Diplomacy, bribery, cover-ups

Sunday Observer Editorial

Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa regime is not the only regime worldwide to be accused of bribing foreign politicians. Many other repressive regimes have done so in the hope that the bribed politician would help save their credibility with the government of that politician’s country. Often, such bribed politicians have had to whitewash the record of that regime in the eyes of her/his government.

It is one thing for a government to entertain and woo such influential foreign politicians in a transparent, public and legitimate manner and it is another to covertly do so. It gets worse when the purpose is to use that foreign politician to ‘sell’ that government to his government by down-playing that government’s abysmal performance. It gets even worse when the foreign politician so ‘entertained’ fails to formally declare to his authorities such gifting by a foreign government.

United Kingdom parliamentarian Ian Paisley Jr. now faces suspension from parliamentary sittings for doing precisely that. And the gifting country thereby exposed is Sri Lanka – specifically the government of Sri Lanka in 2013. Now, it is all coming out.

All governments have a right to project their image positively to the international community, especially to improve their nation’s relations with the world and benefit from all bilateral and multilateral assistance that would come with such improvement of image. But why do such image-building covertly? Is it because that governmental image is besmirched by political repression and instability and only covert lobbying might win credibility?

Sri Lankans, especially those who suffered during the repression, racism and violence of the Mahinda Rajapaksa era, would agree that such efforts at covert image-building is typical of the ‘spin’ and ‘fake news’ industries nurtured by that regime in its constant effort to cover up its misdeeds.

Unsurprisingly, the former President was conspicuously missing when these matters were debated in Parliament last week despite promising earlier to be ready to answer all such accusations. The other topic in that parliamentary debate was the recent New York Times report on the billions of rupees in bribes ostensibly distributed to personalities within the Rajapaksa regime to smoothen the way for several large foreign-funded projects.

Even if he missed the parliamentary debate on the matter, Mr. Rajapaksa owes it to the nation to present a comprehensive explanation of what really happened in connection with Ian Paisley and the truth about the sensational NYT report.

There is also a lesson for the country’s general foreign policy outlook: ugly truths cannot be hidden forever, and especially not when those supposed to hide such ugliness also get trapped in not-so-pretty behaviour themselves. A nation’s destiny cannot be guided with this kind of shady behaviour.

Human Rights Commission threatened

The country’s political atmosphere has been by the recent unseemly threats made publicly against a distinguished public official and the important institution of state that she heads. The target of public negative comments made by some political activists, including a war veteran, is the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and its chairperson, a distinguished legal scholar in her own right.

The subject of the outburst of public criticism appears to be the HRCSL’s regular programme of carefully vetting the records of armed services personnel seconded for United Nations military service overseas. Any citizen, including politicians, has the right to question any public programme. Such questioning or criticism may be made purely by memoranda submitted through official channels to the institution concerned or, by publicised comments made to the news media or, by both means.

However, it is another matter when that questioning and criticism dissolves into ethnically divisive remarks and dangerously inflammatory accusations of ‘treason’ in relation to combating secession or terrorism. These accusations included the threat of meting out the death penalty for specified action deemed as ‘treasonous’.

Such publicly inflammatory accusations should not be made against any citizens – unless by legally authorised officials acting against a genuinely identified possible crime. In this case, it is an institution of high state, the HRCSL and its chairperson that has been publicly threatened and the threats have nothing to do with any suspected actual crime. The death penalty threat has been slung at the HRCSL’s chairperson over a matter of an administrative delay in the regular vetting of armed forces personnel prior to their overseas secondment!

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