Chinese bombshell rocks Sri Lankan Parliament

Faraz Shauketaly

Additional research by Muaad Razick 
China’s Belt and Road initiative has caused controversy in most of the countries that apparently benefited from its largesse. Latest revelations indicate a presence of a prima-facie case in which China has provided funding to a foundation in Sri Lanka set up by the former ruling Rajapaksa family.

A company that is ultimately owned by the Chinese government, doing business in Sri Lanka have been found out to have made a donation to a foundation named the “Pushpa Rajapakse Foundation”.

Pushpa Rajapaksa is better known as the wife of Basil Rajapaksa, a one-time all-powerful minister of Economic Development, serving under his brother Mahinda Rajapakse.

The latest revelation indicates rather a robust effort on part of the Chinese to secure investment and opportunity – and if the analysts are right, political influence. The Chinese firm, CCIT acknowledged the donation saying it was made in good faith and that it was towards building homes. It was not immediately clear as to whom the house was meant for. The Rajapaksas have been silent on the detail – as indeed they tend to be.

By most standards, the amount in question – Rs 19 million – is relatively small especially considering the amount that Mahinda Rajapaksa is said to have received – USD 7.6 million from Chinese sources.

Economists, however, note as indeed former President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives did, that Sri Lanka, like other beneficiaries of the Belt and Road Initiative, have gotten themselves into an unrecoverable debt trap. According to President Nasheed, when default looms, the Chinese usually extract their pound of flesh by insisting on freehold or long-leasehold land.

Previously Sri Lanka’s former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse denied claims made by the New York Times of a contribution of USD 7.6 million purportedly for election expenses. In his usual style and with oodles of bravado the darling of Sri Lanka’s south, assured supporters that he would be instituting legal action against the NYT. And as usual with these assurances, nought has come out of it. In Sri Lanka, many were aware that there would be no legal action of any sort initiated by the Rajapaksas.

With 10 days prior to the elections $3.7 million were distributed in cheques, out of which $678,000 was allocated to print T-shirts and other promotional material and another $297,000 to buy gifts and Saris.

Interestingly USD 38,000 was given to a Buddhist monk who was a strong patronizer of the Rajapakse’s. Separately, two cheques amounting up to $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to President Rajapaksa’s then official residence, in Colombo.

The Rajapaksa administration has been accused of partiality towards the minority communities and of large-scale attacks on the Tamil community in addition to the large number of ‘missing’ persons. The United Nations has given the Sri Lankan government a seemingly uphill task of starting real efforts to get to the bottom of the unexplained missing persons as well as some who are still incarcerated and awaiting trial.

In an ironic twist, a British MP made headlines recently for spending luxury holidays at the expense of the Rajapakse government. In this instance the roles were reversed: Sri Lanka was looking for comfort and support in terms of the UN claims on war crimes and crimes against humanity and was counting on widespread support to defeat the then proposed UN resolutions.

Ian Paisley a Democratic Unionist MP is facing major criticism as he is already suspended for a month from the House of Commons. Paisley is said to have written sympathetically of Sri Lanka to David Cameron, then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

According to the Belfast Telegraph the MP who has already been censured, in a statement had said that he partook in this holiday which he himself estimated to be around the GBP 50,000 mark (Rs 10 million approx)
Sri Lanka’s parliament went into overdrive once the details of both these matters came to the fore. A special discussion was also held although both, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa were not in the chamber for the debate.

Predictably a Police department investigation into the claims of foreign monies for electioneering purposes came into being after the details emerged.

Although Sri Lanka boasts of a robust democracy and an independent judiciary, no one in Sri Lanka really really expects any real decisions to emanate from the current investigations underway. In Sri Lanka, it was ‘business as usual’.