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Treasury bond scams:

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CoI recommendation regarding forensic audits yet to be finalized, available reports with AG, CIABOC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Over three years after Supreme Court Judge K.T. Chitrasiri led Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into Treasury bond scams handed over its report to then President Maithripala Sirisena, the Monetary Board is yet to complete recommendation in respect of forensic audits.

Of the recommended forensic audits, five had been completed at a cost of Rs 275 mn and the remaining one not commissioned yet. 

The Island recently sought an explanation as regards the delay in completing the recommended process from Director Communications, CBSL.

The Island: What is the status of the procurement process pertaining to the sixth forensic audit ordered by the CoI?

CBSL: The procurement process to select an audit firm to carry out the sixth forensic audit is underway.

The Island: Can you explain how forensic audits so far obtained at a cost of Rs 275 mn utilized by the CBSL?

CBSL: Copies of the five forensic audit reports have been submitted to relevant authorities including the Attorney General and the Auditor General to initiate actions, as necessary. As per the request of the Director General of CIABOC, certain reports were submitted to CIABOC. Further, the Monetary Board appointed an internal Task Force to facilitate and oversee implementation of the recommendations in the Forensic Audit Reports which entailed, among others, strengthening of processes, internal controls, etc.

The CoI comprised Supreme Court Justice K. T. Chithrasiri, the late Justice Prasanna S. Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor-General K. Vellupillai, while attorney-at-law Sumathipala Udugamasooriya functioned as its secretary.

The Monetary Board commissioned forensic audits in consultation with the Attorney General and the Auditor General to deal with issues subsequent to the CoI probe on the issuance of Treasury bonds during the period 01st February 2015 to 31st March 2016 and matters that had come to light over the recent years in audit reports and in findings of internal investigations pursuant to the exercise of certain regulatory and agency functions undertaken by the CBSL. The CBSL in response to a previous The Island query said that the procurement of the five forensic audits were carried out by a Cabinet Appointed Consultant Procurement Committee and the contracts were awarded to audit firms with a global practice and international experience in forensic auditing with the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) D. E. W. Gunasekera yesterday (30) told The Island that parliament owed an explanation as regards the implementation of recommendations, both of CoI as well as the forensic audits. Pointing out that parliament conveniently failed to debate the CoI report on Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016, the veteran politician said the issue at hand could be taken up in spite of the Attorney General moving Colombo High Court against some of the Treasury scam suspects. Former CBSL Governor Arjuna Mahendran remained at large, the former minister said, urging both the government and the Opposition to be responsible in their response to the country’s biggest ever financial fraud.

Responding to another query, one-time General Secretary of the CPSL reminded the CoI report on Treasury bond scams wasn’t taken up for debate in spite of it being on the agenda paper of the parliament.

The former minister said that the incumbent government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for properly utilizing forensic audits obtained at a staggering cost of Rs 275 mn. The outspoken retired politician emphasized that the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, the alleged fraud in controversial duty reduction of sugar and a spate of other controversies, including import of contaminated coconut oil shouldn’t be allowed to divert attention away from Treasury bond scams.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva said that his party expected the Attorney General to act on the basis of CoI recommendations and the forensic audit reports. The former Deputy Minister noted that action had been initiated at the Colombo High Court Trial at Bar in respect of the Treasury bond scams.



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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