Corruption, money laundering pot begins to boil | Sunday Observer

Corruption, money laundering pot begins to boil

On Wednesday last week, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil from 2003 until 2011, was convicted of corruption and money laundering. The case against him grew out of a long-running federal bribery investigation, known as Operation Car Wash. He was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison,but in deference to the national “trauma” involved in jailing a former President, the sentencing Judge allowed him to remain free during his appeal.

Lula oversaw an economic boom during his term as President, when 30 million people in Brazil were lifted out of extreme poverty. At the time, many Brazilians allowed themselves to dream that the country might finally see widespread prosperity.

The New Yorker magazine summed it up as “Lula lived up to an old Brazilian saying, “rouba mas faz”—“he steals, but he gets things done.”

Closer to home, in neighbouring Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is facing an imbroglio due to a popular font – Calibri. It has been found that Sharif´s daughter, Maryam, misled the Pakistan Supreme Court with fake documents in an on-going Panamagate corruption case against her family. Maryam sent to the court-appointed Joint Investigative Team (JIT) documents dated before January 31, 2007 and typed in Calibri font. However, Calibri was not commercially available before 31st January 2007. There, it may soon be a case of Pakistan san Sharif, a play on the san serif type Calibri font. “San” is a Latin word meaning “without.”

Back in Colombo, President Maithripala Sirisena was to comment to a circle of close associates earlier this week that time was running out to take substantial action against senior members of the former regime. In Sri Lanka, it has now become a case of ‘we steal and we do not get things done’, one wag was to comment after reading the New Yorker article.

Yet, one significant development forbade well – the resignation of the board of directors at the Board of Investment. Kudos are due to its former Chairman, senior lawyer Upul Jayasuriya for deciding that the buck stops with him, and stepping down – taking, what appears to be the responsibility for the malaise that has affected the BOI, described last week in the Sunday Observer´s INSIGHT report “CHANGING PRECEPTIONS IN INVESTMENT LANDSCAPE” as an “ All Stop”, not “One Stop”, by an investor. The culture of taking responsibility was non-existent and Jayasuriya´s courageous action, it is hoped, will encourage more senior officers and corporate heads to do so, which in turn could spur a turnaround in these mammoth government enterprises that became simply gravy trains for political hangers-on in recent times. Elsewhere, Colonel Sunil Peiris, who volunteered to turn around the Human Resources at SriLankan Airlines without any pay for more than a year, also stepped down, after what he had described as a “humiliating meeting” where ministers had uttered ““a load of diabolical lies” took place two weeks ago. Colonel Peiris was known to stand up for his ethics and principles during his distinguished career in the Army, and kudos due to him for continuing to do so.

In the wake of the Ministerial shuffle that saw Mangala Samaraweera taking up post as the Financial mandarin, a number of advisory positions within the Finance ministry also changed last week. Prominent amongst this was the appointment of former Board of Investment Chairman and CEO, Thilan Wijesinghe, as the Chairman and Acting CEO of the Public Private Partnership Unit of the Finance Ministry. The position was held by Dr Ranjan Sara until last week. Wijesinghe was accused of a bribery charge during his stint at the BOI, of which he was completely cleared after a protracted court case.

It is said that there are neither friends nor enemies in politics. While Samaraweera and Wijesinghe did not see eye to eye during Wijesinghe´s earlier stint in government, Colombo´s business community was quick to welcome his return to the fold. He has proved his business mettle as an investor, entrepreneur, and investment banker. His role in settling the Port City issue, which could have gone for litigation and arbitration if not for his adroit mediation, is a case in point of Wijesinghe´s abilities.

Some of the underperforming public sector enterprises that are now under Minister Kabir Hashim´s Ministry of Public Enterprise Development are expected to be transferred to the PPP unit. These may include the SriLankan Airlines, the Hilton Hotel, and some other enterprises that the government is keen to make into profitable ventures under PPP agreements. In most of these ventures, the main shareholder is the Finance Ministry and by virtue of the shareholding structure, their boards of directors are appointed by the Finance Ministry and report to the Finance Ministry. For example, SriLankan board of directors kept the finance ministry abreast of every transaction and got its approval, as the shareholder is the Finance Ministry.

