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COPEing with the fallout

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 1 November 2016 00:01


The COPE report on the CBSL imbroglio was a shower of blessings. In the end, it was evidently unbiased and unabridged. It looked the chief suspects of the bond scam squarely in the eye, collared them, and didn’t pull its punches. The Full Monty it was: signed, sealed, and delivered; despite the reported and rumoured shenanigans which threatened to compromise its integrity as an impartial parliamentary committee, its impact as a corrective to corruption, and its instrumentality in getting good governance on its way again.

19COUNTRY FIRST, OR COALITION? – In the aftermath of the not very surprising findings of the infamous COPE report, partners in the campaign against corruption (past, present, or possible future) may well find themselves on the horns of dilemma. To go the whole hog, and run the risk of losing the support of its coalition partners – or manage the spectacle of further COPE reports (and attendant legal action) in the spirit of realpolitik? So that through smoke and mirrors, the conscience of civil society is salved and those who play the cloak and dagger games of financial misdemeanours live to cheat, steal, lie… another day, another billion dollars?

That said it was supposedly the Prime Minister – who was allegedly the first among equals in the line-up of usual suspects safeguarding the Government’s (or the GOP’s) reputation by trying to stymie the report – who was the first to perhaps unjustifiably present the very possibility of COPE as an exemplar of ‘good governance’. That cast a shadow over an already cloudy atmosphere. In that sense, this definitive COPE report – and its already uncertain aftermath – could prove to be a blessing in disguise. Or simply a blessed disguise (like November rains that begin with a promising drizzle, but fizzle out before you can say “nothing will happen” backwards in ‘managed-spectacle-ese’: the very lingo of Machiavellian manipulators).

On one hand, as usual, there is a sense that nothing – nothing more, at least – will happen. That the COPE report will go no farther than the AG’s ‘in’ box, and probably not as far as the FCID’s revolving ‘doors’. That the Government in general and the GOP (read UNP) in particular will be as happy as high larks to claim that the God of Good Governance is in his heaven and that all is right with the world of politics in the blessed isle. In this sense, Good Governance is a false god, the UNP leadership a despicable set of fakers or pretenders to the iron throne of integrity, and the COPE report a brief aberration on the landscape of an all too familiar milieu of realpolitik.   

On the other hand, maybe out of the mundane, there is a sense that something – something out of the ordinary, that is – could still eventuate. This unprecedented happenstance under the aegis of a false god could still lead to the Government and/or the GOP finding true religion. This happy concatenation of circumstances might prompt the President’s cabinet and the Prime Minister’s cabal to find some common ground on which to manoeuvre together to further the mandate given to them by the people many moons ago. This unexpected spurt of enemy action on a broad 19-infront – from a parliamentary oversight committee, to civil society, and the court of public opinion – may convince the erstwhile champions in the real (as yet un-fought) battle against corruption to unite under a banner that – for once – does not fly the pennants of realpolitik. As it has done with Cabinet appointments, foreign policy, national reconciliation initiatives, etc.  

There is, therefore, a new hope. An opening for the Prime Minister to prove his mettle as a genuine champion of government with integrity. An opportunity for the President to regain ground lost as a true defender of democratic imperatives in the round. The possibilities offered by the publication of this particular COPE report for both senior partners in the coalition is not to be underestimated. There is now fresh potential for both parties and personages in the recently precariously poised marriage of convenience to seal up the cracks that were developing on the façade of their ‘realpolitikal’ romance. That the probability of there being further COPE reports of this ilk – blowing the bottom out of a demonstrably resurgent Rajapaksa machine, in its resurrected afterlife, and which is pregnant in the space simply begging to be explored – will no doubt keep politically ambitious members of the previous regime in squirming suspense. It also opens up space for a government that still has some modicum of public goodwill and the support of the defenders of faith in democratic-republicanism to prove one or several points. A good start would be to consolidate public confidence in the Attorney-General’s Department to prosecute politically sensitive cases sans favour or fear…

There is, however, a flip side to all this joy in the morning and hallelluia-hosannaing. It is that while the GOP will approve of and praise all these probes into the sins of previous regimes, it cannot afford to be as liberal with civil society’s imperatives that judgment begins in the house of God – that is to say, the UNP’s own hallowed portals. Its leadership cannot countenance it that the shadow of suspicion should fall over its sacred cows; nor its rank and file condone the tarring and feathering of their beloved leaders. Present offences against the incumbent financial mandarins ruling the roost with studied pen and drafted, crafty, cabinet papers will not be investigated or prosecuted unless under future administrations. The President, for one, and other COPE probes at the urging of civil society and egged on by anti-corruption stalwarts on both sets of benches, among sundry mechanisms, might militate in its favour. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.  

Be that as it may, I am in two minds.

Two minds

In one mindscape, the UNP is a set of perfect gentlemen to say nothing of being politicos with plausible integrity. They say what they mean.

They mean what they say. Particularly when it comes to the opposition in the House. As well as the opposition out and about, at large, threatening a resurrection of antidemocratic authoritarianism liberally laced with chauvinism. These gentlemen would do anything to further the agenda of government with integrity and keep the ghosts of prodigal or profligate governments of the past at bay, at the gate, out of the House and the rest of the corridors of power. Anything, that is, except to turn the spotlight of the search for the corrupt who corrode the republic on themselves. Perhaps they know what rot lies composing corrosive plans to minister to their personal financial needs decomposing in their closets. Public suspicion is no proof that the guards need guarding.

This is, perhaps, the slippery slope along the primrose path to the UNP’s undoing time and again. And the GOP looks determined to invite us to tread it once more.

In another scenario, the President – like some Hound of Heaven – pursues his Prime Minister’s Government down the avenues of the agenda which they set together. It is his mandate and responsibility to do so. And it could very well be the trump card that redeems his crumbling image – if he has the face to play the non-poker-game of ‘I have the high cards up my sleeve’ with suitable savoir faire. That the Prime Minister has sangfroid enough to sink a battleship is only part of the problem for our beleaguered Chief Executive. For the Premier can outlast his senior partner in the coalition with the suite in spades he holds for the long game. Which is to say: the numbers in Parliament; the nous that governs; the neighbourliness of the global powers that be, pre-empting the noose of sanctions.     

Towards unity

That’s why I’m in two minds about what seems like a present flutter in the anti-corruption hand being essayed by the poker players in Parliament and Cabinet. In one, the UNP – riding high on a hijacked COPE report which they couldn’t sabotage without a more serious loss of reputation – wins… And the strongmen of the UPFA who broke the casino that was Colombo/Sri Lanka lose… And richly do the hugely corrupt of the former regime deserve their fate – But the crooked in our banks and ministries live to cheat and finesse another day. In the other, the President wins over the Prime Minister’s party’s facile prosecution of political foes via AG, FCID, CIABOC-rebooted, whatever. But the republic loses in the short term, when the coalition parts company before constitutional and other vaunted reforms are pushed through.

Towards integrity

Which is why the fallout from COPE can be radioactive. If nothing – more – happens, the GOP will continue to lead the charge towards constitutional reform, transitional justice, etc, with reputation intact and the impunity to foster favourites who rob the republic in secret.

If its opponents insist that this precedent opens up all skeletons in the closet – including the UNP’s – it could well spell the bell of the beginning of the end. Even though the noose would tighten around the necks of Rajapaksa cronies as well? So it’s Hobson’s choice. But these are honourable men. Et tu, Bruté! It’s time to position, privilege, country over coalition.

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