The plunder of public property by those steering the wheel of the State can be said to have nullified the ability of the State in controlling corruption in all sectors of the State machinery completely
There are strict laws and rules in force to ensure the honesty and integrity of people’s representatives in all countries where there is a democratic system of governance. People’s representatives elected by public vote are prohibited to pursue business transactions, in whatever form, with the Government. Whoever is engaged in business transactions or has any such interests with the State is not qualified to contest elections, to be elected to the Executive or the Legislature as a Member of Parliament or to sit and vote in Parliament. In almost every democratic country, there is a system in operation to expel those who commit such offences from their positions and inflict serious punishments on offenders.
Plunder of public property
I have already pointed out in my previous article titled ‘Plunder of public property by rulers’ how this wicked system was established in Sri Lanka, under which the parliamentarians of the ruling party/s were allowed to plunder public property as they pleased by not imposing anti-corruption laws which were in force until 1977. I have also pointed out in that article how the Presidents who succeeded J.R. Jayawardene continued this wicked system up to date by adding new elements into it.
This system has made it possible for people’s representatives elected to the Legislature and the Executive of Sri Lanka to become large-scale businessmen, flouting the law of the country. The income they earn through illegal business operations is enormous and very much more than the legitimate income they receive from public positions they hold. This can be considered the main cause of corrupt nature of the Sri Lanka State.
The plunder of public property by those steering the wheel of the State can be said to have nullified the ability of the State in controlling corruption in all sectors of the State machinery completely. It has invariably contributed to weaken the rule of law and rendered the State an entity, rampant with corruption. Moreover, this wicked system has resulted in diminishing the income due to the Government enormously and exacerbating the indebtedness of the State.
Certain facets of plunder
Obviously, it is the most thriving income sources that had been allowed to be plundered by the people’s representatives. The distribution of liquor licences is a very good source of revenue to the Government. They can easily be sold by public auction for a specific period, renewable from time to time, generating a substantial income to the Government. The number of liquor licences issued through MPs has exceeded 1,200. It is the people’s representatives who had gained the absolute control of licences issued for trading and distribution of building materials like sand, rubble, soil and timber. These licenses can be sold for exorbitant prices. But, as far as the Government is concerned, they fetch only a nominal income. The radio waves and communication frequencies are acknowledged to be a “Rare Treasure” and a public resource throughout the world, which ought to be sold in the public domain for the highest bidder.
During the regime of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, a number of TV and radio frequency licences were issued in the name of a crony of her for a nominal price, which that person had sold to another party for a substantial sum. The income generated by this deal would have amounted to rupees several billions. In fact, the income he earned from this transaction ought to have been received not by him but the Government Treasury.
During the last phase of Chandrika regime, the chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, appointed by Chandrika Kumaratunga, had obtained a license, in his name when he left the Commission on the eve of the change of her Government. It is said that he had sold it to a leading television company allegedly for $ 5 million. This gives a rough idea about the market price of radio waves and frequencies.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had issued licences for TV or radio frequencies for several people and two political parties (JVP and JHU) who had worked for his victory at the 2005 election. A well-known Buddhist monk who had received a licence had sold it for Rs. 40 million to an owner of a tea company. Actually speaking, Rs. 40 million fetched by the transfer of this licence ought to have been received by the Government Treasury and not by the monk. How large is the extent of public lands that had been acquired by MPs and their family members paying a nominal price? How big is the extent of lands they have acquired in the vicinity of major tanks in the country and in the Eastern coast which fetches a very high commercial value? How large is the income, the Government might have earned if they had been sold in public auction?
After the next presidential and parliamentary elections, Sri Lanka will revert to a parliamentary system of governance in which all the powers held by the president will be transferred to the Parliament. The President will of course, continue to enjoy the traditional rights of a Head of State. In this respect, it is important that everybody must read the article titled ‘The Presidential Hopefuls – Have They Not Read Article 43?’ written by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama, an eminent Sri Lankan expert in constitutional law. He maintains that the next president of Sri Lanka will precisely be like what President William Gopallawa was under the 1972 Constitution, who did not have executive powers. The executive powers of the State will be vested in the Cabinet of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister appointed from the Parliament.
Despite serious shortcomings, this is comparable to transferring the governance system back to the pre-1977 parliamentary system. Yet, as it stands today, the standard of Parliament is not the same as it was then. Needless to reiterate, that the Parliament has lost its sanctity and has degenerated into an extremely distorted level at present. Involvement of a majority of parliamentarians in business transactions with the Government, in wide and varied forms, can be considered the main cause of this distortion, which in turn has resulted in distorting not only the character of the parliamentarians themselves, but also the character and the quality of the Parliament itself. Wouldn’t it be possible to change the corrupt nature of parliamentarians and restore the sanctity of the Parliament before the next general election?
