Govt transparent on Pandora Papers’ issue - Minister Shehan Semasinghe | Sunday Observer

Govt transparent on Pandora Papers’ issue - Minister Shehan Semasinghe

10 October, 2021

State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment and Business Development Shehan Semasinghe said that the Government should conduct an investigation into the transactions if they had taken place from 2005 to 2015 revealed in the Pandora Papers.

The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that, however, it is unfair if the Opposition attempts to put the blame on the Rajapaksa administration regarding the transactions that had occurred from 1990 to 2000. However, it is worthwhile for the Government to conduct an inquiry based on the information exposed by the investigative media personnel whether money had come into the accounts of those Sri Lankans from 2005 to 2015. The Government is transparent on the Pandora Papers issue and willing to conduct an independent probe into it.

Q: You told Parliament on Tuesday that the Opposition is trying to re-launch a mudslinging campaign against the President and the Prime Minister, like they did before 2015, using Pandora Papers revelations. Could you explain?

A: If you refer to Pandora Papers, it says those transactions had taken place from 1990 to 2000. Therefore, it is not fair to point fingers at the Rajapaksa administration regarding the transactions. Former Presidents were in power at the time.

The Government should do an inquiry on these Pandora Papers revelations from 2005 to 2015.

It is worthwhile for the Government to conduct an inquiry based on this information leaked out by the investigative media personnel whether money had come into the accounts of those Sri Lankans from 2005 to 2015. Not only in Pandora Papers, names of some Sri Lankans were revealed in Panama Papers as well. Our Government should launch an inquiry regarding the transactions taken place from 2005 to 2015. However, it is unfair if the Opposition is trying to put the blame on the Rajapaksa administration regarding the transactions that had occurred from 1990 to 2000.

If somebody is trying to point fingers at us on this, it was informed in Parliament that Panama Papers have revealed the name of Vidya Amarapala. The Opposition should know from where and from whom that money had come, depended on money mentioned on Panama Papers. They should have done an inquiry regarding that. That is why I told SJB Parliamentarian Thusara Indunil in Parliament to check with those who are aware of the exposure of Vidya Amarapala’s name in Panama Papers.

The Government should investigate the transactions which occurred from 2005 to 2015. There is a leakage of information in Pandora Papers from 1990 to 2000 where Thirukumar Nadesan and his wife, former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s names have also been exposed. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption to launch an immediate investigation into the Sri Lankans and the related transactions revealed in the Pandora Papers and submit a report within a month.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has requested to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Pandora Papers issue.

A: If the Government is going to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee, it is good to investigate the transactions that took place from 1990 to 2000. At the same time, the transactions that occurred from 2005 to 2015 should also be investigated. Now, the issue is not Pandora Papers leaks.

The Opposition is trying to put the blame on the Rajapaksa administration regarding that. If an allegation is levelled against Rajapaksas, my request is that the Government should conduct an inquiry based on the information which has leaked out from 2005 to 2015.

That is the time Rajapaksas were ruling the country. Then, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa can also help the investigations conducted from 1990 to 2000 because his father was also the President of the country for some time.

When the Panama Papers revealed information, the previous Government didn’t take any action or didn’t talk about it. Why did that happen? Now, our Government speaks about the Pandora Papers issue. We are willing to conduct an investigation. We are not only ready to conduct an investigation from 1990 to 2000, but also from 2005 to 2015 to see whether any such transactions had taken place.

We are transparent on this matter. If we had any involvement, we would have not volunteered to conduct an investigation. As it was informed in Parliament, Panama Papers came out during the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government. Vidya Amarapala’s name was frequently mentioned, but the former Government didn’t take any action. What did the JVP do regarding that? Because they were also a part of the Yahapalana Government.

An Anti-Corruption Committee was also set up by the former Government. All the leaders who are now sitting in the Opposition including the JVP were playing a major role in it. However, the intention of that Anti-Corruption Committee was not to investigate corruption and bring the culprits to book, but to launch a political witch-hunt against their political opponents.

Q: The Opposition demands to reveal the details of the agreement signed with the US Company, New Fortress Energy to vest 40 percent of the shares of the Kerawalapitiya Yugadanavi power plant. Would you like to comment?

A: Nobody cannot hide agreements and their facts. Anybody who wants to obtain details on such agreements, can do so as there are enough laws in Sri Lanka. With regard to the Kerawalapitiya power plant, the intention of the Government is to bring down the unit cost of electricity. We are trying to bring down the electricity bill of the masses. That is one of the responsibilities of the Government. We know the Opposition is being approached by different parties who don’t want the electricity bill to come down. They may be having ulterior motives.

Q: How would you respond to the main Opposition SJB’s claim that the Government is staging a drama without punishing the culprits of the Laksathosa ‘garlic scam’?

