On January 10, Parliament will convene for a session to discuss the report released by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Bond Issuance of the Central Bank, which was handed over to the President on December 30, 2017.
President Sirisena released a statement discussing the findings of the report on January 3, 2018. In what was described as a hard-hitting statement, Sirisena said that legal action should be taken against wrongdoers, including Perpetual Treasuries Ltd, Arjun Aloysius and Kasun Palihena. Sirisena also said that action should be taken against MP Ravi Karunanayake for revelations made during Commission hearings, to the effect that a penthouse apartment he and his family were occupying was paid for by Arjun Aloysius.
Karunanayake denied the allegations and said that some members of the Government and the Opposition were indulging in character assassination.
In light of this, Groundviews conducted an online poll in order to gauge reader’s reactions to Sirisena’s statement, which discusses some of the content of the final CoI report. President Sirisena said the final report itself would be made public once it was discussed in Parliament. The mainstream media has reported questions around the effectiveness and utility of a Parliamentary debate without the report made available to MPs and in the public domain.
The poll asked the following questions:
- How confident are you that civil or criminal action will be taken against those implicated in the final report of the Commission of Inquiry?
- How confident are you that action will be taken against MPs implicated in the report?
- How efficient do you think the Bribery Commission will be in taking legal action against those implicated in the report?
- How efficient do you think the CID will be in investigating into the allegations of those implicated in the report?
- Do you want the full contents of this report to be made public?
- Do you want the full contents of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Fraud and Corruption to be made public?
- How confident are you that the CoI reports will be made public, as promised?
130 people took the poll, with the results showing that most were uncertain or simply not confident that any concrete action would materialise from the CoI report, despite Sirisena’s hard-hitting statement.
Most were not confident that any civil or criminal action would be taken after the revelations made in the report.
An even larger number (49% of those who took the poll) were not confident that there would be any action against any MPs named in the report.
There was also uncertainty and some pessimism on the perceived effectiveness of independent Commissions and the CID.
Edit: This piece has been edited to note that the CID will investigate, rather than take legal action against those implicated in the report – legal action will be initiated by the Attorney General’s Department.
Only a few respondents thought these bodies would be able to operate in an effective manner.
A majority of those who took the poll (over 90% in both cases) said they wanted the full contents of the CoI report on the Bond Issuance, as well as the CoI report into Fraud and Corruption to be made public. Only 20% were somewhat confident and 14% very confident that these reports would be made public at all.
The CoI report and the Commission hearings have been one of the most controversial issues faced by the current Government – during the hearings, allegations were made that MPs phones were being tapped as information on phone calls and even WhatsApp and Viber calls was leaked to the media. This was referred to the Privileges Committee as House Leader Lakshman Kiriella said the MPs privileges had been breached.
Several of the MPs also denied that they had spoken to Arjun Aloysius. Meanwhile, Anika Wijesuriya, who testified before the Commission about Karunanayake leasing the penthouse, fled the country in October following death threats leveled against her. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also testified before the Commission, saying he had nothing to hide. Conversely, and in a somewhat farcical turn of events, Aloysius claimed he did not remember his username and password for his Apple Account, but later tried to delete backup data from his account with his wife’s phone in August.
In a bizarre turn of events, General Secretary of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Udaya Gammanpila said the President had not used his sword to trap the real culprits behind the Bond Issue. He chose to make this statement at a press briefing holding a real sword to make this point, flanked by fellow party members Dammika Rathmale and Madumadawa Aravinda.
The controversy around the issuance of Central Bank bonds dates back to February 27, 2015 when allegations were leveled against Arjun Aloysius and Perpetual Treasuries for insider trading.
January 8, 2018 marks three years since Sirisena was elected. There is increasing evidence of disillusion as President Sirisena falls short of the ambitious promises made in his manifesto. This disillusionment is mirrored in our online poll results, which show that respondents are not confident any meaningful action will be taken as a result of the debate. This is important to keep in mind as Parliament debates the report.