National Archives embroiled in controversy over Bond Scam Report | Sunday Observer

National Archives embroiled in controversy over Bond Scam Report

The controversy of the National Archives which was pulled into the Central Bank bond whirlpool recently, with claims of certain pages of the Bond Commission report going missing, is getting murkier with Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe allegedly hinting that he might institute an internal inquiry.

The inquiry will be to probe a decision to shift the procedure of monitoring the Department’s confidential documents division.

The investigation is perhaps prompted by an oral question by NFF MP Wimal Weerawansa, listed to be asked from Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe in Parliament in September and a news report based on it. The question listed in the Parliament Order Paper raised ‘whether the current Director General of Archives has assigned to herself the exclusive authority of monitoring confidential documents deposited at the National Archives, going against the existing methodology followed to monitor the ‘Main Divisions’ of the National Archives’.

In the past, Weerawansa has pointed out that the said responsibility was ‘shared by DG, the Staff Officer and a graduate officer’.

Upon inquiry, as to what resulted in this decision by her, the Director General (DG) Nadeera Rupesinghe said several bold steps were required on her part to make the functioning of the confidential documents division more systematic.

“It was at a moment when the records of two Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, the Bond and PRECIFAC Commissions, were due to be accrued. So, it was necessary to closely supervise the division because of the special sensitivity of these documents,” the DG said. She said it was also vital to expedite the access process of these documents before the two Commissions folded up. “The checking of all the documents, which went into thousands of pages, needed to take place in the presence of officials of the Commission.”

But the former head of the Division, according to the DG, was taking constant leave and had a habit of not answering urgent calls from office.

She said the Head of Archives is ultimately responsible for all matters that transpire in the Department and therefore can take over the direct supervision of any division in the Department.

The Director General has appointed one Archival Officer and her acting Archival Officer, both of who have thirteen years of experience in the Department to monitor the confidential records division under the Director General’s direct supervision.

“We began shifting the records to a repository with the optimum environmental conditions after fumigation, a process that I am directly supervising. We are also in the process of improving the accessibility of the inventories of the confidential records for the benefit of the public,” she said.

In November last year, when a Right To Information (RTI) request for the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the death of Minister Ashraff came up at the Right To Information Commission, it had transpired that although the Archives had received the transcripts of evidence of that Commission, it had not received the final report.

“I obviously had to take full responsibility for the issue even though it was something that had happened fifteen years ago. That incident made it clear that I had to ensure minimisation of issues when the Bond and PRECIFAC records were coming in,” she said.

According to her, these steps have irritated a couple of troublemakers and hence she believed that there was a campaign launched to remove her from the Institution.

She said like all the past Directors General, she had followed the correct process in protecting documents accessioned to the National Archives, including confidential documents.

With regard to the allegations hovering around the questionable bond transactions, that the Archives did not release Annex III, she said they have been informed in writing that the report did not have an Annex III. She said she cannot vouch for that statement but there were strict laws to act against tampering with or destroying state documents if anyone had any doubts to that effect.

According to the main document of the Commission Report it has four annexes - Annex I, Annex II, Annex IV and Annex V. In a letter dated February 16, 2018 the Secretary to the Commission Attorney-at-Law Sumathipala Udugamasooriya informed the National Archives that the report did not contain an Annex III.

“We are the custodian of the document. We are not responsible for the content of this document. The creator is responsible for that. We will protect what is sent to us,” she explained adding that the National Archives cannot be held responsible for an Annex that it has not received.

She said it is their responsibility to ensure the authenticity of the document. “I can vouch that this entire document came from the Presidential Commission,” the Director General said.

There is no reference to Annex III in the final report of the Commission which goes into 1,154 pages.

“I assigned a team of eight officers of the Department for accessioning the Bond records and the PRECIFAC records which also came in at that time. They all signed three-page confidentiality statements, a procedure that I newly introduced for further safety, “ Rupesinghe said.

Although a staff grade officer who is facing disciplinary action was removed, the DG said she worked together with the two other staff grade officers and six graduate officers for that special period. “At present, there are two graduate officers handling the Confidential Records Division under my supervision. This is basically an attempt to vilify me by three officers of the Department for their own personal motives, two of who are facing disciplinary action.”

Annex I of the Bond Commission report has representations made by the public before the Commission.

Annex II consists of marked documents presented as evidence during the sessions of the Commission, and includes certified copies of original documents forwarded by various parties.

Under a directive of the Fort Magistrate Court made to the Secretary of the Commission on February 2, 2018 and advice received from the Attorney General’s Department on February 14, 2018, the original documents of Annex II of the final report were handed over by the Commission Secretary to the Criminal Investigation Department on February 26, 2018. That was before the National Archives was handed in the originals of the Annexes on February 28. Accordingly, the Secretary informed the National Archives by letter dated February 28, 2018 the list of documents handed over to the CID.

However, photocopies of Annex II, consisting of 84 volumes, were deposited at the National Archives by Commission Secretary Udugamasooriya. It was deemed important to accession at least a photocopy of Annex II by the Department for future research and the Commission’s Secretary has certified the copies at the end of every volume.

Annex II has documents presented by officers of the Attorney General’s Department. Of them, only a Tamil language translation of the ninth volume of the COPE report was not accrued by the Archives Department. In addition, the evidence presented by the following institutions and individuals have been categorised in Annex II of the final report,

 

PTL 1-144 Perpetual Treasuries Ltd.

KP 1-8 Kasun Palisena

BG 1-3 Bandula Gunawardena

AA 1-2 Arjun Aloysius

Ravi 1-2 Ravi Karunanayake

AM 1-54 Arjuna Mahendran

S 1-32 P. Samarasiri

Some marked documents of Annex II have also been deposited as audio-visual records in CDs, DVDs etc. They include telephone conversations, voice recordings, and information received from mobile phones.

Annex IV consists of one volume which includes written submissions sent to the Commission by Attorneys-at-Law.

Annex V consists of the transcripts of evidence given before the Commission. There are different volumes for each person and they contain their name, date and time of arrival and have been certified by the witnesses. However, Arjuna Mahendran’s and Kasun Palisena’s signatures are not included in their transcripts of evidence.

The National Archives has received transcripts of 71 witnesses who gave evidence before the Commission and the recorded evidence of those who appeared at the Commission’s hearings which are deposited as audio-visual records.

Director General Rupesinghe said the final report of the Commission has 1154 pages and it is open to the public. The Secretary has signed all 1,154 pages of this document to certify that it was the original document, when questions were raised about an issue of missing pages.

However, the annexes and other documents will remain closed for 30 years as per paragraph 2 of the regulations framed under section 16 (d) of the National Archives Law as the Department of National Archives maintains a Confidentiality Agreement with regard to Presidential Commission records. Thus, the written permission of the Secretary to the President is necessary for public access to them.

She said the Bond Commission Secretary, the President’s Secretary and Additional Secretary- Legal were anxious to ensure the report was in safe hands when she wanted the report to be accessioned and she vouched for its safekeeping for the future.

All pages were counted by the team in the presence of Commission officials, then double checked, and finally the page numbers of a majority of volumes were counted by the DG. She said hence, she could say for sure that there were no pages missing in the final report of the Bond Commission.

She said frustration had been built up in the Department due to promotion issues and staff shortage and presently efforts are being made to resolve these issues.

“We have now received from the Public Service Commission almost all our recruitment schemes, and I’m very thankful for their swift action in that regard. So, the staff has the opportunity to apply for promotions, and we are confident that we will be able to see the Department grow,” she said.

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