The Sapphire-gate

That most politicians are ready to compromise anything, even the national interest, if the correct price is quoted, is only too well known. There have been rumours of political crossovers induced by bribes. But, it is for the first time that damning evidence of a shameless move to lure a politician with a bribe into defecting has surfaced.

Last year, while the Indian parliament was debating an Indo-American nuclear deal, which threatened the very survival of the Congress-led government, Opposition parliamentarians stormed the well of the House waving as they did wads and wads of money which, they said, they had been given by the powers that be to secure their votes for the controversial pact.

Last Friday in Colombo, we were treated to a similar drama, UPFA MP and National Freedom Front spokesman, M. Musammil dropped a bombshell. He told the media that the Fonseka camp (read the UNF-JVP-TNA combine which has fielded former army chief Gen. (retd.) Sarath Fonseka for the presidency) had given him a huge bribe requesting him to switch his allegiance to Fonseka in the presidential race. Unlike on previous occasions when such charges were made, this time around some convincing evidence has been furnished. Musammil produced audio and video proof in support of his claim.

Waving many bundles of one-thousand and two-thousand-rupee notes, Musammil, flanked by NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, said he had learnt that money for bribing government politicians in the run-up to the Jan. 26 polls had come from Norway. He revealed that a UNP MP had acted as the go-between and paid him 30 million rupees inside a room of Hotel Sapphire. (One is reminded of the Watergate scandal!).

The NFF must make a beeline for the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and report the UNP MP concerned. The kneejerk reaction of the UNP has been to deny the charge. Mere denials won’t do. It has no alternative but to fully co-operate with the investigators and try to clear its name, because NFF has successfully rammed the main pillar of Fonseka’s platform - his campaign to rid the country of bribery and corruption. The matter is now before the people’s court and the credibility of the Fonseka camp has suffered a devastating blow in the eyes of the discerning public. It was only the other day that we argued in these columns that those who took upon themselves the task of eliminating bribery and corruption had to be above suspicion like Caesar’s wife.

The process of realignment of political forces is now complete and two political formations are clear. The UNF-JVP-TNA combine has always striven to bring about a regime change. It did its damnedest in 2007 and 2008 to defeat budget votes and bring down the present government while the war was raging. Had it succeeded in its endeavour, neither the government nor Fonseka would have been able to destroy the LTTE. On those two occasions as well, some foreign powers stood accused of helping the Opposition with funds.

We reported immediately after the Budget vote in 2008 that a western ambassador had taken a ‘tuk-tuk’ ride to a key Opposition politician’s residence on the sly on the eve of that crucial vote and assisted the Opposition in an abortive move to engineer mass crossovers from the government in a bid to have the budget defeated and the government dislodged. The US-led human rights witch hunt against Sri Lanka, the EU decision to suspend the GSP Plus trade concession and the various anti-Sri Lankan utterances by western governments only demonstrate that the West is bent on bringing down the present government which destroyed Prabhakaran in spite of international pressure. Most of all, the JVP which once took to the streets to condemn Norway and called the Norwegians White Tigers is now making overtures to that country much to the surprise of the anti-terror activists who took the JVP’s patriotism and opposition to Norway seriously. Is money talking?

There is a pressing need for monitoring campaign funds and making political parties reveal sources of funding. We have a plethora of polls monitoring outfits that make a killing during elections and some organizations that specialize in preparing very expensive reports with little substance on the transparency or the lack of it in the public sector. They must focus on campaign funds as well because a sine qua non for battling bribery and corruption in a country to ensure that political leaders do not utilize illegal funds to win elections.

Now that the Fonseka camp faces very serious allegations of bribery and corruption, it ought to reveal sources of its campaign funds. The government must follow suit. There is one whole week for them to do so. Else, as the JVP said of both the UNP and SLFP once, people will say "Unuth ekai, munuth ekai – both are same’. They may also tell the JVP: "Thopith ekai – you are no better!"

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