‘Cleanse sitting parliament, restore public confidence’

Dew zeroes in on Sujeewa Senasinghe



By Shamindra Ferdinando

General Secretary of the Communist Party (CP) and former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Dew Gunasekera yesterday urged the parliament to take immediate remedial measures or face the consequences.

In a brief interview with The Island, Gunasekera said it would be the responsibility of the parliament to cleanse the institution. Political parties and groups represented in parliament should be held accountable for taking tangible measures in that regard, Gunasekera said.

Gunasekera said the parliament was facing the worst post-independence crisis with financial scandal involving still undisclosed number of lawmakers and tainted primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) now suspended by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

The CP leader alleged that payments received by lawmakers from Walt and Raw Associates and W.M. Mendis & Company, subsidiaries of PTL in the run-up to the August 17, 2015 parliamentary polls and after had caused irreparable damage to the parliamentary system.

Referring to recent revelations regarding UPFA MP Dayasiri Jayasekera and State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe receiving Rs 1 mn (July 13, 2015) and 3 mn (Aug 24, 2015-March 31, 2016) respectively, Gunasekera said the parliament should review its recent decision to re-appoint them to the COPE. In fact, the political parties, they represented could turn a blind eye to very serious accusations directed at the lawmakers.

Gunasekera pointed out that attorney-at-law Senasinghe made a desperate bid to prevent him from releasing the first COPE report that extensively dealt with the first treasury bond scam perpetrated on the morning of Feb. 27, 2015.

Why did Deputy Justice Minister Senasinghe, in spite of being a member of the Special 13-member COPE moved District Court of Colombo to prevent the releasing of the report? Gunasekera asked.

The veteran CP Leader said that when the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa called for unprecedented inquiry by the parliamentary watchdog committee into the treasury bond scam, he established a 13-member team to handle it expeditiously. Senasinghe, Rosy Senanayake (now Mayoress of Colombo) and Eran Wickremaratne represented the UNP. Gunasekera alleged that both Senanayake and Senasinge strongly objected to COPE presenting its report to parliament on the morning of June 24, 2015.

Responding to another query, Gunasekera emphasized that obviously the decision to dissolve parliament was taken on June 23, 2015 to prevent the tabling of the report. Whatever the differences between the UNP and its coalition partner, the SLFP now, the latter responded positively to call to dissolve parliament to pave the way for early parliamentary poll, Gunasekera said.

The coalition worked together to save those responsible for the first bond scam, Gunasekera said. Had the SLFP not interfered with the COPE procedure, much bigger second bind scam could have been averted, Gunasekera said.

Gunasekera said that PTL earned massive profits at the expense of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), National Savings Bank, Mahapola Scholarship Fund and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC). Therefore the enterprise had the wherewithal to influence lawmakers and officials, he said. The PTL had, with political backing, borrowed from the state and then the same funds were given back at a higher interest, Gunasekera said. He said it was absurd for the government to borrow funds through a third party from state institutions.

Gunasekera recalled how Senasinghe moved Colombo District court in July 2015, about four weeks before parliamentary polls to block the COPE report. Senasinghe was able to obtain an interim injunction preventing the releasing of the report, Gunasekera said. The veteran politician said that Senasinghe, though being a lawyer and probably his associates hadn’t understood the implications of the court action. "In response to his move, I wanted to file the report in court as part of my submissions. When Senasinghe heard of my move, he quickly announced his decision to withdraw the case though I opposed. The case is still pending in Colombo High Court though the original ruling was dissolved."

The CP leader said that his investigation was certainly facilitated by courageous and bold action of the then Superintendent of the Public Debt Department Mrs Deepa Seneviratne, who opposed the Feb 27, 2015 transaction, in writing. "She appeared before the first COPE Committee and her stand certainly influenced and strengthened those who opposed the fraudulent deal. If not for her note, the then Governor could have probably found it easier to challenge the investigation. But Mrs. Seneviratne’s note, in spite of Feb. 27, 2015 transaction being her first after receiving the appointment established the Governor’s direct involvement without any doubt."

"Such courageous public officials should be recognized to strengthen anti-corruption drives. Instead, the government and a section of the international community squandered precious funds on costly but useless exercises," Gunasekera said.

Gunasekera insisted that the treasury bond scam exposed many politicians and it also proved the judiciary, officers of the Attorney General’s Department as well as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) could tackle any case if they were given a free hand.

Gunasekera pointed out that Senasinghe had no option but to go out of his way to save bond thieves. "Give me one valid reason to justify Deputy Justice Minister Senasinghe authoring a book to defend Feb 27, 2015 transaction. Who funded that book? If Senasinghe did it on his own, what he expected to achieve? Gunasekera asked.

The UNP leadership could never absolve itself of the responsibility for treasury bond scams, Gunasekera said, asserting they certainly changed the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s direction.

Commenting on a statement issued by the Office of the Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Gunasekera said that the parliament had denied the existence of a list containing the names of 118 recipients of PTL money. But the day, the Speaker issued that statement, the Fort Magistrate court was told how the then Deputy Minister (now a State Minister) Senasinge received Rs. 3 mn in three cheques and CBSL Governor Mahendran obtained Rs 3.2 mn, also in cheques to settle credit card payments, Gunasekera said.

Gunasekera faulted the parliament for initiating measures of its own to restore public confidence in the system. The House has been transformed into a local government authority, Gunasekera alleged, urging political parties to act now.

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