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Garlic scam: Whistleblower ready to assist CID

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‘No need to verify my claims; I stand by all charges’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena questions the rationale behind the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) seeking to question journalists including editors of Sinhala and English national newspapers on the recent exposure of state-owned Lanka Sathosa Ltd (LSL) as a corrupt enterprise.

Gunawardena emphasised that the garlic scam exposed by him in his then capacity as the Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) was just one such corrupt deal.

Calling himself a whistleblower, an irate Gunawardena said that in the wake of intimidation and threats, he had e-mailed his resignation letter to the CAA Chairman, retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake, on 21 Sept. “I haven’t received an acknowledgment from the CAA Chairman yet, Gunawardena told The Island yesterday (28) morning.

“Regardless of the Chairman’s response, I’m out,” Gunawardena said.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that he firmly stood by every word he had said about the garlic racket.

“As I felt a despicable attempt was being made to hush up the garlic scam, I decided to go public,” Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena said that the racketeers’ plan had gone awry due to the CAA raid on Welisara warehouse. The Sathosa plan was to condemn two container loads of 56,000 kilos of garlic bought at less than Rs 120 per kilo from the harbour, sell the consignment to a regular supplier at Rs 135 a kilo and buyback the same lot at Rs 445 a kilo, Gunawardena said.

Pointing out that senior management representative DGM (Finance) Susiri Perera had been arrested along with several other employees in that connection, Gunawardena said that the Trade Ministry owed an explanation as Sathosa came under its purview. Following the media exposure, Sathosa had no option but to rescind the agreement with the supplier and sell the stock of garlic through its network of outlets, Gunawardena said.

The CID named several journalists, including editors of The Island and the Divaina, following a complaint lodged by Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena. The CID also sought to question Lankadeepa journalists including its editor.

In spite of an assurance received by the media Monday night that the CID wouldn’t seek statements from the media, the CID turned up at Lankadeepa offices yesterday (28) morning. The assurance was given after Monday’s Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in the absence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is yet to return from the US.

During post-Cabinet media briefing, the media sought an explanation from Minister Alahapperuma regarding the police seeking statements from the media. Expressing his deep regret, Minister Alahapperuma said that the police shouldn’t have sought to question journalists in that regard under any circumstances.

The Media Minister said that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had made it quite clear the media shouldn’t be questioned and Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Weerasekera, too, agreed.

However, Lankadeepa Editor Siri Ranasinghe told The Island yesterday that in spite of the assurances received from the government, the CID arrived at the Lankadeepa editorial in the morning. “We declined to make statements today. As they pressed for an appointment, we asked them to come back on 03 Oct.”

 Gunawardena said that in addition to the print media and television coverage, garlic scam had received considerable attention in the social media. What was going on at Sathosa reflected the deepening economic crisis with several hundred container loads of food and other essential stuff held up at the Colombo harbour due to the inability of importers to clear them, Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena said that importers hadn’t been able to do so as the banks could not release US dollars. According to him as many as 800 containers had been held up due to Sri Lanka’s inability to pay for imported goods. It would be a grave blunder on the government’s part to confiscate such containers and make goods available through Sathosa outlets, Gunawardena said, urging the government to review its strategies.

“We are paying a very heavy price for not prudently managing Sathosa,” Gunawardena said. Declaring the absence of proper oversight mechanism, auditing, negligence and punitive action encouraged waste, corruption and irregularities, Gunawardena said Sathosa was a case in point. “Sathosa cannot be examined in isolation. Three other sister organisations, too, should be probed,” Gunawardena said, adding that he first got to know about the setup when Chamal Rajapaksa holding the trade portfolio asked for a report on them. The examination had revealed many crooked deals and on the instructions of Minister Rajapaksa, several cases were reported to the CID, Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena said that he had personally briefed the CID on corruption in enterprises coming under the purview of the trade ministry. Gunawardena explained how costly transactions had been carried out at the expense of the taxpayer regardless of the party in power. Declaring that he had received the appointment with the blessings of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Gunawardena said that Sathosa and other such enterprises were nothing but a heavy burden on the people.

Gunawardena revealed that in his report to Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and he had recommended the closing down of two enterprises coming under the Trade Ministry as such waste, corruption and irregularities couldn’t be condoned. Gunawardena urged Parliament to probe the enterprises coming under the trade ministry without further delay.

Gunawardena said that he sincerely hoped the top SLPP leadership would realise how poor management at key ministries undermined the government was. The sugar scam, unprecedented shortage in rice as well as continuing shortage of cement and milk powder indicated rapidly deteriorating situation.



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No immediate hike in fuel prices – Udaya

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Finance Minister rules out bailout package for CPC

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has told Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila that the Treasury is not in a position to assist the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). However, there would not be a fuel price hike in the short term, the Minister of Energy told the media yesterday.

Minister Gammanpila said that if a fuel hike was on the cards, he would announce it publicly.

“This is what I did last time also. This time around, I have told the people that we are facing a serious problem. We incur a loss of Rs. 15 on a litre of petrol and a loss of Rs 16 on a litre of diesel. The Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has asked for a price increase,” he said.

Gammanpila said he told the Chairman of the CPC that they should first seek assistance from the Treasury. Given that prices of all essential items had increased, a significant increase in fuel prices would cause great inconvenience to the people, he said.

“At the last Cabinet meeting, I asked the Finance Minister for assistance. He said it was hard to provide assistance and was non-committal. I will again take the matter up at the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.

The government was discussing the possibility of obtaining a 3.6 billion US dollar credit line for fuel from Oman. Sri Lanka spent around USD 300 million on oil imports per month and the credit line would allow for a year of fuel supply at concessionary rates, the Minister said.

“If we get this credit line, we should be able to weather this storm. Otherwise, I will ask the Cabinet for relief. While people are suffering, we can’t also let the CPC go bankrupt. If CPC goes bust, the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon will be in deep trouble too,” the Minister said.

Gammanpila added that there was no point in queuing at fuel stations because a decision to increase fuel takes a few months to be approved. For example the previous hike in June was first proposed in April. “If takes a few months for such a proposal to be approved and implemented. I was told that people were queuing at fuel stations last Monday and Wednesday.”

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JVP calls for multi-agency probe into Rs. 4 bn. Gin-Nilwala scam

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Ex Prez can assist inquiry

By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.

In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.

The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.

Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.

MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.

The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.

MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.

MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended to Oct 21

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions have been extended to October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said issuing a press release yesterday.

The PMD added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the security forces to strictly enforce the inter-province travel restrictions during the weekend.

The decision was taken at the COVID-19 Prevention Committee meeting held Friday (15) morning.

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