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‘Napoleon’ dead



Thursday 22nd October, 2020

Sri Lanka’s Napoleon of Crime, Madush, who met his Waterloo, last year, died on Tuesday. The police shot him dead at Maligawatte, Colombo, in what has been described as a confrontation between them and some of his confederates who allegedly tried to help him escape. A stock of heroin was found in an apartment which he allegedly led the police to.

Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha aka Makandure Madush was no ordinary criminal. Having clawed his way up in the underworld, he became so powerful that his private army could strike anywhere at will as was evident from the Kalutara prison bus massacre in 2017. He meticulously planned the ambush on the prison vehicles while he was hiding in Dubai, and had the leader of a rival gang killed together with six others including two jailers. He obviously had inside help as he was aware of the last minute-changes the prison officers, tasked with taking a group of prisoners including the victims to a court, had made to their plan. His businesses included drug running, extortion and contract killing. He used a fraction of his ill-gotten wealth for charity. He sponsored religious functions and reportedly lavished funds on some politicians.

The blame for the rise of Madush, a worker from a southern village, in the underworld should go to the police and successive governments, which did precious little to neutralise organised criminal networks. The traffic cops wait till motorists commit offences to fine them, and crime busters wait till criminals emerge strong to kill them! In fact, governments have created monsters in the underworld to do their dirty work. The J. R. Jayewardene regime was responsible for the creation of Gonawala Sunil, who received a presidential pardon while serving a sentence for abducting and raping a teenage girl. He committed heinous crimes, carried out attacks on Opposition politicians and stuffed ballot boxes. He got killed when his political masters realised he knew too much and would go out of control. The Premadasa government sponsored Soththi Upali, who terrorised the country and had even high-ranking police officers salute him. He died at the hands of his rivals after the UNP had lost power. The Kumaratunga administration had a notorious underworld character, Beddegana Sanjeewa, appointed a police officer and attached to the Presidential Security Division. He rose above the law, and committed many a crime, but died a violent death when he became an embarrassment to that regime. The previous Rajapakasa government had a minister who specialised in underworld affairs. He had Opposition protests crushed, and journalists as well as media institutions attacked besides grabbing land in Colombo and its suburbs and extorting money. He helped drug kingpin Kudu Lal flee the country. The yahapalana government did not promote criminals, but it allowed terrorists like Zahran, responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage, to emerge powerful. The credit for having Madush brought here following his arrest in Dubai, last year, should go to Maithripala Sirisena, who was the President at the time and showed no leniency towards criminals. Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday bombings derailed his war on drugs.

Strangely, in this country, all criminals who get caught perish in more or less the same manner; they invariably lead the police to their hideouts where drugs or weapons are hidden, grapple with the armed cops or pull out firearms or grenades only to get shot dead. Time was when criminals would plunge into rivers and canals with handcuffs on and drown while being taken to their hideouts. Underworld characters no longer do so; now, they apparently prefer to die in clashes with the police on terra firma! Either these criminals are so stupid as to fight with armed cops and die in the process, or the police think the public readily buys into cops’ tales about how criminals perish while in custody.

It is unfortunate that Madush happened to be killed. Had he been tried for his crimes, he would have had to name those who had benefited from his criminal activities and largesse.

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Hunter’s gun



Friday 14th June, 2024

The US presidential race has taken another dramatic turn with a federal jury finding President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, guilty of having illegally purchased and possessed a gun while being addicted to crack cocaine. A sentencing date has not yet been set. The offence carries a prison term. Hunter is reportedly considering an appeal. A life of debauchery is dogging him.

No sooner had Hunter’s guilty verdict been announced than President Biden declared that he accepted the outcome of the case and respected the judicial process. His reaction was in sharp contrast to that of his rival, former President Donald Trump, who claimed a felony trial that led to his conviction had been rigged. However, Biden only made a virtue of necessity. There is no way he can be critical of the verdict at issue, which came close on the heels of Trump’s felony conviction, which the Democrats have welcomed.

It was ironic that Biden, who gained politically from Trump’s conviction in the presidential race, happened to hug his convicted son in public on Tuesday. Never had a US President, former or serving, been found guilty of felony before Trump’s conviction. Similarly, Hunter is the first child of a US President to be convicted of a federal crime.

