Good Governance proved?

There have been mixed views over the resignation of Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake on Thursday (10); some have called it a clear sign of good governance while others have been less enthusiastic. The Daily News thus interviewed a cross section of civil society who both supported as well as opposed ‘Yahapalanaya’ to find out if they thought the government did well or poorly in this test of Good Governance.

Excerpts follow:

Gamini Viyangoda- Convener of Purawesi Balaya-(Citizen’s Power)

I think it’s a good precedent because normally our politicians, even if they are exposed before the people over certain corruptions and other things, they never resign.

The only other person I can remember is Tilak Marapana, who resigned some years back over certain statements that he made in the Parliament regarding protecting the owner of Avant Garde, so this is the second time. I think Ravi has addressed a moral question here.

There are two aspects to this issue; one is the legal aspect, the other is the moral aspect. So the legal aspect has to take its own course, which might take a long time to see whether Ravi is wrong or right.

That’s its own thing. But apart from that, being a politician, he has to be morally accountable for what he does. So that is why there’s an issue with getting eight month’s rent from a person who is supposed to be one of the major accused in a major scandal in this country. So Ravi has taken the correct decision to step down. And this gives a good lesson to other politicians as well.

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu - Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives

For a start, I don’t think it could’ve happened under the previous government. It shows that the commitment to accountability is still alive. Still, more needs to be done. One single individual is a start, perhaps. This government’s commitment to accountability will be demonstrated and fulfilled when all of these suspicions are brought out into the open.

However, the Former Minister has not been indicted yet and the justice process should play out in full. I think he did the right thing, he did what was needed.

Seetha Ranjani - Poet, Social activist and former Convener of the Free Media Movement

I see Ravi Karunanayaka’s resignation as something good that happened under the new government. It should have happened and not just him, but whoever has serious allegations to their name should have investigations carried out.

It is a good precedence to have the person accused step down from his post until investigations prove otherwise. At the same time, we also should question what happened to all the large scale corruption cases which were spoken of when the new government was elected to office. It was a main demand of civil society and the people that corruption of the previous regime be investigated into, but no action has been taken over those cases so far and the people have become disappointed with the government for that.

In the past, it would be unimaginable to have a minister resign, but we now have a new political culture.

And since we have a unity government, we also seem to have a strong opposition which a country always needs.

Thus, the wrongdoings of a government can be uncovered during their own tenure and action can be taken.

In the past, there wasn’t a strong opposition and the environment was undemocratic and the government actively persecuted those who went against the government, especially media personnel, but that environment has been changed and the people have the freedom to speak so we are now able expose corruption, this is a good situation.

I ask that the government now take steps to expose the corruption of the previous regime and take action against those responsible.

Visakha Tillekeratne -Women’s Rights Activist and Co-convener of Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka

The whole bond case has been investigated in a very messy manner and every day we see more and more players coming out.

There seems to be a lack of transparency and there are mixed opinions, so no one can get a footing on what is really happening.

I see the resignation of Ravi Karunanayake as a ‘huge bluff’ because though he says he is not guilty and is doing it for the sake of good governance, he doesn’t say that he wants his name cleared, it is as if someone who has been caught out is leaving.

To be fair by Ravi, we didn’t see a transparent mechanism investigating into the allegations that went on within the government or the UNP and the investigations are yet to be complete, but we saw the minister simply resign.

Why did he step out prematurely? Perhaps there maybe many more people involved and only Ravi has stepped out?

Ven. Dr. Dambara Amila Thera - Head of History and Archaeology Department at the Sri Jayewardenepura University

This case has proven and practically made use of the two main fundamentals of good governance; which is democracy and transparency. It is for this that we fought for on January 8 and August 17, 2015. When you take this incident into account, it was a case where democracy received its due position. For example, the government Attorney General’s (AG) Department usually stands on behalf of the government but the Additional Solicitor General and state counsels that came with him, questioned a government minister in a manner which proved that they had the complete freedom to do their job and they were not constrained in any way to not do their duty because it was a government minister. We didn’t see that happen before, earlier the AG department didn’t even look at a file of a government minister because they were so scared - the AG department was completely broken down then.

But today, we see that regardless of the fact that this was a prominent minister, one of the main people who worked to bring in good governance, Deputy Chairman of the UNP, former Finance and current Foreign Minister, the AG Department was allowed to ask any question they wanted.

