I spent my entire professional life from 1957- 2004 representing the Sri Lankan government’s interests abroad, heading our diplomatic missions in China, Japan, South Korea and the UN mission in New York.
I have worked with Sri Lankan politicians from different parties implementing different policies. So I have watched with bemusement the drama that has unfolded in the past four years around my son, Arjuna Mahendran. A trained economist, he took up the job of central bank governor since a central banker’s job has to be the most interesting and important job for a professional economist. I advised him not to give up his financial sector job outside Sri Lanka because I was worried that the so-called yahapalanaya coalition government would be overly politicized, given the fragile alliance between the two coalition parties. Just as Troy’s Princess Cassandra’s warnings were not heeded, my warning was ignored as being pessimistic. What have we now?
In classical Rome, during certain imperial wars, the statesman Cato the Elder had a habit of ending all his speeches saying Carthago delen daest – Carthage must be destroyed. Similarly, certain political operatives and their media backers have spent the past four years using Arjuna Mahendran as the mantra to impose a shroud of corruption on one party while deflecting attention from the misdeeds of the other party. So what are the facts and why is Arjuna not willing to trust that he will get a fair hearing in the current political set-up in Sri Lanka?
1) None of the Pitipana Committee, Supreme Court and COPE Report was able to attribute wrongdoing to Arjuna. Then the Presidential Commission was formed. Section 14 of Sri Lanka’s Act for Commissions of Inquiry states that evidence brought before a commission may not be used against any person in any civil or criminal proceeding so that various types of information may be considered. Section 14 is applicable to the Bond Commission.
It is alleged that Arjuna passed price-sensitive information to his son-in-law whose company was a primary dealer in Sri Lankan treasury bonds. Evidence that the alleged price-sensitive information was already shared with the primary dealer community by individuals other than Arjuna has been reviewed by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, the Committee of Public Enterprises of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and separate Commissions of Inquiry appointed by the Prime Minister and President of Sri Lanka.
Not a shred of actual objective evidence was produced to prove that Arjuna passed information. It makes no sense for Arjuna to have engaged in conduct that would jeopardize an unblemished and highly remunerative career. What is even more puzzling is the disregard of evidence that, prior to the auction of Government Bonds in question, price-sensitive information may have been passed by certain other persons.
2) There will be a highly politicized show of criminal process if Arjuna sets foot in Sri Lanka. His son-in-law was arrested and imprisoned on February 4, 2018. The highly public and televised arrest on Independence Day clearly demonstrated the politicized nature of this case. Mr. Aloysius has been kept in jail and denied bail without a hearing on the merits of the case against him for almost a year. It is not surprising that international legal experts have expressed concern at the politicized nature of the legal process in Sri Lanka. The 2017 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers describes a pattern of fair trial abuses applicable to "politically-sensitive cases such as corruption cases" which "amount to a denial of individual rights and denial of justice".(See UN Doc. A/HRC/35/31/Add. 1/ 23 Mar 2017). Given the sheer, pervasive prejudice fostered around this case, there is a real risk that justice will be integrally denied in this case.
Recent country of origin information of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture and US State Department, summarised by the Austrian Red Cross, also paints a bleak picture of prison detention conditions, while the Swiss Refugee Aid organisation documents issues with access to healthcare. (See https://www.osar.ch/assets/herkunftslaender/asien-pazifik/sri-lanka/160422-lka-rueckkehrverhaftungmedikamente-anonym-f.pdf).
I can hear the shrieks of parochial nationalistic elements at the temerity to mention anything less than ideal about our country. But I think we have recently shown the world that we have the resilience and maturity to settle our problems in a constructive way. Partisan bickering should give way to a focus on solving problems for the people.
The continuing character assassination without a factual basis of Arjuna by certain political operatives and their supportive media has resulted in a surreal situation where Arjuna, like Jason Bourne in A Bourne Identity, has to fear the government of a country he has worked for periodically since he graduated from Balliol College in 1977. As the Roman philosopher Lucretius (and later King Lear) put it, nothing comes from nothing. My son and daughter have always known that hard work is necessary to achieve anything worthwhile. Hard work got them through Oxford and Harvard and hard work will see us through. This assumes that political attempts at constructing a criminal fiction and intimidating people who speak their mind in a civil way do not succeed.
I have been told not to speak up and thus avoid attempts at intimidation and harassment. I am 86 years old. I have served my country all my working life. I have quoted the Lord Buddha’s sayings in Pali in my missions to various countries. If I am to be pilloried and persecuted for speaking my mind, so be it. "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the states of facts and evidence", said American founding father John Adams. Appamado amata padam – Mindfulness is the way to Nibbana. Let us be mindful of our thoughts and desires as we look at our work and the outside world.
The rest is silence
- C. Mahendran
This article was first appeared in The Island.