Kiriella has no right to ask me not to speak-Handunnetti

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By 2017-10-13

By Anuradha Herath

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna MP, Sunil Handunnetti says that Minister Kiriella is still involved in issues related to the Expressways. "The people of this country should be aware of all of this. Whatever loans we take, it is the people of this country who have to pay back this money by way of taxes. Neither Minister Kiriella nor the Prime Minister will bring money from home to pay off loans."

Excerpts of the interview:

Some people say, that when you were the Chairman of COPE during the Treasury Bond fraud investigation, Perpetual Treasuries Limited deceived COPE?

A: If we summon an official to COPE, we question that official under oath. It happens in the same manner at special committees as well as at COPE. Being questioned under oath is similar to giving evidence in Court. The same law applies when submitting incorrect information to COPE as submitting incorrect information in a Court. We have heard as of now that certain officials of the Central Bank and Perpetual Treasuries Limited; have not submitted proper details to the Presidential Commission. We can see after the report is submitted.

Is it possible to take legal action against Arjun Aloysius for having given false information to COPE?

A: Once the report of the Presidential Commission has been released, we can act regarding such information being presented. It is not only regarding the Central Bank Treasury Bond fraud. Officials of the Central Bank can be summoned to COPE in the future as well and they have a duty to oblige and come to the committee and submit facts. They will be held accountable when presenting facts and for the facts that they submitted previously and the information they covered up.

What is the process to initiate legal action?

A: The report on the information has to be perused and discussed with the Attorney General after which legal action can be taken. The report should be released by the Presidential Commission.

As Chairman of COPE, were you aware of the fact that the 'Footnote Gang' on the Treasury Bond transaction had obtained bribes?

A: I was not aware about that. It is not relevant to me either. If a person on the COPE Committee accepts bribes, it is a problem related to morals and ethics.

But you are the Chairman of COPE; how can it not concern you, if members of your committee obtain bribes?

A: Everyone got together and supplied footnotes. The facts or aspirations are relevant to that. I did not let that hinder my investigation.

No damage was done to the report by persons who have different opinions or views.

Are such members suitable for COPE?

A: How can you evaluate people before recruiting them? What is the method that can be used? How can you verify whether they have taken bribes in the past? There is no machine at COPE to scan them. There is no method to examine their thoughts.

Then, it is not relevant to you whether this procedure took place or not? Is that so?

A: Yes. It does not concern me. Not only to me, it's not relevant to anyone. Take the Court for example. How can the Judge know if the lawyer had obtained bribes beforehand? Even when it comes to providing evidence regarding the Treasury Bond scam at the Presidential Commission, how can the President of the Commission find out what the requirements are for providing evidence?

If a big expense is borne and investigations are carried out regarding various corrupt activities for a considerable period of time and then it is submitted to Parliament and you wash your hands of it, what is the use of COPE? That is what is going on in peoples' minds right now.

A: I am only the Chairman of COPE and not a Judge. For a Judge, after a case is heard issuing a verdict is his final decision.

However, COPE is not a place where cases are heard, it is also not a place where verdicts are delivered either. Therefore, according to the authority vested by the Constitution and Standing Orders, what we can do is summon government business undertakings, institutions, corporations or others based on the report presented by the Auditor General and carry out an investigation about those facts. When the investigation is being carried out, it is to that institution that we issue recommendations.

It is the minister in charge of the subject and the relevant ministry secretaries who are duty bound to implement that recommendation. For example, permanent employees of the Road Development Authority (RDA) have been granted promotions on temporary contract basis. According to the law, permanent employees cannot be granted promotions on a contract basis. That cadre has to be changed. We asked them to correct that.

If the officials of the Ministry do not correct those irregularities, what will happen?

A: If they do not correct them, that responsibility is transferred to Parliament. Certain UNP Ministers ask us. This is a big joke.

Some people ask us whether the corruption and fraud that occurred previously is being investigated by COPE. They ask whether only the fraud that occurred during our time is being investigated. It is the minister who should look into those, but since the minister does not do so, the individuals at COPE are summoned.

Did the same thing happen regarding the Treasury Bond deal as well?

