Former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena in a series of social media posts has alleged numerous frauds committed by Cabinet Minister Bandula Gunawardene and others. Among these is the importation and distribution of faulty gas cylinders which caused the lives of at least five members of the public. Gunawardena is also accused of numerous scams involving importation of garlic, rice and other commodities to Sathosa, the Government-run retail agency.
When the CAA Executive Director made these allegations in 2021, rather than initiating investigations into his claims, the whistleblower was summoned before the Criminal Investigation Department and sued for defamation. He eventually had to flee the country and seek asylum while those alleged to have syphoned millions of rupees of public money remained in the high offices of the land.
Bandula Gunawardene is but a symptom of a system that is rotten to the very core. While there is a police department, a commission to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption, a parliamentary committee on public enterprises, an attorney general’s department, an auditor general and numerous other agencies that are supposed to be the checks on public finances, none have lifted a finger. This is not because Bandula Gunawardene is anything special, but on the contrary he is but the norm. When a vast majority of the Cabinet of Ministers are corrupt any attempts to single out Bandula Gunawardene may trigger howls of partisan discrimination.
It was only a few weeks ago that none other than the Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe claimed that the inordinate delay in initiating legal action against X-Press Feeders, the owners of container carrier X-Press Pearl, which sank off Colombo in early June, 2021 causing a maritime disaster, was due to a massive $ 250 million bribe being offered to certain individuals.
He claimed that he had requested Inspector General of Police C.D. Wickramaratne to probe this allegation where the sum of money has been transferred to an account in the United Kingdom. The Minister eventually revealed in Parliament that the recipient of this quarter billion dollar bribe was one Chamara Gunasekara.
Despite this revelation, to date there has not been an iota of detail on a follow-up or any action initiated to get to the bottom of this allegation. It is revealing that even when the country’s justice minister alleges such a massive financial fraud there is hardly any action from the law enforcement or anti-corruption authorities.
There is little hope of the likes of Bandula Gunawardena ever seeing the inside of a courtroom for the alleged corruption. Instead, he and his likes will continue to benefit from the impunity granted. It is apparent that their legacies of corruption are due to be passed on to the next generation. The former Executive Director of the CAA claims that Gunawardene’s son made a profit out of 6,000 tons of rice imported by the Minister. Gunwardene’s daughter has been given a diplomatic position at the Sri Lanka mission in New York, paid in dollars by the Sri Lankan taxpayers, despite not having qualifications for such a posting.
While there is little expectation of the criminal justice system, the police, the attorney general or the bribery commission taking any action against Gunawardene or his ilk, thanks to whistle blowers like Thushan Gunawardena such criminal activities are at least brought to the public domain. He and many others like him have had to flee this country for the crime of having integrity. For them this country owes a debt of gratitude. In the words of George Orwell, in a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.