President Biden lost no time in declaring that he would not grant a pardon to his son convicted of three federal gun crimes. He cannot afford to do otherwise, with the presidential election only a few months away; the Republicans are all out to destroy him politically.

Pardoning his son is a surefire way to ruin his chances of re-election. However, the White House has not ruled out a potential commutation for Hunter. But such action will entail a huge political cost for Biden. Perhaps, a commutation could prove as costly as a pardon politically.

The two convictions at issue are sure to figure heavily in the debate to be held between Trump and Biden soon. However, opinion is divided on the potential impact they will have on the campaigns of the two candidates. The Democrats claim that following Trump’s conviction, Biden has picked up a few points, especially in the battleground states, but political analysts point out that these increases in his approval rating are within the margins of error and therefore negligible. The Republicans insist that there has been an uptick in their fundraising since Trump’s conviction, which the former President has succeeded in monetising, so to speak.

Biden, however, stands accused of having leveraged his political positions to help his son, Hunter, in the past. In 2016, it was alleged that he, as the US Vice President, had engineered the ouster of the then Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, who had launched a probe into Burishma Holdings Ltd., a Ukrainian energy company, which had Hunter on its board of directors and paid him a princely salary. There were several such controversies involving Hunter’ foreign business interests while his father was the Vice President.

Trouble, however, is not over for Biden. Hunter will face another trial in September for not paying taxes in 2017 and 2018. The hearing is sure to grab media attention and be another disconcerting distraction for Biden.

The US is no respecter of international laws and conventions, but the guilty verdicts against Trump and Hunter, and a nascent impeachment inquiry against President Biden have demonstrated that its domestic systems are stronger than individuals, however powerful they may be politically or otherwise, and therein lies the real strength of the American democracy, unlike in countries like Sri Lanka, where politicians and their kith and kin are above the law, and can amass ill-gotten wealth and even have their rivals murdered with impunity.

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Machiavellian duplicity



Thursday 13th June, 2024

It appears that President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa and JVP/NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are taking part in a promise-making competition, as it were, in the North and the East in a desperate bid to secure the support of the TNA and other Tamil political parties for their presidential election campaigns. They have been stumping those parts of the country aggressively during the past few weeks.

Besides offering to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully and enhance devolution, Wickremesinghe and Premadasa are providing material assistance to the public in the North and the East obviously with an eye to the upcoming presidential election. The President has been allocating public funds with a generous hand for developing the North and the East as if he were spending his own money for that purpose. Dissanayake has sought to trump his opponents’ bid to woo the TNA and others; in what could be considered a major about-turn on the part of the JVP, he has reportedly offered to go beyond the 13th Amendment in resolving ethnic issues in case of his victory in the upcoming presidential race. He has provided grist to his political opponents’ mill.

The TNA has been wise enough to urge the ‘promising’ presidential candidates from the South to sound the majority community out on their pledges. It has adopted a pragmatic approach; devolution is a contentious issue, and political solutions based thereon require the backing of the majority community to reach fruition. Southern politicians have earned notoriety for reneging on their election promises to all Sri Lankans, and it is only natural that nobody takes them seriously.

There has been a mixed reaction to Dissanayake’s U-turn on devolution. The JVP plunged the country into a protracted bloodbath in a bid to scuttle the Indo-Lanka Accord, the 13th Amendment, and the establishment of the Provincial Councils (PCs) in the late 1980s. It brutally gunned down those who tirelessly campaigned for evolving a political solution to the ethnic problem through devolution. They included Vijaya Kumaratunga and many other leftists. The sea change in the JVP’s policy has been welcomed by the proponents of devolution, as a positive change, but the JVP/NPP will have its work cut out to convince the public that it is not driven by Machiavellian duplicity.

Interestingly, in 2000, the UNP and the JVP jointly torpedoed President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s constitutional reforms Bill aimed at establishing regional councils besides restoring the parliamentary system of government. Kumaratunga said the UNP had pledged its support for the Bill. The Opposition MPs literally set the Bill on fire in the House, claiming that Kumaratunga had inserted some transitional provisions without their consent. If she had done so, they could have sorted out that issue through talks without burning the Bill. It was clear that they shot down her constitutional reform package for political expediency. Now, they are offering to devolve more powers!

