President Maithri looking for a Foreign Minister as ministers wage a war on AG

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2017-08-13

BY GAGANI WEERAKOON

It completed 12 years on Saturday, since the country lost one of its finest Foreign Affairs Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar to a bullet of an LTTE sniper. It remains a fact that his successors were far from being on par with Kadirgamar in executing duties as the Foreign Minister or gaining international as well as local respect and recognition. However, the office once treated as one of the prestigious institutions in the country, today faces a crisis of finding a suitable head to take the reins.

If put it simply, President Maithripala Sirisena is facing a challenge of finding an individual to be appointed to his Cabinet as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, ever since the former Minister Ravi Karunanayake was 'forced' to step down after being accused of abetting a scam of over Rs 10 billion involving Treasury bonds. He clearly seemed to be torn between selecting a better one from prospective nominations put before him, which includes another who already faced allegations of dealing with fraudsters who allegedly gained billions of rupees, during the past regime.

What is alarming at the moment, after the whole drama of stepping down and alleged corruptions unfolded, is that the entire bandwagon is ganging up to shoot the messenger – the Attorney General's Department for doing what they are supposed to do.

It is a prolonged grievance that the Attorney General's Department is synonymous with lethargy. Yet, how can anyone point fingers at that government institution for showing any sign of coming out of that phase of lethargy? Is it because the AG's Department chose a case involving the so-called Yahapalana Government? As of the things unfolded in the past week, it seems the very people who boast about taking bold steps to ensure the prevalence of good governance are going against those who took up such matters with all seriousness. Questions are being asked about the genuineness of those in the government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and their commitment towards good governance.

The main grievance of ministers and those representing the United National Front Government (led by UNP), is that law enforcement authorities are not showing the same interest when taking action against those charged with offences or cases filed against the members of former regime.

Operation Ravi

At the last Cabinet meeting the Ministers did not discuss Karunanayake at length, but there were heated words exchanged over the conduct of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the alleged Bond Scam and the Attorney General's Department.

President Sirisena, while firing back at those who indirectly pointed a finger at him over the conduct of senior Additional Solicitor General Dappula de Livera at the Presidential Commission inquiring Treasury bond scam pointed out that he did not appoint the commission with the intention of singling out UNP ministers or members. He also pointed out that the decision to appoint a presidential commission was not taken arbitrarily but in consultation with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

President, after being made aware that Minister Karunanayake and several UNP ministers are under the impression that ASG de Livera is acting according to the whims of the President, because his wife has been appointed to the National Child Protection Authority, made it clear that all he did was approving a nomination by Minister of Women Affairs Chandrani Bandara. Coming to his Defence, Minister Bandara told her Cabinet colleagues that it was she who recommended the individual to be appointed to the NCPA because "she has all the qualifications to the post".

Soon after the Cabinet meeting, Karunanayake who did not attend the weekly Cabinet meeting came to meet President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat. At the Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne informed both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe not to discuss anything about Karunanayake or contact him, as the latter has already made his mind to step-down and would come to the secretariat at any minute.

Senaratne was aware of this as Karunanayake, who remained adamant for more than a week, finally informed him Tuesday evening that he was ready to step down in the name of the party.

Senaratne who is known to be a close friend of Karunanayake, was tasked to deal with Karunanayake by PM Wickremesinghe and Ven. Thiniyawala Palitha Thera after they failed to convince Karunanayake.

Karunanayake, Ven. Palitha Thera and Senaratne were to meet on Monday evening at Senaratne's residence to discuss the matter but could not do so as a team of medical specialists from USA visited the latter.

Senratne and Ven. Palitha Thera met Karunanayake early morning on Tuesday (8) and Karunanayake, as he told the Prime Minister before, said there was no need for him to resign as he believes he was not guilty.

Seneratne had pointed out that both the government and the UNP are in danger due to this situation as there is a massive campaign against Karunanayake to step down. "There is no harm in taking a step back in difficult times, as it may give you a chance to leap two steps ahead," Senaratne pointed out.

Karunanayake after considering Senaratne's political lessons carefully, had finally decided to give in. As Senaratne predicted, Karunanayake's decision paid well for him, for the party and for the government in return.

Karunanayke made a special statement in Parliament which obviously succeeded in turning the table for the government and largely to the UNP. The speech –which quoted almost all religious scriptures – was carefully drafted under the guidance of Premier Wickremesinghe.

