From Rajapaksa to Bond Scam; Clean up Political Parties First         

Much is written about Arjuna Mahendran and the "Bond scam". This is only the first Bond scam that is talked of while the second needs investigations. In any other decent, democratic society, that would have demanded for a "Ranexit". Not here in this "most noble country" on planet earth. In fact Bond deals are not the only shady deals taking place under "Yahapalanaya" and Arjuna Mahendran is not the only man under the clouds to be in the dock, IF, let me stress, if investigations are carried out impartially, efficiently and effectively.

Most other mega corruptions tend to go unnoticed or quietly dropped, as "Yahapalana hurrah boys" in Colombo circles don't wish to make it "uneasy" for Wickramasinghe, they are comfortable with. That was precisely the logic with three respectable good governance activists who went to the Supreme Court in March, 2015 with a fundamental rights petition on the February 2015 Bond deal, the first of the two. They refrained from petitioning the SC on a fraud in the bond deal. Instead petitioned the SC to direct the Monetary Board to have stricter procedures, rules and regulations in place, for transparency and good governance. Their reluctance to call the spade a spade in order to avoid embarrassing their government, saw the FR petition being rejected. Worst, it gave Arjuna Mahendran and the Wickramasinghe government a chance to say, the SC has ruled him as "clean". Far worse, it gave the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank enough confidence to go for another Bond deal in March this year that too needs to be investigated.

With that, if one dares to compare the first 02 years of Rajapaksa rule with this "Yahapalana" government's 22 months since January 2015, everything stinks to the bones. The first 02 to 03 years or even up to the conclusion of the war in 2009 May, Rajapaksa corruption was in line with that under Chandrika Kumaratunge's presidency. Chandrika era was no clean and there were serious allegations, some proved and some not that prompted editor/journalist Victor Ivan to chronicle her as a "Bandit Queen". That was corruption that kept growing since the "open" economy was introduced in 1978. Premadasa era had more allegations on corruptions than in the Jayawardne era. Kumaratunge era that began by promising a "human face" to the free market economy surpassed the Premadasa era in terms of big corruption. Rajapaksa continued with that in the first few years. The only mega deal reported during the first 02 years was that on Mig air craft purchases, which Lasantha Wickramatunge investigated and perhaps fell victim to. Taking over from Rajapaksa, this Wickramasinghe led "Yahapalana" government has a long list that goes without attention and with no loud cry for investigations.

A week ago, a letter written by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to the Central Bank (CB) Governor Coomaraswamy went viral. He had requested a special favour for Minister Sarath Fonseka's son in law in granting the security contract advertised by the CB. That drove a chill deep down the Colombo middle class. It provoked the loud retort "OMG! When will this stop?" by a well respected legal expert who had a copy of that letter in her "in-box". Yes, when will it stop? For sure, it will NOT stop, unless it is made to stop with determination, by the society. The question is, where and how could it begin?

Let's be honest and be bold enough to own up that we keep voting political parties to power that are wholly corrupt and undemocratic without ever questioning their bona fide. Let's face the truth, we keep changing governments between political parties that can never be democratic and clean. No leader is interested in having clean and independent men and women in their party organisations. Political parties are run with State patronage if in power, or with funding from wheeler dealers when in opposition. Irrespective of political colour and rhetoric, all political leaders and their selected henchmen use political power in bargaining stakes from all State sponsored projects when in government. This free and open market economy is run on such greasy deals and cannot be run in any other way, whoever comes to power.

Instead of holding political leaders responsible for corruption, Colombo 'pundits' argued the "preference" vote in the PR election system is what corrupted politics. In the old "first past the post" (FPP) electoral system, they argued, the elected MP was held responsible to the constituency and therefore was not easily induced to corruption. Indian parliamentary and State government elections since opening up the economy prove this argument totally wrong. India still continues with the FPP system. At the last parliamentary elections held in 2014 when BJP was elected to power with Modi as PM, the Indians elected a Lok Sabha with 186 MPs having criminal cases against them says a New Delhi based research cum lobby group, "Association for Democratic Reforms" (ADR). This is an increase from 154 elected MPs with criminal cases in the previous parliament. Of the present lot in Lok Sabha, 112 have serious crimes with charges for murder, attempted murder, abductions, extortions and crimes against women. 16 of them are booked for crimes on racial hatred and incitement. From among the elected ruling party BJP number, 63 MPs have cases against them for crimes committed. These crimes are all within an extremely corrupt political party system.

That speaks enough for the FPP electoral system. That also says, it is not the electoral system which actually leads to heavy corruptions and crimes. It is the unrestricted market economy which allows unlimited accumulation of wealth no matter how they are accrued, that leads to heavy corruption often tied to crimes.

In this free market economy, it is common knowledge but goes without any questioning how political parties spend billions of rupees for their election campaigning even when in the opposition. There were also public statements that claimed some candidates at the last parliamentary elections spent over 02 billion rupees for election campaigning. Numbers being true or not, there was nevertheless huge unaccounted for money spent for election campaigning. Fact remains, these campaign funds go without any public accounting and scrutiny.

It must therefore be stressed, the free market economy is a vulgar adaptation for unaccounted for mega profits earned by any means. In all countries it carries with it the duality of doing business with public funds and pocketing profits privately. This requires government patronage for investments in private business within a free market defined as "development". All heavy construction earmarked as projects for development are thus State funded. Governments borrow big money through bi lateral and multi lateral agreements signed with foreign funding agencies and foreign governments to invest in mega "construction centric" development. They are given out to the private sector with ballooned profits on sharing basis. For the private sector to gain such profits, they cultivate political patronage. That is the basis of "mega corruption". The requirement of "political decisions" and the ability to "buy" those decisions.

This dynamics of the free market economy, over the decades since 1978 have turned out "political businessmen" who now control party politics either from inside or from outside. All that has changed the social value system too. Mega corruption now works through political parties and go without questioning. We therefore now have a different politician who needs more power and more access to funds and unlimited material wealth. To be that s/he as candidates spend massive amounts of money during elections the voter knows not, from where they come. In fact now, political party leaders pitching in for State power prefers to cultivate men and women who can spend big money at elections as candidates to win enough numbers to form a government.

We have thus reached a state of affairs, where corruption cannot be checked through mechanisms that do not bring political parties and politicians to account publicly for their election funds. We need to demand from the Election Commission to propose necessary amendments without ambiguity to the Assets & Liabilities Act to have annual declaration of assets of all elected politicians mandatory. A new unambiguous law to compel all political parties to publicly declare their election funds with details of sources too, at all elections. Or else, COPE would only be a one off publicity issue, with unending mega corruption continuing unabated under "Yahapalanaya" too. In short, no government would be clean when political parties are heaped with garbage.

[Unedited version of the same article that appears in the DM today/04.11.2016]

Kusal Perera
02 November, 2016