It is a supreme irony that President Wickremesinghe, Premadasa and Dissanayake have, at discussions with the TNA, undertaken to hold the much-delayed PC polls. All of them were instrumental in postponing the PC elections in 2017. The UNP with Premadasa as its Deputy Leader at the time, the JVP and the TNA together passed an amendment to the PC Elections Act to put off the PC polls indefinitely. The PCs have been functioning without elected representatives for the last seven years or so. They are currently under Provincial Governors appointed by the President, who also controls the dissolved local government institutions through the Governors. Thus, he has all three tiers of government—Parliament, the PC and the local government authorities under him. He is running a one-man show. Shouldn’t the UNP, its offshoot, the SJB, the JVP and the TNA apologise to the people for what they have done to the PCs?

The JVP finds itself in a contradiction, a huge one at that. Having played a pivotal role in mobilising the masses to oust popularly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his economic crimes, which sent the country reeling, the JVP, which has committed far worse crimes, such as countless murders and destruction of public assets worth billions of rupees, in the name of an ill-conceived mission to defeat Indian expansionism, abort the 13th Amendment and sabotage the PC system, is now asking the public to buy into its untested claims and elect its leader as the President! This, it is doing without ever so much as tendering an apology for its criminal past!

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Playing ball, the govt’s way



Wednesday 12th June, 2024

Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy is not solely economic or financial; it is multisectoral as evident from the steep decline in standards, inefficiency, corruption and even dysfunctionality affecting other spheres. It has not even spared men’s cricket, which is fast losing its status as the de facto national sport owing to the players’ consistently poor performance and public resentment towards the cricket administration, which has become a metaphor for corruption.

Unfortunately, the only thing dazzling about Sri Lankan cricketers these days is the on-field display of their elegant gold jewellery. Former World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who has famously said the rot in Sri Lanka’s cricket set in, the day cricketers started playing for money, stands vindicated.

Sports Minister Harin Fernando is drawing heavy flak for having issued a controversial gazette, seeking to enable the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) President and Secretary to remain in their positions for eight years and thereafter serve as Executive Committee members. The SLPP-UNP government is currently in the extension mode, as it were. It has reportedly granted service extensions to some defence bigwigs and is all out to extend the term of the incumbent Attorney General. The UNP has not given up its efforts to extend President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s term by postponing the upcoming presidential election.

The SLC is running a parallel government to all intents and purposes. It has emerged so powerful that it can have any Sports Minister who refuses to toe its line sacked at will and a person of its choice appointed to that post. Fernando, who is known for his willingness to play ball with cricket panjandrums, got the Sports portfolio following the expulsion of Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe from the Cabinet for taking on corrupt cricket administrators, who have proved that they are above the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

The SLC is no respecter of anyone or any institution here; it is capable of having ICC bans slapped in retaliation when action is taken to rid it of corruption so that the President of Sri Lanka has to tug his forelock before the self-important ICC Chief in India and tender an apology.

Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella has said the Sports Minister Fernando’s gazette has violated a resolution Parliament passed unanimously in Nov., 2023, calling for the sacking of the incumbent office-bearers of Sri Lanka Cricket, but in vain. He has stressed the obvious. Now that Minister Fernando has flown in the face of that parliamentary resolution and thereby caused an affront to the national legislature, what action will Parliament take against him?

Will the Opposition move a no-faith motion against Minister Fernando? Such a move however could prove counterproductive in that the government has enough numbers in the House to scuttle it, and its defeat can be construed as parliamentary approval for Fernando’s gazette. But a no-confidence motion will help expose the MPs who connive with Minister Fernando and his SLC chums to undermine Parliament. An opportunity has presented itself for the government and Opposition MPs to shore up the image of Parliament as well as theirs by joining forces to foil Minister Fernando’s attempt to perpetuate the current cricket administrators’ grip on the SLC.

Kiriella has alleged that the gazette at issue will help the government secure funds for its election campaigns from those who benefit from corrupt cricket deals. That is the name of the game in
Sri Lankan politics. There is said to be no such thing as a free lunch. There are no ‘free’ gazettes either.

One wonders whether some Opposition members are among those who have benefited from the largesse of cricket bigwigs, for those otherwise cantankerous characters have chosen to remain silent on the controversial gazette.

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