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‘Cash-strapped country being overwhelmed by corruption’

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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.



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Countrywide power outage act of sabotage, claim TU, officials

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Unions suspect sinister attempt to call in military

Engineers say technical fault caused power failure

CEBEU suspends work-to-rule protest

By Ifham Nizam

The government was trying to pin the blame for yesterday’s countrywide power outage on the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) trade unions in a bid to call in the military, Joint Trade Union Alliance Convener Ranjan Jayalal said yesterday.

Jayalal told The Island the government’s attempt would tarnish the image of the military and that of the country, but such intimidatory tactics would not deter the CEB unions from continuing with their action against the questionable agreement between the government and the US energy firm, New Fortress, which has been allowed to acquire a 40% stake in the Yugadanavi power plant. “The government is trying to derail our trade union action, scheduled for December 08. Definitely the power outage was an act of sabotage. Two units of the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant and the one at Sapugaskanda had failed,” he added, insisting that the trade unions had nothing do with the power outage. He said union activists had sprung into action to restore power despite their work-to-rule, for the sake of the country and its people.

A senior independent electrical engineer said the power failure was an act of sabotage or attempt at sabotage. “It could have been a rehearsal that misfired,” he added.

Electricity supply in several areas in Colombo and its suburbs were restored around 2.00 p.m. Subsequently, the power supply on Anuradhapura-Habarana, Laxapana-Athurugiriya and Kotmale-Biyagama transmission lines was restored. However, even at 5.30 p.m. most parts of the Gamapaha District experiencing power failures.

CEB General Manager, Eng. M R Ranatunga sand disruptions to the power supply could be considered sabotage. He said CEBEU activists had been dragging their feet on power restoration.

State Minister of National Security & Disaster Management Chamal Rajapaksa said necessary action would be taken against the CEB engineers if it was revealed that the power outage was an act of sabotage.

Major disruptions to the electricity supply were reported across the country around 11.30 a.m. yesterday owing to a breakdown in transmission lines.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) said the water supply in several areas of Colombo and suburbs had been disrupted due to the breakdown in the power supply as the NWS&D is dependent on the national grid for pumping purposes.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) last night said it had received a favourable response from the government to its demands and therefore decided to suspend its work-to-rule campaign.

The Island learns that President’s Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundara will meet a CEBEU delegation, next week.

A senior electrical engineer expressed concern about CEB General Manager’s statement that the power outage was an act of sabotage by the engineers’ union. He denied as baseless the official’s claim.

CEBEU Secretary Dhammike Wimalarathne confirmed that his union had decided to suspend trade union action following an undertaking given by the government to have talks with them.

Meanwhile, CEBEU President Saumya Kumarawadu, addressing the media, yesterday, insisted that the power outage had been due to a technical problem.

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Chamal tells Parliament if power failure is due to sabotage, culprits will be dealt with severely

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By Saman Indrajith

Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management, Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that the government was investigating the causes of yesterday’s countrywide power outage and if it was due to sabotage those responsible would be severely dealt with.

Responding to a question by Anuradhapura District SJB MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake during the third reading stage debate on Budget 2022 under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Defence, the Minister said that the government would not tolerate sabotage.

MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake said that while the national security was being debated in Parliament the entire country was experiencing a power outage which could be considered a serious threat to national security.

He said all reservoirs were brimful and there was sufficient water to generate hydro power.

Colombo District SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the entire country was in dark and Parliament was sitting thanks to power supplied by generators.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the government had already called for an investigation and it would not hesitate to take necessary action on the findings of the probe.

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Committee on Public Finance meeting: one-third drop in next Yala harvest predicted

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Members of the Committee on Public Finance recently recommended that if the import ban on rice, which was imposed last April, is to be lifted, it should be done only after a proper forecast of the coming Yala harvest.

The Chairman of the Committee on Finance Anura Priyadharshana Yapa pointed out that under the prevailing circumstances, the interest of the paddy farmers and consumers had to be taken into consideration.

In response to MP Yapa’s comment, the Imports and Exports Controller General revealed that, according to the available data, the expected Yala harvest is likely to be only 2/3 as compared to last year.

MP Nalin Fernando pointed out that if businessmen were allowed to import rice freely, the business community would be tempted to import more rice than necessary, driving the paddy prices down and affecting the farming community badly. Hence, the Ministry of Finance should intervene to prevent the local farmer from facing difficulties. MP Fernando also pointed out to the officials of the Ministry of Finance that it was important to make rice freely available at reasonable prices. Sri Lankans did not like rice imported from neighbouring countries, he said.

The Committee on Public Finance was urged to obtain approval for an Extraordinary Gazette Notification permitting the importation of Kekulu, Nadu, Samba and other types of rice as per the order of the Minister of Finance. MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said officials had to investigate the macro economic impact of such orders given without a proper procedural or logical assessment.

The committee members inquired from the officials of the Ministry of Finance who were present at the Committee meeting whether the 2021 Budget forecasts could be fulfilled. According to the statistics and data submitted by the officials of the Ministry of Finance, the committee observed that if only local funds were used to repay all debts, there would be an increase in interest rates in the near future and that would adversely affect the local private sector, (Dr.) Harsha de Silva said.

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