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Easter Sunday probe: Former HR Chief sets the record straight

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…contradicts Sirisena’s claim of dead LTTE cadre’s family member on HRCSL staff

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Dr. Deepika Udagama strongly refuted former President Maithriapala Sirisena’s claims that during her tenure as the HRCSL Chief a family member of a dead LTTE cadre was accommodated in the setup. Dr. Udagama emphasized that she had never heard of that particular allegation before. There was absolutely no basis for accusations or claims she had been summoned by the former President over the alleged inclusion of a member of the dead LTTE cadre’s family on the staff.

 The Island sought explanation to several issues in the wake of media reports pertaining to the recent P CoI proceedings. Former President Maithripala Sirisena, in response to P CoI queries, directed serious allegations in respect of the HRCSL conduct and also questioned the former Chairperson’s responsibilities as the then Chairperson.

The following are the questions

(Q)   The former President alleged that the inclusion of a family member of a dead LTTE cadre in the HRCSL caused serious problems. Did HRCSL accommodate any such person? If so, can you reveal the name of the dead LTTE cadre and the circumstances he/she died?

(A) First, I wish to point out that my responses are based on the assumption that the media reports you refer to have correctly reported the statement made by the former President as there has been no denial from the former President’s office.

I served as the Chairperson of HRCSL from the end October, 2015 – August, 2020. During that period I am not aware of any such person being recruited by the Commission. Where the staff was concerned, in fact, during the entire period of my tenure it was not possible to hire a single staff member due to administrative complications stemming from first, the absence of a Scheme of Recruitment (SOR) and secondly, the complicated procedural and other delays and difficulties in recruiting staff after approval was obtained by the relevant authorities for such a Scheme. Where the Commissioners are concerned, as I am sure that you are aware, the President appoints all Commissioners and the Chairperson on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council per provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Again here, I am not aware of any Commissioner being the family member of a dead LTTE cadre.         

 (Q) Did the President summon you for a meeting/sought an explanation over the inclusion of a dead LTTE cadre’s relative?

(A) No. In fact, it would be very problematic if anyone in government ‘summoned’ a Chairperson or a member of an independent commission.  We were never summoned. However, we did receive invitations from the Office of the President on a couple of occasions for discussions with President Sirisena. On one such occasion, I recall it was in early 2017, the Chair and all Commissioners were invited for a meeting with the President. We were not informed in advance what the discussion was about.

At the meeting, President Sirisena expressed his displeasure about a report HRCSL had sent the UN Committee against Torture in October, 2016. We explained that the report was submitted at the request of the Committee when it was due to examine Sri Lanka’s periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture. As Sri Lanka had legally accepted the Convention, the State was legally bound to provide periodic reports to explain how it was meeting legal obligations undertaken to prevent and punish torture. We explained that it was standard practice of all UN human rights treaty bodies to invite the national human rights institution and also civil society to submit parallel reports. It was also pointed out that the statistics of torture indicated in the HRCSL report were of complaints of torture received annually by the Commission; just as much as police crime statistics are of complaints of crime recorded by the police and not of adjudicated cases of crime, the Commission too traced patterns of violation via the number of complaints it received.

HRCSL consistently pointed out that during the tenure of the previous government political freedom, freedom of expression, association and assembly vastly expanded and that serious forms of violations such as enforced disappearances were not reported. However, it was pointed out that custodial violations have been a problem for decades and it had to be seriously addressed.

(Q)   The former President accused the HRCSL of depriving SL military opportunity to serve under UN Command

(A) The Commission’s observation was that the UN welcomed the deployment of well-trained officers of the Tri Forces and police from Sri Lanka for its Peacekeeping operations. Pursuant to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly, all troops deployed for peacekeeping have to be subject to human rights vetting. The vetting process, undertaken by HRCSL at the invitation of the UN and the previous government, experienced initial difficulties until it was streamlined as it was an entirely novel process. Pursuant to the adoption of a Standard Operating Procedure in 2018 with the concurrence of the Tri Forces, police, HRCSL, UN and GOSL, vetting of officers has progressed well.  It is not possible to agree that the routine report submitted by HRCSL to the UN Committee against Torture diminished opportunities for our troops.

 In fact, the Sri Lanka Army affirmed that it has the ‘highest confidence in the HRCSL that it does its utmost to expedite this HR screening processes in a Statement issued on March 28th 2019 which was carried in all media. In fact, in that Statement, the Army said ‘the task of screening is not that easy since the HRCSL, apart from the duties it has to perform according to its prime mandate, have to scrutinize thousands of applications as all three services and the Police are engaged in UN peacekeeping,’ It was further said that, ‘Sri Lankans, should be proud that the UN selected the HRCSL, Sri Lanka’s own organization, to carry out the domestic mechanism in the HR screening process.’