Minister Kabir was to complain that as the Minister, he did not know of these transactions and they did not seek his approval. The structure was such that the board had to get shareholder approval and that was obtained from the Finance Ministry.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had to contend with another conundrum after Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, reportedly argued heatedly with United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson. Emmerson was on a five day visit to Colombo last week “to assess the progress Sri Lanka has achieved in its law, policies and practice in the fight against terrorism since the end of its internal armed conflict, as measured against international human rights law, particularly since progress in these areas is key to its efforts in ensuring reconciliation, accountability and lasting peace in the country,” according to a statement issued by the UN at the conclusion of his visit.

The argument between Minister Rajapakshe and Emmerson had centred on numbers provided to Emmerson by “reliable sources” that there are more than 200 terrorist suspects in custody. Rajapakshe had vehemently contested this number and had drawn parallels with statements issued recently in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Theresa May over convictions by confessions when Emmerson had raised that issue.

The statement issued by the UN said, “The Special Rapporteur commends the transparency and the largely courteous, constructive and co-operative way in which the Government initiated and facilitated this official visit, which allowed a frank and open dialogue. The Special Rapporteur is particularly grateful to the heads of all governmental institutions that he met and to the United Nations Country Team and its Resident Coordinator for the support extended during the visit. He had the opportunity for a constructive and informative exchange of views with the Prime Minister, the Secretary to the President, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development, the Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs. He also met, amongst others, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, the Commanders of the Navy, of the Army and of the Air Force, or their representatives, the Chief of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the National Police Commission, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of the Special Task Force Division, the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, the Chief of the Terrorist Investigation Division and the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation,” and continued on to say “he also met the Minister of Justice.”

In an extremely lengthy statement, Emmerson was to point out that “two years on, and already four months into a two-year extension granted to the Government by the Human Rights Council, progress in achieving the key goals set out in the Resolution is not only slow, but seems to have ground to a virtual halt. None of the measures so far adopted to fulfil Sri Lanka’s transitional justice commitments are adequate to ensure real progress, and there is little evidence that perpetrators of war crimes committed by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces are being brought to justice”

He was also to criticise the government, stating that while he was given a personal assurance by the government that once the current process of counter-terrorism reform had been completed, the Government would pass legislation paving the way for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be established, and set up an Office of the Special Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against those involved in the most serious atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict, “these are, of course, steps which the Government promised to the international community that it would have delivered in full by now.”

The statement said that while there have been many statements of good intention, “but so far little in the way of effective action to bring about a lasting and just settlement to the conflict; one which commands the confidence of all sections of the community. It seems that some small steps are now, at last being taken, in that direction. My plea to the Government and the people of Sri Lanka is to let these be the right steps, and not to allow the process to be diverted by retrograde elements in the security establishment and their allies in Government.”

So far, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have managed to balance the pressures from the international community against the pressures exerted by internal factions, including those within the government. Minister Rajapakshe has increasingly sided himself with sections of the Buddhist clergy, who in recent days have become vociferous in their calls for non-interference with the military personnel who fought against the LTTE in the 30 year conflict.

However, Sri Lanka cannot continue in the same path it was put by the former regime, which closed its eyes and ears to international opinion. Government has to act decisively to regain credibility and change perceptions that justice does not prevail, however hard it is to accept that from a nationalistic point of view.

The politicisations of the clergy, be it Buddhist, Islamic, Christian or any other religion, does not bade well for any country. Strife has followed all nations where the clergy decided to take government into their hands.

The interim order issued by the District Judge of Colombo, Sujeewa Nissanka, last week, restraining the Chief Incumbent of the Abhayaramaya, Narahenpita from conducting political and commercial activities in the temple and within its premises, appears to be a step taken in the right direction.

The interim injunction is valid until the final determination of the plaint filed by Pathberiye Wimalagnana Thera against the political and commercial activities allegedly conducted by the present head priest the Ven. Muruththetuwe Ananda Thera. Political observers believe that this case may proceed to the Supreme Court, to obtain clarity on the role of clergy in politics and commercial activities in temples. 

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