By Sugeeswara Senadhira
President Maithripala Sirisena, known for his explosive disclosures, dropped another bombshell last week by stating that there was no possibility to punish those who are guilty of the Central Bank Bonds scam as long as the culprits are in power. He pointed out that even though the Presidential Commission appointed by him to probe the Bond issue revealed the culprits, any legal action cannot be instituted against them as they are in Government.
The President made this remark while referring to Chairman of Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Sunil Handunnetti’s question “although the probe has been completed, why no legal action had been taken?
Handunnetti posed this question at a function held at the National Audit Office to mark the 61st Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Audit Services Union, at which President Sirisena was the Chief Guest.
While giving reasons for the lack of legal action, the President said in no uncertain terms that the stink of the Central Bank Bonds could be compared with that of the Kolonnawa garbage dump.
Although some Parliamentarians said that the President could take action to bring the former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran, who is absconding in Singapore, President Sirisena pointed out that he would not be brought back to Sri Lanka unless there was a Government in place that had the will to do so. He said though the Presidential Commission to probe the Central Bank bond scam recommended a forensic audit, such an audit had not yet commenced.
He charged that certain departments, institutions and corporations deprive the Government of a large income and that it cannot be controlled even by the Government and added that when action was taken to control fraud and corruption in those institutions they resort to trade union action.
It is no secret that when the President said the Bond Scam culprits were ‘in Government’, he meant those members of the UNP who were named in connection with various malpractices with regard to the Central Bank Bonds issue and the MPs who had obtained financial gains from the Perpetual Treasuries Ltd and its partners such as the Mendis Company.
While there was no response from the UNP to President Sirisena’s bold accusations, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the excuse given by the President for the delay in punishing the culprits identified by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), to investigate and inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC) was not valid. “The President has now said that he cannot punish the culprits of the Central Bank Treasury Bonds scam because they are part of the current Government. But PRECIFAC found frauds committed by 33 people,” he said and added that action has not been taken to punish even those Opposition members who were named by the Commission.
mediation of trade unions
As the President pointed out the Amendment in the Commissions Act to ensure speedy legal process was delayed in Parliament for more than two years and it was passed a couple of months ago, after continuous demands by the President. President Sirisena said foreign and local loans and funds in State banks should not be used to bridge the budget deficit adding that a few Government institutions have become a huge burden to the national economy.“A few State institutions are devouring public funds. Due to the mediation of trade unions, the Government faces much difficulty in managing several institutions.”
Government institutions must understand that public funds should be well utilised for the betterment of the country and its people. Instead, some of these institutions engage in fraud, theft, corruption and financial misconduct and waste huge sums of public funds.
Similar to appointing a Commission to inquire into the Treasury Bonds issue, President Sirisena appointed another Commission to inquire into frauds and corruptions of this Government. As he pointed out, no ruler has appointed a Presidential Commission to inquire into fraud and corruption of his own Government before this.
Showing his displeasure, regarding the conduct of the UNF Government, President Sirisena said, “I appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to reveal those who were responsible for the Bonds scam. One of the main recommendations of the Commission is that there should be a forensic audit into the incident. But even after all these months, it has not even been started thus far. Not only that, to punish the culprits, one Section of the Bribery Act should be amended, that too is also being postponed, day by day. If we try to punish these culprits under the current law, the process would take at least 15 – 20 years.”
As the President stressed, the Audit Service should be strengthened in order to build this country, in which fraud and corruption have got rooted. If Government corruption of such magnitude didn’t take place, there would not have been a reason to borrow money from foreign countries in order to meet the annual budget deficit. There are several departments that ruin the State revenue and they are beyond control. One such public sector enterprise is SriLankan Airlines, malpractices within it are being revealed almost daily at the current hearing.
The President also recalled the obstacles that had arisen when establishing the Audit Service Commission. He said fearing the granting of powers was part of public service and there was no reason to fear the rules if one works honestly for the country.
The President also appreciated the services of the Audit Service Department which plays a pivotal role while protecting its identity and dignity and disclosing the departments that deplete State resources, State property and public money.
In the current state of affairs there are serious issues in governance. Although, the independent commissions were established under the 19th Amendment in good faith, now many difficulties have arisen in practice. The Government seems to be deadlocked over many crucial issues. An early election will definitely be useful to restore stability.