The local government polls are finally upon us – complete with a new system in place just to add a dash of confusion. And of course a minimum of 25% guaranteed for female candidates. However these local government polls are designed to be a litmus test of partisan popularity.
Usually mid-way through a government, local government polls are met with a low turnout and analysts predict that the general voter apathy now underway will produce a low turnout – perhaps in the region of 50-52 per cent of the vote base. In the north they do not expect the turnout to be anywhere close to the Presidential election of 2015.
The voting public will be conscious of the principal issues that have played their own unsavoury part in the spluttering economy prevalent in Sri Lanka.
Principal amongst these issues continues to be corruption and the inability of the government to rein it in in spite of the promises made in late 2014 during the campaign to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The corruption and the apparent impunity enjoyed is no better reflected than in the scandal ridden Bondgate matter in which the special Commission of Inquiry delivered a stunning blow to a few. Special mention must be made of the duplicitous role alleged to have been played by Arjuna Mahendran the Governor handpicked by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. According to sworn testimony before the Special Commissioners, Wickremesinghe claimed to have invited Mahendran to take up the post days after the Presidential poll in January 2015. Some analysts claim that Mahendran was put on notice that he will be offered the plum job much before January 2015 – albeit pending the result.
The Bondgate commissioners resorted to the genteelness of the Queen’s language when expressing their opinion on the Prime Minister relying on Mahendran’s assurances on the issue of his son in law and his involvement in and ownership of a licensed primary dealer. For journalists at the Sunday Times and Newsfirst, it was a no brainer. The father in law Mahendran and the son in law Aloysious quite literally raided the Central Bank.
The Prime Minister’s assurance to the nation that although the losses were identified at approximately Rs 11,000,000,000 and that they had ‘blocked’ that company’s assets with the Central Bank valued at Rs 12,000,000,000 means nothing to the public. The public cannot be hoodwinked anymore. Even the most diehard UNP life member will acknowledge that the Central Bank had been raided even if RW was not in the least involved. Equally the public are aware that the Prime Minister as the man in charge of the Central Bank since January 2015 did not take pro-active steps to remove the conflict of interest position that existed with the appointment of Mahendran – instead he relied on the Mahendran assurances which the Commissioners too noted.
Ravi Karunanayake’s interpretation of the CoI report dealing with him is a pitiful swansong but one which to be fair to the public and to the Karunanayake family, must be fully tested in a court of law. Indeed the entire recommendations or observations must be so tested with least delay. It is incumbent upon President Sirisena to ensure that this be done – he must not and cannot afford for this matter to slip through his fingers. If it means the political career of some will be lost then so be it. The interests of accountability, responsibility and fair play cannot be mitigated under any circumstance.
Malik Samarawickrema was to claim that the government did not lose one red cent. If ever there was such a hocus pocus statement on the bond this must be one that works its way to the top of that list. Tongue in cheek he admits to not having read the report – yet he claims no loss. In the next breadth he maintains that the loss was Rs 11 billion but that the Central Bank is holding on to Rs 12 billion worth of assets.
Neither he nor his friend of many a year Ranil Wickremesinghe mention the Rs 6 billion profit made between the 31st of March and 30th of June 2016. These dates are significant because it is the last day of the dates given to the Commissioners to inquire into. It is also the first date of the issuance of a bond – and the 30th of June is the last day of Mahendran.
It is clear that even though the Bondgate matter was raging throughout this Fair Isle, this group did not consider genuine public concern and went about fixing and pumping and then dumping the bond to state owned institutions some of whose officers appeared to have been induced in some way or other.
There is no mention that had the Bank of Ceylon not given PTL the large facility Bondgate may never have happened.
The departure from established national tender procedure in the matter of the Central Expressway is yet another major concern to the people principally because of the vast sum of money involved.
The compensation paid out on behalf of Sri Lankan Airlines is yet another fine mess the government got into – it would have been wiser and more prudent to have cut back on the heavy workforce, paid for the new aircraft and restructured the business operation. Instead they took the easy way out – possibly because the potential for payoffs was greater and also because they did not have professionals advising them on quite how it is done.
These are the issue the public will be keen to consider before the polls amongst the host of local issues. Unfortunately the public cannot vote for an individual under the system and must vote instead for a party.
President Sirisena has shown the most promise. He has become stronger and bolder by the week these past few months. He is in effect on a roll – and we for one will not be surprised if the public rally round him, making him stronger by casting their vote in favour of his party.