Govt, JO trade fire over alleged bid to dilute Central Bank powers

Ravi K, Bandula clash in President’s presence


By Shamindra Ferdinando 

President Maithripala Sirisena has assured the Joint Opposition that he will inquire into a petition submitted by the grouping to him recently against the proposed national payment platform.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s proposal for Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA)-led project to create a common platform to facilitate online transfers ran into a storm, with MP Bandula Gunawardena seeking Supreme Court intervention to thwart the move.

ICTA CEO Muhunthan Canagey announced the plans in September last year at the National IT Conference 2015.

Canagey revealed that three local companies had been shortlisted by ICTA to develop the app.

However, later it transpired that Transact Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, a mobile payments and funds transfer service provider had been awarded the contract without following the due procedures.

JO heavyweight MP Gunawardena said yesterday that he had received that assurance on Friday (Nov 25) in Parliament in the presence of several ministers. Appreciating President Maithripala Sirisena’s position, Gunawardena said that the move was meant to dilute powers of the Central Bank, a charge strongly denied by the government.

Addressing the media at Punchi Borella, the JO live wire said that he had the opportunity to reiterate JO’s concerns to the President on Friday at lunch.

Asked by The Island whether he had exchanged words with Minister Karunanayake in President Sirisena’s presence at the members’ canteen in parliament, Gunawardena said that he was having lunch with MP Anuruddha Jayaratne when the President sat a nearby table and called him to join him. Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Sajith Premadasa and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera had been seated with the President. Having sat next to the President, MP Gunawardena had explained the danger of the proposed national payment platform. Minister Karunanayake, who had joined the table by then accused MP Gunawardena of lying. The JO member retaliated by alleging Minister Karunanayake of lying to Parliament. Minister Karunanayake defended the proposed initiative on the basis that it was a new system which the JO couldn’t comprehend.

Minister Karunanayake maintained that the new government had to rebuild the national economy destroyed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and then Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. MP Gunawardena retorted that had they been responsible, those who held ministerial portfolios at that time including President Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala de Silva and himself were equally responsible.

Amidst the exchange of words, President Maithripala Sirisena has assured that JO’s concerns in respect of the proposed national payment platform would be inquired into.

President Sirisena further said that the public had accepted recent critical comments made by MP Gunawardena on television with regard to the national economy. Minister Karunanayake again accused Gunawardena of misleading the public. President Sirisena told Minister Karunanayake to contradict Gunawardena through the media if the JO member was lying.

MP Gunawardena told the media briefing that those in power should always keep in mind that they wouldn’t remain in power forever. The media promptly reminded the former Minister that his statement certainly applied to the previous SLFP-led government as well.

The SLFPer pointed out that Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran told parliament that draft budget estimates 2017 presented to parliament didn’t tally with actual figures used by the Finance Ministry.

Gunawardena said that powers exercised by the Central Bank in accordance with parliamentary approval couldn’t be vested in any other institution. The proposed national payment platform was at variance with the existing laws of the country. The MP alleged that two proposals made in this regard weren’t acceptable and, therefore, the decision to move the Supreme Court against the proposed project.

The MP furnished a set of documents issued by the Finance Ministry, Central Bank etc to prove the project which was to be launched regardless of protests. Even Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy hadn’t supported the government move, Gunawardena asserted.

The JO heavyweight pointed out that a fresh crisis had cropped up while the Central Bank was still grappling with the massive losses caused by alleged bond scam perpetrated by Perpetual Treasuries in Feb 2015.

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