We (the Punarudaya Movement) are of the view that it can be changed. But, we do not believe that this change alone will resolve all the problems of the present system of governance of the country. We believe that a structural transformation of the entire system is essential for that. In this backdrop, we are of the view, that on our way towards achieving this object, it is essential that the undue and unlawful privileges enjoyed by parliamentarians to transact business with the Government, which can be considered one of the main factors that had led to make Sri Lanka, virtually a failed State, be abolished, prior to the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Meantime, we have planned to initiate judicial action in this regard. The Speaker of Parliament and the Auditor General have already been informed of this initiative. Three letters exchanged in this connection, between the Punarudaya Movement and the Speaker of Parliament with a copy to the Auditor General so far have been produced here for public knowledge. Our broader objective is to obtain a court order to make an audit, expeditiously on the MPs transacting business with the Government and expose them to the country before the next election.
While it is an offence on the part of the Parliament also to have allowed the parliamentarians to transact business with the Government in violation of the law of the country, for over a very long period of nearly four decades, it must be stressed that the Parliament had completely ignored the warnings issued by the Judiciary on two instances in this respect. Our attempt will be to point out and remind the judiciary of its people friendly stance demonstrated in two previous court orders and seek an urgent directive to conduct a rapid audit on MPs involved in transacting business with the Government. If this endeavour is proved successful and the law is enforced impartially against the offenders, probably a large number of parliamentarians will lose their parliamentary seats whilst at the same time losing the right to contest the next presidential or parliamentary election.
The three letters exchanged in this regard have been published below for the knowledge of the public. It would be possible for those interested in this program to join as partners of this endeavour in a manner possible and convenient to them.
Letter 1 dated 2019.05.10, sent to Karu Jayasuriya, the Hon. Speaker of Parliament
Complaint on Members of Parliament Transacting Business with the Government
This constitutes a complaint in respect of the Parliament which I present to you on behalf of the Punarudaya Movement of which I am a member. The Punarudaya Movement is an active interest group appearing for a Participatory Constitution Module aimed at effecting a structural transformation in socio political context of Sri Lanka.
We wish to bring to your notice that findings of a study made by the Punarudaya Movement on the present scenario of degeneration of the country have revealed that the Parliament is the main institution responsible for this situation. This has become a common characteristic in almost every facet of the country. Rampant corruption, inefficiency and decline of rule of law are salient components among them. The Parliament can be considered the major institution that should be responsible for this situation.
Sadly, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has become an institution which has lost its legitimacy, legally and ethically, over a period of time. We are of the view, that the anomalous atmosphere that prevails in the Parliament in which the Members of Parliament are permitted to transact business with the Government is the main reason of this unfortunate situation. It is a serious offense that MPs are not expected to do at all. The entire civilised world has recognised this as a serious offense which deserves such MPs to be unseated and expelled from the parliament. However, it appears that the authorities of Parliament have turned a blind eye in the face of this serious crime.
There is no scope for Members of Parliament to transact business with the Government under a Democratic Rule. It is a very strict rule being implemented in democratic countries all over the world. Even in Sri Lanka, it was exercised strictly up to 1977. However, this serious offense had become a thing that had been taking place in large-scale since 1977 up to date.
MPs transacting business with the Government takes different forms as outlined below.
(1) Working as Government contractors. (2) Supplying goods to public institutions. (3) Acquisition of Government lands. (4) Running of broadcasting organisations and working as dealers of liquor, timber, and soil and sand businesses under license issued by the Government.
Now the MPs are committing these offences openly and not in secret. It has been reported that a complaint had already been made to the Department of Bribery and Corruption with relevant copies of the title deeds that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and the members of his family had acquired 3,000 acres of land in Mannar District. It is an obvious fact that the MPs have obtained lands belongs to Land Reform Commission. It is also evident that there are undue interferences being made on the investigations made in respect of the assets of the MPs. Some inquiries and investigations are seemed to be dragged on indefinitely without concluding them. Besides that, there is an unusual delay in prosecuting those accused even when the investigations were over.
In two landmark judgments passed, one on Albert Silva and the other on Rajitha Senaratne, depriving both of them of their parliamentary seats, the judiciary had made an indirect accusation against the Parliament. In spite of that, it appears that the parliamentary authorities appear to be following a policy of ignoring this serious offense committed by the members of Parliament.
In view of the above, we kindly request you to address this serious issue which made our country a wretched place, and rectify the error before the forthcoming elections. Besides that, we request you to let us know about the course of action that you intend to take in this regard.
On behalf of the Punarudaya Movement
Letter 2 – Reply dated 2019.05.10 received from the Hon. Speaker of Parliament
Dear Mr. M.K. Victor Ivan
Members of Parliament Transacting Business with the Government
This has reference to your letter dated 2019.05.10 on above. Your concern on the conduct of honourable parliamentarians as people’s representatives is greatly appreciated.
