Ravi’s dramatic withdrawal prods AG’s Dept to gee-up

Responsibility and irresponsibility - Last week´s events in our resplendent island can be used as a perfect example of the dichotomy between responsibility and irresponsibility.

As former Finance and Foreign Minister, Ravi Karunanayake strode in the parliament chamber to make his resignation speech; the nation was already appraised of the decision. The former minister´s meeting on Tuesday morning with the President and Prime Minister was a much discussed item within political circles with most of the details known, except for the role played by Minister of Health, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne in facilitating the negotiations that took place prior to the resignation speech in Parliament.

As reported elsewhere already, Karunanayake’s name initially figured at the Central Bank treasury bond investigations when Anika Wijesuriya, a director of East - West Properties stated that the apartment which is owned by her was leased at a monthly rental of Rs 1.45 million to the Karunanayake family last year. However, this information, along with the fact that Arjun Aloysius, or a company related to him, had paid the initial lease agreement was made public last year in parliament.

The lease agreement reportedly amounted to Rs 7.3 million while an additional Rs.1.4 million was paid in cash. Anika stated that the lease agreement was reached with a company to which the Rs.7.3 million was transferred by the Perpetual Capital Holdings Pvt Ltd, to be paid to her.

Anika also said that the Karunanayake family had later expressed willingness to buy the apartment and settled on a price of Rs.165 million. She said that Global Transportation and Logistics Pvt Ltd, a company in which the minister’s wife and daughter were directors, purchased the apartment in September 2016.

Karunanayake had held the post of Managing Director in the company until his resignation on January 8, 2015 while the minister’s wife and eldest daughter are currently serving in Executive Director posts in the company.

A motion of no-confidence against the former Finance Minister signed by 32 MPs representing the Joint Opposition was handed over to the Speaker’s Office on August 3.

It was then that Karunanayake first decided that he must take responsibility and step down until the Commission makes known its findings and a decision regarding what has transpired. While certain members of parliament and cabinet colleagues of Karunanayake made strong representations to the President and the Prime Minister that Karunanayake should be removed, both the President, and the Prime Minister took note of their suggestions but was cautious to see as to whether the issue would culminate with time and have a snowballing effect. They both were aware of the dangers of such a motion and were keen to avoid a debate in the House as well.

According to reports published elsewhere, arriving to his residence at Battaramulla, after the special statement made in Parliament on his resignation, Karunanayake said he had resigned with pride from his ministerial portfolio to set a good precedent.

‘I have made this sacrifice in order to show the innocent people that they could witness a ‘new dawn’ in future. I am truly grateful for the people who still stand by me even during a difficult phase,’ he said.

He said they would continue with this government in a positive manner with the leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was to say in Parliament, immediately after the resignation speech of Karunanayake that Karunanayake had set a good precedent by resigning from his portfolio.

The Premier said the minister’s resignation to allow for impartial investigations showed this government’s commitment to good governance.

It was not only the Prime Minister who commended Karunanayake´s resignation.Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, also speaking in Parliament said Karunanayake has not yet been found guilty by any competent court and he was entitled to the presumption of innocence as it was his fundamental right.

‘I commend that bold step. He has done so in the interest of good governance, in the interest of the people of this country and the interest of the country itself. He had set an example which many others could do well to follow,’ the Opposition Leader said. He added that in the past few years there have been several charges of corruption against many but none of these have been dealt with and it is significant that a Minister in the present Government tendered his resignation today based on certain charges against him, which have not yet been proved.

Karunanayake explaining his position on the allegations was to tell parliament ‘I have a house in Battaramulla and it was under repair. I needed to find a new place. I do not have an official residence. My family members too were looking for a suitable place. They told me that there was a house available at Monarch Residencies and it belonged to Nahil Wijesuriya’s daughter who is also a friend of my daughter. We moved to that house. Nahil Wijesuriya’s daughter did not want to rent the House to a politician. Therefore, my daughter proposed to the owner to rent the house to a company belonging to Arjun Aloysius who is a school friend of both my daughter and Nahil Wijesuriya’s daughter. The house was rented out in the name of that company. Later on, my daughter settled the amount to that company.”

He also said that as the owner of the house decided to sell it ‘our family purchased it through a line of credit from the Seylan Bank.’ Karunanayake recalled his early days in the UNP and pointed out that he ‘was a successful businessman before I joined politics. During my career, I never earned anything through illegal means. I only lost my money because of politics. I never earned from politics.’

