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Probes and probity

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Saturday 9th October, 2021

The Opposition may have expected the government to defend Thirukumar Nadesan and his wife Nirupama Rajapaksa openly over the Pandora Papers revelations and get into a bigger political mess in the process. But the latter chose to act intelligently, for once. It ordered a probe—not out of any genuine desire to ascertain the truth and institute legal action against anyone but in what appears to be a bid to deflect criticism.

An otherwise lethargic Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) has swung into action. Asked by this newspaper what action it would take in respect of the Pandora Papers allegations against Nirupama and her husband, the CIABOC said it could act only if a complaint was lodged. In fact, it is not in a position to initiate an inquiry or an investigation of its own volition thanks to the draconian 20th Amendment, which stripped it of some vital powers. No one had made a complaint by that time. Curiously, a presidential order galvanised the CIABOC into action. It summoned Nadesan and recorded a statement yesterday.

Interestingly, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a member of the ruling family, which its political rivals are all out to implicate in the questionable offshore financial transactions of Nadesan. He has also asked the CIABOC to submit a report to him within one month!

It would have been much better if the CIABOC had been able to probe the Pandora Papers disclosure on its own. All Executive Presidents have not cared to rise above partisan politics and act impartially, and therefore presidential directives are not devoid of politics.

Not all shell company owners are engaged in criminal activities; but most of them are responsible for tax evasion, which needs to be investigated separately. Most of those involved in offshore financial transactions have caused huge losses to their home countries by parking their money overseas illegally. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which carried out the Pandora Papers investigation, has said the losses at issue range from USD 5.6 trillion to USD 32 trillion. The International Monetary Fund is of the view that the losses that tax havens cause to many countries around the world could be as high as USD 600 billion a year. The existence of the offshore world aggravates global poverty and inequalities because it deprives the developing nations of some of their tax revenue, as we pointed out in a previous comment. Therefore, besides the ongoing CIABOC probe, there must be a multi-agency investigation into the ICIJ revelations about Sri Lankans, like the one India has ordered.

Offshore transactions are extremely complex processes, and if the CIABOC is capable of conducting a thorough probe into the allegations against Nadesan and submit a report thereon to the President within one month, there is no reason why it should take years to finish other probes that do not involve such complex operations.

If the CIABOC is to carry out its duties and functions free from political influence, it should be made independent of the Executive President as well. It may be recalled that all political parties, represented in Parliament, sank their differences and deprived the national anti-graft commission of the power to inquire into allegations of bribery or corruption sua sponte, in 1994. This power was restored by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (2015), which made it ‘lawful for the Commission … to inquire into, or investigate an allegation of bribery or corruption, whether on its own motion or on a written complaint made to it.’ There were flaws in the 19th Amendment that had to be rectified, but the salutary provisions like the aforesaid one should have been retained. The 20th Amendment, which was crafted to strengthen the executive presidency, stripped the CIABOC of that power again. Otherwise, there would have been no need for the President to order the CIABOC to initiate an investigation into the ICIJ findings anent Sri Lanka, and, above all, the probe would have been more acceptable to the public.



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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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