By Muhammed Fazl
Educated and highly focused, the introduction of Miss Muthukudarachchige Anika Vinodhini Wijesuriya (AW) and her testimony at the Commission to Inquire into the Bond Scandal (CIBS) has indeed created a storm.
Sri Lanka’s political culture has changed very little since the time the late J.R. Jayawardena introduced the open market economy. Power corrupts and all politicians are either in it for power, money or both. And unsurprisingly, politicians and businessmen make strange bedfellows. While it is no secret that members on both sides of the aisle of parliament have loyalist friends amongst the business community, they do not hesitate to forge an alliance even with the enemy should there be a mutually beneficial opportunity up for grabs. In this context, I believe no parliamentarian is free from such associations or righteous enough to live by a certain code of honour.
Enter Mr. Ravindra Sandresh Karunanayake (RK), Minister of Foreign Affairs, ex-Minister of Finance and the man of the moment, who has been tried and convicted by sections of the media and is awaiting execution. While my attention was drawn to this ‘trial-by-media’ circus when seeing attempts being made to vilify RK as the fall guy for this entire bond scandal episode, now that a Presidential Commission has been established to look into possible illegal acts, shouldn’t the passing of verdicts of guilt, innocence or complicity be the sole task of its highly respected panel of judges?
Being an investigative columnist and activist, I was one of the first to expose the bond scandal as early as March of 2015 through social media (Facebook). Having crossed swords with RK on numerous occasions on public platforms and in private over matters of national interest, I too believe RK should be investigated if there is enough evidence to prosecute him and for him to be punished if found guilty. No dispute there. And adopting a holistic approach in addressing the matter, I sure wish learned readers or concerned officials would take note of the following observations and questions:
Was it not Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) who appointed Arjun Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank in the first place? And was it not the same RW who vehemently defended the good name of Mr. Mahendran when the bond scandal was first exposed?
If Arjun Aloysius (AA) of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. had manipulated laws and profited from it due to his connections to the then-Governor of the Central Bank as alleged, how did the Ministry of Finance get all involved in this web of deceit in the first place, directly or as an accessory?
Though the Central Bank falls under the purview of the Finance Ministry, if there were no allegations of wrongdoing against officials of the Ministry of Finance over possible or direct involvement in the scandal, on what basis was Minister Karunanayake summoned to the Commission to Inquire into the Bond Scandal?
According to the laws in existence, it is not a criminal offense for parliamentarians to be friends with members of the business community or to seek their assistance even in matters of personal nature. In this context, as claimed by her, if Miss AW was not willing to transact directly with politicians for reasons best known to her, would leasing out her apartment to a third party through a mutual friend (AA in this instance) be tantamount to a criminal offense by either party? And now that the payment made by the family of Mr. Karunananayake to Miss Anika Wijesuriya through Mr. Aloysius for the lease of the apartment at Monarch residencies has been sensationalised by the news/social media, the way I see it, the hypocrisy of our countrymen is such that I find the latest developments and the hype surrounding it to be quite nauseating.
As claimed by her in her testimony, if Miss Wijesuriya was all sceptical about leasing out her apartment to the family of RK through Aloysius, why did Miss Wijesuriya show the apartment and the functions of keys to the family of Mr. Karunanayake in the first place and using a similar sales pitch as that of a used-car salesman? And why did Miss AW state her uncorroborated opinion in a manner that is favourable to the prosecution side at the CIBS two plus years after the deal was done and dusted?
If the trust placed in Miss AW by her business associates can so easily be broken by her with regards to confidential information, could the possibly malicious testimony of Miss AW still be admissible in a court of law?
While there may be some truth in Mr. Arjun Aloysius intervening and getting the lease under his name or under a company that he owns, to imply that the upfront costs of the lease was borne entirely by Mr. AA and to prematurely castigate the Karunanayakes as “freeloaders” or accuse them of never repaying the original amount to Mr. AA is simply a malicious accusation as per my understanding. And absurd is it not to accuse someone of not having the funds to lease an apartment when he/she is rich enough to purchase it outright? To be fair to the family of Mr. Karunanayake, I believe RK too should be given an opportunity to present his case and for him to explain the timeline of events pertaining to the lease and purchase of the apartment in question. While the Opposition may want to use Ravi Karunanayake as their trump card, it should also not come as a surprise when self-promoting fellow parliamentarians from the same UNP push him towards the altar of sacrifice expecting him to take the blame for all their collective failures in good governance.
With new entrants and destabilising forces acting behind the scenes in the political arena, the need to investigate large-scale fraud and financial improprieties becomes all too urgent and important. Furthermore, I believe the ploy of bringing the bond scandal into the limelight by interested parties is for no other reason than to buy time or to avoid being prosecuted for crimes committed during the Rajapaksa regime.
Come 2 August 2017, all eyes will be on Ravi Karunanayake to listen to his side of the story at the CIBS. Come what may, the guilty should be tried, punished and the laws of the state upheld. In the same light, the actions of a few individuals should not be causes to overthrow a democratically-elected Government or to destabilise a Government that gives hope to millions.
(The writer is an independent social/political activist and can be contacted at [email protected] and through FB Fazl Muhammed Nizar).