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Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund suffers staggering losses due to irregularities

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COPE Chairman Charitha Herath, MP (second from left) is flanked by officials (pic courtesy Parliament)

COPE PROBE

By Saman Indrajith

A probe conducted by the parliament watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has found that the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust fund incurred a loss of Rs. 673 million from an online lottery, Parliament sources said yesterday.

 It was revealed that Rs 673 million had been earned by an intermediary, who sold the lotteries but did not return the proceeds to the Mahapola Trust Fund.

 In addition, due to insufficient capital gains on securities transactions of companies under the Mahapola Trust Fund, in 2015 and 2016 Rs. 18 million and Rs. 102 million were lost respectively. It was also revealed that a loss of Rs. 13 million had been incurred during the repurchases made using investments in National Wealth Corporation in 2017. The COPE stressed that these irregularities had caused huge losses to the Fund.

COPE Chairman Prof Charitha Herath instructed Secretary to the Ministry of Trade JM Bhadrani Jayawardena to inform the Attorney General of the losses and irregularities and lodge a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department.

The COPE investigation conducted at the Parliamentary complex last week was attended by State Ministers Susil Premajayanth, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, MPs Eran Wickramaratne, Nalin Bandara Jayamaha, Premnath C.Dolawatta and S. M. Marikkar.

The committee also recommended a proper study on the irregularities with regard to the National Wealth Corporation and the National Wealth Securities Corporation, under the Mahapola Trust Fund and ordered that the heads of the institutions be summoned before the COPE forthwith.

The officials who attended the investigation told the committee that the Cabinet had approved the liquidation of those institutions as they were running at a loss. Commenting on this, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath said that although it would not be a problem to liquidate after punishing the culprits, it would not be appropriate to liquidate those institutions without proper investigation into frauds.

COPE Chairman Herath said that the liquidation should be delayed until those irregularities were properly investigated.

The current situation of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) was also discussed. The committee expressed its displeasure at the fact that even though the SLIIT had been summoned before the Committee it had informed the COPE through Julius & Creasy law firm that it had not been legally bound to do so. Thus, the COPE decided that law firm Julius & Creasy should be summoned to resolve the matter.

The COPE Committee further recommended that as SLIIT was an institution of national importance, after preparing an internal report as an extension of the discussion on that institution and reporting it to Parliament, it would be appropriate to decide on the action to be taken in that regard.

Further, it was revealed that the institution did not have an internal auditor and an accountant. The COPE Committee recommended that action be taken to fill the vacancy as soon as possible, according to sources.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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premanath-c-Dolawatta

SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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