A: That is an absurd comment. The Government has made a complaint. The Minister in charge is being questioned. We would like to ask in which former Government, the Ministers in charge were questioned in this manner. CID investigations are going on. You can’t punish people overnight. The initial step of interdicting those who have been involved in this ‘scam’ has been done by the Sathosa. The Minister is keen to expedite the inquiry. However, the Minister can’t do the inquiry. That has to be done by the law enforcement authorities. The Government has facilitated them with all information.

Q: Is there any truth in the allegation levelled by the farmers that they don’t have sufficient fertiliser to engage in their cultivation for the Maha season?

A: The Agriculture Minister on Tuesday assured that fertiliser will be distributed among farmers from October 15. Farmers are also quite resistant now because we have gone into a complete shift from chemical fertiliser to organic fertiliser.

While doing this, farmers should be given the confidence that required fertiliser will be prepared and distributed. There are a lot of people who are being sponsored by fertiliser companies. It is a good move to shift from chemical fertiliser to organic fertiliser, but sufficient organic fertiliser should be provided to the farmers.

Q: The Ceylon Teachers’ Union continues its protest demanding to resolve teachers’ and Principals’ salary anomalies, despite the assurance by the Government to sort out their issues. Your comments?

A: I don’t think it is a propaganda for getting benefits and increasing their salaries. It is just a political propaganda. It is unreasonable for them to be on roads during a pandemic such as this.

Joseph Stalin and the group can be happy as they could realise their ulterior motive. Because the country was in lockdown and there were a high number of Covid-19 patients and deaths. The health sector was under tremendous pressure.

When the number of Covid-19 patients and deaths are coming down now, we can see how Stalin and his group are trying to get the number of patients and deaths up again. It is not fair for them to engage in these protests when the Government has given an undertaking as to how the salary anomalies of the teachers will be sorted out. It is clear this is not an attempt to get their salary increased. When the battle against terrorism was going on, these same groups of people acted against the Government and the Security Forces. Whenever some pandemic or terrorist activity takes place, these people take the opposite side of the country, which is unfortunate.

Q: A tense situation prevailed in Parliament with the Government and Opposition lawmakers being engaged in a verbal battle over the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm issue. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: Does the Opposition have a moral right to talk about this issue? They handed over 100 oil storage tanks in the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm to India for 35 years in two agreements signed between the two countries. The Opposition can’t do even the proper calculation. I don’t know what’s wrong with the Opposition.

As a Member of Parliament who has been in the Opposition and the Government, I would like to have a vibrant Opposition rather than having an absurd Opposition which cannot even answer to the point of a decision taken during their tenure in office. If they had not given those oil storage tanks for 35 years in 2003, this problem would not have arisen. They have given them to India for 35 years. The agreement would end in 2038. This is simple arithmetic. We can’t understand why the Opposition has mixed up even this simple arithmetic.

Q: Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and the families of the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks say they cannot be satisfied with the ongoing investigations. Your views?

A: A special court has been set up, and the hearings will take place. If those terror attacks had not happened, that would have been the best. Unfortunately, the decisions of the former Yahapalana Government paved the way for those brutal Easter Sunday attacks. We can understand the feelings of those who have been affected due to the Easter Sunday carnage. Those terror attacks also caused a huge impact on the economy. It cannot be easily recovered. As a responsible Government, we will extend our fullest support to the law enforcement authorities whatever the way we can. But we cannot get involved in the judicial process. We will expedite other investigations which we have commenced.

Investigations such as this might take some time. Actually, the information on the Easter Sunday attack was not received on the day of the attack. It was revealed from 2016.

Those in the then Government which failed to safeguard the country and ensure the security of its people, attempt to put the blame on the present Government. We can understand the sorrow of all those affected people. We highly respect the Cardinal because he did a great job during that time. Otherwise, things would have worsened. We will ensure that all the culprits of the Easter Sunday attacks will be brought to book.

Q: How do you view the comment by the health authorities that the younger generation’s reluctance to get themselves vaccinated due to various misconceptions poses a risk of the Covid-19 spreading?

A: Those are campaigns launched by the Opposition to mislead the public. Because initially, people in the age group between 30 and above were hesitant to get the vaccine. However, we are happy that we have successfully covered that age group. Now, we are at the next stage of vaccinating those who are between the ages of 15 to 19. Attempts are being made by certain sections to mislead the public that vaccinating the children would affect their fertility and they will have side effects when they grow up.

All those have not been revealed by any of the scientists or medical experts. These negative campaigns are launched by the Opposition to make sure if the people don’t get vaccinated, they can go ahead another five or six months with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Q: Will the forthcoming Budget lay emphasis to overcome the burning issues faced due to the pandemic?

A: The Budget will mainly focus on the effects which we have had due to the pandemic. Actually, we have to get a restart. That will begin from next January.