After much hype, the much awaited findings of Parliament’s Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) inquiry into the sale of Central Bank bonds were revealed last week. It cast former Governor Arjuna Mahendran in a poor light and called for legal action against him.
In the run up to the release of the report, the United National Party (UNP) members of the committee reportedly wanted to dilute its findings. Eventually they too were signatories to the document, albeit with footnotes.
The entire episode is a reflection of the changing face of Sri Lankan politics and depicts the good, the bad and the ugly of what has transpired recently in the murky political landscape of the country.
The collective opposition has been quick to pounce on what the COPE report has revealed. They want inquiries, commissions and punishments meted out to those responsible. They even want the resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
It is true that Premier Wickremesinghe didn’t do himself any favours in the entire saga relating to Mahendran. The Prime Minister needs to rethink and review his political strategy and the decisions he took in trying to defend Mahendran’s conduct. These are issues that will continue to haunt him in the political arena.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister did allow the COPE report to be presented in Parliament and has assured that the matter will now be referred to the Attorney General for further action.
However, the sight of opposition stalwarts, particularly from the Joint Opposition (JO), many of whom are themselves involved in multiple court proceedings over allegations of amassing immense amounts of wealth under questionable circumstances, castigating Wickremesinghe is ridiculous.
Two individuals emerge from the COPE findings with their reputations intact. President Maithripala Sirisena deserves credit for taking the bold decision not to re-appoint Mahendran as Central Bank Governor when his initial tenure ended in June this year.
The fallout, had Mahendran still been occupying the Governor’s chair when the COPE findings were released last week would have been considerable and the integrity and reputation of the Bank would have taken a massive hit. The President was under significant pressure to let Mahendran continue but he did not relent. For that, he must be commended.
The unsung hero in this whole exercise is COPE Chairman and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) parliamentarian Sunil Handuneththi.
Handuneththi was also under immense pressure, reportedly from UNP members in his committee but did not yield. When the going got tough, he got going – walking out of COPE sittings in protest and signalling to the UNP MPs that he was not about to play ball with them.
It is a moot point whether the UNP wanted to stifle the report. Their MPs are now publicly saying they did nothing of the sort and that they will endorse whatever legal action that is being contemplated. The truth lies buried in the nearly 2000-page findings of the committee.
Indeed, there has been much criticism of the ‘yahapaalanaya’ government and deservedly so. However, let us also not forget that all this was possible because there was a ‘yahapaalanaya’ administration in office. Had this occurred under the previous dispensation, COPE would have been doomed and no one would even dream of legal action against a Central Bank Governor who would have been a political appointee.
Still, this government is yet to prove that it is worthy of its ‘yahapaalanaya’ credentials. It can do so by following through with the COPE recommendations, initiating legal action against the Central Bank Governor and attempting to recover funds that were lost to the state as a result of the scam.
The big question now is, will the government be big enough to look back on its blunders and turn a new leaf? Already, the Bond issue has cost it a lot of public goodwill. The only way it can recover its good standing is to prosecute those responsible.
If the government can do so with the same enthusiasm that they reportedly attempted to defend those responsible, it may still be able to look the general public in the eye and say without blinking that, after all, they stand for ‘yahapaalanaya’.