President’s Office directed to disclose ousted PM’s assets and liabilities



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Asoka Obeysekere addressing the media. Sankhitha Gunaratne, RTI Manager, TISL (left) and Priyadarshini Paulraj, RTI Project Officer, TISL (right) pic by Kamal Bogoda


By Shamindra Ferdinando


The Right to Information Commission has directed Presidential Secretariat to disclose assets and liabilities of ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2015 and 2016.


 Asoka Obeyesekere, Executive Director, Transparency International Sri Lanka, yesterday, revealed the circumstances under which his organization had received a favourable ruling from the RTI Commission.


 Addressing the media at the Hotel Nippon, Obeyesekere said that the TISL had sought the intervention of the RTI Commission on Feb 3, 2017 as both the Presidential Secretariat and the PM’s Office had turned down TISL requests.


 Sankhitha Gunaratne, RTI Manager, TISL and Priyadarshini Paulraj, RTI Project Officer, TISL explained the pivotal importance of making people’s representatives disclose their assets. TISL spokespersons said that the Presidential Secretariat and the PM’s Office had rejected their requests twice.


The TISL emphasized that the RTI Commission had ruled that the person holding the Office of the President couldn’t be asked to disclose his or her assets. TISL spokespersons said so when The Island asked why Wickremesinghe was singled out. The Island sought an explanation as to why TISL failed to seek disclosure of President Sirisena’s assets.


 Obeyesekere said that the TISL requested for President’s Sirisena’s asset declaration. At the onset of the briefing, the TISL said that assets and liabilities declaration of the Prime Minister was kept with the Presidential Secretariat. 


Asked by The Island whether treasury bond scams involving the Central Bank and the disgraced primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries perpetrated in 2015 and 2015 influenced the TISL to go after the Prime Minister, Gunaratne stressed it was not so. The TISL felt both President and the Prime Minister would positively respond to the TISL request as they threw their weight behind high profile project to enact RTI law.


 The TISL acknowledged that the Presidential Secretariat had the right to appeal against the RTI Commission ruling. Obeyesekere said that such a challenge would certainly undermine President Maithripala Sirisena often repeated commitment to transparency, accountability and the public’s right to access asset declarations.


In responding to another The Island query as regards the failure to secure declaration of assets and liabilities of the President, Obyesekere acknowledged the lacuna in existing law and the need to take remedial measures as recommended by the RTI Commission.


 Obeysekere explained that thanks to the RTI Law, the public could now seek information hitherto deprived to them in terms of 1975 Asset and Liabilities Law amended in 1988.


 The TISL alleged that in spite of publicly supporting much publicized RTI initiative, both President and PM resisted them being scrutinized.


 Pointing out that NGOs received massive funding from overseas sources, including governments, The Island sought an explanation as to how foreign funding made available to political parties and connected elements could be investigated in terms of the RTI Law. The US funding amounting to USD 585 mn for political projects in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka in 2014-2015 period was raised with the TISL, one of the local recipients of foreign funds.


 Obeysekere, while reiterating TISL’s commitment to transparency and its periodic disclosure of assets, said that political funding at every level needed to be monitored and examined. He pointed out the need to ensure tracking of support provided by way of television commercials, printing and other related services.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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