Akila resurrects closed case against person who gives evidence against him


Akila Viraj

Out of 429 files that dealt with disciplinary inquiries in the Ministry of Education, Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam had only given written instructions on the file of the former acting Commissioner of Educational Publications I.M.K.B. Ilangasinghe, who has complained that he was transferred after giving evidence which was unfavourable to the minister, before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating corruption in the current administration. 

 This was revealed when the minister appeared before the PCoI, yesterday, to testify on the transfer of Ilangasinghe. After the Ministry attempted to transfer Ilangasinghe in June, the PCoI intervened and cancelled his transfer. 

 Kariyawasam said that he had launched the investigation against Ilangasinghe several years back. He was also not satisfied with action taken by former Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Sunil Hettiarachchi and his successor Nihal Ranasinghe. 

 "Ilangasinghe knew that I was adamant on taking action against him. He is a lawyer. That’s why he came before this commission to prevent me from taking action. But I insisted that we must press ahead," Kariyawasam said, explaining why he had initiated action against Ilangasinghe two days after the latter testified before the commission. 

 "Do you know that we stopped his transfer?" Chairman of the PCoI, retired Supreme Court judge Upali Abeyrathne asked the Minister. 

 "Yes. I didn’t know if you had the power to do so," Kariyawasam said. 

"You will get to know the power of the PCoI, soon," Justice Abeyrathne retorted. 

 The Chairman said that following the investigation against Ilangasinghe, on the misuse of power, had been completed, former Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Sunil Hettiarachchi had looked into the findings and decided to close the case after advising Ilangasinghe. This decision was agreed upon by his successor Nihal Ranasinghe.

 "The Public Service Commission (PSC) has delegated the power to take disciplinary action at institutes to Secretaries. And Hettiarachchi has already decided how to deal with Ilangasinghe. So, you have attempted to punish an official who has already been disciplined."

 The Minister said that he had not agreed with the decision of the secretaries and it was his belief that only the PSC had the power to take disciplinary action.

Abeyrathne said that Kariyawasam seemed ignorant of the decisions taken by the PSC on delegating some of its powers. "Let’s assume you didn’t know, but the inquiry ended almost two years ago. Hettiarachchi took his decision over a year ago. Why did you wait to reopen the file two days after Ilangasinghe testified here?"

 Kariyawasam said that his attention had been brought again to the matter after seeing media reports of this case. Moreover, N. A. Wijeratne, the investigation officer, too, had met Kariyawasam to remind him that the actions taken by the two secretaries were insufficient.

 Abeyratne said: "So, this investigation officer comes and briefs you from time to time? Why is he so adamant on going after Ilangasinghe? Also investigation officer has to be independent, but in this case is he following your instructions?"

 Kariyawasam said that Wijeratne, too, had been unhappy about the way the case was handled.

 In August 2019, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Nihal Ranasinghe revoked the transfer of Director of School Supplies, I.M.K.B. Ilangasinghe, who had complained that he had been transferred after giving evidence before the Commission. 

 On August 04, Ranasinghe told the Commission that an inquiry was conducted against Ilangasinghe over allegations of irregularities in 2013 and 2014. In June 2018, former Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Sunil Hettiarachchi considered the inquiry report and closed the file stating that no action was needed. Ranasinghe had also looked at the report later had come to same conclusion. However, two days after Ilangasinghe gave evidence unfavourable to Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam on June 24, the file was dug up again, without Ranasinghe’s knowledge and returned to him with a note from Kariyawasam, instructing the secretary to take action against Ilangasinghe.

 Chairperson of the PCoI, Justice Upali Abeyrathne asked Ranasinghe, who was in possession of the file. "Additional Secretary, Hemachandra Hewage has the file," Ranasinghe said.

"Is there any minute stating who sent the file to the Minister? When a document is sent to someone, usually there is a note," Abeyratne said.

 "Yes, but here there is no note," Ranasinghe said.

 Given that action against Ilangasinghe was taken two days after he gave evidence before the PCoI, after two secretaries to the ministry had decided not to pursue the case against Ilangasinghe, Abeyratne asked Ranasinghe whether he felt that it was an attempt to maliciously target an official who had testified against the Minister.

 "Yes, one can say that," the Secretary said.

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