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Govt. auditors returning to Litro offices after a lapse of two years

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Auditor General’s Department, in consultation with the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), will soon initiate the process of auditing State-owned Litro Gas and Litro Terminals after a lapse of nearly two years.

The audit inquiry gets underway in the wake of Chairman and CEO of Litro Gas Lanka Limited and Litro Terminals Theshara Jayasinghe’s bombshell revelation at his Union Place Office last Friday (5) that his organization conspired with the foreign supplier to manipulate the gas supply to the country in a bid to compel the state enterprise to further extend a two year contract now in place.

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) sources say the AG has intervened after Jayasinghe withdrew a high-profile case initiated by Litro last year to thwart the due process.

Against the backdrop of Friday’s media briefing, The Island on Saturday (6) sought Jayasinghe explanation how Litro avoided government audit in spite of interventions made by the parliamentary watchdog committee in this regard. Jayasinghe said that he recently withdrew a case filed by Litro meant to deprive the AG of the opportunity to investigate the state enterprise. Jayasinghe said that quite an amount had been spent on the legal term and it should be investigated as well.

AG W.P.C. Wickramaratne yesterday told The Island that a team of officers would be sent to Litro on Monday (8) to commence the inquiry. Wickramaratne said that the AG could not intervene therein due to legal impediment caused by the state enterprise taking legal action. Asked to explain, the AG said that the court prevented the audit process in response to legal action initiated by the company.

Litro has hired President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva and Sanjeeva Jayawardena on its behalf. Sanjeeva Jayawardena represents the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for a fresh term of 6 years, up to June 2027. Appointments to the Monetary Board are cleared by the Parliamentary Council chaired by the Speaker.

Responding to another query, Jayasinghe explained how the country’s largest importer of LP gas in spite of being owned by Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) was audited by a private firm at the expense of taxpayers’ money regardless of serious concerns expressed by parliamentary watchdog committee COPE. Jayasinghe pointed out that those interested in extending the contract for a further period from early next year deliberately caused a gas shortage during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s absence. “They wanted to secure consensus on a fresh agreement. They probably felt confident the project could have been brought to a successful conclusion as the President was away in Scotland.”

Jayasinghe said that he called a media briefing after having informed the President of the disruption of the gas supply caused by interested parties.

The government in July this year brought Viyathmaga activist in place of Anil Koswatte who received the appointment in January 2020 in the wake of change of government in Nov 2019.

Current Litro and Litro Terminals Board includes Asoka Bandara and Shanthi Kumar. The Corporate Management Team consists of Janaka Pathirana, Lakmali Hapuarachchi, Mignone Wijesuriya, Wickramasinghe Kamalanatha, Jayantha Basnayaka, Pushpakumara Edirisinghe, Terrance Appuhamy, Maheshika Rajakaruna, Hiran Seneviratne and Muditha Thamanagama.

Jayasinghe stressed that as Chairman and CEO of the state enterprise he had no option but to disclose the massive racket that had been perpetrated at the expense of the government. “Their strategy was simple. They deprived the required foreign currency to procure gas in spite of direct intervention of the Central Bank,” Jayasinghe said, declaring he was ready to face the consequences of the unprecedented disclosure.

Anil Koswatte has in writing requested Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle to inquire into the allegations directed by his successor. Attygalle didn’t answer his hand phone yesterday morning.

The Colombo Magistrate’s Court recently released Koswatte, a former Chairman of Laksala in a case filed by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as regards the losses caused to the government due to non-compliance with proper procurement procedures. The court issued the order after the CIABOC informed that the case could not be continued due to a technical error in the filing of the case.

Meanwhile, according to COPE proceedings pertaining to Litro Gas and Litro Terminals obtained from the Communications Department of the Parliament, the watchdog committee has inquired into the state enterprises acting contrary to specific instructions issued by the AG. In spite of the Auditor General, having obtained the approval of the Attorney General to proceed with auditing of the two enterprises, couldn’t do so as the board of directors hired private audit firm KPMG. COPE has taken up this issue in late February this year at a meeting attended by Prof. Charitha Herath (Chairman), Jagath Pushpakumara, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Premanath C. Dolawatta, S.M. Marrikar and S. Rasamanikkam.

The then Chairman Anil Koswatte, who had been present there on the invitation of COPE pointed out there couldn’t be any dispute over hiring of a private firm in terms of a decision taken by the Board of Directors of Litro Gas and Litro Terminals.

Koswastte said so when the COPE sought an explanation how the two enterprises hired a private firm as the SLIC which owned 99 percent shares of them was audited by the AG and the SLIC too backed their stand.  During that meeting held on Feb 23, 2021, losses suffered by the SLIC to the tune of Rs 36 mn due to the termination of its operations in Male and Seychelles, too, was revealed.

Inquiries revealed that the SLIC that owned 99 percent of shares at Litro Gas and 100 percent shares at Litro Terminals had one vote at the Board of Directors whereas one share at Litro Gas was represented by three persons.

The COPE has repeatedly told Parliament that their authority in respect of state sector finance is questioned by various parties.

