The March of Folly The dance of deceit

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By 2017-10-10

By rajiva Wijesinha
Ceylon Today Features

Amongst the more endearing explanations offered by Ranil's friends for his involvement in the Bond Scam is that he was taken for a ride. The response then to the question why he defended Mahendran so vociferously is that Mahendran also was taken for a ride. Then the answer to the question why Mahendran went down to bully the Public Debt Department was that he was following instructions. I presume the same answer would have been given to the question why he insisted on appointments within the Bank that facilitated Arjun Aloysius having his wicked way with bond issues and the EPF.

The fact that Aloysius was Mahendran's son-in-law is considered irrelevant it seems, in this account of why Mahendran acted as he did, to knowingly cause such a massive loss to the country. But even if one believes that all this was done under pressure, it is clear that we will not find out from him who applied the pressure since he can now employ the Aloysius stratagem of refusing to give evidence.

I believe the Commission set a bad precedent in permitting Aloysius to get away with this stratagem, given that it has no judicial authority and is a fact finding body only. But even if it is right in the stance it took, it does have a mechanism to promote justice by ordering Aloysius' arrest on the basis of the information it already has. The case for this is strengthened by the fact that he has not just refused to testify, but was actively involved in suppressing evidence. And doing this would send a message to Mahendran that the Aloysius stratagem will hasten rather than delay judicial procedures.

But the Commission also has a wider responsibility, to find out who pushed Mahendran and Ranil to behave the way they did, on the friendly interpretation and who helped them to fulfil their dishonest desires on a more rational view. Fortunately the evidence, or rather a direction in which to search, has already been provided by Ranil himself. He declared in Parliament, in his infamous statement claiming that Parliamentarians were not capable of judging the issue, that Mahendran had acted in accordance with desires expressed by individuals who had unprecedentedly gone to the Bank to request vast amounts of money.

Amongst those individuals were two Cabinet Ministers who held office in the UNP. What Ranil did not say, is also significant. He omitted the fact that Malik Samarawickrema, the Chairman of the UNP, had accompanied the group that gave Mahendran an excuse. Fortunately Mahendran himself if I recollect aright, gave the game way in COPE in citing Malik too. It seems he thought that someone who held no executive office also had a role to play in dictating the financial policies and practices of the country – an understandable view given the massive financial obligations of the UNP at the time and the view that the interests of the country and the UNP were synonymous.

I must confess that it had not occurred to me before the evidence broke of Malik's involvement that he was dishonest. My naiveté led, way back in November 2014, to my telling him that I hoped the UNP would not bring crooks like Tilak Marapana back if Sirisena won the Presidency. My reason for this is the allegations about contracts that had been prevalent when Marapana had been Defence Minister, combined with his culpability in trying to stop the search for weapons Chandrika had insisted on, when the Tigers were bringing loads of them in on his watch under cover of the Ceasefire Agreement (in the particular case I knew best, the Norwegian monitors had found weapons whereupon they were ordered to jump overboard and the Tigers on the shipblew themselves up along with the weapons).

Malik's response was that I should not blame Marapana, there had been corruption but someone else had been responsible. Now, understanding better how his and Ranil's sense of humour works, I suspect he was talking about himself. I may be wrong, but certainly, the son of Ivan Samarawickrema has nothing like his father's integrity, just as Ranil has fallen far from the standards of Nalini Wijewardene and Cyril Wickremesinghe.

Ironically, in order to defend Ranil against the charge of dishonesty, his friends have to invoke ignorance. Given the massive amounts the country lost – far more that Aloysius made – the defence has to claim that he does not know about such financial matters. So, in effect his friends must put him in the same boat in which he placed the Members of Parliament that he declared would confuse Bank Bonds with James Bond or Brooke Bond.

A little learning then, is a very dangerous thing. The danger is compounded when those who know better or think more coherently are shoved aside, and decision making powers given to a bunch of jokers and crooks.

Was the same true when the Rajapaksas ruled? One thinks of Sajin Vas Goonewardene and shudders, but his authority was under the table as it were – though by 2014 the table was transparent and the President did not seem to care. But formal authority was in more respectable hands, and even Basil Rajapaksa actually delivered on development in a manner that Ranil, who has taken on his mantle, has failed to do.

By the time this article appears, we will know how soon this farce will be terminated. I write this early, since I shall be travelling, but if elections to Provincial Councils are held as required by the Constitution, and if President Sirisena realizes that his party and his legacy can only be saved by getting rid of the more obvious crooks, we can hope for a more balanced approach. But if the current polarization continues, the ever more frenzied dance of deceit, whoever the dancers, can only lead to the country, not the dancers, dying on its feet.

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