It’s action time: Open the whole can of worms and expose

Daily Mirror Editorial

The decision by the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) to investigate the infamous ‘hedging deals’ where the country lost a monumental Rs. 14 billion is indeed a timely one given that the public attention has today been craftily diverted to the alleged Central Bank bond scam by those members of the Joint Opposition against whom corruption investigations are pending. According to our main story yesterday COPE has decided to launch a full scale investigation into the oil price ‘hedging deals’ of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) in 2007 which resulted in heavy losses to the state. COPE Chairman Sunil Handunhetti said a similar investigation, as in the case of the Treasury bond transaction, would be commenced on the much talked about ‘hedging deals’.

The alleged Treasury bond scam had already been subjected to a full scale investigation by COPE and the matter has been directed to the Attorney General for action, by parliament. In addition President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a Special Presidential Commission to probe the affair, giving the Commission a three month time frame to reveal its findings .On the other hand, the ‘hedging deals’ were swept under the carpet by the Rajapaksa regime with no person or persons held accountable. It will therefore be a monumental lapse on the part of the government if the ‘hedging deals’ that blew a vast hole in the economy were left to whither on the vine and the culprits allowed to go scot free. It is surprising indeed that this matter which obviously reeked of corruption was not probed by the Yahapalanaya government at the very inception. Anti-corruption champions such as Wasantha Samarasinghe and Keerthie Tennakoon too had been lukewarm on the ‘hedging deals’ while going hammer and tongs on alleged bond scam. All the actors involved in the matter are well known and the public is owed an explanation as to why this was sent into the forgotten things of limbo while investigating bodies were going after much lesser offences such as misuse of government vehicles.

Not just the ‘hedging deals’, but the Greek bond issue where the country again lost billions too should be brought to the fore and the wrongdoers punished. The ‘hedging deals’ drew strictures from no less a personage than the former the Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva who stated in open court that his peon had more qualifications than the individual placed at the helm of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation at the time- another glaring instance where nepotism under Rajapaksa rule cost the country dear. The losses incurred by the alleged Central Bank bond scam pales into insignificance when considering the cumulative losses suffered as a result of the ‘hedging deals’ and the Greek bond affair. What is more, those directly responsible for this mind boggling loss to the country are today taking high ground on the bond issue and has the brass to give press interviews on the matter while government ministers hardly talk about the ‘hedging deals’ or other mega scams of the past, giving the impression to the public, and justifiably so, that charges leveled against the Rajapaksas were mere fiction.

This failure on the part of the government to communicate effectively with the public has not only caused misgivings in the minds of the public pertaining to corruption allegations against former VIPs but also emboldened those in the Joint Opposition, hauled before the various Commissions, to carry out their camouflage act by going to the Bribery Commission against a Top Ten team of Ministers. A clear case of the hunter becoming the hunted.

The Joint Opposition anti-corruption crusaders who are now busy drawing a red herring to deflect the mega corruption charges laid at their feet should be effectively countered by bringing out the whole sordid details of the ‘hedging deals’. This, and the Greek bond affair, are only just two instances where billions were frittered away by the Rajapaksa government. Other cases of profligacy too should be reopened and those now posing as paragons of virtue should be exposed, starting with all Central Bank involvements. To begin with, a probe is in order to ascertain who was responsible for paying out astronomical amounts to the US lobby firms to promote Sri Lanka among the US Congressmen and for writing the speeches of the then Ambassador – another instance where nepotism under Rajapaksa took a heavy toll on the country’s finances.

The government should also take up the matter of financial loss to the country resulting from the failed bid to secure the right to hold the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota where a plane load of sportsmen, models, actresses journalists et al. were flown to the Carribean in the company of the country’s first son.

The government, by remaining silent on these matters, is inadvertently giving the lie to its claim, made during the elections, of mega corruption and financial profligacy during the Rajapaksa Presidency, thus making the swindlers, and fraudsters look squeaky clean. Why not open the whole can of worms and expose those in Lilly white garb who lorded it over under Rajapaksa rule?