The dust is finally settling on the many headline grabbing news breaks of recent days with Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s departure from the government last week. He had few options; having learned the hard way that politics is a dirty game, he made a statement in parliament explaining his side of the story without bitterness or rancor saying he was doing what was best for his country and his party and undoubtedly himself. Karunanayake, like Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, extracted what advantage was possible from an admittedly grim situation saying that the unfolding events had probed that yahapalanaya was working. Even political analyst Dayan Jayatillake, who makes no secret of his preference for the previous regime over its successor, was quoted in yesterday’s Daily News saying that he was “pleased and proud” at the way the Bond Scam Commission was functioning and admitted that a commission of this sort would not have functioned with this independence under the old order. But he qualified this statement by adding that members of that regime say that such a scandal never happened during their watch.
Cartoon is from Sunday Observer
Karunanayake, understandably, clearly felt victimized by sections of the media he did not identify. If the media in fact sensationalized unfolding events, there is no escaping the reality that the events themselves were sensational. The former minister, unlike many panjandrums of the previous regime now under investigation who made their statements and answered questions outside the glare of publicity, was very much under the spotlight rather than the limelight all politicians adore. Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Department “assisting” the commission did not pull back their punches in questioning a powerful minister of the government. Karunanayake was tempted to wryly comment at the end of what he regarded as inquisition that he hoped that some 80 odd files of completed inquiries will be pursued with the same fervor. He chose to sport a Royal College tie the day he exited from the cabinet and one newspaper enjoyed recalling that his old school motto, Disce Aut Discede, recently mis-pronounced by his cabinet colleague to the amusement of some, was “learn or depart” implying that the former minister had, hopefully, learned and departed.
While there is a perception, certainly among the English speaking and reading segment of the population, that the country situation today is better than what it used to be in many respects, it is certainly not the promised yahapalanaya. Rascals abound then as now. In that sense, Karunanayake was wise in making his parliamentary statement in Sinhala, no doubt with the intention that the substance and nuances of what he said reached as wide an audience as possible without abbreviation or misinterpretation. We must wait and see whether there will be any investigatory follow-up into the Aloysius – Karunanayake nexus that surfaced at the commission and, more importantly, whether any wrongdoing on the part of the former minister will be unearthed. However threadbare the cliché, the legal principle that any suspect must be presumed innocent until proved guilty remains ever valid. Unfortunately for Karunanayake, this was not the case. We do not know how many of the others under investigations told their interrogators “I do not remember” or “somebody else handled that matter.”
But we do know that one political functionary, nailed on an asset declaration case where he pleaded guilty, left court after paying a fine of a couple of thousand rupees! Whether there will be a follow-up to determine any asset accumulation not covered by a declaration we do not know. The country certainly lacks both resources and the will to do such digging. Perhaps the court that fined the accused should have made such a direction.
Nobody will have the temerity to presume that all 80 odd files of completed investigations now in the AG’s department will lead to successful prosecutions. It is more than likely that the Attorney General may not find sufficient material in them to file indictment. Experience tells us that many of those cases that would eventually go to trial will not be successful. Let us not forget that in this country less than 10 percent of the cases that go to court end in conviction. The bloodhounds have not unearthed any of the loot allegedly amassed by those seeking to regain power. That does not mean that there is no loot secreted away somewhere to be used for the ‘power project’ at the next election. Some have spent time in remand jails although not convicted and flaunted their manacled hands to television cameras before being bailed out. Where this will all eventually end up no one can tell although every man and his brother knows very well that politics has become a most lucrative game and Sri Lanka has not been lacking in those who seize what opportunities that come their way and aspire to a political career as an easy way to fame and fortune.
Look at the example of the Philippines. How much of the millions that President Ferdinand Marcos and his family are accused of looting has been recovered? Three decades after People Power sent them out of the Malacanang Palace, Imelda Marcos and her children remain a formidable political force with the former first lady who made more headlines over her collection of shoes that for her art treasures elected to Congress several times. Post-Marcos, she ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of her country but was elected to lesser office until she was well into her eighties. Looters can be survivors, Imelda Marcos has proved. Despite massive efforts stretching to nearly three decades only a fraction of what the Marcos’ are alleged to have illegally earned have been recovered. Though Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in Hawaii, Imelda returned to her homeland winning political office and projecting her children.