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Civil society must stand up against corrupt politicians


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It was a sad day for the Sri Lanka administrative service when the former number one public servant Royal College-educated Lalith Weeratunga, the husband of the insurance regulator and a NDB Director, was sentenced to three years in prison. How tragic can that be? The charge - using TRC money to the tune of Rs. 600 million to buy material for monks. 

The timing was bad for Weeratunga because he had used public funds in the lead-up to an election. Weeratunga would be off his head to use TRC funds to buy cloth for Buddhist monks unless he was directed by a Rajapaksa brother, which was surely the case. It is a good lesson for all public servants to do the right thing. 

It is now a matter of time before someone files a case against the Lotteries Board and Litro Gas leadership for funding Perpetual Treasury’s Arjun’s paper. This is the end of the road for our administration. No public servant will carry out an order unless signed by a higher authority. The end result - it will slow down the administration further. 

Having said all this, Sri Lanka’s voters at the 8 January presidential election were decisive. They voted “no” to spending billions of rupees on grandiose and economically unproductive highway development, so expensive and so poorly planned that it would have throttled the country’s hope of escaping the middle income trap. 

The 197 km Northern Expressway Project (NEP) was to be the crown jewel in this highway robbery. The extension of the Southern Highway up to Hambantota and the Outer Circular Phase III North of Kadawatha were others. 

The new Government that came in to power on 8 January within days cancelled many of the sweetheart deals entered into by the Rajapaksa regime. Instead of doing the right thing the Sirisena Government got embroiled in bigger deals, starting with the Central Bank bond deal that helped Perpetual Treasuries to record a Rs. 10 billion profit. The closest rival made only Rs. 500 million. 

Ravi Karunanayake was the first victim. Now we hear Rosy Senanayake’s son gave a copy of the COPE report and she refused to sign the COPE report. Was it for consideration or for friendship? Only Arjun and Rosy would know the real story. But the damage is done, however much she denies the story. 

But what is surprising is that why ministers like Malik Samarawickrama, who is alleged to have gotten embroiled in many controversial transactions and been mentioned by former Minister Ravi Karunanayake as an actor in the bond saga, has not been called to give evidence. Surely the Bond Commission has men of top integrity. 

What is more shocking is the alleged highway robbery involving the Southern Expressway. According to the JVP, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM), which is officially managed by R.  Paskaralingam and Charitha Ratwatte, has approved a proposal to increase the length of skyways being built on the Matara-Beliatta section of the Southern Highway from 6.33 km to 9.11 km. 

It is alleged that a Mercedes Benz car has been given as a bribe for someone who has mediated in increasing the length of the highway, says JVP Parliamentarian and Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Sunil Handunnetti. 

Then a popular news channel revealed the connections of Minister Samarawickrama to controversial businessman Nandana Lokuwithana, a Rajapaksa front man, who has allegedly worked with the former first family in money laundering activities, and was in the limelight a few months ago for being privileged to have obtained a 100-acre land for a tyre factory in Horana by the Board of Investment (BOI) on a 99-year lease for a lesser amount once again through the interference of the good office of the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade.

The latest being the Matara-Belliatta Road scam and the Central Expressway which is costing $ 26 million a kilometre, double the cost of the Southern Expressway which cost $ 13 million a kilometre, without even an open tender. The loan of $ 1 billion has also been taken at commercial rates.

Civil society should demand that these scams are fully investigated and those responsible are prosecuted. 

Many of those top officials attached to some of the controversial and corrupt politicians should watch out or get out, if not they will suffer the same fate which befell respected public servant Weeratunga. 

By continuing this way and allowing corruption to take root, the Government is only allowing the Rajapaksa family rejected by not-so-servile Lankan citizens twice to play themselves in for a second long run.

Aruna Perera

 


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