Handunnetti walks out of COPE meeting

UNP action against Auditor General:


By Saman Indrajith

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Sunil Handunnetti walked out of its meeting yesterday evening as UNP members repeatedly asked Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe in a threatening manner to withdraw his department’s findings which held former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran responsible for the Central Bank bond scams.

COPE sources said UNP MPs’ last ditch efforts to save Mahendran succeeded to some extent yesterday as they managed to get Chairman Handunnetti to delay his report earlier scheduled to be submitted to Parliament today.

The Chairman’s report on the investigation into Mahendran’s involvement in the bond scams was finalised on Friday and out of 26 members of the COPE, ten had already signed approving it, a senior COPE member told The Island.

Yesterday’s meeting was attended by UNP MPs Ravindra Samaraweera, Wasantha Aluvihare, Dr Harsha de Silva, Ajith Perera, Ashoka Abeysinghe, Hector Appuhamy, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Abdullah Mahroof and Harshana Rajakaruna.

Only UPFA MP Chandrasiri Gajadheera was present from his side when the meeting commenced, but he had left it after a few minutes, sources said.

Following approval given to the Chairman’s report concluding that Mahendran was responsible for the bond scams and proposing that he be punished and made to pay back what the state had lost, the UNP MPs stated that they would submit a separate report on the investigation.

The UNP MPs discussed the content of their report on Friday till 10 pm and resumed their meeting around 10.30 am yesterday attended by Chairman of the COPE and members of the COPE Secretariat.

The UNP MPs report has censured the incumbent Auditor General for his conclusion that Mahendran should be held responsible for the irregularities and malpractices that took place during the auctioning of Treasury bonds during the period from Feb, 2015 and May 2016, when Mahendran was the Governor of the Central Bank.

Director of the Department of Legislative Services of Parliament Jagath Gajaweera Arachchige opined that it was better to have the UNP’s report exonerating the former Central Bank Governor as an annexe to the COPE report. Though the UNP MPs present first opposed the suggestion they later expressed their willingness to do so after consulting their legal experts, COPE sources said.

At that point COPE Chairman Handunnetti indicated that the UNP MPs report should be edited to leave out sections which contradicted his report if it was to be accommodated as an annexe and the UNP MPs agreed to sit again and do the pruning of the relevant sections in their report.

UNP State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe continued to blame The Island for reporting on the COPE proceedings yesterday too and threatened to take The Island editor before courts, according to sources.

The meeting commenced around 10.30 am and lasted till 5.30 pm, when Handunetti walked off. The UNP MPs remained in the Committee room thereafter.

When asked why they had not participated in yesterday’s meeting, UPFA and JVP members said that they had given their approval to the Chairman’s report on Friday and the matter was over then.

"After we had signed the chairman’s report we had nothing more to say. Mahendran is wrong and should be punished. It is the UNP members who needed to bring out a separate report that is why they needed to attend yesterday’s meeting. For us the investigation was over by last Friday," a senior COPE member said.

Deputy Minister Ajith P Perera told media last evening the COPE, at the end of yesterday’s meeting, had decided to call for a police investigation in respect of the Perpetual Treasuries now under investigation for receiving massive profits with purchasing treasury bonds during the period between Feb. 2015 to May 2016. He said that directors of the Perpetual Treasuries including Arjuna Aloysius will be investigated.

In addition to Perpetual Treasuries some other primary dealers too would be investigated, he said.

Meanwhile, the UNP has started lobbying for the support of other parties for their report. There are ten UNP members in the COPE. TNA has four members. Senior UNP leaders met TNA COPE members on Sunday night to solicit their support for their report but the meeting had ended without agreement, sources said, adding that the UNP would not be able to achieve their target of absolving Mahendran of his wrongdoing without TNA support. Sources said that some top officials of the Central Bank supporting the UNP too had attended the secret meeting held in Colombo on Sunday night.

A notable absentee at the recent COPE meetings was Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake (UNP).

COPE members are Sunil Handunnetti (Chairman), Rauff Hakeem (SLMC), Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (UPFA), Dayasiri Jayasekera (UPFA), Ravindra Samaraweera (UNP), Wasantha Aluvihare (UNP), Lasantha Alagiyawanna (UPFA), Dr Harsha de Silva (UNP), Ajith P 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), MA Sumanthiran (TNA), Hector Appuhamy (UNP), Sujeewa Senasinghe (UNP), Dr Nalinda Jayatissa (JVP), Harshana Rajakaruna (UNP), S Sritharan (TNA), Abdulla Maharoof (UNP), Gnamutthu Srinesan (TNA) and Mahindananda Aluthgamage (UPFA).

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