Joint Opposition MP Udaya Gammanpila in an interview with the Daily Mirror, spoke about the current political situation in the country and his plans for future activities. Udaya Gammanpila is also the leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), says his party has fears whether independence of the judiciary will be at stake. The Excerpts :
- Present AG’s appointment is not in order
- AG is meant to advise PM
- His position is not to take advice from PM
- President should also be held responsible for some moves which led to the Bond scam
- He gazetted CBSL under the PM but it should be under Finance Minister
- Bond scam caused Rs. 1 trillion loss to country - State Finance Minister
Q In the aftermath of the resignation of MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and the appointment of a new Justice Minister, how do you view the judicial process in terms of cases against the members of your side?
We are indeed genuinely in fear that the current Minister will interfere with the work of the AG’s Department and the judiciary. MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, soon after his removal, said he was removed because he refused to interfere with the judiciary. Then, we have a genuine question that MP Thalatha Athukorale was appointed in his place because she agreed to do so. It is a logical conclusion. On the other hand, the government gave a lame excuse to remove Mr. Rajapakshe.
That was, the violation of collective responsibility. That is totally wrong. Mr. Rajapakshe is a lawyer. He is also a President’s Counsel. He knows legal principles very well. The law says any action of the agent should be within the scope. The Cabinet exercises the mandate given by people. The Cabinet is not an authority.
It is merely an agent of the people. It has no right to go beyond the mandate. In page 20 of President Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto, he has clearly promised the nation not to privatize or lease out strategically important national assets to foreign companies or governments. The Hambantota Port is the most important strategic asset possessed by Sri Lanka. Therefore, the present Cabinet has no mandate to lease out or sell out the Hambantota Port to Chinese companies. When the Cabinet is doing something illegally, the Ministers are not bound to honour the collective responsibility. As a result, Mr. Rajapakshe has not violated the collective responsibility.
We are indeed genuinely in fear that the current Minister will interfere with the work of the AG’s Department and the judiciary. MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, soon after his removal, said he was removed because he refused to interfere with the judiciary
Q Do you fear that some leaders of the Joint Opposition would be sent behind bars under the new scenario in that sense?
Yes. We know although the previous minister refused to interfere with the work of the AG’s Department, the AG has displayed that he is quite willing to accept any interference. The senior officials of the Department are doing a yeoman service at the Bond Commission. Meanwhile, the AG had met the PM and the notorious ‘footnote gang’ at Temple Trees. These people are earmarked to be summoned before the Bond Commission.
The AG is to advise the PM on legal affairs. He is not there to seek advice from the PM. If it is a case, why did he meet the Premier and the ‘footnote’ gang? Isn’t it a conspiracy to decide how to handle the Bond scam before the Commission? The AG has shown his biased and unprofessional conduct by meeting the accused of a case. This is the first time I heard that a prosecution lawyer secretly meets the accused. He has set precedent there. We cannot expect anything more from the present AG because his appointment is not in order.
Q Why do you say so?
That is because the Constitutional Council has not laid down procedure for appointing the AG. In the absence of any rule, the senior most person should have been appointed. It should have been Suhada Gamalath. If the Council does not appoint the seniormost person, it should reason it out. Without attributing any reason, the Constitutional Council rejected Gamalath, the seniormost person and appointed Jayantha Jayasuriya as the AG. It reflected the politically biased approach towards him. We expected this kind of conduct from him. We are in fear that our judicial independence is in jeopardy. Ramanathan Kannan, an ordinary lawyer who was practising at the Batticaloa Bar was appointed as a High Court Judge.This was questioned by the Bar Association from the former Chief Justice. The response was that this was a request by President Sirisena. If the President advises the judiciary, where is judicial independence promised by the government during their election campaign?
We still have hope on Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who is a respectable legal luminary. He did not want to jeopardize the legal system because he is a beneficiary of it as a President’s Counsel. Fortunately, Thalatha Athukorale is also a lawyer. We urge her to protect the dignity of the judiciary during her time. That is the noble profession both of us belong to.
Q When Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was taken to task, you offered to accommodate him in your side. Now he has been removed. Do you still have any political link with him?
Well, Mr. Rajapakshe should decide on his political destiny. I offered to accommodate him in the Joint Opposition since it is a comfortable political zone for him. He was fighting for the nation, its national assets and judicial independence. He should be informed that he can freely risk his office. If the government expels him, he has an alternate place to join then. I just wanted to make him feel comfortable. Yet, he should decide his journey. If he joins us, we will accept him with both arms.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe will be an asset to us. He is a legal luminary. He had shown his fighting spirit when former President President Mahinda Rajapaksa was very powerful. He decided to leave him at that time. He decided to leave office when the current government is half way through in its term. He is a strong nationalist. He has fought for the nation and to protect Buddhism.
