A fresh term for Mahendran strongly opposed by civil society

Expatriate Lankans launch online petition to pressure Prez, PM

TI yet silent on the matter

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) has launched an online petition to pressure the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government not to extend Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s term in office beyond June 30, 2016.

A spokesperson for the GSLF told The Island yesterday that having repeatedly assured the country of good governance and financial accountability in the run-up to last presidential and parliamentary polls last year, the UNP-SLFP coalition shouldn’t keep Mahendran as the Central Bank chief.

Having made 17 specific accusations in respect of Central Bank Governor Mahendran’s conduct, the GSLF called for a comprehensive inquiry into major CB transactions since the last presidential polls in January 2015.

Mahendran declined to comment on allegations against him and moves to oust him. He told The Island that it would be the prerogative of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to decide whether he should continue or not.

The GSLF spokesperson said that their campaign was not meant to back any political outfit.

Prof. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri of Colombo University yesterday told The Island that those who had courageously campaigned to oust ‘outrageously corrupt’ previous administration expected the UNP-SLFP coalition to replace Central Bank Governor Mahendran. The former FUTA Chairman said that Mahendran couldn’t be shielded at the expense of the government and there was urgent need to replace the official and initiate a thorough inquiry. Dewasiri emphasised that a spate of allegations pertaining to bond transactions couldn’t be ignored. It would be the responsibility of the President and Prime Minister to restore public confidence in the Central Bank, he argued.

Dewasiri on Tuesday (June 14) joined a group of civil society activists at a media briefing at Welikadawatte, Rajagiriya to urge the President and Prime Minister not to extend the Central Bank Governor’s term. Ven. Ulapone Sumangala, Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Chameera Perera, Samanali Fonseka and Indrachapa Liyanage demanded that the government heed repeated calls for a change at the helm of the Central Bank.

Tennakoon yesterday told The Island that the government had been sharply divided over the Central Bank Governor’s fate with many backing calls for a change at the top.

The civil activist said that he couldn’t comprehend why an influential section in the ruling coalition still wanted to retain Mahendran’s services.

Asked whether their actions could be exploited by the Joint Opposition to undermine the government, Tennakoon asserted that their campaign was genuine. The Joint Opposition really wanted the government to retain the services of the Governor so that it could exploit the issue, Tennakoon said. Those in the Joint Opposition had been silent over the years when the Rajapaksas squandered public funds to their heart’s content, the civil activist said.

Tennakoon rejected claims that there could be a serious rift between the President and the Prime Minister unless the former extended the incumbent Central Bank Governor’s term. Tennakoon emphasised that an individual couldn’t be allowed to jeopardise the government against the backdrop of the Joint Opposition causing trouble. Responding to another query, Tennakoon said that the government needed to take remedial measures to restore public faith in that institution. But, that wouldn’t be a reality unless the government addressed public concerns.

Former COPE Chairman and General Secretary of the Communist Party D. E. W. Gunasekera told The Island the government must not protect an individual at the expense of the national economy. Veteran politician said that the government wouldn’t have been in difficulty today had it acted swiftly and decisively when the COPE under his supervision inquired into Central Bank transaction. Instead of taking corrective measures, the government had sought to suppress COPE findings and discouraged the media from reporting the matter, the former Minister said.

Transparency International (Sri Lanka Chapter) spokesperson Asoka Obeysekera told The Island yesterday that a statement would be issued soon. Obeysekera acknowledged that the Transparency International hadn’t addressed the Central Bank Governor’s issue.

Civil society organisations yesterday called a meeting at the Colombo Public Library, where they demanded that the Central Bank Governor be replaced. They said that the incumbent shouldn’t be given a fresh term under any circumstances at the expense of the administration. They reiterated demand for a comprehensive investigation into the Central Bank affairs and punitive action against those responsible for irregularities regardless of their standing in the society. Meanwhile, political sources told The Island that a recent meeting between parliamentary watchdog committee on public enterprises and top Central Bank management had ended without outstanding issues being resolved. Sources alleged that an attempt was now being made to pressure the parliamentary committee over its handling of the Central Bank team. The Government Information Department on Tuesday issued a statement clarifying the Central Bank position on the inquiry undertaken by the parliamentary committee.

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