If you need to get a pretty good idea of how donkeys behave in the wild breathing freedom’s intoxicating air, look no further than to the unbridled antics of a privileged few who make regular visits to Delft Island, where, deaf and blind to the pressing needs of those whose interests they claim to represent, they selfishly indulge in asinine romps that cause near irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystem and threaten the well being of its inhabitants.
It is patently clear that the Rajapaksa rebels, enjoying the freedom of the wild ass without fearing the lash of the party whip, have now come to dominate the largest opposition group in Parliament — the SLFP; and President Sirisena’s tenuous hold on the party as its president has not been able to stem the rising tide.
They have been lured, one by one, into serving the insidious aims of this odious Rajapaksa Caucus and today they have it in their power to topple the UNP-led Maithripala government.
It is not because they love Sirisena less, but because they owe their allegiance to Rajapaksa more. The powers, the privileges, the perks they lavishly enjoyed at public expense under that corruption-tainted regime and the newfangled fantasy of reliving those halcyon days with all sins swept under the carpet still serve to prop hope and act as an umbilical cord which is hard to sever. Even as Mahinda Rajapaksa repeatedly emphasises to television cameras in political clichés made on temple ground after attending Bodhi poojas that the ‘Rajapaksa are not rogues’, the men and women who slaved as ministers and MPs during his long double innings in office, perhaps wish to demonstrate they are not ingrates.
Last Friday the SLFP and its UPFA bedfellows handed over to the Secretary General of Parliament a motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressing that they have no confidence in his abilities to discharge the duties of his office.
It is allegedly signed by 112 of its parliamentary members. If it is taken up and successfully passed, it will result in the immediate dissolution of the entire Maithripala Cabinet and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s brief five-month tenure as the nation’s prime minister for the third time will come to a premature end.
So why have they lost all confidence in this highly respected Prime Minister suddenly? Why do they think he is grossly unfit to hold that high office? What makes these self-proclaimed nationally minded patriotic members selflessly believe that the PM is bad news to the country to such a keen degree that his immediate removal from office justifies the concomitant risk of plunging this nation into further depths of instability?
Is it because these honourable members have finally awoken to the notion — as a growing number of those who voted for Maithripala Sirisena have come to entertain — that the Government has gone soft in its professed election winning declaration to crack down on corruption and to bring the corrupt to justice? Is it because they, like the public, have come to notice that a certain lukewarm attitude is being presently adapted to the crackdown effort and no serious push is being taken in its pursuit? Or whether, as the people are increasingly given to wonder, shady political horse deals done behind closed for electoral gains have necessitated less use of the studded spurs to goad probes to go the whole distance?
Nothing of the sort. The grounds for their no confidence in the PM is more parochial, designed purely to gain political advantage and executed only to further their narrow self interests. It is to enable Rajapaksa to light his cigar from the flame of Sirisena’s last few burning keratinous filaments.
Take a look at the litany of charges in the Book of Common Motions made by the sainted 112. What, pray, are the unforgivable transgressions that have given rise to vindicate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s excommunication?
THE FIRST SIN is economic mismanagement as evidenced, it is claimed, by rising prices of essential goods and falling rupee against the dollar. The fact that the prices of many essential good, including the price of the all important fuel, were slashed in January seems to have been conveniently ignored. But, apart from that, rises and falls in the market are in the long run determined by demand and supply and world trends. But considering the overall state of the economy, has it been plunged into recession in these last five months due to irresponsible and grossly negligent acts by Ranil Wickremesinghe who is not even the Minister of Finance?
Furthermore has the opposition paused to reflect whether its inane selfish acts done to advance its own self interest and dodge the corruption crackdown may have contributed, nay, may even have been the sole cause for any instability prevailing in the government which does not augur well for the economy’s soundness?
THE SECOND SIN alleged is that development projects started by the previous regime have been stopped. Most of these projects had been commissioned without following proper tender procedures, without proper appraisals, without realistic cost evaluations. All that the present government has done is to begin reviewing these mega projects and has not officially stopped any permanently.
THE THIRD SIN is that diplomatic ties with countries friendly to Lanka have been strained. This is a canard so grievous that it pains one to hear it uttered; a form of penance a nation must endure to have so incongruous men in politics.
