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Eyes wide shut: Fate of our times

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 20 October 2017 00:00

“The impulse to acquisition, pursuit of gain, of money, of the greatest possible amount of money, has nothing to do with capitalism. This impulse exists and has existed among waiters, physicians, coachmen, artists, prostitutes, dishonest officials, soldiers, nobles, crusaders, gamblers, and beggars” – Max Weber

‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was the title of a film by famed director Stanley Kubrick. Loaded with Freudian sub-currents, the film was about an occult society that eliminates any one who cross its path. A theme that would no doubt appeal to a buccaneer primary dealer in sovereign bonds! 

The enigmatic title is a play on the familiar phrase ‘eyes wide open’. It conveys a subconscious urge to circumvent inconvenient truth. 

This writer was reminded of Kubrick’s movie title when reading the spuriously succinct statement from the Prime Minister’s Office: “Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is prepared to offer clarifications at any time to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into bond auctions in view of references to him during proceedings.”

The Prime Minister has already made several attempts to clarify matters in Parliament. If the President was satisfied with them or more importantly, if the President was satisfied that ‘we the people’ were convinced by those clarifications, the President would not have appointed this commission.

The statement unclothes the man. It is contemptuous of the intelligence of the average citizen. It’s snooty indifference, to what has unfolded before the commission probing the bond scam, is incredible. 

The Commission has officially concluded hearing of evidence. The commission, has sent a list of questions to the Prime minister to be answered in the form of an affidavit. If necessary the commission may send a further set of questions. The Chairman of the commission has said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be summoned as a witness if necessary.

Witnesses offer evidence. Counsel resort to cross examination as a means of seeking clarity in arriving at the truth. 

The Prime Minister’s views on the mechanics of bonds, direct private placements and auctions are now on record in the Hansard tendered during his dogged defences of the person he handpicked to implement his macro-prudential supervision of the country’s financial institutions and monetary policy. 

To meet the charge of conflict of interest, Arjun Mahendran’s counsel elicited the information that his predecessor Nivard Cabraal had his first cousin, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and the daughter of his brother-in-law in banks that were supervised by the Central Bank.

Quite apart from the puerile theatrics, the revelation has a deeper implication. The oligarchy under the Mahinda autocracy is very much alive and thriving under the UNP wing of the hybrid coalition. 

We do not know if the commission report would find who authorised the Chief Dealer of the Bank of Ceylon to bid Rs. 13 billion on behalf of Perpetual Treasuries. 

Arjun Mahendran, Nivard Cabraal and their ilk are people with advantages, as are their patrons. They have one common denominator. They regard themselves as inherently worthy of the leveraging power they possess. Their possessions and privileges are natural adjuncts of an elite class. 

Why, oh, why did President Sirisena appoint this commission? No body breakfasting on bonds and billions expected a probe by a Presidential Commission. So, let us be grateful for small mercies. 

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is entitled to the luxury of looking at the fiasco with eyes wide shut. That does not mean that we must buy it. 

What the nation expected was his testimony under oath and subject to cross examination as was done in the case of his protégé who yelped ‘ask the prime minister ‘not once but several times. 

Our challenge today is to face the fate our good governance experiment full in the face. Or else, we can watch good governance evaporate with our eyes wide shut! 

Malik Samarawickrama and Kabir Hashim, Chairman and General Secretary of the UNP, have both assured the Bond Commission that Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. did not make any cash donations to the United National Party. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary at the time of the Welikada prison carnage, has assured the committee of inquiry appointed to probe the bloodbath, that he did not order deployment of 798 STF troops that resulted in the deaths of 27 inmates and injuring many more. 

Are they to be believed? In the last two years, we have discovered that truth no longer matters. We are not even sceptical any more. Mahinda defined our truths. Under Maithri, Ranil is constructing his own truths. 

It took two years for the Prime Minister to table the report of the committee of inquiry into the Welikada incident. The Sunday Times, which published some of its findings, informs us that it had to make an application under the Right to Information Act to access a copy of the report tabled in Parliament in whose custodial care, lies sovereignty of ‘we the people’.

The Bond Commission was appointed two years after the first scandal tainted bond issue surfaced. In the intervening two years, the Prime Minister doggedly defended his handpicked Governor of the Central Bank. The record will show that he insisted that Arjun Mahendran should be reappointed for a full term. 

The Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella never tired of insisting that the dismissal of a petition by three public interest litigants by the Supreme Court was a total refutation of all allegations of iniquity, corruption or misconduct. 

Only the naïve would assume that the Prime Minister wanted a presidential commission on the bond controversy. Only absolute blockheads would assume that the revelations before the commission surprised the UNP leadership. 

‘We the people’ now await the report, findings and recommendations of the Bond Commission. The report when presented to the President, should be immediately published. 

Public perception of justice depends on the outcome and not in the optics of the process that the Prime Minister’s office attempted to manage with a brief statement that earned time on electronic media and banner headlines in the print media. Another demonstration that our governance practices are permeated by a pernicious relativism – “Unuth horu, munuth horu”.

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