COPE report to ensure that no one in future is allowed to plunder public money directly or by subtle means.
For the past 10 years, specially billions of dollars in public funds are known to have been plundered by VIP politicians and officials in addition to the huge debt burden to which all the people have been plunged. We hope the Attorney General and the main investigative bodies such as the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) will also expedite action to prosecute those allegedly involved in mega frauds. If found guilty they must be punished and action taken to recover the billions they have plundered even if the money is hidden in some secret bank accounts abroad.
October 29 will be a historic day if it means the start of an era in which politics will no longer be a business tainted by corruption and fraud. Those elected to the highest legislative body, provincial and local councils need to be aware from now that they have come forward and been elected to serve the people and give to the country, not to grab from it. President Maithripala Sirisena from the day he was elected has repeatedly stressed he is the chief servant leader of the people. In future those who want to do big business and earn millions need to find some other jobs instead of seeking election to Parliament, provincial or other local councils. If that is the ultimate result of yesterday’s COPE report, then there is hope for a new era and politics will no longer be bioscope.