Daily News Editorial
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who addressed the Kandy District convention of the Pohottuwa party over the weekend was an angry man indeed. He took strong exception to the so-called acts of corruption allegedly involving top politicos of the Yahapalanaya Government. The former President claimed that millions of rupees were deposited into the bank accounts of various ministers as commissions and inquired in apparent self-righteous indignation whether any such thing took place under his tenure. He also said President Maithripala Sirisena was aware of such dealings, but failed to take any action. Instead members of the former regime were being regularly paraded before the courts and it has become the task of the Justice Minister to decide when such persons are to be arrested and the duration such persons can be kept in custody.
He also repeated his dire warning issued to the personnel of the FCID and members of the judiciary, made at the Hyde Park rally held under the theme Mahinda Samaga Negitimu (Let Us Rise with Mahinda) in the immediate aftermath of his fall from power, that they would be “looked after” under a future regime.
Rajapaksa, of course, is being economical with the truth. True, one cannot recall any episode of millions being deposited in a minister’s bank account surfacing at any time during the tenure of the former regime, assuming of course that this was the case at present. But this was not because they did not take place. All such shenanigans were strictly kept under the wraps.
In contrast, even a whiff of impropriety under the Yahapalanaya regime entered the public domain – The Right to Information Act making things that much difficult for the personages of the current regime. Nay, the Yahapalanaya ministers being exposed for alleged misdeeds became the rule rather than the exception- the Ravi Karunanayake episode bearing ample testimony.
Could any reasonable soul in this country ever visualize a scenario in the past where the Secretary to the President is apprehended in a sting operation by the Bribery Commission and thrown in the slammer? Besides, there was no need for ministers then to maintain bank accounts into which commission money could be deposited. There was a very powerful minister who is said to have demanded 10 percent of every project that was undertaken, upfront, even those not coming within his purview.
What is more, overseas tsunami aid was deposited in a personal account of the former President, an act which nearly lost him his Presidential candidacy but for a favourable ruling by then Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva which he bitterly regretted later and begged forbearance from the nation for the lapse on his part, which however he chose to forget subsequently in a different avatar.
That bank accounts were rendered redundant during that era for Rajapaksa cronies to amass wealth which could also be deduced by the fact that billions of rupees of public funds were spent willy-nilly with scant regard for financial regulations. This was seen in the manner in which Rajapaksa’s handpicked Central Bank Governor released astronomical sums to Public Relations firms in the US to lobby Sri Lanka’s case with the US Government, at a time the country had become an international pariah, when this was the official task of our well paid Ambassador -a cousin of the Rajapaksas.
The fact that Rajapaksa cronies had enough and more in bank accounts, but went unexposed, is borne by other examples. There was the famous incident of a former minister who was unable to account as to how he had Rs. 400 million in his bank account. When summoned by the Bribery Commission he had the ready reply that he could not make it since he was stung by a Polanga (Russel’s Viper).
Besides, the ongoing investigations into the doings of the Rajapaksa associates unravel the extent to which ill gotten wealth was amassed, with many of them having their accounts frozen, that of Udayanga Weeratunga Sri Lanka’s former envoy to Russia, and another Rajapaksa relative, being a stand out. Ditto for the Siriliya Saviya Fund operated under the aegis of the former First Lady. So much for Rajapaksa’s claim that money apparently pouring into the bank accounts of Yahapalanaya ministers was a new phenomenon that was non-existent during his ten year rule.
Be that as it may, the Government should take serious measures to challenge this claim, lest it go by default. The public naturally wonder as to what became of bank accounts that were said to be in off-shore shelters that the Yahapalanaya Government pledged to recoup and bring back to the country. Besides, if the alleged loot is anything which prominent Government ministers claimed to be, at the very outset, then it would be more than sufficient to tide over the country’s economic woes occasioned by the plunging rupee. The Government should bear in mind that a sizable chunk of the vote President Sirisena received on January 8, 2015 was from the middle classes who wanted the rogues brought to book and the stolen money returned to the country.