‘We respect the supremacy of the law’ | Sunday Observer

‘We respect the supremacy of the law’

The Central Bank bond scam which went viral during the past few weeks took a new turn when President Maithripala Sirisena assured the country that the disputed issue would be referred for judicial investigation as it needs to be beyond politics. Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said, the Cabinet has unanimously decided to stand by the Prime Minister in the event of a No-confidence motion by the Joint Opposition (JO). Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella took to task, the JO, which goes the whole hog to implicate the Prime Minister, and pointed out that about 30 COPE reports were consigned to the dustbin by the previous Government.

COPE Chairman, Sunil Handunneththi said, the JO’s call for the Prime Minister to resign is not part of the COPE investigation, but are mere political slogans, which cannot be included in Parliamentary reports. Anybody can give various interpretations based on those reports, but we conducted an investigation with independent evidence.

Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera told the Sunday Observer, as a member of COPE, he is happy that they were able to present the COPE report as a unanimous report. The investigations conducted by COPE found out corrupt practices on the issuance of Treasury bonds over the past many years. Therefore, this is not an isolated incident, but a repeated process. COPE investigations also revealed that a situation has been created paving the way to leak sensitive and confidential information of the Central Bank to the outside world. After investigating the matter, COPE recommended actions against those held responsible. It also recommended that steps be taken to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.

COPE recommendations

We categorically deny the allegations that the UNP MPs in COPE attempted to safeguard the former Central Bank Governor from those charges. We request those who make such baseless allegations to read the full COPE report and its annextures. It would confirm that we have never attempted to safeguard anybody. We have only safeguarded the truth. We also suggested to take stern action to prevent such situations in the future, and we unanimously accepted the COPE recommendations. I categorically state, that during the investigation process in COPE, the UNP MPs acted correctly and logically, based on the evidences presented and according to the country’s law. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has referred all evidence and the report to the Attorney General to take future action. After considering the evidence and committee recommendations, the Attorney General will prescribe necessary legal action to be taken against those involved in the bond scam.

Meanwhile, the Premier addressing a ceremony held at the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha on November 2 ,said, if the Rajapaksa regime was in power anybody who questioned about this issue would have been abducted and would have disappeared like Ekneligoda. But, we decided to investigate the first allegation levelled against the Government. The former Government and all other previous Governments appointed chairmen to the COPE from the Government side, but the incumbent Government appointed an Opposition MP as COPE Chairman. On one occasion when COPE Chairman Sunil Handunneththi had walked out of the COPE meeting, voices were raised that somebody else must be appointed as COPE Chairman. But, I said, we have our confidence in Handunneththi. There was a clash of ideas. But, we decided to give the final recommendations unanimously. There were two analysis on the Auditor General’s report so that those two were included into the committee report.

Political witch-hunt

I told the Attorney General, if more documents are needed and if they are in Parliament, he should get in touch with the Speaker to procure them. If a request is made to investigate the former Central Bank Governor and officials, we should decide as to what law has been violated by them. We respect the supremacy of the law. If any allegation has been levelled against us, we will allow the law to act independently. According to the Joint Opposition members, this COPE incident is the biggest financial scam that has taken place in the world. If a case has been filed against any JO member, they interpret it as a political witch-hunt. The JO is shouting to cover up their own nakedness. If I am asked to come and give a statement to the Bribery Commission, I will certainly do so. I won’t bring people to protest in front of the Bribery Commission shouting bogus slogans such as, ‘Buddhism and the nation is in danger’. We would like to ask how Buddhism could be in danger when a statement is given to the Bribery Commission.

Prevent repetition

Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne at Wednesday’s Cabinet press briefing said, the Government Ministers in the Cabinet decided to act against the No-confidence motion to be moved against the Prime Minister by the Joint Opposition. Dr.Senaratne said, nowhere in the COPE report has it been mentioned that the Prime Minister is connected to this deal. Even the COPE Chairman has said, if the Treasury bonds were auctioned as advised by the Premier, this issue would have not occurred. The Government is also waiting until the JO moves its No-confidence motion and it would definitely boomerang on them. They can point a finger at us, but 25 fingers will be pointed at them on the day they move their No-confidence motion. Dr.Senaratne said, they would all stand by the Prime Minister and that was the decision taken at the previous Cabinet meeting. Commenting on the JO’s call for the Prime Minister to resign over this issue, Minister Senaratne said, if the JO makes such absurd comments, there would have been no Presidents in Sri Lanka in the past and Presidential Elections would have been held on a yearly basis.

COPE Chairman MP Sunil Handunneththi said, he is happy with the COPE report. However, COPE could investigate and reveal the details of the biggest financial fraud which affects the country’s economy for the next 30 years and issue a report with recommendations to prevent its repetition in the future. This is indeed a victory for the people who expect a corruption free society. As parliamentarians, ultimately, we are responsible to the people’s mandate, as in the case of public finance, too. The question is to check whether public funds have been utilised in such a manner as to cause minimum loss to the Government. Now the Government has full powers to implement the COPE recommendations unanimously agreed upon by all political parties in COPE, irrespective of party differences. As the first step, a debate should be held in Parliament to mete out justice to the COPE report so that more information will be divulged on the issue. Then, there are steps to be taken by the Executive. But, we have recommended steps which can be taken under the prevailing rules and regulations. The JO’s call for the Prime Minister to resign is not a part of the COPE investigation. They are mere political slogans. Political slogans cannot be included in Parliamentary reports. Anybody can give various interpretations based on those reports, but, we conduct an investigation with authentic evidence. The Ministers can give various orders, but the officials should implement them in accordance with their professional experience. That is why some of the officials had to go to jail when they implemented the orders of the former Rajapaksa regime, violating due procedures.

The proceedings of COPE should be open to the media. If the country can know what is happening in Parliament via the Hansard, they should also know about the control of public finance, because the Government spends public funds. Then, the people have a right to know what happened to the funds. If COPE is open to the media, the issue of distorting facts will also not arise.

Joint Opposition Leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena told the Sunday Observer, the JO is the political opposition of Parliament that first raised the issue of the bond scam, about the bond violation. We continued over the past 18 to 20 months and we have been proved correct. Parliament is supreme. If so, a Parliament COPE report has to be implemented. Parliament controls the finances of the country. The financial damage done to the economy by the bond scam is only the tip of the iceberg. The first COPE report was sent to the Attorney General in June, 2015, and what has happened to it? Now we have been told that the second report of Parliament has been sent to the AG which will be the second file the AG will receive on the bond violation. The JO will continue to take up the issue. Earlier on, we wanted to remove the Central Bank Governor and it was the JO that won the day. We will continue because it is not only a violation within the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, but a discredit to the whole country and its economy, internationally.

Deliberately delayed

We asked for a debate immediately prior to the Budget, and Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella agreed immediately to give the debate and meet Party Leaders. We met the Deputy Speaker as the Speaker is out of the country. Deputy Speaker said, Party Leaders will be summoned on November 8. We have been canvassing for a Party Leaders’ meeting for a whole week which the Government has deliberately delayed. The Government has said many things. But this is the only COPE report which has clearly said that an unprecedented fraud has taken place at the Central Bank. So the Government should understand and accept its fault. If the Government says that various members of the Opposition are legally brought before courts, why did they take 20 months not to take legal action against the Central Bank Governor. Even now they are dodging legal action against the Central Bank Governor and others, in relation to the biggest fraud of the Central Bank. JO will continue to benefit because the JO has spoken the truth and it has been accepted not only by members of the Opposition in COPE ,but also Ministers of the Government .