I wish to inform you that the authority to initiate legal action against acts of corruption or fraud which you have referred to in your letter is incumbent upon the institutions like the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and the Attorney General’s Department. I am of the view that these institutions should give prominence and top priority to investigate into allegations, if any, against the honourable members of Parliament as referred to in your letter.
Also, I am pleased to inform you that a Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament has been introduced to facilitate the above task as well as to ensure the accountability of the honourable members of Parliament. Besides this, measures are being taken to compile a document reflecting financial interests of the Members of Parliament and reveal and publish such information for public knowledge. Further, I wish to inform you that the use of public property by parliamentarians and the relevant ethical conduct to be observed in this respect by them are enunciated in the Code of Conduct.
Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of Parliament of Sri Lanka
Letter 3 dated 2019.06.12, sent to Karu Jayasuriya, the Hon. Speaker
Members of Parliament Transacting Business with the Government
This has reference to your reply dated 2019.05.01 which you had sent in response to my letter dated 2019.05.24.
In your reply, I am pleased to note, that you have not refused the allegations I have made in my previous letter that the members of Parliament are involved in business transactions with the Government.
You have indicated that the authority of initiating legal action against those committing this offence is incumbent upon the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and The Attorney General’s Department. But, we are of the view that before initiating legal action, you, in your capacity as the Speaker of the Parliament have a responsibility to investigate the extent of seriousness of this problem i.e. to find out how many of the parliamentarians are involved in this offence.
The real situation of this issue can be assessed with a rapid audit conducted by the National Audit Commission which has the legal power, facilities and the capacity to make such an audit.
We are of the view that referring this issue to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is not a correct solution to this problem. As I have indicated in my first letter, there are no rapid investigations being made in respect of allegations referred to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. There are some investigations not concluded yet even after seven to eight years had lapsed since they had been referred to the commission. Perhaps you may consult the commission to get an idea about the reality of the situation in regard to the way in which the investigations are being conducted by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.
This problem has to be addressed as a critical issue having a serious impact on the State rule, mainly because it has led to corrupt and distort the entire State rule and bankrupt the economic foundation of the State. It must be stated that the parliament, as the main body of enacting laws has neglected its responsibility, Parliament, for a very long period of over 40 years, in enacting laws essential for ensuring the honesty and integrity of the law makers themselves. It must also be mentioned that the judiciary has drawn the attention on this issue by two judgments passed, in two separate instances, one in 1978, by depriving Albert Silva MP, of his parliamentary seat and the other, 20 years later, in 1998, by depriving the parliamentary seat of Rajitha Senaratne.
Following the decision of the judiciary to unseat Albert Silva from his parliamentary seat, he was reappointed as the MP for Kamburupitiya by President J. R. Jayewardene. Similarly, Rajitha Senaratne was reappointed as a national list member to the Parliament by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Reappointment of parliamentarians who had been deprived of their parliamentary seats, by the judiciary, on corruption charges, long before the ink of the judgment had run dry, cannot be considered a wholesome act that confirms to the law. This reflects that both leaders had not considered the parliamentarians transacting business with the Government, a serious offence. The fact that the Parliament had refrained from enacting laws on this issue, subsequent to the passing of the judgment against Rajitha Senaratne, indicates that even the Parliament has followed a policy that had encouraged this corrupt practice of parliamentarians
We are of the view that the involvement of people’s representatives elected to the Executive and the Legislature by public vote, in business transactions with the Government is one of the major causes of the rampant corruption, breakdown of rule of law, increase of indebtedness and the depletion of State revenue. We believe that this corrupt situation should not be allowed to continue any longer, and that we should act to rectify this error before the next presidential and parliamentary elections. We wish to suggest two practical measures that you, as the Speaker of Parliament could initiate to make a wholesome change in this scenario.
1. To explain the seriousness of this issue to the MPs and request them to submit an affidavit, declaring and certifying their position in regard to this subject. Those who have obtained Government lands on lease, those who act as contractors or suppliers of Government institutions, those who have received licenses for radio and TV frequencies, and obtained liquor, ethanol, re-export, rubble, sand, soil timber or transportation licenses can be asked to declare and confirm their involvement by affidavits.
2. You may assign the Auditor General with the responsibility to conduct an audit on business transactions carried out by MPs and their family members with the Government and report the matter to the Parliament.
As it is contrary to the law for those transacting business with the Government to contest elections, we request you to inform us the measures that you intend taking to rectify this serious error which has led to corrupt and distort the functioning of the entire State machinery, before the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
On behalf of the Punarudaya Movement
CC: Chairman, Audit Commission, Auditor General
Commissioner of Elections