Namal in a tight scrum on Rugby funds

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s immediate response to the arrest of his eldest son Namal, was hardly what one expected from a father who was serious about the proper upbringing of children. “Are you happy now?” speaks volumes about the poor quality of Rajapaksa leadership blended with parental care.

“Are you happy now?” is his reaction to the arrest of another son, the elder, and a member of parliament too, who was being built up as the successor to the father, who manipulated the Constitution with the 18 Amendment to let him serve for as long as he liked, and possibly make way for this son.

The issue is not whether we are happy now, but the fact that we certainly regret that two sons of the former president of the country have been hauled before the courts, and charged with allegations of major financial fraud. This is a clear example of the allegations of fraud and corruption that stood out against the Rajapaksa Regime, and what the people clearly voted against on both January 8 and August 17, 2015.

Namal Rajapaksa is said to be teaching other remand detainees the skills of yoga. That he could teach anything other than arrogance and corruption is interesting. But the fact is this young man, who has been charged with a crime involving funds for a major Rugby Tournament – the Super Sevens - appears to be caught in a very tight legal scrum, and some of the moves he may make to get out of it could lead to penalty goals for the prosecution.

The facts that have been produced in court from the “B” Report in this case are surely stunning stuff, on the fraudulent use of funds obtained for sports, and its most unsporting use.

The witnesses who have so far recorded statements on this matter are all leading names in the field of Rugby, especially during the Rajapaksa Regime, when the politics and influence of the Rajapaksas had a very unsporting impact on rugby; seeing the sons being made captains of club teams and the country, referees being threatened, and pushing into silence those who even dared oppose those moves.

This is certainly very serious, as much or even more, that the role of the other brother Yoshitha, in the CSN fraud, on which he is now out on bail. As the Deputy Minister for Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P Perera, said at the media briefing on Wednesday, this was a lengthy investigation for over six months, which revealed that Krrish Transworks Pvt Ltd., paid Rs. 70 million to Namal Rajapaksa through the Premium Sports President Nihal Perera.

The Krrish Group, at the bidding of Namal, deposited the money to (Nihal) Perera’s private bank account at HSBC. When the police questioned Perera, he said that Namal had inquired about the money and had taken his bank account number for it, and that Namal had on two occasions withdrawn the Rs. 70 million from his account. Perera has said this before the Magistrate, too. Further, all from the Super Sevens Rugby Tournament, for which the money was intended, had said that neither Krrish nor Namal had given them Rs. 70 million for the tournament. The question certainly arises as to what really happened to the money.

The answer to this will have to be well explained in court, and it is not likely that anyone will be pleased or happy to know the machinations of this huge and apparently fraudulent transaction.

What will make everyone happy is if this matter is dealt with at speed after all these months of investigation, and it does not remain yet another issue of fraud that hangs in the law enforcement and judicial systems.

Honour the Courts

The Daily News editorial of Thursday 4, titled “Courts should be salvaged from ridicule” had a most timely comment on the new trend where manacled hands of “big name” and political accused persons are displayed as those of champions of the people, and not for the reality of their involvement in fraud and crime. More people are shocked at the manner in which the handcuff is attempted to be shown as the trademark of political success – especially in the context of the Joint Opposition’s claims of political revenge, relating to every matter they are hauled over the judicial coals.

I shall quote: “Now our courts are assailed in a different form. The latest episode where our courts are brought to ridicule is the spectacle of VIP wrongdoers brought before them raising aloft manacled hands to disport themselves as heroes or martyrs. Nothing can be more ridiculous. One would have that such symbolism is associated with prisoners of conscience ala Mandela. Certainly not elements who have been badly exposed as embezzlers, fraudsters or plain thieves, who have looted the country’s wealth.

“What will be the situation if the hundreds of remand prisoners brought to court daily too decide to lift their chained hands in defiance? Will not this be a mockery of the law and of our judicial system? Will these ordinary prisoners be allowed to show their defiance in this manner, in the first place? Certainly not. Then why permit politicians who are hauled before the courts for much more serious offences, permitted to snub the court after its ruling is delivered, in this manner?”

This proud display of manacled hands by those in political and systemic fraud, corruption and crime, may require some amendments to the rules under which persons charged with crimes and remanded by the courts, and handled, with regard to the manacles. It may be good to look at the practice of many other democracies, where this frontal use of manacle display is prevented, by the person being handcuffed from behind, as we see so often on TV news today. It is no denial of the rights of the accused. The public will certainly be pleased to see such restraint on accused persons, however “powerful’ they may be, and bring necessary respect to the courts in this regard.

Shadowy trends

The so-called Shadow Cabinet of the Joint Opposition is already moving into the shadow of politics. This is not surprising when considering the long shadows that trail almost all of those named on this shadow team in “political monitoring”. Yet there are other shadows that are emerging, in the moves to break up the SLFP. Basil Rajapaksa is going ahead with the organising of SLFP ranks, especially in local government activities, despite the absence of open support by Mahinda Rajapaksa; who still believes he could grab the SLFP leadership, without a break up of the party. It seems a long dream. There is also another shadow lying with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa telling the media this week, after an FCID inquiry, that he has still not decided to enter politics – will he throw in the hat, and if so when, will be most interesting in the SLFP battle for leadership.

Yet the more pressing issue for the SLFP on how those SLFPers in government will vote on the VAT Bill, which was to be presented in parliament on July 20, is not relevant anymore. This is due to the separate petition filed in the Supreme Court, which puts the VAT Bill on hold, stating its passage requires a two-thirds majority and a referendum too. It is a matter that will require two to three weeks for Court consideration. This delay will give more time for canvassing by the Joint Opposition, in shadows and in the open, to make at least some SLFPers in government to even abstain from support for the VAT changes by law, on the grounds that they will be more popular with the people. However, it will also give more time for the Government to strengthen its amendments to keep the SLFPers within its fold in support of VAT.

However, with the amendments to the VAT regulations, and the increase in items to be excluded from VAT that is taking the interest of the Government, the Joint Opposition may find any major SLFP rift on VAT, an expectation that is beyond realization. They will have to be satisfied with the interim order by the Supreme Court suspending VAT, till the necessary law is passed, or till the case comes up again in December this year. Despite the travails of the cost of living and other related issues, the Government certainly has the upper hand in the legislative move that will impact of internal budgetary benefits to it. The signs are that in the coming days there will be greater understanding between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, on how best to work out a good VAT majority in parliament.
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