An unwanted battle

mahinda familyBlunders of the Rajapaksa government, more than anything else, enabled Maithripala Sirisena to become President. The incumbent administration has, through its ill-advised action, facilitated former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback!

A decision by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to summon former President Rajapaksa jolted UPFA parliamentarians into staging a fast in Parliament on Monday. Protests spilled over into the streets yesterday.

More than 110 MPs have pledged their solidarity with Rajapaksa and sent a letter to President Sirisena condemning the CIABOC action. This is a worrisome proposition for the government all out to keep Rajapaksa at bay.

The CIABOC has been a malleable tool in the hands of politicians under successive governments and the public has lost faith in it. The Rajapaksa government, too, used it to harass its rivals. Sadly, the tradition continues.

The reason for the CIABOC’s decision to summon the former President is said to be the appointment of former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake Minister of Health shortly before the last presidential election. That executive action amounts to bribery in the considered opinion of the CIABOC worthies. If so, all politicians who have obtained ministerial positions by switching their allegiance to the ruling party are bribe takers.

Interestingly, speaking to the media in Colombo, Rajapaksa argued on Monday that going by the CIABOC logic the appointment of the incumbent Prime Minister was also tantamount to bribery.

Former President Rajapaksa apparently launched a 100-day programme parallel to that of the government for making a comeback. He has not only recovered from the Jan. 08 defeat but also gone on the offensive thanks to some government politicians who provided the UPFA with a rallying point. Rubbishing allegations against him, he has demanded that the government prove its much advertised claim that he and his family members have maintained offshore accounts. The ball is now in the government’s court!

Prior to the last presidential election big guns of the Opposition alliance including defectors from the then Rajapaksa Cabinet appeared on TV, carrying heaps of files which they claimed contained irrefutable evidence of corrupt deals under the Rajapaksa government. Now, they ask the people to provide them with information about corruption!

The UNP-led coalition carried out its presidential election campaign on an anti-corruption platform, inter alia, with a promise to abolish the executive presidency and grant relief to the public scraping a living. It had people believe that it would leave no stones unturned in its efforts to bring those responsible for ‘mega corrupt deals’ which deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees, to justice. Their claims, albeit unsubstantiated, helped them garner votes to defeat President Rajapaksa.

Now, the onus is on them to prove their claims without trotting out lame excuses. Media circuses and having their rivals questioned by the CIABOC or the CID for hours on end won’t do. The government must honour its pledge to arraign the crooks of the previous dispensation on charges of bribery and corruption. However, legal action against them must be devoid of political motives if it is not to be seen to be part of a vilification campaign. Regrettably, almost all bribery and corruption probes during the last several decades have been politically motivated except the ones against the ordinary people like coroners, clerks, peons and police constables.

It was a supreme irony that the CIABOC decision to summon Rajapaksa led to the Chairman of that outfit being summoned to Parliament due to the MPs’ protest. One way of avoiding such unfortunate situations is to restore the independent commissions introduced by the 17th Amendment so that the practice of politicians’ lackeys being appointed to the CIABOC will be discontinued.