In the name of God, go!

Daily FT

01By Hourglass 

The Yahapalanaya Government, which was elected to power amidst high expectations, is fast proving itself to be one of, if not the most inept regime that has been chosen to govern this country. 

Stumbling from crisis to crisis from the day it was elected, the makeshift alliance has managed to stay afloat only because of the fear of the unknown, or perhaps the past known. Though the apathy of the masses and dismally-short memories may allow it to survive its term, it is becoming more and more unlikely that it will ever be re-elected to govern ever again.

One does not have to be a political genius to know that the Yahapalanaya Government did not win any election on its own merits. Its election to office was undeniably by default. The populace, sick of the Rajapaksa culture, took a risk on a virtual unknown. 

Theme Cartoon is from Divaina

Placing their desperate hopes on what appeared to be a new face of clean politics and bolstered by the expectation that he would be ably supported by the technocratic Ranil Wickremesinghe, then justifiably considered as the “Mr. Clean” of present day politics, people came out in numbers to create a new chapter in Sri Lankan politics. Many who voted were young, first-time voters, fired with the idealism and belief that their votes could make a difference.

Sadly, the Yahapalanaya Government has fast brought them to reality. However, despite that it soon became evident that the magnitude of corruption had not decreased with the Yahapalanaya Government, the rumblings of discontent were by and large, muffled. Most maintained a forgiving silence, justifying it on the need to maintain cohabitation between the two parties. Then came the bond saga. 

Bond saga

Despite overwhelming warnings that it would be the beginning of the end of the credibility of the Yahapalanaya Government, the Yahapalanaya wise men foolishly and doggedly protected Mahendran, some even venturing to defend him. Had Mahendran been gracefully removed at the time, it is more than likely that the nightmare would have gone away like all other scandals in the past. It was not until the festering joint had to be amputated that the bloodied Mahendran was removed. 

However, the removal of Mahendran was too little and too late. The crescendo of adverse public opinion that had built up until the removal of Mahendran led to the appointment of the Presidential Commission to inquire into the matter. Little did the Yahapalana hierarchy realise that it had opened a Pandora’s Box that was packed with details of greed, sleaze and evidence of utmost contempt for law and ethics.

Ravi Karunanayake

Despite the fact that the revelations at the Presidential Commission should lead to drastic action in a range of areas including the shocking level of corruption within the Central Bank and the criminal lack of accountability of those managing public funds such as the EPF, what will linger on as the albatross of the Yahapalanaya Government will be the conduct of the former Finance Minister. 

Despite his feigned innocence, there is now overwhelming evidence in the public domain that he clearly appears to have had an intimately close relationship with Mahendran and his son-in-law Arjuna Aloysious; that he had accepted material financial favours from the latter; and above all, that he appears to have provided confidential information to Arjuna Aloysious. 

The intimacy between the two has been admitted by the former Finance Minister. Apart from the direct admissions, reports of proceedings at the Presidential Commission also suggest that they frequently travelled overseas together. Flying together on 13 occasions to Singapore cannot be coincidence by any yardstick. 

Similarly, the explanation that the former Finance Minister was unaware that the deluxe apartment he was living in was provided for by the mastermind of the bond transaction is preposterous and an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country. It should also be so even to what now appears to be the limited intelligence of the wise men in the Yahapalanaya hierarchy. 

If reports that the extracts from Arjuna Aloysious’ phone contained entries like “Remind me to ask Hon RK to get a copy of the Monetary Board Paper 28/Nov/2016” are true, (and that can easily be verified by the Yahapalanaya wise men) that in itself creates more than a doubt on the fitness of the former Finance Minister to hold any position in the Yahapalanaya Government.

Stubborn inaction

The President and the Prime Minister badly misread the probable consequences of the bond transaction when it first took place. Had they acted decisively and transparently at the time, the issue might have died a natural death by now. They are presently in a similar situation. Their stubborn inaction whilst in possession of overwhelming evidence and in the face of open revulsion from every quarter, strengthens the public perception, now bolstered by the former Finance Minister’s statements, that there are other persons involved in the sleaze, and, can only give credibility to the suggestion that there is involvement from the very top. Hence, they need to take decisive action before it is too late. 

Perhaps the Yahapalanaya wise men need to learn from two experiences from the past. On the one hand, the experiences from the Mahendran scandal should be a lesson in how not to act in a crisis. Simply put, “don’t keep digging when you fall into a hole – get out of it”. On the other hand, the graceful resignation by Tilak Marapana, when accused of far lesser wrongdoing, should be a lesson in how one should act in a crisis. Mahendran’s name will be etched in the pages of infamy in the history of this country. Marapana has already regained the respect of his peers and the country.

Very high political cost

The inaction thus far by the President and Prime Minister will have a very high political cost. Each passing hour has added grist to the speculation swirling in public discussions about corruption at the very top and the reasons for their inability to act. It is also likely that it will grievously hurt the reputations of many more bigwigs in the Yahapalanaya hierarchy. 

The result is that the entire Yahapalanaya agenda, whether economic restructuring, trade liberalisation, educational reform, constitutional reform or any of its programs for that matter will be further paralysed from now on, by strengthening its opposition and eroding its support. 

The former Finance Minister must therefore be asked to resign or be sacked without any further delay. Not only has he grievously wounded the credibility of the Yahapalanaya Government, the President and the Prime Minister, but more importantly, he has also destroyed the idealism of the millions of voters who elected them for the singular purpose of creating a clean government. 

The ultimate result is that the voters will probably not bother to figure out who the less corrupt option to vote for is at the next election. And that can only mean the inevitable death knell for the Yahapalanaya experiment.

The Prime Minister prides himself as being a master of history. He, of all people, should be familiar with the famous words of Cromwell to the Long Parliament, over 360 years ago, thereafter repeated at critical moments in history, including Leopold Amery to his own Prime Minister, Chamberlain, resulting in Winston Churchill being made Prime Minister, and by his very own uncle Dick in 1971. 

The time is perhaps right for him to borrow from the past and demand the same from his former Finance Minister before the people rise up in disgust and say to the Prime Minister, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!”