(Text of an Editorial Appearing in “The Island” of August 26th 2016 Under the Heading “Of that bombshell”)
The government usually loses no time in denying reports it considers false or detrimental to its interests. But, it, for some reason, did not act promptly regards reports in the widely circulated Australian newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and The Age, on a very serious allegation against President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday. The President’s Office took more than twenty four hours to issue a denial.
The reports, based on the subject of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) probe involving Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC), could not have come at a worse time for the government, which has gone into overdrive to have its opponents arrested, hauled up before courts and remanded for months on end over unproven corruption charges.
The damning reports, quoting the findings of a Fairfax Media investigation, have gone viral on the Internet and reached the four corners of the earth. The SMEC has, however, told the AFP it hasn’t made any illegal payment in Sri Lanka. The government has threatened to sue anyone who levels bribery allegations against President Sirisena. It has gone so far as to claim that there has been a conspiracy behind the reports at issue.
At a time the government is desperate for foreign investment, nothing can be more inimical to the interests of this country than negative publicity from the international media and allegations of bribery and corruption against government leaders. On the other hand, the government has made fighting corruption its raison d’être and its leaders frequently wax eloquent on the virtues of good governance.
The allegation against the President has been a godsend for the Joint Opposition (JO), which has been looking for something to beat the government with. It is sure to gain a lot of political mileage out of this issue which can be flogged effectively for a long time. The JO has called for an investigation. This call should be heeded.
How would the government have reacted if the allegations in The Age/SMH reports had been against one of its political rivals? The state-controlled media would have torn that person to shreds and some of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption officials would have been flown to Australia post-haste to conduct a special investigation.
One should keep an open mind as for the allegations in The Age and SMH reports until the conclusion of the ongoing AFP probe. But, there is no way the government can prevent social media trials, some of which have already been concluded and judgments given!
Those in power at present effectively used the web-based media to disseminate various allegations against its rivals and engineer the downfall of the previous administration last year. The boot is now on the other foot.