GL: UNP trying to influence AG

JVP, breakaway faction clash over Handunnetti’s move


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday decried what the Joint Opposition alleged were on-going attempts to influence the Auditor General H.H. Gamini Wijesinghe in respect of audit standards as well as investigations into two major bond scams under Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s watch.

Prof. Peiris told The Island that Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake decision to call Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe to Finance Ministry last Friday (24) was meant to exert pressure on the official.

Responding to Opposition criticism, Finance Ministry spokesperson told The Island that FM Karunanayake called for the meeting to discuss recent issues pertaining to 2015 Finance Ministry accounts report. Treasury Secretary Dr R.H.S. Samaratunga was among the senior officials present on the occasion.

The AG or a senior representative of the department wasn’t available yesterday to obtain a comment as regards the simmering controversy. The AG’s office said that Mr Wijesinghe wouldn’t be available throughout the day.

Insisting that the Finance Minister’s move couldn’t be justified under any circumstances, Prof. Peiris described the situation as very disturbing. "The AG is the last bastion of independence and integrity with regard to the financial affairs of the state. The Constitutional Council has a particular role with regard to recommending a suitable person for appointment as AG. This is one of the key features of the 19 Amendment about which there has been so much fanfare."

Prof. Peiris pointed out the absurdity in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe strongly criticizing the conduct of AG Wijesinghe on the floor of parliament and the FM calling for a sudden meeting. "This is absolutely improper," Prof. Peiris said, adding: "The whole purpose of new legislation with regard to the National Audit Commission should be to strengthen and further empower the AG. The opposite is now happening."

Prof. Peiris alleged that even the AG’s authority to impose a surcharge on public authorities for dishonesty or gross negligence would be removed. The former law Professor emphasized that intimidation of the AG on the ground that the basis of computation used by him differed from that applied by the IMF in respect loans obtained by the new government wasn’t acceptable. Prof. Peiris insisted that the AG’s discretion in respect of accounting standards couldn’t be questioned. Referring to the alleged discrepancy in methodology adopted by the IMF and the AG in calculating loans obtained during a particular period, Prof. Peiris said: "This is totally irrelevant to the independent responsibilities of the AG. Finally, what is alarming about all this is that these concerted attempts to influence the AG are taking place on the eve of a crucial COPE meeting at which the AG’s report on the Governor of the Central Bank is to be taken up for consideration."

Governor last Friday declared that he wouldn’t seek a second term unless the COPE cleared him.

Accusing the government of behaving in a manner wholly contrary to much touted promises in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in January and August, 2015, respectively Prof. Peiris said: "It is obvious that the government which was elected on a platform of Independent Commissions and freedom for public officials to act according to their conscience is now operating in a way which is the complete opposite to yahapalanaya."

Prof. Peiris stressed the pivotal importance of the COPE having the freedom to function without interference from any party.

COPE comprises Sunil Handunnetti (JVP), Rauf Hakeem (SLMC), Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (UPFA), Dayasiri Jayasekera (UPFA), Ravindra Samaraweera (UNP), Wasantha Aluvihare (UNP), Lasantha Alagiyawanna (UPFA), Dr Harsha de Silva (UNP), Ajith Perera (UNP), Ranjan Ramanayake (UNP), Ashoka Abeysinghe (UNP), Anura Kumara Dissanayake (JVP), Lakshman Seneviratne (UPFA), Chandrasiri Gajadeera (UPFA), Bimal Ratnayake (JVP), Weerakumara Dissanayake (UPFA), Mavai Senathiraja (TNA), M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA), Hector Appuhamy (UNP), Velu Kumar (UNP), Dr Nalinda Jayatissa (JVP), Harshana Rajakaruna (UNP), S. Sritharan (TNA), Abdulla Maharoof (ACMC), Gnanamuttu Srinesan (TNA) and Mahindananda Alutgamage (UPFA).

Meanwhile, a fresh battle has erupted between the JVP and its breakaway faction, the National Freedom Front (NFF) with both sides trading accusations with regard to the functioning of the parliamentary watchdog committee under JVPer Sunil Handunetti’s leadership.

JVP sources told The Island that the NFF had been piqued by a recent COPE raid on State Engineering Corporation (SEC) premises as the institution was under NFF leader Weerawansa during the previous administration. Sources said that the NFF could obtain a clarification as regards COPE probe on SEC from NFF member in COPE Weerakumara Dissanayake. Sources close to MP Weerawansa told The Island that the JVP had been cooperating with the UNP to target those opposed to yahapalana regime. Sources cited the much publicized raid on SEC as a case in point.

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