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Whistleblower prevented from leaving for Dubai

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Ex-CAA Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena addresses the media in Colombo on Sunday.(pic by Nimal Dayaratne)

Lak Sathosa garlic scam:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Executive Director of Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), Thushan Gunawardena says the Immigration and Emigration Department has barred him from leaving the country.

An irate Gunawardena alleges he is being harassed over the disclosure of a massive garlic scam at Lak Sathosa last September.

“Instead of prosecuting those responsible, expeditiously, I’m being targeted for ordering the raid that exposed the corrupt lot,” Gunawardena told The Island soon after returning home. The ex-CAA official declared he would be soon filing a fundamental rights case against the Immigration and Emigration Department.

Gunawardena said that the senior officer in charge of the Immigration and Emigration unit at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in the early hours of Saturday (22) had informed him of the instructions received in that regard. Gunawardena was to board the Colombo-Dubai Emirates flight that departed at 2.55 am, on Saturday.

Gunawardena said that a stock of 56,000 kilos of garlic that had been released by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to Lak Sathosa, had been sold to a regular Lak Sathosa supplier at about Rs 135 a kilo. The Sathosa management had planned to buy back the same consignment at Rs 445 a kilo and then make it available to consumers at about Rs 540 a kilo. Alleging that the fraud had been perpetrated at Lak Sathosa management level, Gunawardena said the plan had gone awry due to the raid carried on information provided by an insider. Lak Sathosa had sold the stock at such a low price to a supplier on the basis of poor quality in spite of Quality Assurance clearance, Gunawardena said, such fraudulent activities were rampant though never been properly investigated.

Gunawardena said that the government owed an explanation how the Immigration and Emigration Department had thwarted his departure in spite of him carrying a valid passport. “I was told the BIA unit acted on the instructions received from their head office at ‘Suhurupaya’ Sri Subhuthipura road, Battaramulla. But, the issue at hand is as my passport hadn’t been impounded in connection with investigations into the garlic scam, there is suspicious of interested parties manipulating the Immigration and Emigration Department.”

Gunawardena said that according to a document that had been received by the Immigration and Emigration unit, he was categorized as a suspect along with five others unknown to him.

The Immigration and Emigration Department 1962 hotline in a recorded message stated that the department could be contacted only on weekdays between 8.30 am and 4.15 pm.

Gunawardena emphasized the political leadership couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for what was happening with the connivance of lawmakers and top officials. Gunawardena said that he learnt a bitter lesson having had an opportunity to serve as CAA executive. “Corruption here is nothing but a way of life. The current dispensation, despite its leaders’ pledges, has done nothing to curtail waste, corruption and irregularities,” Gunawardena said.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that he expected the Justice Ministry, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the Human Rights Commission as well as the Police Commission to inquire into this matter.

Gunawardena claimed that he earned the wrath of both Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna for going public with garlic fraud. Now that the government had prevented him from attending some meetings in Dubai connected with his present employment he was seriously contemplating seeking compensation for loss of business opportunities.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assigned the Immigration and Emigration Department to Defense State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa. The Immigration and Emigration Department is one of the 31 state institutions that come under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

The Police Department, State Intelligence Service (SIS), Registration of Persons Department, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRC) are among other state institutions coming under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Gunawardena said that a senior management level official who had been arrested and then granted bail pending further investigations into the garlic scam was reinstated. Recalling he sent in his resignation to Chairman CAA retired Maj. General Shantha Dissanayake in the third week of Sept last year, Gunawardena said government actions couldn’t certainly be compatible with the much-touted policy statement titled Vistas of Splendor.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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US Ambassador calls on Speaker

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U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung yesterday (27) called on Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena at the Parliament Premises.The U.S. Ambassador said that she hopes the government, including the new Prime Minister, would be able to bring about political stability and overcome the current economic crisis. The Ambassador also emphasized the need to carry out the political reforms desired by the people and to safeguard democracy in the country.

She also hoped to enhance relations between the two countries through the Sri Lanka-USA Parliamentary Friendship Association. She appreciated the role played by the Women Parliamentarians Caucus and discussed the need to increase the representation of women.The Speaker also expressed his gratitude to the United States of America for its continued support to strengthening democracy in Sri Lanka.This is the first meeting between Ambassador Chung and Speaker Abeywardena since her appointment as US Ambassador to Sri Lanka.Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake was also present on the occasion.

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