Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister quits


(The Hindu)

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, who was recently linked to a questionable financial arrangement with a controversial businessman, on Thursday resigned from the post, but denied allegations of wrongdoing.

The scandal broke out about a fortnight ago, when a witness told a commission probing an alleged Central Bank bond scam that the businessman — a bond dealer linked to the scam — had paid the lease rental for a luxury apartment occupied by Mr. Karunanayake and his family. The 2015 bond sale is said to have cost the island losses amounting to millions of dollars. Mr. Karunanayake has, however, said he was unaware of that contents of the apartment deal, and that his family handled it.

But Opposition lawmakers and sections of civil society had demanded the Foreign Minister resign immediately, accusing him of corruption and hindering transparency.

Local media reports said that some parliamentarians moved a no-confidence motion against Mr. Karunanayake and the resignation came in the wake of it. Amid speculation about Mr. Karunanayake’s possible resignation, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met him at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday.

New chapter

In a special statement in Parliament on Thursday, Mr. Karunanayake said he was stepping down “with pride” to protect the United National Party (UNP) and the government it helms.

Speaking to The Hindu, Telecommunications Minister and UNP parliamentarian Harin Fernando said: “This [resignation] is certainly a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s political history.”

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition came to power on an anti-corruption platform in January 2015. A month after they formed the government, a massive scam at the Central Bank came to light.

Two and a half years since, there is mounting frustration about the government’s perceived lethargy in probing corruption cases, including those involving prominent persons from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.

‘Government’s defeat’

Lawyer and political commentator Gehan Gunatilleke said Thursday’s development only pointed to the government’s defeat in matters pertaining to accountability and good governance.

“This episode demonstrates the government’s and the UNP’s inability to manage the politics of anti-corruption,” he told The Hindu. Noting that the Minister’s resignation might “temporarily” address concerns of those who voted for this government, the delay in addressing corruption during the previous regime is a “reflection of bad politics”.

“The government has only itself to blame for this situation,” he said.

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