Corruption, board meetings and elevator talk dominate House business | Sunday Observer

Corruption, board meetings and elevator talk dominate House business

The Government and TNA Parliamentarians who joined the adjournment debate on the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud (PRECIFAC) demanded immediate action to implement its recommendations and take decisive action to punish the culprits involved in the 34 incidents investigated by the Commission.

When TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran got up to move the motion, UPFA MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa raising Points of Order attempted to create an issue complaining that there were no English and Tamil translations of the report. Countering the objections by two UPFA MPs that the PRECIFAC report had not been made available to them in Sinhala, TNA MP Sumanthiran said that the report was originally in Sinhala which was presented to the house almost a year go. JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake who seconded the motion said the names of even some of those who raise objections to the PRECIFAC report are included in it and added that some crooks have plucked the courage to say that the report should not be debated in Parliament.

Moving the Adjournment Motion MP Sumanthiran told the House that this Government came to office in 2015 after campaigning that they would go all out to bring those who had misused state resources to book. The MP said true to this commitment, the President appointed this Commission and its report was submitted to the President on November 27, 2017. As far as we can see, neither the President nor any of the institutions vested with lawful authority to implement those recommendations had done anything worthwhile.

MP Sumanthiran was of the view if no punitive action is taken against those responsible for serious acts of misconduct and abuse of power and also when names of persons responsible have been disclosed in the report, then one can reasonably come to the conclusion that the two main parties do this as a matter of course. Now if the report is going to gather dust, we must in the first place question for what purpose was this Commission appointed. It is time that Parliament must send a clear signal because after all it is ultimately responsible for all public funds.

UL Board meeting at Chamal’s residence

Opening the Adjournment debate on the COPE report, COPE Chairman and JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunneththi revealed that a Sri Lankan Airlines Director Board meeting where the final decision to purchase eight A350-900 airbuses was held at the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s official residence in Battaramulla on March 1, 2013. MP Handunneththi exposing more details of the meeting told the House that the Auditor General in his latest report has stated that this Director Board meeting was ‘unusual’.

At this point Minister Kabir Hashim and State Minister Niroshan Perera too questioned as to how a Board meeting could be held at the then Speaker’s official residence and queried whether any outsiders too had attended the meeting. Minister Kabir Hashim told the COPE Chairman that they have gathered information that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was then Finance Minister had also attended the meeting and asked whether that too was examined by the COPE.

Handunnetti further noted the Cabinet had not approved the airbus deal with AerCap and the order had been placed for the aircraft while the Sri Lankan Airlines was running at a loss and their cancellation was also highly questionable. The total sum of compensation paid for the cancellation of the lease of four aircraft was Rs. 17,058 million and this matter is not yet over. The COPE Chairman said the cancellation of outright purchase of the rest of the four aircraft is yet to be finalised and the amount of compensation for it is not yet known.

Responding to the COPE Chairman’s controversial remarks, former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa told the House that he would resign from his parliamentary seat if it could be proved that key decisions were taken at the Sri Lankan Airlines Director Board meeting at the Speaker’s Residence in 2013. However, MP Handunnetti winding up the debate tabled the minutes of the Board Meeting held at former Speaker’s residence and read out that the meeting had been held at 12 noon at the conference room of the Speaker’s official residence with the participation SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe and CEO Kapila Chandrasena along with other Directors and Company Secretary.

The Speaker on Thursday contradicted claims made by President Maithripala Sirisena in his address to Parliament the previous day regarding the appointment of judges by the Constitutional Council (CC) and the conduct of the Human Rights Commission.

However, on the following day the Speaker and the UPFA led Opposition members clashed in Parliament over the Speaker’s reply to the President’s statement in the House. President Sirisena lambasted the CC headed by Speaker Jayasuriya as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka over the handling of judges’ appointment and STF deployment at Angunakolapalessa state-of-the art prison as well as inordinate delay in clearing of peacekeepers bound for overseas UN missions.

The uproar erupted in the well of the House when the Speaker responded to the President’s allegations and this led to suspending Parliament sittings for about 35 minutes following protests by UPFA MPs against the Speaker for finding fault with President Sirisena’s speech. The UPFA MPs who condemned the Speaker’s statement demanded a debate on the activities of the CC. Leader of the House and Public Enterprise, Kandy Heritage and Kandy Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the UPFA’s demand for a debate cannot be granted right now but later.

Chief Opposition Whip MP Mahinda Amaraweera said that the Opposition would not accept the Speaker’s statement and there were serious issues with regard to CC’s role in appointing judges to the superior courts. In order to consolidate the position that he maintained earlier about the CC, the Speaker on Friday tabled the first report of the CC which stipulates the criteria in approving persons for independent commissions and judges to the superior courts.