PRESIDENT, PM MAKE STRONG STATEMENTS AGAINST CORRUPTION: PM SAYS RS. 9.2 B IN PERPETUAL ACCOUNTS RECOVERABLE | Sunday Observer

PRESIDENT, PM MAKE STRONG STATEMENTS AGAINST CORRUPTION: PM SAYS RS. 9.2 B IN PERPETUAL ACCOUNTS RECOVERABLE

President Maithripala Sirisena made a strong and hard-hitting statement addressing the Cabinet of Ministers, at the Presidential Secretariat, on Tuesday morning.

It was clear that the President was disheartened and disappointed with remarks made by some Ministers and MPs representing the government.

The President, in his statement at the Cabinet meeting, responded to these statements saying he was fully committed to the cause of good governance. He also added that nothing would stop him from taking action against corruption and young politicians should learn to act with a sense of responsibility and maturity.

The President referring to the Bond Commission report said, it was not released aiming at any individual or group.

“I am not an ungrateful man. I never intended to backstab the UNP,” the President explained.

He further said, he was not an ungrateful man and outlined his role as the President and said that he did not interfere with any Ministry but allowed the government to work independently.

Discussion

After this statement, the President had a lengthy discussion with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the former’s office room at the Presidential Secretariat. Several senior Cabinet Ministers from both parties joined the discussion later. It was clear that all of them were determined to strengthen the understanding and cooperation between the two main parties in the ruling coalition.

The outcome of the Cabinet meeting, however, was positive. Despite the heat of the electoral race, both parties came to a principled agreement that the unity government should march forward with strength and vigour.

It was against this backdrop that the UNP Working Committee met at the party headquarters on Wednesday.

Addressing the Working Committee meeting, the Premier informed the membership to refrain from criticizing President Maithripala Sirisena in public, for any reason.

He also requested the party membership to contact him if they had any problems.

He said, politicians belonging to the party including all Ministers and Parliamentarians should refrain from criticizing the President whatever crisis existed politically. This directive to the UNP Working Committee convinced the party members of the Prime Minister’s commitment to the continuity of the unity government.

Some members pointed out that the SLFP seniors such as Susil Premajayantha and Dilan Perera had been directly targeting the Prime Minister in their statements.

Dilan Perera was at the butt-end of many a critical remark at the UNP Working Committee meeting. The WC members said, the party should promptly respond to such undue criticism against the Prime Minister.

Bond issue

At this meeting, it was emphasized that the Bond Commission report had been used to sling mud at the UNP.

The members discussed ways of clearing the UNP’s name when it came to the Bond fiasco.

“It has been established that the UNP was never benefitted, by any means, through the Bond fiasco. Also, we have fully supported investigations into this issue. The Prime Minister decided to make a voluntary statement to the Bond Commission and it was the first time that a Prime Minister of this country made such an effort to support an ongoing investigation. So, it is unfair that the UNP is being attacked over the Bond deal,” a UNP Working Committee member said.

Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva pointed out that Perpetual Treasuries Ltd had earned undue profits by purchasing bonds and selling them to the EPF. Several members said it was the UNP MPs, such as Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera, who called Perpetual Treasuries owner Arjuna Mahendran a rogue during the COPE proceedings.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said a program should be devised to educate the public about the Bond issue.

Minister Harin Fernando who explained UNP plans to win the local elections in the Uva Province said the UNP could not allow others to dance the merry devil after winning power through a long and protracted political struggle.

PM’s statement

All Parliamentarians were also advised to get directly involved in the UNP election campaign, both, in their electorates and other areas in the country.

A day after the Working Committee meeting, the Prime Minister made a special statement to the media, reiterating his position on the Bond issue.

The statement was aimed at clearing many doubts and misconceptions over the matter.

In his statement, the Prime Minister made it clear that no financial loss will be caused to the government on account of the Central Bank Bond issue since the government will recover the Rs 9.2 billion involved from Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. according to the procedure recommended by the Presidential Commission.

“The Central Bank functioning under the Ministry of National Policy has already blocked and retained a fund of Rs 12 billion belonging to the Perpetual Treasuries Ltd from which this money could be obtained,”the Prime Minister said in his special address to the nation broadcast over the electronic media.

The Prime Minister said, we came to power on a mandate to eradicate bribery and corruption.

Punishment

“We pledged to punish people engaged in corruption irrespective of their position or party applications. Shortly after we assumed power an allegation was made regarding the issuing of Central Bank bonds.

We never tried to sweep it under the carpet. Within two weeks we appointed a committee to investigate the allegation.

The Central Bank Governor kept away from his post during the investigation period. We informed Parliament about it and I requested that a Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to probe it if needed. The investigations report was submitted to Parliament.”

Continuing, the Prime Minister said, in the past the President of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was a member of the government. But the President’s post in COPE was given to an Opposition member for the first time, in the present Parliament. COPE investigated the issuing of Central Bank bonds and tabled its report in Parliament which debated it.

“This report was sent to the Attorney General on October 31, 2016 for necessary action.”

COPE

“COPE had recommended further investigations about it, especially, about Perpetual Treasures Ltd. Accordingly, the President after discussions with me (the Prime Minister) appointed a Presidential Commission to probe it. We too assisted the Commission in its investigations. Ministers in the government and I personally appeared before the Commission.

No past government has acted in this manner to investigate an allegation made against it. We held three separate investigations.

Several allegations of this nature were made during the past regime. But steps were never taken to investigate any of them.