Couple of weeks after Jayasinghe succeeded Koswatte, The Island sought information pertaining to the actual situation at the state enterprise. Having asked for time to go public, Jayasinghe told the media last week that for those who robbed the country, political parties and governments did not matter. Jayasinghe alleged that powerful persons benefited at the expense of the state enterprises and the hapless public.



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Scotland Police to stop training Lankan cops

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Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Concerns over the human rights record in Sri Lanka has led to the halt of the police training contract between the Sri Lanka and Scottish Police, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the Scotland Police confirmed.

He said they have written to the British High Commission in Colombo to inform the Sri Lanka government that they are no longer planning to renew the training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force due to end in March next year.

The British Foreign Office reported last week that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation deteriorated during the first half of 2021.

The report said: “Security forces increased their surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists and their use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a number of arbitrary arrests.

The government proposed new regulations with powers to arrest and send individuals to rehabilitation centres to be ‘de-radicalised’ with no judicial oversight or requirement for further process.”

News of Scotland’s Police not renewing the contract was welcomed by critics of Sri Lanka including Mercedes Villalba who is a Scottish Labour politician who has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland since May 2021.

British MPs and MSPs jointly sent a letter to the Scotland Police and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago requesting them to stop the training programme.

Villalba was one of the signatories and after this announcement, she said “I have been pleased to support the campaigners and thank them for their tireless efforts in securing the commitment from the chief constable. I also want to thank Police Scotland for being responsive to the real concerns which were expressed about Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations.”

Talking about the decision to stop training, Chief Constable Livingstone said that a review must be done to accurately reflect the current security and human rights issues in the region, which have changed since the initial deployment after the end of the Civil War in 2010.

“We remain of course committed to supporting the international development of policing services right across the world so that we can enhance and enable human rights and we can underline the values that we hold dear in Police Scotland of integrity, fairness and respect. Those values will always be at the heart of the work we deliver in Scotland and at the heart of everything we do internationally”, he added.

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Interfaith Week celebrated in London

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Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

A Pooja to celebrate Interfaith Week was organized here last week with the advice and guidance of Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayake Thera, head of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain.

This annual event begins on Remembrance Sunday, a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of the World War I to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty. This tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919.

Adhering to the country’s Covid guidelines, this year’s celebration was held using Zoom technology on the theme “Altruism in each religion”.

Ven. Seelawimala welcomed everyone who joined the session. Notable participants of the event were Ven. Thawalama Bandula Thera, Ven. Kalugamuwe Kassapa Thera from London Buddhist Vihara, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Interfaith Network, UK, Ranjish Kashyap, General Secretary/Director Hindu Council,UK, Dr. Pujya Samaniji Pratibha Pragya, who is a Jain nun from Harrow, Rev Gyoro Nagase, Japanese monk, London Peace Pagoda, Battersea, Dr Desmond Bidulph – Chairman of Buddhist Society and Charanjith and Ajith Singh MBE, Hounslow Friends of Faith, who represented the Sikhs.

All present chanted prayers according to their own faiths to eradicate human suffering, to have peace and especially to see an end to the pandemic situation in the world.

A pre-recorded video of Devotional Songs by London Buddhist Vihara Dhamma School Children was played at the event.

Interfaith Network – UK was founded in 1987 with representatives from the Buddhist, Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities,

National and local interfaith bodies, academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter-religious issues are affiliated to the organization. Then head of the London Buddhist Vihara late, Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera was actively involved in forming the Network and was a founding member.

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Frankfurt Consulate massive white elephant, alleges Lankan living there

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Foreign office looking at closing some overseas mission due to financial constraints

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Sri Lanka’s Consulate in Frankfurt has turned out to be a white elephant although the Sri Lankan government spends a whopping Rs. 200 million per year for its operations, Azad Shaukatally, a businessman and a Sri Lankan expatriate in Frankfurt told the Sunday Island.

“Over the years, this consulate has not contributed anything tangible to the country. All that has happened is successive governments appointing political loyalists to head the Mission. None of them have done anything concrete to promote business between the two countries,” he said.

According to him, the Mission could have contributed a great deal by promoting Sri Lankan exports and tourism as Frankfurt is the business hub of Germany.

“What actually happens is, the Consulate in Frankfurt simply replicates several tasks performed by the Embassy in Berlin and that’s it. But it cost the country exorbitantly without the knowledge of the authorities. This is sheer waste of national resources and it needs to be brought to an end,” Shaukatally said.

When the Sunday Island contacted the Foreign Ministry on the matter, its Acting Director General Sugeeshwara Gunaratna said: “The Foreign Ministry regularly evaluates individual performance of each Sri Lankan mission abroad, and constructively engages with them from time to time on specific issues or matters which are mutually beneficial in promotion of Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the host country and various international organizations while ensuring best interests of the people of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan citizens living abroad.”

He said that any decisions related to opening of new missions or closure of particular Missions/Posts abroad including the Consulate General in Frankfurt would be taken after wider consultation with relevant stakeholders based on the relevance of each Mission/Post in promotion of Sri Lanka’s relations abroad.

“Under the current financial constraints, the Foreign Ministry is in the process of closing down some of the Sri Lankan Missions/Posts abroad after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, no final decision, has so far, been taken with regard to the Missions/Posts which would be closed down in the near future,” Gunaratna said.

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