AG stands his ground

CBSL bond scams controversy



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe yesterday said that there couldn’t be any information pertaining to the Central Bank bond scams which couldn’t be shared with JVP MP Sunil Handunetti, Chairman of the parliamentary watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

Soft spoken Wijesinghe emphasized that there couldn’t be any secrets between the AG and the Chairman of COPE.

The presidential appointee was responding to severe criticism of his conduct as well as those of his officials over the alleged release of information pertaining to Central Bank bond scams to COPE Chief as alleged by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.

The UNP led coalition is under heavy fire for allegedly protecting those who had perpetrated massive bond scams in Feb 2015 and March 2016. The then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius of controversial primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries have been accused of abusing the system.

The UNPer accused AG Wijesinghe of handing over information he had sought from the official to the JVPer. Minister is on record as having said that he wasn’t given what he had asked for.

Wijesinghe told The Island that he couldn’t be browbeaten under any circumstances though some may have believed in suppressing the truth.

Asked whether he had undermined the authority of the Finance Minister, Wijesinghe emphasized that the AG’s Department is answerable to the parliament therefore no one could find fault with him for making relevant information available to the House.

In fact, after having handed over the information the Finance Minister had asked for, I have uploaded the same to department website, Wijesinghe said. According to him, information had been made available to Minister Karunanayake on January 17 and a receipt received from the ministry.

Wijesinghe said that there was no basis for the claim that the Attorney General barred issuance of information to anyone other than the Finance Minister.

JVP National List member Bimal Ratnayake used the information provided by the AG to Minister Karunanayake, MP Handunetti as well as posted on AG’s Department website to flay the UNP.

The AG said that regardless of intimidation his efforts to uphold transparency and accountability would continue.

Responding to a query, the Auditor General said that he had discussed the issue at hand with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in the wake of unfounded accusations directed at his department. "I have explained the circumstances under which the information requested by the Finance Minister ended up in the public domain."

Comparing the investigation undertaken by him into the Central Bank bond scams with the doctor conducting a port postmortem on a body, Wijesinghe said that the latter couldn’t be asked not to cut the body.

Recollecting a simmering dispute last year over a report pertaining to government debt, AG Wijesinghe said that his department couldn’t be expected to produce reports to appease anyone.

Wijesinghe strongly criticized a recent front-page report headlined ‘AG goes ahead with controversial arrangement proposed by budget, but rejected by media Secretary’ on January 18 edition of The Island. The AG emphasized that the agreement to lease vehicles for a five-year period had been taken in accordance with budget proposal subject to reconfirmation with the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance.

The AG said that acquisition of vehicles required by his department shouldn’t be criticized against the backdrop of Secretary to the Media Ministry Nimal Bopage declining to authorize leasing of 58 vehicles for members of parliament. The AG said: "The Media Ministry Secretary is right. Bopage quite rightly felt that he couldn’t authorize payment plan spread over a five year period as the life of the present parliament is very much less whereas the AG’s Department is a permanent functioning body."

AG Wijesinghe said that media could cause severe damage to important institutions and in the process, wittingly or unwittingly facilitate despicable projects.

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