 (Q)Would you volunteer/seek an opportunity from P CoI to respond to accusations directed at the HRCSL

(A) I do not see how the reported statement made by the former President before the PCoI is relevant to the matter under investigation.

(Q) Can you briefly explain the President’s role and that of the Constitutional Council in the appointment of HRCSL (members of Independent Commissions) and finally

(A) My response to your first question addressed this issue.

(Q) Do you think HRCSL contributed in any way leading to the political crisis that may have facilitated the Easter attacks?

 (A) If anyone makes that accusation against the HRCSL, it is hard to comprehend the logic behind it. How could protection of people’s rights lead to such a crisis? I thought the previous government was commended for establishing independent commissions and for the improved human rights situation. The answer is certainly not. 



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Pandora Papers disclosure: Int’l cooperation essential to hold wrongdoers accountable – TISL

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Three RTI applications filed calling for information about asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says international cooperation through diplomatic channels is essential to hold offshore enablers and asset destinations accountable.

TISL has said that in addition to a complaint filed with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), three RTI (Right to Information) applications have been filed seeking asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa. TISL has also written to the FIU (Financial Investigation Unit) calling for immediate investigation into potential money laundering claims.

TISL has said in a media statement: “The Pandora Papers exposé provides clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and demonstrates the importance of ensuring the transparency of beneficial ownership of entities. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the Pandora Papers refer to extensive assets held offshore by former Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan. TISL in its initial statement following the revelations, called on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that independent investigations are carried out expeditiously into the revelations made by tPandora Papers. Since then, the President has called on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate the claims made by Pandora Papers.

TISL has taken several steps since the initial statement, pertaining to the revelations made by Pandora Papers.

One 07 October 2021, TISL filed a complaint with CIABOC, calling for an investigation into the alleged unexplained assets of the former Deputy Minister and her husband who has been identified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEP). TISL noted that the transactions revealed through this exposé could amount to offences under Section 23A of the Bribery Act, Section 4(1) of the CIABOC Act, and relevant provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, and requested the Commission to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament. TISL requested CIABOC to investigate whether public funds have been embezzled and laundered to these foreign safe havens.

TISL also wrote to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on 13th October, calling on them to coordinate with relevant law enforcement authorities at both local and international level to investigate potential money laundering allegedly committed by the former Member of Parliament and her spouse. The FIU, as the central independent body established in terms of the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 06 of 2006 (FTRA), is empowered to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

Through the letter TISL requested the FIU to take further steps to furnish the authorities with evidence, examining the financial transactions that have flowed in and out of Sri Lanka by coordinating with local and foreign financial institutions connected to these two individuals.

TISL has also filed three Right to Information Requests to the Elections Commission, Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, calling for the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa as an election candidate, Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister respectively

 The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1 of 1975 makes it mandatory for Parliamentarians and senior public officials to annually submit a declaration of assets and liabilities, which includes the assets and liabilities of their spouse and dependent children. If the former Parliamentarian has not disclosed the overseas assets revealed through Pandora Papers, she will be in breach of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. Therefore, her asset declarations would be a key tool to identify whether the overseas assets of the deputy minister, her spouse and children revealed through Pandora Papers have been disclosed at the time.”

TISL Executive Director, Nadishani Perera, commenting on the matter stated “We urge the relevant authorities in the country to take immediate action to independently investigate the revelations made by Pandora Papers. It is important that the due process is followed without any interference, obstructions or delays. For the PEPs implicated, there remains a path to clearing their name, if they were to heed the call of the public by making the relevant asset declarations public. A thorough and impartial investigation will also bolster faith in the law enforcement agencies of the country and prove to be an important deterrent against perpetrators of white-collar crimes.”

The TISL Executive Director also noted that “while it is important to take stringent action to prevent foreign currency unlawfully flowing out of the country into secrecy jurisdictions, it is also imperative that countries like Sri Lanka take this issue up on a diplomatic level in order to ensure financial institutions in countries such as Singapore are also held accountable and that steps are taken to recover any proceeds of crime back to our country from these asset destinations.”

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German flight delay caused by pilot’s credit card problem, says AASL chief

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By Sirimanta Ratanasekera

Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka (AASL) Ltd, Maj Gen (Retd) G. A. Chandrasiri said that a false and malicious accusation had been levelled that the officials attached to the Bandaranaike International Airport had unnecessarily delayed a German charter flight that arrived at the airport for emergency landing with 226 passengers.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri denied the allegation.

A Condor flight with 226 passengers travelling from Germany to the Maldives made an emergency landing on 26 Sept at the BIA around 11.25 am due to inclement weather in the Maldivian air space.

However, when the flight attempted to leave Sri Lanka around 1 pm, officials of the German charter airline, Condor, faced delays of about one hour when paying landing fees, since their credit cards had not been activated to make international payments.