Nothing was reported to Parliament either, in the past. Questions raised in Parliament regarding them went unanswered.

In Sri Lanka, the control of finance belonged to Parliament. But, Parliament had forgotten this power vested in it. It is to stabilize Parliamentary control over finance that we entrusted this responsibility to COPE and Parliament. That responsibility cannot be taken away. We saw the Bond issue as an instance where Parliament exhibited its power over financial control properly. This was the best example which showed that the government was acting in a transparent manner.

The Commission report had stated that Perpetual Treasuries Ltd had earned unconscionable profits amounting Rs 9.2 billion from the issuing of these bonds. This can be recovered from the funds amounting to Rs 12 billion belonging to Perpetual Treasuries Ltd retained by the Central Bank. If any group of officials are found guilty of this fraud legal action will be taken against them too.”

Maximum support

The Prime Minister said, “We rendered maximum support to conduct investigations from the time the allegation was made against the issuing of Bonds. Our Ministers resigned for breaching accepted traditions.

The law took effect and the Courts took independent decisions without any outside interference or influence. Apart from this we have appointed a committee chaired by Minister Tilak Marapane to conduct investigations against any party member against whom allegations had been made by the Bond report and recommend suitable action. We will take action in keeping with the recommendations made by this committee.

The Prime Minister said, this is the normal UNP tradition. “We will develop and rebuild the country in keeping with our party tradition and the ‘Yahapalanaya’ vision. We will rebuild the villages and usher in a better tomorrow for the whole country and the nation.

We will affect the change people expected on January 8 and create a better tomorrow for the whole country. But, this cannot be realized overnight or within a day or two. We can consider the Bond Commission investigation as a beginning towards achieving this goal. We will pay equal attention to the past and present and march forward along the correct path, correcting our mistakes and fulfilling shortcomings.

The actions taken up to date from the time the allegation was made against the Bond issue proved that we have made a proper beginning. We will not only probe acts of corruption and fraud of the past regime but also investigate and take suitable action against corruption and fraud allegations made in the present day too.

Our objective is to ensure a better future for the country and the nation. Our prime goal is to transform this country into a rich and economically strong country. Let us join hands and work towards achieving that goal. Let us overcome all challenges and create a powerful and strong Sri Lanka”.

President’s meeting

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena held a special meeting earlier this week to examine the steps required for the early implementation of the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on the Central Bank Bond and PRECIFAC reports.

Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Commission to Investigation Allegations of Bribery or Corruption Director General Sarath Jayamanne and senior lawyers participated in this discussion where the progress of action taken by them to punish the culprits identified in the two reports were reviewed.

Secretary to the President Austin Fernando and a few other senior state officials were also present.

It was stated at the meeting that initiating legal action against the responsible parties would be done by the AG and the Bribery Commission based on the Penal Code, Public Property Act, Money Laundering Act, etc.

Actions

If investigations of the Commissions led to the revelation of additional wrongdoings, such persons will also be dealt with under the law.

A special unit will be set up in the CID under the instructions of the AG to further investigate the financial crimes.

It has been recommended to get the support of Central Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit and the Exchange Controller for the purpose.

An amendment to the Civil Procedure Code is being contemplated to expedite legal actions to recover the loss to the Government.

The AG said, he was considering to hold the properties accumulated illegally by the Perpetual Treasuries and companies attached to it through Bond transactions.

The AG will look into the possibility of passing a separate Act in Parliament to recover the loss to the Government and the EPF to avoid the delay in court procedure. It was also recommended to hold a forensic audit examination on the EPF involvement in Treasury Bonds and Treasury Bills transactions from 2008-2014. New laws will be introduced to empower the Central Bank to prevent the repetition of similar incidents in the future.

The President said, the Speaker of Parliament would be asked to take action against the COPE members who had communicated with PTL owner Arjun Aloysius while the COPE probe was in progress and impose a Code of Conduct for MPs functioning in the COPE.

As the commission referred to inherent delays of civil lawsuits, the President instructed the AG to take necessary steps to draft required legislation to recover misappropriated public funds in a speedy manner.

It was also recommended to conduct a forensic inquiry to find out about the Treasury bonds and bill payments of the Central Bank between the period 2008-2014 and the use of funds belonging to public servants deposited with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees Trust Fund (ETF).

The President emphasized the importance of maintaining the highest level of transparency in the government, from the highest position, and that there are lessons that can be taken from the commission’s report in order to establish a national dialogue on how to respond to malpractices of government institutions and public officers. The President advised the officials to take necessary steps to enact reforms to the Public Debt Department and the Monetary Board of the Central Bank in order to avoid such frauds in the future.

Leaving presidency

President Sirisena also made another strong statement against bribery and corruption when he addressed a UPFA election rally in Kosgama.

“Some people ask questions when I will leave the Presidency. I will only leave the Presidency after bringing corrupt politicians to book.”

He said, he was ready to take to the streets with the people to start a fresh journey against fraud and corruption.

“After the Local Government elections held on February 10, a national movement against corruption will be established, joining hands with everyone who loves the country”, the President said. He extended an invitation to all the citizens who loved the motherland, including all religious leaders and intellectuals, to join hands with this initiative.

Referring to a request made by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the people of this country, to rectify the mistake that happened on January 8, 2015, the President questioned whether they wanted to bring back an era of disappearances, killings, murder of journalists and attacks on media institutions. Thus, the international image had for the past regime and the former leaders have still not vanished, said the President stressing that the people of this country were not ready to go back to that era. 

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