Wednesday 26th April, 2023

Former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Prof. G. L. Peiris, MP, has faulted the IMF for paying scant attention to the high incidence of corruption in Sri Lanka. He has struck a responsive chord with the public. When the current dispensation stopped dilly-dallying and asked for IMF assistance, many Sri Lankans thought there would be no bailout unless an anti-corruption drive was launched. But, as Prof. Peiris has said, the IMF does not seem keen to pressure Sri Lanka to battle bribery and corruption with might and main. Unless the canker of corruption is eliminated urgently, economic recovery will continue to elude this country.

The former Justice Minister’s sharp barb at the IMF has come in the wake of incumbent Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s public statement that someone who is influential enough to derail the litigation process in respect of the sinking of X-Press Pearl cargo ship and the resultant environmental disaster had received as much as USD 250 million in a questionable manner.

It is believed that Sri Lanka will be able to obtain about USD 6.2 billion as compensation from the owners of X-Press Pearl if litigation is handled properly. A case is reported to have been filed in Singapore against them, at long last. Legal experts have demanded to know why legal action was not instituted here. The Opposition has asked whether the government has no faith in Sri Lanka’s judicial system.

Sri Lankan authorities have mastered the art of making court cases collapse and letting wealthy offenders off the hook, and, therefore, the possibility of an escape route being opened for the shipping company concerned cannot be ruled out. They stand accused of manipulating the legal process to help even drug dealers caught in the act of transporting huge consignments of narcotics walk free.

If Sri Lanka can obtain USD 6.2 billion as compensation for the X-Press Pearl maritime disaster, it will be able to overcome its foreign currency crisis much to the relief of its citizens and the foreign creditors affected by its shameful debt default.

Now that the government has reportedly taken action to sue the X-Press Pearl owners, in Singapore, of all places, it should ask the government of Singapore to extradite former Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Arjuna Mahendran, to stand trial here over the Treasury bond scams. Will the Attorney General’s Department and the Police get cracking?

Japan is doing its best to enable Sri Lanka to come out of the current crisis, and the latter has benefited immensely from Japanese aid all these years. It therefore has a right to insist that Sri Lanka make a serious effort to eliminate bribery and corruption. Will it ask the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe administration to conduct a thorough probe into Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s allegation in Parliament that a member of the current Cabinet of Ministers demanded a bribe from a Japanese company in respect of a development project? Last year, the dissident SLPP MPs claimed that the Japanese Embassy in Colombo itself had made a complaint to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against the minister concerned.

Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, stepped down, asking President Rajapaksa to conduct an investigation into Premadasa’s allegation. Following the ouster of President Rajapaksa, his successor, President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed a committee to probe the allegation, and it cleared de Silva. In this country, probe committees are said to be tasked with clearing politicians and their henchmen in trouble. It may be recalled that a committee consisting of lawyers appointed to investigate the bond scams concluded that there had been no wrongdoing on the part of Mahendran as the Central Bank Governor!

Sri Lankans will be grateful to Japan, the IMF, etc., if they care to help this country rid itself of corruption.


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