‘Cash-strapped country being overwhelmed by corruption’
Mega Airbus, US PR deals: Eran questions govt. silence
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Eran Wickremaratne says that in spite of revelations of massive waste, corruption and irregularities in the public and private sector, Sri Lanka lacked a system to deal with those exposed here as well as persons implicated as a result of judicial actions overseas.
National List MP Wickremaratne pointed out that action hadn’t been taken against those exposed.
The former State Finance Minister said that the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to take follow up action on two specific judgments given by British and US courts in January 2020 and Feb 2021, respectively, clearly exposed the situation.
Wickremaratne served as the Deputy Minister of Investment Promotions and Highways of the Yahapalana 100-day government before being elevated as State Finance Minister.
The former CEO of the NDB who gave up that post in 2010 to enter parliament on the UNP National List served two terms before switching allegiance to the SJB in early 2020.
Lawmaker Wickremaratne told The Island that the country was in such a precarious situation, financially, the incumbent government should put in place a system to deal with corruption. The MP said that he used last Friday’s debate on two COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) reports tabled in Parliament this year to underscore the need to address the issue at hand.
The country had been overwhelmed by unbridled corruption, the former banker said, urging the Parliament to pay attention to the much deteriorated financial accountability or face the consequences.
Lawmaker Wickremaratne emphasized the urgent need for a strong independent body that could inquire into corruption cases whoever exercised political power.
Responding to another query, the SJB heavyweight questioned the rationale in COPE investigations as well as inquiries undertaken by two other parliamentary watchdog committees, the COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) if those exercising political power conveniently ignored the disclosures. Similarly, the country couldn’t ignore decisions given by foreign courts in respect of Sri Lankans or cases involving Sri Lankans.
The NL MP said that Sri Lanka’s failure at least to properly examine the rulings given by a British court in respect of corruption in the procurement of aircraft to SriLankan Airlines and the US court as regards Sri Lanka government being duped to the tune of USD 6.5 mn by US political promoter Imaad Shah Zuberi highlighted the weakness in our system.
MP Wickremaratne said that the incumbent government owed an explanation regarding the handling of SriLankan Airlines case.
The MP told the parliament: “In 2013 Airbus engaged a wife of a person, concerned with the purchase of Aircraft for Sri Lankan Airlines through an intermediary company, and pursuant to that engagement, Airbus company had offered up to USD 16.84 mn to the said intermediary company to influence SriLankan Airlines to purchase ten Aircraft and four more on lease basis. In fact USD 2 mn had been paid at that particular time as commission to the intermediary. The judgment mentioned that the seriousness of the criminality in this case has been acknowledged by all sides. It was proven in the Southwark High Courts in Great Britain in the case between the Director of Serious Frauds Office and Airbus where the judgment pronounced on January 31, 2020 said Airbus and SriLankan Airlines had committed a major fraud.”
When interrupted by Agriculture Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage MP Wickramaratne challenged the SLPP to take legal action if politicians of the yahapalana government had been involved in the Airbus fraud.
MP Wickremaratne was referring to SriLankan Airlines ex-Chief Executive Kapila Chandrasena and his wife Priyanka Wijenaike who surrendered to the CID following the disclosure of payments received by Airbus in a sales contract made in 2013.
Chandrasena received appointment as Sri Lankan Air Lines Chairman in Nov 2018 in the wake of constitutional coup staged by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.
MP Wickremaratne asked what had happened to the investigation ordered by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa into the Airbus deal after the British court ruling.
The incumbent administration also owed an explanation regarding payment of USD 6.5 mn to an American of Pakistani origin lobbyist Imaad Shah Zuberi, who was given a 12 year prison term for falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level US officials. US federal judge found him guilty on several counts, including defrauding Sri Lanka of USD 6.5 mn. MP Wickremaratne pointed out that the then government had paid USD 6.5 mn for what was called an image building exercise. “All these are proven cases, but what has the Sri Lankan Government done about this?” The MP pointed out while the rest of the world took tangible measures against corruption, the COPE seemed satisfied with disclosures with no final investigation or justice.
MP Wickremaratne said that the parliamentary watchdog committee should state its position on the British and UK rulings.
Cabinet nod to provide land for victims of floods and landslide
The Cabinet of Ministers taking into account a proposal made by the Minister of Tourism, approved the distribution of 200 acres of the land known as Hineford Estate located in the Pasbage Korale Divisional Secretariat in Kandy to the victims of floods and landslides and residents of high risk zones for such disasters.
Privilege issue: House warned against move to summon SC judges
Treasury Chief given seven-day ultimatum
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA) yesterday (20) said that the contentious move to summon judges of the Supreme Court before the House Ethics and Privileges Committee, this week, over an interim order could have disastrous consequences.
Former Speaker Chamal Rajapaka heads the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
Addressing the media, at Nawala, the ex-External Affairs Minister pointed out that the government had not only ignored the interim ruling issued by the Supreme Court, but sought to interfere with the judiciary.