That is because the Constitutional Council has not laid down procedure for appointing the AG. In the absence of any rule, the senior most person should have been appointed. It should have been Suhada Gamalath
Q You referred to the govt members who expressed their reservations in terms of ‘footnotes’ in the COPE report on the Bond scam. But, these members defend themselves. What are your comments on this?
We are in fact depressed about the lethargic attitude of the government towards the bond scam. As the State Minister of Finance correctly said, the total loss to the nation is more than one trillion rupees. It happens in three ways. First, it is not only the cost of borrowing of the government but also that of the ordinary people have gone up. It is by way of increased interest rates prevailing in the country. When you obtain a loan to build your house or to buy a vehicle through leasing and a bank overdraft, you have to pay higher interest rates.
Secondly, foreign investors lost confidence on Sri Lanka’s capital and money market because of the Bond scam. They, in fact, began to withdraw their investments soon after the scam. It resulted in the depreciation of the rupee to Rs.155 from Rs.131 against the US dollar. Sri Lanka’s capital market is now crunching. The economic growth has also been affected by the Bond scam.
It took place 30 months ago. So far no arrests have been made. Not even a single B report has been filed in a Magistrate’s court. There are no travel bans, arrests or confiscation of ill-gotten wealth. This money is being used to acquire lucrative businesses such as liquor distilleries and influential business such as media institutions.
Such money is spent to buy over politicians as well. The best example was the admission by MP Ravi Karunanayake that his penthouse rent was paid by Arjun Aloysius. The government should have frozen his bank account or confiscated his ill-gotten wealth. We are disappointed with the government’s inaction.
The ‘footnote gang’ (The UNP MPs who served in the COPE that investigated the Bond scam) tried to defend the government in regard to the Bond scam. They should be brought before the Commission and questioned. We are grateful for those serving in the Bond Commission for their excellent, professional job. But, from the government’s side, nothing has been done.
Q The govt says the Bond Commission was appointed to probe the entire process as it does not want to ‘sweep anything under the carpet’. Your views on this...
(Laughs loudly) This is a damned lie. This Bond scam took place in February, 2015. Since then, the govt has been trying its best to cover this up. The PM openly said no scam had taken place. He appointed a committee of his own men to brush aside this issue. Secondly, we took it up. We fought on the streets, complained to the Bribery Commission and lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
But nothing happened. Then, we went to the courts. This was inquired first by the COPE under the leadership of then MP D.E.W. Gunasekara. Its interim report was to be produced in Parliament on June 26, 2015. While the COPE members were signing the interim report, President Sirisena dissolved Parliament to avoid the report being tabled in Parliament.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe will be an asset to us. He is a legal luminary. He had shown his fighting spirit when former President President Mahinda Rajapaksa was very powerful. He is a strong nationalist. He has fought for the nation and to protect Buddhism.
Q It means you directly hold the President responsible...
Of course, yes. In fact, my view is that the President should be summoned before the Presidential Commission. He possessed vital information about this scam. First, he should tell the Commission and the nation as to why he had gazetted the Central Bank under the purview of the PM although it should have been under the Minister of Finance.
The law says the Monetary Board of the Central Bank should be appointed by the President on the recommendations of the Finance Minister.
Once Minister Rajitha Senaratne openly said he opposed the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank.
The President should tell as to why such a rogue was appointed as the Governor despite resistance from his own Cabinet. Mr. Mahendran is a foreign citizen. So, he did not take oath affirming his loyalty to the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The President should tell people why he dissolved Parliament to avoid the COPE interim report being presented there.
This Bond scam took place in February, 2015. Since then, the govt has been trying its best to cover this up. The PM openly said no scam had taken place. He appointed a committee of his own men to brush aside this issue
Q As for financial frauds of this nature, there are allegations of similar magnitude during the former rule. There is reference to ‘Entrust Securities’ committing a fraud of Rs. 12 billion. How do you respond to this?
It is ridiculous. We had never protected fraudsters or criminals. If somebody had done something wrong during the MR regime, please bring them to book. We are not opposed to it. This govt came to power with the promise to govern adopting ‘yahapalana principles’. However, its inaction on the Bond scam cannot be justified.