disclosures to media breach mps’ privileges- Leader of House and Higher Education and Highways Minister, Lakshman Kiriella | Sunday Observer

disclosures to media breach mps’ privileges- Leader of House and Higher Education and Highways Minister, Lakshman Kiriella

Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister, Lakshman Kiriella said, they are not against the ongoing investigation by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the Central Bank Bond Scam. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, the commission has not done anything wrong and it can virtually investigate anything, anytime. However, the question is, the information gathered by the commission should have been kept private and confidential to be used by the commission when necessary. Therefore, the leakage of this information to the media amounts to a breach of privilege of the MPs and Ministers in the COPE. This is not a court case and it is only a fact finding commission to ascertain whether any wrong had been done.

Q.The Speaker informed Parliament on November 21 that the Committee on Privileges would find out whether the MPs’ privileges had been violated by the PCoI . What is the next step by the Privileges Committee to probe this matter?

A. The Privileges Committee will continue to inquire into the matter. When completed, it would be referred to the Speaker.

Q. Has the Presidential Commission or the Police obtained the Speaker’s permission before commencing surveillance on MPs representing COPE?

A. No permission had been obtained from the Speaker. What we say is, the Commission can investigate and there is no problem there. It can investigate virtually anything, any time. But, this is not a court case. This is a Commission gathering information to see whether any wrong had been done. So, the information collected should be kept confidential. The publication of the information is a breach of privilege because no one is charged or found guilty, here. It is only a fact finding Commission. So whatever information they gather must be held confidentially.

Q. Do you agree with the view expressed by the UNP MPs that their rights and privileges have been violated by the actions of the PCoL?

A. I am not saying the PCoL published it. But, the information should have been kept confidential. The question is, how did such information appear in the newspapers.

As I said earlier, the publication of the information is a breach of privilege. All the information that the Police get during an investigation should not be published in newspapers.

Q. Has the Speaker sought legal opinion on the tapping of the phones of four UNP MPs in COPE?

A. That, of course I don’t know. Even the Presidential Commission issued a statement that telephone records of any MP had not been obtained or examined.

What the Commission said was that it had investigated the former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s and Arjun Aloysius’ phones to see whom they have contacted during this period. But no phones were tapped.

Q. Will this affect the ongoing PCoL investigations in any way?

A. No, it won’t. The PCoL is an independent body. We have no problem with the investigations. Investigations have to be carried out. But, as I said earlier, all the information gathered should have been kept private and confidential.

Q. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that the telephones of MPs were not tapped during his regime and that tapping phones is illegal, and several Opposition MPs have also expressed concern about the tapping of phones. Do you think there is bipartisan consensus that tapping of MPs’ phones is morally wrong?

A. It is morally wrong. Every time you are out of power, you say so. But, when you are in power, you don’t adhere to it.

Q. What can be done in the future to prevent this kind of intrusion into the lives of MPs?

A. Communication is important to us. Lots of people who are helpless and voiceless, phone us and seek aid to raise their grievances in Parliament. For example, sometimes, I even get phone calls from the Welikada prison mates.

Some of whom I know and those I don’t know, also ask for relief in their cases and appeal for help to be released, or to get pardons. But that doesn’t mean we are also criminals.

Q. Do you think the PCoL has acted outside its mandate by letting the media publish details of phone conversations of MPs and officials of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd?

A. No. The Commission is correct. It has been categorically stated that there was no tapping of MPs’ telephones. What the Commission has said was that they asked to examine the phones of Arjun Mahendran and Arjun Aloysius to find out whether they contacted members of COPE, and they found these five names. But, my grievance is that this information should have been kept private and confidential, without it being published.

Q. The Joint Opposition (JO) has claimed that MPs are being arrested, apparently without informing the Speaker and the Secretary General of Parliament. What is your comment?

A. When an MP is on his way to Parliament, he cannot be arrested. Similarly, when he is going away from Parliament or is on his way back home, he cannot be arrested.

Q. What is the progress with regard to the Code of Conduct for MPs?

A. It is being discussed now.

Q. So far, COPE, COPA and several other Parliamentary Committees have presented reports, over the years, but no action has been taken on their recommendations. How can this trend be reversed?

A. This happens in many countries. For example, some members of the British Parliament who came to Sri Lanka last year, had also served in the British Parliament in a Committee similar to COPE. I asked them whether anyone has been prosecuted after the findings by their Committee, and they said “no”. The COPE is an examining body. The Government has to rectify those mistakes on its own.

Q. What is your comment on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s appearance before the PCoL?

A. As I said in Parliament, he set an example to the entire country. He was not summoned before the Commission as a witness. The Premier went on his own and voluntarily appeared before the Commission. If we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to worry.


Privileges Committee to investigate

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has ordered the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges to investigate whether there was a breach of privileges of the Parliamentarians during the Treasury Bond probe conducted by the Presidential Commission. The Speaker told Parliament that the matter would be taken up at the Party Leaders’ meeting.

Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella on November 20 told Parliament that parliamentary privileges of MPs have been breached because of their phone calls having been tapped.

Addressing Parliament, the Speaker said, several Parliamentarians expressed their views regarding the manner in which the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoL) probed the Central Bank Bond Scam. They have queried about the disclosure of details of telephone conversations of Parliamentarians to the media, and the MPs have complained that it was a violation of their parliamentary privileges.

However, the PCoL issuing a statement assured that the telephone records of any MP had not been obtained or examined. It said, various statements made by several persons in the political arena and picked up by the media are ‘based on misconceptions and are factually erroneous’, and added that, the contents of any conversation or communication were not obtained and have not been produced in evidence before them.The Commission clarified that the mobile phones and other electronic devices used by Arjun Aloysius and Arjuna Mahendran were examined by the CID, and the Attorney General’s Department has considered that ascertaining the identity of the persons receiving the calls is necessary.