A: Yes. It was the responsibility of the Prime Minister to look into the Treasury Bond scam. Since he did not do so, we had to investigate. There is no point in asking us when the Prime Minister has not looked into this. Some say that we only conduct post- mortems. That is incorrect. If there is a germ, we have the authority to look into that as well, and that is before death. Why is that being said? If the present is good and there is no mistake, there is no point in twisting and turning. There is no need to fear investigations of shortcomings in history.

It is the nose of the man that consumed mustard that starts stinging. Similarly, those who engaged in theft know how much they stole. No one can ask COPE to look into incidents that occurred in the past only.

Minister Lakshman Kiriella is accusing you of not knowing your limits as the Chairman of COPE.

A: I am aware of my limits. If he acts knowing his limits, there will be no problem. The reason is because none of the other ministers ask me why their institution was summoned. That is the place where he exceeds his limits. I do not need lessons from Minister Kiriella. He needs to know his limits.

Why did the Speaker summon you and Minister Lakshman Kiriella and advise you'll?

A: He did not advise me. The Speaker did not bring to bear any influence on me. In any case, he summons us from time to time and discusses issues about COPE. It was Minister Kiriella who tried to influence the Speaker. The reason is because the Speaker will summon me only on the requirement of Minister Kiriella. If not, the Speaker does not summon me everyday regarding other institutions. I have acted on Standing Orders. Minister Kiriella can solve the problems with the Speaker.

Minister Kiriella says that you do not know about estimates.

A: I don't know whether he knows about estimates. He does not know whether there was an investigation by the Auditor General into the Southern Expressway or not. I do not stand to lose as the COPE Chairman. If there is any corruption or fraud do I remain with my ears and eyes closed? That is what they say. To remain with my mouth shut as the Chairman of COPE and that they will carry out the task. That is wonderful. That cannot be done. There is no point in arguing with us without even having an understanding about the investigations carried out by the Auditor General.

Then, the accusation that you questioned issues of COPE in Parliament?

A: I have not done that. I have presented the COPE Report to Parliament. You are probably mentioning the Airbus deal, which I raised in Parliament. Minister Kiriella is confused. I am asking about one thing and he is talking about something else. It was about a responsibility assigned to me by COPE that I raised in Parliament. It was not raised due to a private requirement of mine.

The compensation to be paid by Sri Lanka to Airbus SE, which agreed to build 4 Airbus A350-900 Aircraft for SriLankan Airlines is huge. As a result, it was spoken about in Parliament for the sub-committee to intervene and solve it soon and in order to do that to hold discussions with the French and German Governments.

By cancelling it, will the country be deprived of a massive amount of money?

A: Yes. When we enquired about it, the officials of SriLankan Airlines said that a decision has been made not to purchases these Airbus Aircraft. Previously, a sum of US$ 115 million had been paid for four Airbus A350-900 Aircraft. Therefore, we will not take these four. The loss that will occur because of this can be raised by me not only as the Chairman of COPE, but also as a Member of Parliament too.

Minister Kiriella has no right to ask me not to speak. He is still involved in the problems of what has happened because of the Expressways. The people of this country should be aware of all of this. However, many loans we obtain it is the people of the country who have to pay back this money through taxes. Neither Minister Kiriella nor the Prime Minister will bring money from home to pay off loans. Why are they scared when these Audit Reports are submitted? Those who engaged in theft are scared.

Last week, you summoned officials of the Road Development Authority to COPE didn't you?

A: Even though Minister Kiriella got perturbed when we summoned officials of the Road Development Authority, we had already summoned the Authority about a year ago. We discussed several issues regarding recruitment as well. If they provide replies to the Auditor General that will suffice. They don't necessarily have to provide replies to me. Now, Minister Kiriella is shouting, but he is the one who summoned the Central Expressway officials separately. The audit has not been done for that as yet.

What is the view of the JVP regarding the delay in the National Audit Bill being passed?

A: Thieves are scared of the Audit Bill. Politicians who have not engaged in theft do not need to fear. An unnecessary fear has been created that Ministry Secretaries will be fined through this Bill. It is not like that. If anyone in Sri Lanka does not fulfil their responsibilities, there is a law in the country. If duties are being carried out properly is there a reason to be afraid? This Bill should be brought to Parliament.

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