Former MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who served in the COPE during the previous Parliament, in an interview with the Daily mirror spoke about the bond scam in the Central Bank and of other happenings in the political front.
Following are excerpts of the interview done with Prof. Wijesinha.
As a member of the COPE during the previous Parliament, how do you compare and contrast investigations into the bond scam now and then?
We were given an unusual task as members of the COPE in 2015, but despite limitations I think we did a good job. This was despite COPE being unable to question Ministers – typically Ranil declared that he was willing to give evidence, but we had not invited him, though presumably he knew full well he could not be summoned.
I must pay tribute to the sterling support given by the Auditor General’s Department and the honest and sometimes even emotional evidence of Central Bank staff, especially Deepa Seneviratne who almost cried when she recalled how she had been bullied by Mahendran (but had the courage to note his direct involvement in the note her Department prepared, a fact completely ignored by the rascally Pitipana Commission).
I should also note that Sujeewa Senasinghe and Rosy Senanayake were contracted by Ranil to disrupt proceedings. As told to the Chairman by another UNP member, Sujeewa and Rosy had behaved appallingly in front of the witnesses who testified about Mahendran’s appalling behaviour.
But when we were trying to issue the report, Ranil ensured that Parliament was dissolved. The President must take responsibility for letting him off the hook then and allowing a further scam to take place in 2016. But we were told that he had been pressurized by foreign envoys, who thus made clear their contempt for the claim that this Government was against corruption.
Sadly, as you know, the next COPE was not put in place for six more months. Though I believe Sunil Handunetti did a good job the report came too late to save the country from the second plundering. And though his report, and the Auditor General’s scathing denunciation of what Mahendran had done, came out before Mahendran’s term was up, the fact that the Prime Minister tried to retain Mahendran is ample proof of his complicity.
The UNP maintains that it’s absolved of any wrongdoing in the bond scam. What is your view?
Obviously the UNP is guilty, by commission as well as omission. Ranil appointing Mahendran and then clinging on to him, the visit of UNP party officials (including Malik Samarawickrema who was not a Minister at the time) to the Bank to demand money which Mahendran used as an excuse for ordering that an excessive amount be taken at high interest, Ranil continuing defence of Mahendran through the Pitipana Committee, Ravi accepting a gift which he pretended not to know and then allowing further plundering in 2016, all indicate its total involvement.
You were among the few members who defected from the then Government along with current President Maithripala Sirisena. How do you feel now?
I am very sorry that the ideals which were at the forefront then have been so conclusively betrayed. However, though the President must shoulder a share of the blame, I think he was totally misled by those around him. And just as I still feel that we should not criticize former President Rajapaksa excessively given the culpability of those around him, the same goes for President Sirisena.
I think President Rajapaksa has now realized the appalling nature of the most culpable of those to whom he gave excessive powers. Sajin de Vaas Goonewardena and Mohan Pieris, had nothing to recommend except be obsequious and ambitious. I can only hope that President Sirisena is equally perceptive. But in his case the worst influences on him were made by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, hence whether he will have the guts to show both the door is a moot point.
With regard to your question, you should note that it’s now clear that Vasantha Senanayake and I were the only individuals from within the past Government to support Sirisena for idealistic reasons, the others being either bitter about how former President Rajapaksa neglected things or unashamedly plundered wealth with no concern for the country, the latter being obvious through the squandering of state resources for an unused office for the Ministry of Agriculture. And the fact that only Duminda Dissanayake and I remained with the UPFA among those who supported Sirisena at the beginning – Vasantha Senanayake was forced out by a bizarre conspiracy between Mangala and Chandrika and hence appallingly treated – speaks volumes about the President now claiming that he is the guardian of SLFP values.
There are footnotes added to the COPE report on the controversial bond transaction. In your view, what is the real intention of these UNP members who placed footnotes on the report?
They were trying to suggest that there were flaws in the report, but clearly they failed in that effort. Now the footnotes are remembered only to register the complicity in the scam of those UNP members. It’s noteworthy that this time they left Eran Wickremaratne out of the COPE, perhaps realizing that he is too honest to defend shady behaviour. He would make a good Finance Minister perhaps, which is the post he should have had. This would have been so had Ranil not been so bitter about his role in ensuring that Ranil didn’t contest the 2015 Presidential elections.
The President said he would take steps to enact legislations to recover the monies lost to the state. How feasible is it?
It will not be difficult at all if the President is determined and finds the right people to advise him. But it would be best if he did not pursue retribution, but rather worked for restoration, which is what the country needs regarding this and in other respects. Back in 2015 I advocated that we should not press for punishment, but instead ensure transparency by publishing the assets declarations of all public figures, and then allowing people to question them. Anyone found to be unusually rich, as the Thais term it, would be given the option of returning excessive wealth, in exchange for an amnesty. The failure of this Government to have a proper Right to Information Act, and then preventing the operation of even what they have, as when the Prime Minister’s Secretary refused to release his Declaration, shows that they are not really interested in eradicating corruption.
You will remember that there was some hype recently about the recommendations of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery, which recommended diverting ‘stolen assets to building new permanent assets for public good’. They also suggest the ‘non-conviction based forfeiture’ of stolen assets and the ‘reversal of the burden of proof’. These seem to have been forgotten now and I can understand those who represented the Government at the Forum being told to keep quiet about all this. But if the President is serious he can easily move towards setting up swift mechanisms for restorative justice. Indeed, there is no need to punish even Ravi provided his apartment and other ill gotten gains are given to the public.
The UNP maintains that no loss has been caused because there are enough and more financial assets of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd that have been frozen. What is your response?
The various positions taken up by the UNP is pitiful. Malik says there is no loss to the country, while Ranil says there is a loss, but the frozen assets of Perpetual Treasuries will cover the loss. He even tries to take credit for the freezing, though it happened so late. And the fact that he is displaying his usual ignorance was made obvious by the recent decision to freeze even more, since obviously what had been frozen would not have made up the amount including a fine that the Commission indicates will be required.
What is the legality involved in prosecuting former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran responsible for this scam?
I am afraid I don’t know the legal position, but I have no doubt that laws can be introduced to ensure that justice is done. You also of course have the problem of extradition, but I would assume the Singapore Government would not stand in the way of ensuring prosecution when there is such a clear prima facie case. And I would assume you could introduce strict penalties if he continues to dodge facing trial.