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Probe on Kurunegala MC sends shockwaves through political parties

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremaratne on Sunday (13) said that it was the responsibility of relevant political authorities to act on the findings/queries made by the National Audit Office.

 The AG said so in response to The Island query with regard to the appointment of retired Judicial Officer Lalith Ekanayake, by North Western Province Governor Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda to conduct inquiry into allegations of corruption against Kurunegala Mayor Thushara Sanjeewa Vitharana (SLPP).

Controversy erupted over the Kurunegala Municipal Council, amidst accusations the government intends to further postpone Local Government polls.

 Karannagoda, who served as the Commander of the Navy (2005-2009) held several appointments after his retirement, including that of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo before being named Governor of the North Western Province in Dec. 2021. The NW Province comprises the administrative districts of Kurunegala and Puttalam.

The AG stressed that their findings, pertaining to the Kurunegala MC administration, had been brought to the notice of the Parliament on more than one occasion. Local Government bodies come under Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, who is also the Minister in charge of Local Government ministry.

 The Governor, who represents the executive, issued an extraordinary gazette notification on Nov. 09 requesting for a comprehensive report from the one-man commission within three months. Declining to comment on the developments, Karannagoda said that he would await the completion of the investigation conducted in terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act.

The appointment of one-man commission took place, consequent to inquiries conducted by three boards into findings by the National Audit Office.

The National Audit Office has queried the payment of nearly Rs 59,879,720 more than the required amount to a CCD Construction Company in respect of two projects undertaken by the Kurunegala MC. Pointing out that this excess payment had been in spite of the total value of the agreement being Rs. 232,122,585, though estimated at Rs 230,186,606.

The National Audit Office has altogether queried 27 projects undertaken by the Kurunegala MC. The excess payment of Rs 59,879,720 pertained to one of the 27 projects undertaken during Thushara Sanjeewa’s tenure as the Mayor.

The SLPP won the Kurunegala MC at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls. The Kurunegala Mayor was implicated in the demolition of the Buwaneka Hotel, building with a historic connection, on July 15, 2020. The Road Development Authority (RDA) demolished the building without obtaining approval from the Department of Archaeology.

Following the Governor taking action on disclosures made by the National Audit Office, an interested party had made representations to political higher-ups to thwart investigations and further actions. The Governor is empowered to suspend the Mayor pending the investigation undertaken by the one-man commission, The Island learns.

Responding to queries, Auditor General Wickremaratne explained the urgent need to have cohesive systems to take punitive measures against those found guilty of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement. The disclosures pertaining to the Kurunegala MC shouldn’t be considered as an isolated incident, the AG said, adding that over the years they have submitted quite a number of reports to Parliament that hadn’t so far produced the desired results.

National Audit Office has also inquired into large scale frauds perpetrated by the Kurunegala MC, court cases, renting of shops at Kurunegala bus stand, procurement of excavator from the public sector, in spite of having one of its own, releasing of machinery belonging to Kurunegala MC to various contractors, releasing land belonging to the state and Kurunegala MC to outsiders, serious financial irregularities in the procurement of water meters outside laid down procedures and payment of Rs 329,450.00 for furniture that hadn’t been procured by the Mayor’s Office.

Investigations have revealed members of the government, the Opposition as well as officers of the Kurunegala MC brazenly sharing shops available at the Kurunegala Central market, main bus stand and Maligapitiya shopping complex outside laid down procedures. Shops meant for all had been secured through political influence and SLPP, SJB and SLFP members of Kurunegala MC had obtained shops, according to the National Audit Office. The report named all recipients, including Mayor Thushara Sanjeewa Vitharana (three shops) and Opposition Leader W. A. Wijayananda Wedisinghe (two shops).



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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

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PHU, too, opposes land, police powers to PCs

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A lawyers’ group, aligned with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), yesterday (31) said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t unilaterally decide on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorneys-at-Law Pasan Gunasekera and Bhupathi Kahathuduwa, in a statement issued, explained why police and land powers, in terms of the controversial amendment, shouldn’t be granted to Provincial Councils. Abolition of current constitutional safeguard would undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status thereby paved the way for a new conflict.

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Bangladesh FM to deliver LK memorial lecture

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, will deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture at Block 3, Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on February 03, at 6 pm.

The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar, on Aug. 12, 2005.

FM Momen will deliver the annual lecture on the invitation of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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