Opinion: ‘Drexit’ from Bribery Commission – The good, bad & ugly

bribery

By Chrishmal Warnasuriya

So His Excellency the President has ended all speculation and accepted the resignation. If the exit of Britain from Europe was “Brexit”, the resignation of our learned friend Dilrukshi from the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) must surely be our very own “Drexit”; at least for the massive sensationalism it has created in the Colombo circuit. It even prompted me to awaken from the self imposed media-hibernation to put these thoughts down.

Firstly credit where its due, we must thank Ms. Wickramasinghe for the good work she did whilst in office, admire her stand of integrity by resigning no sooner she felt she was no longer in the pleasant disposition of her appointing authority and should she wish to return to the Bar, we wish her well and a warm welcome back!

Similarly a big pat-on-the-back for President Sirisena for sticking to his guns without cowing down to the collaterally motivated pressure from all fronts to withdraw his statement etc, thus proving that we backed the right candidate on the 8th of January last year; gradually asserting his authority and becoming the leader he ought to be, from the more diminutive Minister he was under the previous regime.

The “Drexit” however is not so clear-cut as it appears with its myriads of political ramifications that appear to have tingled several quarters in their sensitive areas; all from their own personal perspectives (and evidently their self interests), which therefore necessitates a crystallization of at least the main issues involved; lest we too get caught up in the several “twists” to the story that has already got the spin-doctors working overtime.

The Roller-coaster Ride in Office:

The now resigned DG/CIABOC held the most unenviable public office over the last year or so, since our Peoples Revolution of January 8th 2015. Some praised her, others castigated her (depending upon their individual relative political benefit or loss) whilst the rest of the country were entertained with an exciting new circus in town; a game unfolding on the News as she batted-on hitting sixers and fours making headlines everyday. Perhaps she has realized by now (if she was indeed unaware and naive to it whilst in office) that all these moves secured through the CIABOC was simply a scene of a larger drama being staged mainly for public consumption.

Whilst the elite few that made the jet-sets from both sides (green or blue) continued their merry-governing, VVIP status, tamashas and unending foreign trips, she was simply a pawn on a political-chessboard being moved back and forth and when necessary, sacrificed to protect the Kings, Queens and the Bishops whose ultimate benefit we all appear to live for!

Herein lies a good lesson for all Public Officers, not to become “Government Servants” bending backwards to please political masters of the day, who are only temporary custodians of an administration (and therefore only interested in their own political survival) but be independent “Public Servants” and serve the People and the Republic that you have sworn allegiance to and taken an oath to uphold.

Sun Tzu – Of Enemies & Friends:

Reality appears to have dawned on the MS led fraction of the Blues in the Green led hybrid government. The old Chinese war strategy of keeping your enemies even closer than your friends, successfully followed by the Soviets & Chinese during the Korean war, that “your enemy’s enemy is your friend” appears to show its face in this three-cornered fiasco. For the Greens to emerge victorious the Blues have to be separated, divided between the MR and MS camps.

The question is whether the CIABOC (as indeed the FCID or other such “special prosecution machinery”) were being used to create this dissension amongst the Blues. The Rathnapura rally, the Co-operative elections (however much the MS fraction publicly dismisses them as unimportant) started showing tell-tale signs that they were fast losing their grass-root bases. The continuing circus of FCID, CIABOC and other “prosecutions” which begin with gusto with massive media shows never seemed to end. This “arrangement” couldn’t have escaped the politically savvy MR camp, surely and has to be with some “understanding”, for they too kept a fairly low volume as long as the relatively expendable pawns were being sacrificed.

However there appears to have been a double-cross somewhere, for suddenly the Joint Opposition voices reached a crescendo when the tentacles started reaching the big boys, including their next possible Presidential candidate; action was imminent.

The MS led Blue camp have realized the game and reacted. There were renewed calls to investigate the Central Bank bond issues (closely linked to the Greens) and questions being raised as to why CIABOC was not investigating that. Several other queries and investigations are being reported at leading State Institutions like Peoples Bank, Mihin & Sri Lankan Airlines, coal tender awards etc. Just this evening (19th) the Joint-Spokesman of the MS fraction openly criticised Lake House, ITN and other State Media for misconstruing H.E. the President’s statement.

For the moment they appear to have drawn the right card, as there is praise flowing even from the MR camp of dissident Blues who were earlier screaming for H.E. the President’s scalp. They may very well meet at some win-win compromise, but we can now hear a different tune from some quarters harshly criticising this statement, who were thought to be independent up to now but the music emanating from these groups are showing a rather visible Green hand behind them.

Civil Society Movements: Chameleon Politics or Sheep in Wolves Clothing?

In the immediate aftermath of our 8th January 2015 Silent Revolution, long after the white-van fears and goon squads had disappeared, a strange phenomenon suddenly appeared; multitudes of gatherings under the general banner of “Civil Society”, who appeared to take an active interest in the affairs of State, criticizing mainly the former MR regime and calling for rapid action.

Having played at least a minute part in that revolution during a very dark period of our recent history, facing everything from tear gas to helmeted motor cyclists following us home, as for instance when we took on the draconian 18th Amendment; protested Lasantha’s assassination; defended (then) Gen. Fonseka’s Court Martial or the (then) Chief Justice’s removal; although we had not heard most of these characters even uttering a whimper of protest at the time, I for one welcomed this uprising of the citizen, putting it down to the sudden freedom of speech and democracy that we had been able to secure at great cost and personal peril.

However when we hear some of these new “Civil Society voices” only criticizing President Sirisena over his statement that led to “Drexit”, some actually seeking a retraction by H.E. the President and the resigned DG/CIABOC to remain in office; one begins to wonder whether they are as independent or non-political as they appeared to be all this time.

Whither then our Peoples Revolt of 8th January:

If such is the present status quo then those voices that genuinely agitated for change with us, not for any political gain or personal glory but with a true and sincere desire to leave a better country for our children need to raise their voices again; we need to re-group and get back into the struggle.

I fully understand and appreciate that some of us would have been disgruntled or even given up completely that even after all that struggle we had been let down; that nothing appears to have changed but the same “system” was continuing, only with different faces. In that very disappointment lies the challenge for us, if we can, because unfortunately our work doesn’t appear to be completed.

In this campaign on the specific issue of “Drexit”, we must now appeal to H.E. the President to rise above party politics to be the leader we elected you to be; not party chairman of the Blues nor partner in a Green led government but OUR PRESIDENT for the entire Republic. In our effort to rid our country of large scale corruption the CIABOC plays a pivotal role; thus you need to appoint a strong, fearless and independent individual who will not even take your side when executing his/her duties.

If you can do this Mr. President, then you will truly show us that all those sleepless nights we spent jumping out of bed to put on a security light even at the slight sound or rustle outside, not in fear of our own lives but to ensure that our young families will not suffer harm would not have been in vain; then, Sir it would all have been worth our efforts.

(Chrishmal Warnasuriya is a life member of the Bar Association of SL (BASL), a member of the International Bar Association (IBA) & the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers UK (ASLLUK). He obtained a Master’s Degree in Laws (Hons) from King’s College and was thereafter granted conversion to the UK Bar.)