(Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Island” of September 8th 2017 Under the heading “Bonds, White cloth and Desertion)
No sooner had incriminating evidence of insider trading emerged before the presidential commission of inquiry probing the bond scams against Perpetual Treasuries bigwigs than the High Court judgment in the sil redi case was delivered on Thursday. Former Secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and ex-Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) Lalith Weeratunga and former TRCSL Director General Anusha Pelpita were sentenced to three years RI and fined.
One may argue that the controversial distribution of sil redi (pieces of white cloth worn by Buddhists observing sil) does not bear comparison with the bond scams. But, they are not without some similarities in that they caused massive losses to the state and were carried out at the behest of top politicians. It was to help the then incumbent President Rajapaksa in the presidential fray garner more votes that the UPFA government distributed sil redi. The first bond scam would not have come about if the UNP hadn’t been cash strapped at the time of the last general election. Those who stuck their necks out for their political masters have got into trouble in both cases.
Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena has received praise for appointing the current presidential commission of inquiry, which has, so far, lived up to people’s expectations. But, he has only sought to atone for a grave political sin and got the wheel reinvented, so to speak. It may be recalled that criminal action against the bond racketeers was recommended by the Attorney General’s Department more than two years ago as we have pointed out in this space previously. President Sirisena had no qualms about resorting to politically motivated action in favour of the bond racketeers and their political masters in mid 2015. He acted out of expediency rather than principle.
On June 30, 2015 the AG’s Department, having perused a file the CID submitted on the first bond scam, recommended criminal action. The file (No: C/187/161/2015) was handed over to a senior state counsel of the department. President Sirisena dissolved Parliament before the submission of the report of the COPE, headed by D. E. W. Gunasekera, on the first bond scam and a general election was held in August 2015. A joint administration was formed thereafter.
The AG’s department surreptitiously terminated criminal action; it recommended civil action instead, for obvious reasons, and turned the file into a confidential one (CF/08/2015). Another senior AG’s Department official, working within the parameters his bosses had set, recommended that a civil case be filed against Perpetual Treasuries to recover losses. But, that file has since gone missing. Had criminal action been taken against the bond racketeers in 2015 they would have been in prison by now; they would not have been able to carry out the second bond racket in 2016 and there would have been no need for the ongoing presidential probe!
Intriguingly, neither President Sirisena nor the Joint Opposition nor any anti-corruption NGO has called for an investigation into the AG’s Department file which has gone missing. The bond commission investigators have succeeded in retrieving deleted data from the Perpetual Treasuries’ voice logger system and furnishing damning evidence against the bond racketeers. It was no mean achievement and they deserve public plaudits. But, nobody has cared to trace the aforesaid missing file containing a wealth of information about the first bond scam!
Yesterday, when the sil redi judgment was delivered not a single UPFA politician was present in the court house. Former President Rajapaksa and/or his siblings should have been there. The Rajapaksas are responsible for what has befallen Weeratunga and Pelpita. UNP politicians are conspicuous by their absence when Perpetual Treasuries big guns are grilled before the presidential commission of inquiry. Let all those who work for politicians bear in mind that they must not commit any transgressions to please politicians because their political masters won’t leap to their defence when they get into trouble.