The Bond Scam is one of the most discussed topics in the country and has caused the demise of a few senior government ministers. Ceylon Today spoke to Professor Rajiva Wijesinha to get his opinion on the Bond Scam and the damage that the controversy has caused the Government.
Q;The Bond Scam (or scams) is a highly controversial, widely discussed yethighly confusing topic for many. How do you feel about this matter? Do you believe that a ‘scam’ has taken place?
A: I have no doubt that a massive amount of money has been lost to the country by the Bond Scam. I also believe that this was carefully planned, and executed by the hierarchy of the United National Party to make money through technical manoeuvres. Though they could then pretend that no individuals in the party had made money, the side effect, apart from the direct gains to their partners in crime, was continuing losses to the country through unwarranted increases in the interest it has to pay on an ever increasing debt portfolio. And what is even more disgusting is that there was a second scam a year later.
Q: There seems to be a wide range of ideas about the monetary damage caused by the Bond Scam. What is your estimate of the extent of the money that the State lost and the impact it has on the economy?
A: I have not studied the second scam in detail, but on the first the most obvious loss was that Aloysius and crew paid less than 4 ½ billion for bonds worth 5 billion, whereas some bidders paid at over par. So at the Governor’s insistence, justified by directives from the Prime Minister, at least 700 million went with the wind. The next year about eight times that amount I think went into the coffers of the perpetrators.
The country then also had to pay higher interest rates on subsequent loans. Then citizens suffered because they had to pay more on all loans – remember that Mahendran arbitrarily raised interest rates on the day of the scam, despite the Monetary Board having told him not to, a couple of days previously. I cannot calculate the financial loss as a whole, but I would think estimates of the Auditor General are modest, and Sri Lanka as a whole has lost a trillion rupees. All to fill the pockets of those involved as well as the UNP, with this insidious method having been employed so that Ranil’s groupies could go around claiming that his hands are clean.
Q: What do you feel about the manner in which the government handled the situation? It allowed committees to investigate the matter and even Ravi Karunanayake had to resign from his post as the Finance Minister. Do you think that the approach of the government was positive overall?
A: The truth is being extracted very slowly because the government has been trying to dodge the issue – beginning with the ridiculous committee Ranil appointed. The President, who is clearly not involved, wanted an inquiry the moment he heard what had happened, but Ranil put him off by appointing a group of UNP lawyers, with a mandate that was designed to obfuscate. But even his own men declared, contrary to his initial lies, that there was a problem, though their mandate did not allow them to investigate it properly.
Ranil suppressed that report for as long as he could, and lied about its contents. When it finally saw the light of day, he did not allow Parliament to debate the matter, but he could not avoid a COPE inquiry, though he asked his agents to delay matters as long as possible. When the report was about to come out, he had the President bullied into dissolving Parliament, and then hoped the matter would be forgotten.
Though he claimed the new COPE would investigate, there were long delays before Handunetti could start work. I think Ranil thought that matters could be swept under the carpet, but he forgot that he and Mahendran had been bullying people who cannot be bullied, and they continued to give evidence without fear. So in the end the second COPE report was also damning, though again it did not examine Ranil’s own role, which it should have done.
Then the President appointed a Committee of Inquiry, and government officials have done a good job in presenting evidence, though it is a pity that Ranil and Malik and Kabir, who have been cited by Mahendran as the main forces behind his bullying have not as yet been summoned. What this means is that the last dregs of Good Governance in this government, as represented by the President, are trying to get at the truth, but the more powerful forces of crookedness are delaying as much as possible. Ravi in the end went because he was stupid enough to accept a gift, or did not stop his wife accepting this, but that is not necessarily related to the bond issue. It remains to be seen whether those who conceived the whole scam are swiftly brought to justice.
Q:What could the Government do to rebuild people’s trust in good governance?
A: In the first place, allow for the Prime Minister and Malik Samarawickrema and Kabir Hashim to be questioned, and then if there is sufficient evidence, indict them along with Mahendran and Aloysius.
Second, the President should treat his manifesto seriously, and push through the reforms he promised, in particular the structural changes that would limit the possibilities of this sort of dishonesty, and encourage public servants to be independent and productive.
Q: Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was removed from the position of Justice Minister. Do you think the UNP did the right thing by stripping him of his position? What is your opinion of Rajapakshe’s actions as Justice Minister?
A: Rajapakshe has not done anything wrong as Justice Minister; in fact he has behaved very well in not attempting to influence the work of agencies under that Ministry, whereas the UNP wants them to be bullied into indicting those they fear.
Unfortunately for the country he spoke about the Hambantota deal in a manner that allowed those who wanted him out to claim he had violated Cabinet responsibility. So he is gone, because it badly affects the balance of the Cabinet, and the influence of sycophants will increase.
However the fact that he did not show cause when asked, suggests that he did this deliberately, and is quite content to be out of the mess. Certainly his position in the country at large is much stronger and, if the UNP ever allows fair elections again, he will benefit from what has happened.
Q:Minister Thalatha Atukorale has replaced Rajapakshe as Justice Minister. Do you think this is a good choice?
A: I personally feel that this was a safe bet as Atukorale has not been a polarizing figure that would draw ire form the Joint Opposition.
I am very glad Thalatha has been appointed in that this is the first time Ranil has had to give a reasonable position to someone who clearly cannot stand him. Though she is a loyal member of the UNP, I do not think she will try to bully the agencies under her to cut corners in trying to eliminate political enemies.
Q:The Joint Opposition has brought a No Confidence Motion against Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne. How successful do you think this move would be?
A: I believe most elements in government will rally round Rajitha, and the motion will fail, but a lot of things will come out that will make it clear that he too is not as straight as he should be – even though I do not think he is in the same league of crookedness as Ranil and Malik and Kabir.
The recent report about his wife insisting of appointments to people from Kalutara is indicative of a mentality that makes it clear talk of good governance was basically hypocritical. Of course he may claim, as Ravi did, that he had no idea what his wife was up to, but I hope that the Opposition will press, not only for her to resign, but for there to be no more appointments of family members to positions in the private office of ministers.
Certainly the debate will show that his claims about holding the last government accountable are more for political gain than commitment to basic principles of good governance. Quite obviously, he has done nothing since January 2015 to help the President fulfil the important promises of his manifesto.
Q: There seems to be some criticism against the appointment of Rear-Admiral Travis Sinniah as the new Commander of the Navy as he served four years as a security advisor for the US Embassy in Colombo. How would you weigh in on this?
A: I am glad we have a Tamil Navy Commander, but I think it is a pity he worked for a foreign government, and our government should have been aware of a possible conflict of loyalties. But I suspect the Chinese are wise to what might be happening. Though I feel the port deal should have been negotiated more sensibly, I am glad the Chinese will not allow this country to become simply another base for the Americans alone.