Never was this small nation so isolated by the world than during the failed state era of the Rajapaksa regime. Never was she so condemned and studiously avoided by all as the pariah of the civilised community of nations, except perhaps by the black corrupt despots in the darkest bush of Africa.
Even China — who, in her military quest to drape the Indian Ocean with a strategic necklace of pearls cultivated Lanka assiduously appeared as the only cultured friend with whom relations were not strained -chose to voice her concerns over the Rajapaksa regime’s human rights track record at the United Nations when she was elected as a member to the UN’s Human Rights Commission in September 2013.
Britain, the United States and the European Union nations, one by one, closed their doors to Lanka’s emissaries and all Sinhalese were treated almost as persona non grata. The sins of the leaders visited the citizens in no uncertain terms. And as for India — to which country Lanka owes her religion, her culture, her arts, her traditions, and her ethos — she couldn’t bear the nauseating stench emanating from her closet neighbour across the Palk Strait that outsoared her sewers. Her then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh snubbed host President Rajapaksa and, like the Queen of England, shunned the Colombo CHOGM 2013.
India’s then Foreign Minister Salman Kurshid also took the opportunity to publicly express India’s private decision to disown Lanka from the family circle. He told a Lankan journalist: “Please don’t call India Big Brother any more as you have done through history”. India’s cutting words to Lanka were clear, “You ain’t no thambi of mine.”
Then, Lanka’s foreign policy was based on egocentricity instead of the nation’s permanent interests and her foreign relations were mainly focussed on how best to accommodate the many relatives of the First Family in top posts at foreign missions. With such a disastrous track record behind them, what hardened effrontery drives the Rajapaksa rebels to charge Wickremesinghe as being responsible for ‘straining ties with foreign countries friendly to Lanka’? And he is not even the Foreign Minister.
Today, President Maithripala Sirisena has opened a new window to the world. Nations that once spurned Lanka’s hand now rush to kiss it. India has welcomed Lanka back to the SAARC fold and now the leaders of these two nations meet as brother and brother on equal terms. US Secretary of State has a sleep over in Lanka and even takes time off to visit Buddhist temples and open Vesak Thoran or pandals. The UN Secretary General welcomes the new government. The Human Rights Commissioner delays his scheduled March report on Lanka’s War Crime. Suddenly Lanka has become the belle of the ball and everyone wants to waltz with her. Much to the chagrin of the Rajapaksa rebels, even the Chinaman slits his eyes and gives a wink.
THE FOURTH SIN is the controversial Treasury bond issue and the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central bank. Yahapalanaya or good governance is not infallible. The Maithripala Government is after all not the Roman Catholic Church or its Cabinet the papal curia. It does not aspire to claim it is immune from all liability to err.
The test of yahapalanaya is how a government responds when it has committed a mistake. A complaint lodged against Mr. Mahendran at the Bribery Commission is being investigated and his passport has been impounded. Wickremesinghe appointed a three member committee to inquire and their report though it exonerates the Governor has not been accepted by all sections. And rightly so, for it is tainted with claims of partiality and has given rise to legitimate concerns. As for Mahendran being a non national, not a single member of the SLFP and UPFA made a hum when former president Rajapaksa appointed his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, an American citizen enjoying dual citizenship status, as the all important Defence Secretary at the height of the terrorist war.
Since then the whole affair has been referred to the independent parliamentary committee, namely, Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) which comprises representatives of all political parties in Parliament. It is also headed by the veteran 89-year-old Communist Party member UPFA MP, D. E. W. Gunasekera.
But even before this committee has concluded its investigations and forwarded its finding to parliament, 112 members of parliament jump the gun and list the Treasury bond affair as a ground that justifies the removal of the prime minister. They rush to prejudge the prime minister and hold him guilty even before their own committee, appointed for that self same task, has passed its verdict. In their indecent haste to indict and convict Wickremesinghe on charges that would be laughed out of court, they have not paused to consider the evidence currently being gathered by their own team.
These are the same men and women now braying for the premier’s blood even before he is pronounced guilty who were neither shocked nor shaken and suffered no loss of confidence in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne when the scandalous news broke in December 2013 that he had authorised his secretary to issue a letter dated August 23, 2013 on behalf of the prime minister, on a prime ministerial letter head emanating from the prime minister’s office requesting the Customs to release a container load of grease which was found to hold a record haul of heroin worth over Rs. 2 billion on the street.