In the meantime the Attorney General’s representatives assisting the Treasury Bond Commission had taken a lot of flak by the UNP for the manner they conducted the case and the line of questioning of former Minister Karunanayake. Several independent observers also felt that they exceeded their limit when they cross examined the minister in question, but others argued that they showed professional excellence in the case. In the circumstances government wanted them to execute other cases especially fraud cases against the previous regime meticulously with similar enthusiasm. The back benchers of the UNP had already created a doubt about the genuineness of the Attorney General’s department representatives who handled the bond issue but on Friday Additional Solicitor General Yasantha Kodagoda took swipes at their critics during the proceedings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry but when the lawyers representing the defendants pointed out he was responding to utterances made elsewhere Kodagoda shot back saying that it was the only forum that he had.

Be that as it may, while Karunanayake was being lauded by both sides of the aisle in parliament for taking responsibility and stepping down, two other ministers, one from the UNP and the other from the SLFP came under attack from their colleagues for not respecting the cardinal rule of collective responsibility of the cabinet of Ministers.

This followed a statement made by Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijedasa Rajapashe, that the lease of Hambantota Harbour to the Chinese was ‘wrong’ and stating that he ‘would not rest until he regains its ownership on behalf of the people’.

In an interview with published last Sunday in Sunday Lankadeepa (NOT a Lake House publication) the minister had said that as a politician he had always done what was right by the country and fought against corruption. ‘The deal with China in relation to the Hambantota Harbour is decisive within the sphere of global politics as it has prompted India to demand possession of the oil tanks in Trincomalee,’ the minister is said to have stated.

He had warned that as 89 per cent of the ships arriving at the Colombo Harbour were there for re-export ‘these ships would not want to sail an extra 400 nautical miles to Colombo when with the further expansion taking place at the Hambantota Harbour they could dock there and unload their goods. This would then end up turning the Colombo Harbour into a swimming pool while the Chinese company with a major stake in the Hambantota Port would flourish.’

It was Minister Rajitha Senaratne, speaking at the weekly cabinet briefing who first took umbrage at Minister Rajapakshe´s statement. Minister Senaratne said the Justice Minister was breaching the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. Minister Senaratne said Minister Rajapakshe’s statement will be taken up for discussion at the next Cabinet meeting and a decision will be made.

This was not the first time in recent weeks that Minister Rajapakshe went against the government´s grain. Earlier this month, in our Sunday, 6 August 2017 column, ‘CORRUPTION, MONEY LAUNDERING POT BEGINS TO BOIL,’ we wrote how Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had to contend with another conundrum after Rajapakshe, reportedly argued heatedly with former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms Ben while countering terrorism, and commented how President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have managed to balance the pressures from the international community against the pressures exerted by internal factions, including those within the government. “Minister Rajepakshe has increasingly sided himself with sections of the Buddhist clergy, who in recent days have become vociferous in their calls for non-interference with the military personnel who fought against the LTTE in the 30 year conflict,” we said.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne was also to question the lack of progress by the Attorney General’s Department on cases investigated and filed by the FCID against the former regime’s politicians and officials while taking quick measures to file charges against Yahapalana politicians, at the cabinet briefing. He said the Government and the people expect the same efficiency from the AG’s Department on the former regime’s fraud and corruption cases and a probe on the Attorney General’s Department was also needed. The AG´s department comes under the Minister of Justice.

Meanwhile, the other cabinet member who is not holding into collective cabinet responsibility is Science, Technology, and Research Minister Susil Premajayantha who also criticised lease of the Hambantota Port at a press conference held last week at the SLFP headquarters.

As reported elsewhere, the Minister had alleged ‘the UNPers in the past while in power sold state properties and it’s still repeating same. Recently, the government had sold 80% of the Hambantota Port to the Chinese firm. Without selling the Port, we should have a plan of proper management. For that we have the relevant people and resource persons.’

“Every commercial enterprise has a business plan. First of all the government has to think whether they are capable of managing the State institution. If the plan was not applicable, the government should implement another plan. Without thinking of any business plans, I think this government had come to power with an idea of selling its properties,” he had said.

Minister Seneratne is expected to draw the cabinet’s attention to both these statements made by Ministers Rajapakshe and Premajayantha when the cabinet meets next on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a statement made repeatedly by the Managing Director of Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and high profile businessman, Muhunthan Canagey, in social media alleging a scam where the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, had allegedly issued frequencies to a private entity without any bidding procedure, came under sharp rebuke by the government.

The statement, published in our sister newspaper, Daily News, last week, said that the reports in some media that the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) has assigned frequencies to some institutions in a fraudulent manner are false and baseless.

The statement said the digital television frequency bands in Sri Lanka has not been released to the market yet and in this backdrop allegations that the government has incurred losses by selling frequencies to the private sector without proper tender procedures were false and baseless.

The President´s office was forced to issue this statement after a highly publicized private war broke out between Canagey and a certain private entity with both making allegations and counter allegations against each other using social media and other means.

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