Meanwhile, a group of UNF Parliamentarians are asking President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to clarify their stand on specifically named senior officials of the Attorney General's Department.

The group handed over a letter of demand to this effect, to the office of the Prime Minister. This comes after the conduct of two senior-most officials of the Attorney General's Department , who are on the Presidential Commission inquiring into the Treasury Bond scam, were criticized and their conduct questioned by many Government MPs and Ministers after former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ravi Karunanayake gave evidence before the Commission last week.

In what seemed like an apt response, ASG Yasantha Kodagoda making a special statement before the Commission investigating the Bond Scam on Friday said that people making allegations on how 8,600 pages of data was gone into were 'illiterate'.

Karunanayake in his resignation speech yesterday questioned as to how such a large volume of data was deciphered and accused the Attorney General of a 'conspiracy'.

"That is how 8,600 pages were scanned and details found within 48 hours. Not because I am a genius who could go through all those pages, obviously, illiterate people would think so, but literate people will know that it was done using the search engine of the PDF file," Kodagoda said.

Referring to how the data which detailed Ravi Karunanayake's close association with Arjun Aloysius, including Aloysius' request for minutes of the monetary board meetings on 28 November 2016 – Kodagoda said it was only illiterate people who would make such allegations.

JVP not happy

With the resignation of Karunanayake from the ministerial post a new dialogue has surfaced. While his party says his action was the characteristic of good governance, the defeated Rajapaksa group says it is a victory for them.

"Any perpetrator would not become innocent when he sheds clothes he was wearing at the time of the crime and puts on new clothes. Ravi Karunanayaka did not become the innocent party when the financial portfolio he held when he got involved in the bond dealing was removed from him and he was given the foreign affairs portfolio. Ravi Karunanayaka's resignation is not a punishment for the fraud he committed. Several matters that could be held against Ravi Karunanayaka were revealed at the Commission," JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.

He pointed out that Karunanayaka was the Minister of Finance on 27 February 2015, the day the Central Bank Bond scam was committed. Due to the questionable dealing, the Prime Minister appointed a committee of lawyers to carry out an investigation. Also, COPE commenced its investigation in August 2015. Arjuna Mahendran was accused of the illegal transaction and his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius was accused of earning illegal profits from the transaction. Ravi Karunanayake, as the Minister of Finance, has obtained a monthly rent of Rs 1.45 million from the accused. It is definitely a bribe taking, he opined.

"Also, it was revealed at the Commission Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had sent a dateless letter to Arjuna Mahendran stating the necessity of funds. This letter was with Arjuna Mahendran. The letter is evidence to show that Ravi Karunanayake used the ministerial portfolio to protect Arjun Aloysius. Also, Ravi Karunanayake bought the house he had rented out for Rs 165 million. The money he received for this had been kept in a safe without any document. There is no receipt to show that it had been deposited in a safe. There is a doubt that this could be black money. As such, Ravi Karunanayake could be tried under the Bribery Act, Penal Code and Money Laundering Act. Hence, we ask the government to take legal action against him immediately. However, according to speeches made by government ministers after Ravi Karunanayake resigned would not indicate such action would be taken against him," the JVP noted.

Those in the government say Ravi's act could be taken as an example. We tell the children and the people in this country not to take Ravi Karunanayake as a model. Made to resign after stealing, due to the opposition of the people and when a No-Confidence Motion was due is not a characteristic of good governance. The sole intention of the Presidential Commission was to investigate the bond scam. Karunanayake's exposure was a bi-product.

Appointing Marapana

Speculations were high that Minister Tilak Marapana is the most sought after successor of Karunanayake. Even though, it has made mandatory to appoint a UNP member as the Foreign Minister as per the MoU signed between the UNP and SLFP in forming the government, sources close to President said that he is extremely concerned about the appointment as Marapana already was compelled to resign in 2015.

This was after several Cabinet Ministers and civil society leaders expressed their concern on Marapana's justifying he Avant Garde armoury.

"Since an investigation is underway about the Avant Garde issue, I have decided to tender my resignation," Marapana who was the former Legal Advisor to the Avant Garde Security Service said announcing his resignation.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was preparing to table a Motion of No-Confidence against Tilak Marapana over the Avant-Garde issue at the time.

Marapana told Parliament that he believes the whole controversy surrounding the Avant Garde issue is a result of a lack of understanding regarding the floating armoury and Police officers eager to "gain points" with the new Government. "I think the reason for such confusion is due to the lack of knowledge regarding the floating armoury," he said.

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