Have the supposed sins of Wickremesinghe — by any stretch of imagination — come anywhere close to the grievous errors of judgment made without inquiry by the former prime minister of the Rajapaksa rebels which would have further devastated the health and morals of this nation’s seed and blossom and created a teeming colony of new heroin junkies breeding more social ills on Lankan soil — thanks to its former PM DM’s gross negligence? Could ignorance have excused such a serious lapse of diligence, especially when the tragedy that would have befallen, if not for the sharp Customs officials, would have been on a scale unimaginable?
THE FIFTH SIN is that they have lost all confidence in Wickremesinghe because he has launched a ‘political witch hunt’ against corrupt politicians and that he has usurped the powers of the Inspector General of Police to do so by the establishment of the Financial Criminal Investigative Division (FCID).
President Maithripala’s main manifesto promise, echoed by Wickremesinghe as his prime minister designate, was to root out corruption and corrupt elements in society and to bring them to justice. Can the president keep his pledge to the nation if the task is merely left to the existing police force to do the job successfully without first being adequately supported with the necessary wherewithal?
The FCID is a highly specialised unit with special skills needed to investigate major financial crimes, frauds, unsolicited mega projects, money laundering, terrorist financing and other related crimes. Can the ordinary cop on the beat handle such complicated financial crimes without possessing the necessary training, experience and expertise the challenge demands and which the FCID was established to provide? Are these the sort of crimes that routinely appear in the daily police log?
The establishment of this special unit is not an act designed to usurp the IGP’s powers. If at all it only enhances it. As a subsidiary agency coming under the IGP, it is a special unit dedicated to tackle a specific area of crime. The unit has been placed under the command of the IGP, in the same manner the Vice Squad has been operating for ages.
Furthermore the existence now of an independent and respected judiciary ensures that the rights of those under investigation and those facing arrests are strictly safeguarded. Take the case of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who recently obtained an interim order from the Supreme Court that prevents the police from arresting him until his rights case is taken up four months hence in October.
Are the Rajapaksa rebels saying they have no confidence in the Prime Minister merely because he is spearheading the crackdown against corruption as promised to the nation? Don’t the rebels wish to see those politicians who plundered the people’s wealth brought to justice? Don’t they want to see them behind bars?
THE SIXTH SIN is that Wickremesinghe has no mandate from the public to be prime minister. But isn’t it the case that Maithripala Sirisena contested the presidential election with the declared aim of establishing a national government with MPs from all sides of the political divide with Wickremesinghe as prime minister?
As the rebels plan to topple the UNP-led government with a no-confidence motion against the UNP prime minister and thereafter intend to form their own government, have they given any thought as to whether they possess any mandate whatsoever from the people?
When they have forsaken Maithripala, the man the people elected as president; when they have cast their sorry lot and joined forces with Mahinda, the man the people sent packing home barely five months ago; when they are now working overtime to bring Mahinda back to enjoy powers the people expressly denied him, are they not going against the expressed will of the people, are they not going against the tide of public opinion and making an awful splash of it? Isn’t it downright presumptuous of them to dare claim they have the people’s mandate to do what they do with barefaced impudence?
THE SEVENTH SIN is that the Prime Minister is following policies that are adverse to the private sector. What these new UNP anti-capitalist policies supposedly held by its present chief Ranil — whose uncle J. R. Jayewardene opened up the closed economy in 1977 and declared ‘let the robber barons come’, welcoming even the worst and most ruthless capitalists to exploit Lanka’s resources — are have not been spelt out. Could it be that Ranil has thrown away his green shirt and pilfered the 55-year-old fading red T shirt that retired JVP leader comrade Somawansa had hung on his clothes line to dry?
So there you have it the catalogue of charges levelled against the Prime Minister.
- True, the rebels are presently in the majority and there is strength in numbers.
- At any given time they can topple the minority government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
- But before they exercise the freedom of the wild ass should they not consider the nation’s interest first? A special duty is cast upon those who form the majority in any society.
- Purely because they have the muscle, they must not ride roughshod over the others but must consider the greater interest of the nation first?
- Above all they must listen to the voice of the people.
The rebels may want the Rajapaksas back. But do the people?