Can the Change in Constitution Stop the Mega Dealers & Wheeler Dealers?


Continued from last week

S. K. K. Sooriyaarachchi was one of the most powerful MPs of the then SLFP government. He won the Mahara Seat by a huge majority. He was appointed Minister of Industries by the Sirimavo Government. Somapala Gunadheera became his secretary. When the ‘job quota’ system replaced the labour exchange, Sooriyaarachchi was given his quota. The Secretary had to approve the quotas and issue letters of appointment. Gunadheera found that most of the candidates were barely qualified. He refused to approve the list which had names of children of political supporters and henchmen who were not qualified because there were thousands of others who were better qualified to hold those positions.

Gunadheera wrote to the minister explaining why he could not issue letters of appointment to the candidates the minister had chosen. Sooriyaarachchi was all powerful. He immediately transferred Gunadheera to the ‘pool’ which is better known as ‘Siberia’. In 1977, even the Mahara seat was won by the UNP. Sooriayarachchi lost his seat but Gunadheera remained the astute government servant. One day, Gunadheera was travelling in his vehicle when he saw Sooriyaarachchi waiting for a bus. He offered the former minister a lift. Nobody is talking about Sooriyaarachchi today but Gunadheera is well known especially because of his valuable contribution to the newspapers.

No sooner had the new government been formed than the Northern Highway project was stopped. It was claimed that the contractors had agreed to reduce the cost substantially because they did not have to pay the Rajapaksas commissions.

It was once said that the Fortune Magazine had described Gamini Dissanayake as one of the richest ministers in Asia. It was said that he owned estates in Australia and that JRJ allegedly asked him whether the Mahaweli ran through his residence. When D.B. Wijetunge was the President, it was said that a very well known Casino owner gave him money which was stashed in the storeroom of the Presidential Palace. In the evening Wijetunge used to untie the bundles and put them into gunny bags. Various allegations were levelled against President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as well especially after the sale of Air Lanka to Emirates through Ronnie Pieris. During the UNF government (2001-2004), there were no allegations of corruption levelled against the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But today, the person he appointed as the Central Bank Governor stands accused of his involvement in a bond scandal. Worse, a committee comprising junior lawyers of the UNP had been appointed to probe the alleged fraud.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa was ruling, people were daily talking of the millions of dollars that the regime was making as commission. Every single minister was accused of corruption, but none of the allegations have been investigated. Only some complaints have been lodged with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption.

An ambassador appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa himself to a European country told me that after the war was over more than 15 entrepreneurs were interested in establishing industries in Sri Lanka. The Ambassador told me the difficulty he had in persuading these European industrialists to set up factories in Sri Lanka instead of Vietnam or in some of the African countries. The embassy spent a lot of money to entertain them and managed to send some of them here, but none of them met the Ambassador after returning home. Later, he learnt from one of the biggest industrialists, who had been to Sri Lanka that the commissions some official had demanded were too high to pay.

A friend of mine, who was the Chief Legal Officer of a Sri Lankan bank, told me a story where one of his Sri Lankan friends migrated to the US and made a fortune. The millionaire was thrilled to hear terrorism had been defeated and wanted to make a contribution to Sri Lanka’s economic development. He returned and built a huge hydropower plant to supply Ceylon Electricity Board with almost 25% of the shortfall in energy. He spent millions of dollars and was able to obtain a huge bank loan. After building the power plant, he declared a certain date for the officials of the CEB to come and open it. The moment he did so, a very powerful Pradeshiya Sabha member, approached him demanding several million of rupees on behalf of a minister from that the area. All his attempts to meet the President or any other prominent government leader to make a complaint were in vain.

The people were very happy that the new government would be able to put an end to corrupt deals. But, a few days later, a website, which carries news against the government, said that though the final amount on the Jaffna highway had been reduced, some commission had to be paid to the representative of the government. This may be a lie, but how will the people know the truth? The policy of the government is to build super highways to Jaffna. But how can a minister get involved in these mega deals? There must be a properly appointed tender board and technical committee which evaluates and awards tenders to the most suitable candidates. Can the amendment of the Constitution, now or even in the future, ensure that the ministers will not benefit from these mega deals? If not, it will be a case of ‘saatakaya’ being replaced with the lounge suit.

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