Referring to the powers exercised by the executive, legislature and judiciary, Prof. Peiris alleged that the government wanted to keep the judiciary under its thumb.
The former minister declared that there was absolutely no basis for privilege issues raised by SLPP MPs, Premanath Dolawatte, Attorney-at-Law, and Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister.
The MPs, on 07 and 10 March, respectively, raised privilege issues over an interim order that cleared the obstacles for the conducting of polls.
The order was given by the three-member Supreme Court bench, comprising judges Preethi Padman Surasena, Janak de Silva and Priyantha Fernando, allowing the consideration of a fundamental rights petition filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary, MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
The former law professor said that the move against the Supreme Court should be examined, taking into consideration Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena conveniently ignoring the directive given on 03 March. Lawmaker Chamal Rajapakse’s committee includes Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, Kanaka Herath, Vijitha Berugoda, Tharaka Balasuriya, Anuradha Jayaratne, Dullus Alahapperuma, Kabir Hashim, Jayantha Ketagoda, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Hesha Withanage, Kokila Gunawardena, Ali Sabry Raheem, Samanpriya Herath and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.
“If Siriwardena fails to release funds as required by the Election Commission, within seven days from today, the joint Opposition will move the Supreme Court against him on the basis of contempt of court,” the academic said.
Pledging the undivided support of the Opposition to the judiciary, Prof. Peiris said that the interim order was issued to the Secretary of the Finance Ministry and the Attorney General preventing them from withholding the funds allocated for the Election Commission, through the Budget passed by the Parliament for 2023.
In addition, the apex court issued another interim order preventing the misappropriation of money allocated to the government printing press for the printing of ballot papers.
These interim orders were issued to the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, who were named as respondents in the relevant petition, and the Attorney General, who was named on behalf of the President.
Prof. Peiris said that in spite of clear directives in this regard, the Treasury Chief has refrained from releasing funds. Instead of addressing that issue, the ruling party was now going after Supreme Court judges, Prof. Peiris said.
The MP said that if the government was allowed to get away with this, the same strategy would be applied to avoid conducting a presidential election next year.
Prof. Peiris said that the conduct of Parliament, in this regard, could not be acceptable. The former minister found fault with Parliament for interfering in legitimate functions of the Supreme Court, thereby creating an explosive environment which may contribute to further destabilization.
The SJB, in a letter delivered to the Treasury Secretary, warned him of their decision to initiate contempt of court proceedings unless he immediately complied with the original interim order issued by the Supreme Court.
Prof. Peiris said that fearing a certain defeat, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government had sought to indefinitely put off scheduled Local Government polls, much to the chagrin of the electorate. In support of that disgraceful strategy, they had gone to the extent of challenging the Supreme Court, the former minister said. The lawmaker compared the action contemplated against the judges of the Supreme Court to recent measures taken in respect of Siyatha TV for being critical of government strategies.
Bar Council of England and Wales asks GoSL not to undermine judicial independence
The Bar Council of England and Wales has urged the Sri Lankan government not to undermine the independence of the judiciary. It has, in a media statement, said it is hopeful that the parliamentary authorities, in Sri Lanka, will reconsider “most carefully” the appropriateness of questioning Supreme Court judges before a parliamentary committee.
The text of the statement: Elections to Sri Lanka’s Local Authorities are supposed to have taken place by 19 March, 2023. The Sri Lankan Parliament has allocated funds, through the National Budget, but release of the funds has been blocked, despite requests from the Elections Commission. On 3 March, 2023, a three-judge bench of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court issued an interim order to the Attorney-General, and to the Secretary to the Treasury, to refrain from withholding funds for the elections to the country’s local authorities.
The Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament has recently accepted a request to refer the conduct of the three Supreme Court judges to the Sri Lankan Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges, and on 10 March the Sri Lankan Minister of Finance, Shehan Semasinghe, told Parliament that “it is a serious offence to implement the interim order before hearing the privilege issue by the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.” The Minister then requested the Deputy Speaker to advise all relevant authorities not to act on matters relating to the polls until the said Parliamentary Committee concludes its inquiry on the matter. The Parliamentary authorities have now written to the Court Registry asking for a copy of the interim order to be placed before the Committee on Privileges on 22 March, 2023.
The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that “it is the duty of all governmental, and other institutions, to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary” and “there shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process, nor shall judicial decisions by the courts be subject to revision.”
Chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, Nick Vineall KC, said: “An independent judiciary is an essential and integral part of the rule of law. So too is the principle that governments comply with court orders.
“We hope that the parliamentary authorities in Sri Lanka will reconsider most carefully the appropriateness of questioning Supreme Court Judges before a parliamentary committee, and we similarly hope that the Sri Lankan government will consider most carefully whether it can ever be right to encourage disobedience to court orders.”
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