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A welcome move

One of the main pledges of the Rainbow Coalition at the Presidential and General Elections of 2015 was that all corruption cases would be investigated regardless of the political affiliations of the persons involved. When the National Unity Government was established in August 2015, there was a popular clamour for the investigation of acts of corruption committed during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime from 2005 to 2014 and the Government did indeed commence several probes into these alleged acts, some of which are still going on.

However, both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made it very clear that any acts of corruption or irregularity committed by those in the ranks of the two ruling parties will also not be tolerated in the same vein. True to their word, a number of high-profile ministers had to resign over certain allegations which have not even been proved yet.

It was also on this basis that the Government appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the issuance of Treasury Bonds from January 2015 onwards. The Commission ended its proceedings after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave evidence – which was itself a historic first, as a sitting Prime Minister has never been previously called to appear before a Presidential Commission of Inquiry or other such body. Such an occurrence would have been unthinkable under any other administration in any case. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the transparent mechanisms put in place by the Government have paved the way for credible investigations by various agencies of the Government.

While one can indeed comprehend the need for proving the post-2015 bond issues in the light of the facts that have come to light, many independent observers had questioned why the Treasury Bonds issuances from 2008 to 2014 are not being subjected to the same scrutiny by the investigating agencies as well as by the media. According to available evidence, these are much more problematic than the post-2015 issuances.

Now Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has rightly declared that these bond transactions will also be investigated once the on-going Presidential Commission probe into the Bonds issue concludes its work. Though belated, this is a welcome move. Making a special statement in the House on Thursday, the Prime Minister likened the method followed in Treasury Bonds issuances till 2015, to a pyramid scam.

Tabling a report obtained from the Central Bank on Treasury Bonds issuances from 2008-2014, the PM said the overwhelming majority of Bonds had been issued on direct private placements and that the process seriously lacked transparency. During the said period, Rs.5,147 billion worth of Bonds had been issued and out of that, Rs 4,702 billion had been direct private placements. Thus direct private placements accounted for 90 per cent of the total Bond issuances and the total value of Bonds issued from the public auction method stood at only Rs 435.5 billion. On the other hand, the present Government had only raised Rs.157.5 billion through direct private placements on four occasions since 2015.

It is clear that the bonds had been issued to a few selected primary dealers at arbitrarily decided interest rates without Monetary Board approval from 2008-2014. There is no doubt that the direct private placement method had been heavily misused under the previous regime. This must be investigated with the same vigor and speed exhibited by the relevant authorities which probed the post-2015 bond issues. Needless to say, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as irregularities committed by the previous regime are concerned.

The present Government deserves plaudits for opting to shift to public auctioning, which is much more transparent and effective. US experts will help streamline this process. This is essential as the Government will have to raise more money through bonds in the future to meet development and economic targets aligned with the ‘Vision 2025’ plan. Moreover, a stronger economy will be a prerequisite to erase the debt burden that has primarily resulted from an uncontrolled borrowing spree by the previous regime.

It was also well known that the Colombo Stock Exchange was propped up during the previous regime through various scams to show some really amazing statistics found nowhere else in the world. The Prime Minister has also pledged to probe these large scale scams in the Stock Market, which is now performing well without any such artificial boost.

The Good Governance (Yahapalanaya) Government has ushered in a new political culture that aims to tackle corruption and malpractices at multiple levels without any fear or favour. As the Premier noted, this is a new experience of consensual governance and a complicated process. The road ahead is long and hard and the Government will have to negotiate the occasional traps and mistakes in this mission.

These can happen in the process of governance, but it is important to go forward after rectifying them. Significantly, the Government has promised not to cover up any wrong doing, trample the supremacy of the law and bury social justice in doing so. The voters who placed their confidence in the Rainbow Coalition deserve nothing less. 


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Is observing the promises in the breach with political vengence dflfsthe wise move?


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