No-faith motion against PM: Litmus test for our legislators’ integrity

Sunday Times

The Joint Opposition’s no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is scheduled to be taken up in Parliament on April 4. The resolution is primarily based on the issues revolving around what has come to be popularly known to as the “bond scam” involving the Central Bank’s former Governor Arjuna Mahendran and company.

Almost as an afterthought, and for good measure, the Joint Opposition has in the no-confidence motion thrown in a clause faulting the Government for the recent violence against Muslims in the Central Province.

Before commenting on the two sets of allegations, it is necessary to describe the context in which the current Government was formed and how it has functioned. This is neither an SLFP nor a UNP Government. It is a Government which was born out of the need to halt the authoritarian direction in which the country was heading and to replace it with a Government with a set list of objectives under the broad theme of good governance and the creation of a civilised society.

The inspiration for this Yahapalana movement was given by the late Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera who tirelessly gave the leadership to civil society and campaigned for changes to democratise governance and constitutional reforms including the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

The Venerable monk put forward the concept of a common candidate to ensure the defeat of the Government of the day. It is in pursuance of this objective that a range of stakeholders from civil society organisations and political parties came together to put forward Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate.

Those who are in the know would vouch for the fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP were very keen to contest the Presidential Election of January 2015 and it took a great deal of persuasion by leading political figures for the current Prime Minister to give way to Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate in the larger interest of the country and to make doubly sure that President Mahinda Rajapakse was defeated in his bid to secure a third term.

It is therefore totally incorrect for Minister Faiszer Musthapha to claim as he did at a Press Conference on Thursday that the UNP supported the President at the last Presidential Election for selfish purposes and because they were unable to find a suitable candidate.

In any event Faiszer Musthapha is hardly in a position to comment on this matter as he took wing to Singapore and spent several days there during the heat of the campaign and only announced his support for Maithripala Sirisena a few days before January 8, 2015 after making sure which way the political wind was blowing.

The primary burden of the campaign and its organization was carried out by the UNP and Ranil Wckremesinghe as only a few SLFPers like Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Duminda Dissanyake, M.K. de S. Gunawardena, Arjuna Ranatunge and Wasantha Senanayake left the Government along with Maithripala Sirisena.

Other SLFPers joined the Government and accepted Ministerial portfolios in the Cabinet with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister only on the basis of a Central Committee decision following President Maithripala Sirisena’s request. Not all of them, however, genuinely committed themselves to the Government and continuously violated collective responsibility by publicly criticising the Prime Minister whenever they chose to do so and attempted to show they were the ‘good guys’ in Government and all the bad decisions were made by UNPers.

They deliberately and conveniently forgot the truism that the entire Government had to take responsibility for both its achievements and shortcomings and that one party alone could not claim credit for the positives while disassociating itself from the negatives.

In fact, an examination of newspaper interviews, reports of meetings and TV talk shows during the past two years clearly shows that the responsibility of defending the Government was shouldered entirely by UNP Ministers and MPs. The UNPers including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, showed a great deal of respect and loyalty to President Sirisena always referring to the Government as one headed by the President. In turn many of those SLFP Ministers who are supporting the no-confidence motion returned the compliment by continuously criticising the Prime Minister and the UNP in public.

President Sirisena has repeatedly recounted an incident where he raised the issue of corruption at an officials meeting during the tenure of the previous Government. He stated that he was summoned the next day by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and told that he could not raise such issues while remaining a Minister of the Cabinet. According to President Sirisena that was the day he decided that it was time for him to part ways with the Rajapaksa Government.

The self same Ministers who tamely served in the previous Government and conformed to its rigid authoritarianism without uttering a whimper of protest whenever wrongdoings took place are having a free run and acting as if they are bold heroes by misusing the democratic space ushered in by this Government which they not only played no part in electing but in fact worked very hard to prevent being elected.

Coming back to the contents of the no-confidence motion itself the allegations against the Prime Minister go somewhat like this. He invited Arjuna Mahendran (a Singaporean National albeit of Sri Lankan origin) and made him the Governor of the Central Bank. He took the Central Bank under himself when it was always under the Ministry of Finance. He asked the Governor to change from the private placement system of issuing bonds to the public auction system.

All these were considered and ruled on by the Presidential Commission that probed the bond scam which cleared the Prime Minister of any financial wrongdoing in relation to the Bond scam. In fact none of the Prime Minister’s political and personal detractors has dared to accuse him of any financial impropriety resulting from the bond scam.

In fact those who accuse the Prime Minister forget that there have been others like Gotabaya Rajapaksa (US citizen), Basil Rajapaksa (US citizen), Udayangana Weeratunge (Ukrainian citizen) and Jaliya Wickremesuriya (US citizen ) who have been appointed to important positions in Government previously.

It was not the Central Bank alone which was taken away from the Finance Ministry. All the state banks which were customarily under the Finance Ministry were placed under the Ministry of Public Enterprise. The Prime Minister has explained the thinking behind these changes and these explanations were accepted by the President when he first allocated these functions in terms of his Constitutional powers.

To a layman opting for a public auction process in preference to a private placement process can be easily understood on the grounds that it is more transparent. The fact that Mahendran and company abused this process for their advantage does not necessarily mean that the public auction process is flawed.

In hindsight, the Prime Minister must be regretting his choice of Mahendran. While Mahendran had the qualifications for the job, he has not only let the country and the Central Bank down, he has also badly let down a friend who believed and trusted him. His unforgiveable actions have given Wickremesinghe’s opponents an opportunity to mount an offensive against him.

In any event this Government has apprehended two of the main suspects in the case and a warrant has been issued against Mahendran and legal proceedings have been instituted in the matter. This is in stark contrast to the numerous allegations of corruption and other misdemeanours against individuals in the previous regime which are only being investigated now.

With regard to the allegation in the no-confidence motion relating to the incidents in Digana and surroundings it is significant that neither the Joint Opposition nor any of the SLFP Ministers supporting the motion have ever expressed even a word of condemnation against those who attacked the Muslims in Digana and Amparai. For them these incidents are only an excuse to attack the Government but not a reason to criticise racism.

Ministers Susil Premajayantha, S. B Dissanayake, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene and Dilan Perera have all said that the SLFP will support the no-confidence motion while at the same time stating that the SLFP Central Committee will take the final decision. By jumping the gun and taking a public position they have compromised the President as well as the other SLFPers.

The strategy of the Joint Opposition and SLFP Ministerial sympathisers of the Joint Opposition is clear. It is first to separate the UNP from the SLFP in the Government and isolate President Sirisena. They will then be able to derail the Government from the Yahapalana objectives and achieve what they could not achieve through the Presidential Election of January 8, 2015.

President Maithripala Sirisena must realise that his political goals which he promised the people can only be achieved with the UNP which can shield him from those waiting to prevent him from fulfilling his pledges to the people. It is therefore incumbent that he gives directions to his Parliamentarians to defeat the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.

Due to fortuitous circumstances the electronic voting system in Parliament has suffered some glitches. As a result the vote on the no-confidence motion will be taken by each MP being called by name to cast his vote. As each MP gets up to voice his or her stand the whole country will be able to judge the integrity of its representatives and whether they will act in the national interest or on some personal or political agenda.

 

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