“Now some parties, with vested interests to tarnish the good name of our airport, are spreading false rumours that the credit machines at the airport were dysfunctional. This is a malicious accusation,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

He said that a three-member committee, led by a President’s Counsel, had been appointed to conduct an investigation and he would receive the investigation report within two days.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri said that the German charter airline so far had not raised any issue or made any complaint in the incident. He said that the AASL would inform the Condor airline of the situation after he received the report.

“As at 2020 January, the BIA had been an airport catering to around 20,000 passengers daily. This came to a halt following the pandemic. Now, it is coming back to its former situation. It is at this juncture those with malicious interests try to tarnish our name. If the flight in question made a normal landing it would have been our responsibility but it was an emergency,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

AASL Operational Director Shehan Sumanasekera said that there had been some false media reports about the incident. “I myself monitored the entire scenario from CCTV and made inquiries from relevant officials. There were no lapses on the part of the airport or officials. It was a problem with the credit cards of the pilots of the flight.

State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development DV Chanaka said that he too had called for a report on the matter, which is due to be submitted tomorrow.

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Verite shows how Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics

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Verité Research, a private think tank that provides strategic analysis for Asia, hosted the online discussion Steering out of the Debt Crisis: Recipe for Budget 2022 on Oct 14. The event was anchored around addressing Sri Lanka’s debt and USD liquidity crisis, and featured presentations by Executive Director, Nishan de Mel, Research Director, Deshal de Mel, and Analyst Anushan Kapilan. An expert panel included Dr. Shantayanan Devaranjan (Georgetown University), Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (former Senior Deputy Governor – CBSL) and Dr. Mick Moore (Institute of Development Studies – UK).

A press release issued by the think tank said: Verité Research presented analysis pertaining to debt management and fiscal measures, including specific proposals to increase government revenue and improve the allocation of expenditure.

The Verité Research analysis showed that Sri Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics by meeting two conditions with regard to its domestic debt, and two further conditions with regard to its foreign debt. The presentation explained that, despite some challenges, achieving these conditions was feasible for Sri Lanka – provided policy-makers choose to do so.

The main challenges arise from poorly formulated fiscal/budget measures, coupled with the pandemic-induced setbacks which have resulted in successive downgrades of Sri Lanka’s credit ratings. As a result, Sri Lanka has been locked out of global capital markets, and rapidly depleted its foreign reserves, as it has continued to pay back foreign bondholders, at the expense of negative feedback on the local economy.

The Verité Research analysis showed that the worst is yet to come. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserve would be completely depleted by the end of 2022 if no surprise inflows materialise, and even if they did, the crisis would simply re-emerge in 2023. This means that even if Sri Lanka can claim to be technically solvent, it does not have the liquidity to sustainably pay back its foreign debt until the country credit rating is improved by at least two notches.

The current path of repaying debt offers a high return to bondholders at the expense of huge pain to domestic businesses and consumers, and makes the credit rating outlook even more precarious. The solution is to share the pain with bondholders by pre-emptively restructuring the debt. This can improve the foreign reserve position more quickly, and thereby improve the country’s credit rating more quickly as well. This alternative path is less painful to the local economy, offers a faster recovery, with a higher probability of success. It is a better path for the Sri Lankan economy than repaying foreign bondholders in full, even if it were able to do so.

A clear distinction needs to be made between a forced restructuring which would occur if a country were to default in a disorderly way without negotiating with creditors, and an orderly pre-emptive restructuring of debt following negotiations with creditors. The sooner Sri Lanka moves to an orderly pre-emptive debt restructure, the easier it would be to do so, and the more favourable it would be for the Sri Lankan economy. Delaying the decision is damaging and can result in outcomes that are highly disruptive.

Currently the primary deficit is at 7.4% of GDP. At the current GDP growth rate of a little under 4% (predicted by Verité Research), it is necessary to reduce the primary deficit to around 2% of GDP or less to help stabilise the debt.

The Verité Research analysis showed that in the base case scenario with no policy changes, the debt to GDP Ratio would increase to 123.08% by 2025, however with prudent fiscal measures it can be kept down to 108.8% by 2025.

The fiscal measures proposed included the reduction of the personal income threshold to LKR 1 Mn per Annum; the reintroduction of PAYE with a threshold of LKR 1.5Mn; reintroduction of WHT on interest income; increasing the VAT rate to 10% in 2022 and to 12% in 2023; reducing the VAT free thresholds from LKR 300 Mn to LKR 150 Mn in 2022; simplifying the corporate tax regime to a three-tier regime; and increasing the total taxes on cigarettes and alcohol in line with increases in inflation and GDP according to a tobacco taxation formula introduced in the 2019 budget.

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