When Sri Lanka’s current President, Maithripala Sirisena was elected on the 8th of January 2015, one of the themes of his campaign was to stand against corruption. As a result, investigations into allegations of corruption and other criminal activities of the previous regime began shortly after he came in to power. I am aware that many Sri Lankans don’t have faith in these investigations. I too would have liked the investigations to be faster and more efficient, but I do notice progress and believe it is important to be patient in these investigations. I will explain why I believe they take time referring both to the complexity of the procedures and the obstacles that delay these investigations.
If anyone reading this isn't Sri Lankan or is unfamiliar with Sri Lankan politics, there is something I’d like to say about the previous government. I believe one of the problems of the previous government was nepotism. There were family members of Ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa involved in government who include his brothers Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Defence Secretary), Basil Rajapaksa (Minister) & Chamal Rajapaksa (Minister and then Speaker) and his sons MP Namal Rajapaksa & former Navy officer Yoshitha Rajapaksa. I mention their names in order to inform readers of their connection to the Ex-President as they will be referred to in this post.
First of all, I’d like to point out that investigations of this nature take time. You can’t just use Presidential Powers to throw people that you suspect in jail. If you do that, you are resorting to the same tactics that the previous administration used, such as when they imprisoned 2010 Presidential Candidate Sarath Fonseka after his defeat. Doing that goes against the rules of justice. The work of these investigations is to be carried out by the organisations conducting them. Human rights lawyer and former executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka J.C. Weliamuna spoke of this in the Sunday Observer: “There should not be any difference between the previous government and this government. They should not only take the last government to task but I am sure once this institution is well established, which is still happening, they will go into the complaints against this government, also financial investigations are not like investigating murders or any other crimes. It takes sometimes months and years. It is a very complex diligent procedure and they are taking that fairly seriously and I am satisfied of the way they are working and CID and FCID are functioning.” It’s interesting to note that he mentioned that the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) is still being established. That institution was founded a year ago. Further, Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne mentioned in a recent interview (dailymirror.lk) that he thinks “that nothing can be rushed and whatever the action that is needed to be taken should after conducting thorough investigations. Innocent people should be protected and only those who have infringed the law should be taken to task.”
We don’t know how true the government is to their word about these investigations being independent, but Deputy Minister Eran Wickramaratne stated in a YouTube excerpt of a speech he made last March that people ask him about the investigations, elaborating “I’ve always wondered why people are actually asking a politician that question because this is not the role of the politician, this is the role of law enforcement and then subsequently the role of the judiciary. But the fact that they walk up to you and ask that question is because of our long history of politicisation of institutions of government in this country and that’s precisely what we want to depoliticise so law enforcement authorities are free to act and also that the judiciary will be free to act in the way they see fit”.
I will now list two reasons why these investigations take time. Firstly, persons of the previous administration, especially those at the very top have been taking measures to cover themselves and also the work of their lawyers can prevent their arrests. I believe that the files had been destroyed in government offices last year just as the transition of power occurred. Secondly, a problem with Sri Lanka’s legal system is that issues are known to move quite slowly.
One obstruction last year was Justice Jagath Balapatabendi who was appointed by the previous President as Chairman of the Bribery Commission. The then speaker Chamal Rajapaksa was reported to have invited and met with Justice Balapatabendi in the first half of 2015. It is possible that this meeting was for Chamal to uncover information about the investigations against members of his family & political party and/or influence the investigations in their favour. A few days after this incident a commissioner resigned for “personal reasons” implying it was due to Justice Balapatabendi. This information was obtained from an article by Dr. A.C. Visvalingam. Justice Balapatabendi did eventually leave his office likely by resignation as he was replaced last October by Justice Titus Bodhipala Weerasuriya. His replacement should hopefully have improved these investigations. Like Justice Balapatabendi, the previous Attorney General Yuwanjana Wijayathilaka was appointed by the Ex-President and appears to still be loyal to him. He finished his term in January and the new Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya was appointed this month. I hope Jayantha will improve the efficiency of the Attorney General’s department.
There have been several incidents of politicians and their associates being summoned (often repeatedly) to record statements over their allegations. People being summed include Mahinda Rajapaksa, his wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa, their son MP Namal Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Ex-Minister Wimal Weerawansa, former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, former Provincial Minister Udaya Gammanpila, previous Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal among others. I know these persons have not been charged yet, but the fact that many people have been summoned and some of them repeatedly shows those behind the investigations are working hard at it.
I have seen some progress on the investigations and will now list some arrests that occurred last year.
- In March, MP and former Deputy Minister Sarana Gunawardana was arrested over a breach of trust & a financial fraud.
- In April, Ex-Minister Basil Rajapaksa was arrested along with two other personnel relating to the ‘Public Property Act’.
- In December, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Nalaka Godahewa was arrested along with two others over an allegation of a financial irregularity said to have taken place at SEC.
I am aware that almost all of these persons have got bail soon after and released, but these are the first steps taken in the justice process. It’s important to note that in December, Basil and Kingsley Ranawaka (one of the other two arrested with him last April) were called to appear in the Colombo High Court on the 10th of March which is less than a month away.
This is my take on the situation. It is true that matters have proceeded slowly, but there have been some arrests, which I see as an important step in the process. I hope that the trials for those arrested won’t take a long time to begin and that those guilty of offences will be brought to justice.