He (Additional Solicitor General) was so aggressive that even the commissioners warned him and asked him to calm down, this shows that democracy has its due place today. Media is also free and can report on whatever they like with no dangerous consequences.

The commission was appointed to investigate into the Treasury Bond issue, but Ravi Karunanayaka’s issue came up regarding another matter; during evidence of another witness. His connection with Arjun Aloysius and how he paid his rent and all came out. They still haven’t found out if there was a fraud or not in the Bond issue, but Ravi admitted that since there has been a connection established between himself and the main suspect in the case, he would allow the investigation to continue without interference by him and his position as a minister and so he resigns. That shows transparency in the government.

More than Ravi Karunanayake resigning as an individual, him resigning from his post has great bearing and stops his ministerial power from impacting the investigations.

So this is a great encouragement for all those who fought to bring in good governance and who believed that we needed it and the support Ravi Karunanayake has shown, has further strengthened good governance. It is surprising for Sri Lanka and unbelievable and yet, Ravi Karunanayake took that historic step.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka - Political Analyst and former diplomat

I’m very pleased and proud in the way that the commission has functioned. I do admit, under the previous administration, a commission of this sort would not have functioned with the independence that this has functioned. But, in their defence, members of the former Rajapaksa government say that such a scandal never happened on their watch.

I don’t think it’s a symbol of good governance to have a massive fraud, as the bond scam, and then, because of public opinion and pressure, to have an inquiry, and then the man who was named resigns.

This is the tip of the iceberg.

JC Weliamuna -Human Rights Lawyer and Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka

This is quite a transparent inquiry. These allegations came to the public very openly. And the minister and various others may be implicated, seriously. I think the first time a witness came out with this evidence of giving some kind of a gift - this is actually within the meaning of corruption. And this requires further criminal investigation. But I think this resignation is a good move.

It really shows that, unlike previously, governance structure is now working. You can’t stop corruption, but at least corruption investigations are underway, and the politicians are now slowly learning to respond. And the second thing is, I’m quite happy that somebody from the Attorney General’s Department, which is also part of the public sector, is capable of questioning a sitting minister just like an ordinary citizen. And finally, unfortunately, in the parliament there were a lot of unnecessary or unfair attacks on the Attorney General’s Department and the Additional Solicitor General.

I don’t think that is acceptable, because the politicians should also realize that the Attorney General’s Department also has a role to play. So they have done their job, and they must be respected for that.

So I hope, that the Attorney General’s Department will have more and more recruits so that there will be no shortage of lawyers for the prosecution, so that other pending matters, which have been pending for a long time in the department, will also be dealt with quickly. And the Attorney General’s role must be appreciated by the civil society. And also, it shows the independence of our judges, which was not the case before.

So all in all, I think it’s a good sign for good governance.

Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon - Executive Director of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections

I don’t think it’s a sign of good governance, I think it’s the other way around. Now, this commission is all about the Treasury Bond issue and we should not forget that. In the middle of this commission, Ravi Karunanayake’s name was mentioned and there was an allegation made against Karunanayake, and based on that he was pressured by various groups, political class and civil society, to resign. And that resignation finally happened.

But, the main issue is still the same. We are pressuring the government to investigate the Treasury bond issue, which should be a criminal investigation. When we were demanding this two years ago, there was less evidence than this. Now in front of the commission, various forms of evidence were exposed.

The criminal proceedings in relation to this have to come out. Until that criminal justice inquiry is finished, we cannot say it [this resignation] is a part of good governance. We salute that due to pressure, Ravi Karunanayake resigned. It’s a good sign. But the main issue lies the same. Why not other ministers? People must be questioned. We can only find the truth when other ministers are questioned on the same issues like they questioned Ravi Karunanayake. The big picture won’t appear to us until others are questioned.

This Ravi issue is just a small piece of an onion. But we are talking about a field of onions.

What we are talking about is the Treasury bond issue, not just a house rented by Ravi Karunanayake. Good that Ravi resigned based on that small part, but the question really is, 'Who are the culprits of the treasury bond issue, the masterminds who benefited from that? And how can the country get the money back?' Unless we manage to get the money back, this issue won’t be solved. Get the people’s money back. 

 


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