- AG has a lot of follow-up work to do prior to the institution of criminal proceedings regarding bond scam
- President invited a stinging rebuke by seeking Supreme Court’s opinion on his term
- How can one claim to be the paragon of virtue when one has allowed all these frauds to take place during one’s term?
- Cover-up is a crime greater than the bond scam itself
- The appointment of the Bond Commission can’t be considered as a massive virtue
- It is by far the largest scam in the history of the country
- The COPE members made hundreds of telephone calls to Perpetual Treasuries Ltd
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, in an interview with the Dailymirror, spoke about the controversial bond transaction, its implications and the Supreme Court’s opinion on the President’s term. Following are excerpts of the interview done with Prof. Peiris.
QWhat is your position on the Supreme Court’s opinion that President Maithripala Sirisena’s term is five years?
This is typical of the quality of advice the President acts upon. The law is crystal clear. The President simply invited a stinging rebuke which no other President received. It is a magnificent victory not only for the Joint Opposition, but also for the integrity of our court system and vitality of democratic system.
“There is no difference between the UNP Ministers and the SLFP Ministers. The SLFP Minister admitted that PTL contacted him over the phone. After that the Minister concerned met them. It is already a question of credibility and public confidence in COPE”
QIn the backdrop of the Presidential Commission that probed the Bond Scam presenting its report, how do you view it?
There is no doubt that the two bond scams have shaken up the public opinion in the country. It is by far the largest scam in the history of the country. The fallout from this will affect at least two generations. President Maithripala Sirisena, in his address to the country, raised expectations to a high level that action was to be taken. The damage has been done. The public are going to pay for it through higher interests rates, inflation and devaluation of the rupee.
The President appears to be taking an aggressive stance. It does not matter who is responsible. Whoever it is, the President said the person would be dealt with severely.
What are the minimum things the President has to do? An unavoidable step is to dismiss the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must resign. Unless he resigns, he has to be removed from office. That is the clear duty of the President. None of the things the President spoke of can be done while the Prime Minister holds office. Simply to say that the report of 1400 pages will be sent to the Attorney General for necessary action means nothing.
QThe Government says the report is now with the Attorney General. It says it is up to the Attorney General. What is your response?
There is further investigation so the Attorney General can proceed with investigations. There is follow-up work to be done prior to the institution of criminal proceedings. There is no way that can be done objectively with the Prime Minister in charge. He has influenced the Attorney General by summoning him to his office. Then, the FCID has a lot of work to do. When it comes to the FCID, the Prime Minister is a critical player. He has been directing operations, giving directives. He is very much a central figure in all of this. As long as he is in office, no tangible action can be expected. There has been extensive debate in the country with regard to the two scams. There is one aspect that has not received the attention that it warrants. That is the orchestrated massive cover-up. The cover-up is a greater offence than the crime itself because it involves the cynical use of the state machinery. That cover-up is bound to continue so long as the Prime Minister continues to be in office.
QHow do you substantiate your allegations in this respect?
The public must remember the sequence of events. The storm broke because it was taken up by the primary dealers. The immediate response was to threaten the primary dealers. After that, the Prime Minister tried to whitewash the entire fraud by appointing three lawyers very close to him at Sirikotha. That was an obviously clumsy effort which attracted no credibility whatsoever. Then, the Joint Opposition became very active in this matter. It was taken up in Parliament. There was a no-confidence motion moved against Arjuna Mahendran. There was an adjournment motion. Then, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House were flippant on this matter. They were frivolous. These efforts were held up to ridicule. D.E.W. Gunasekara was the then COPE Chairman. The Prime Minister said that Mr. Gunasekara violated the parliamentary convention and that he would be reported to the Speaker. The Prime Minister got the President to dissolve Parliament then. Had that report been submitted at that time, the second fraud which was twice as big as the first fraud would not have taken place. What did the Prime Minister do under the new Parliament?
He got his members in COPE to add footnotes to scuttle these operations. An attempt was made to go to the court and prevent a report from being compiled. He got a member of COPE to step down and be replaced by one of his men. He was then prevailed upon to write a book totally exonerating PTL. This was the extent of the attempted cover-up.
The COPE members made hundreds of telephone calls to Perpetual Treasuries Ltd (PTL). The public must not forget the amount of money PTL was planning to spend on the cover-up. They paid their CEO Kasun Palisena Rs.100 million as bonus for one year. Then, how much would they have paid to influential members of the Government to sweep this under the carpet?
“What are the minimum things the President has to do? An unavoidable step is to dismiss the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must resign. Unless he resigns, he has to be removed from office. That is the clear duty of the President”
The COPE is the custodian of public finances. COPE is investigating PTL. At that time, COPE members were having communication with the main suspect. Some people said they were collecting material to write a book. The book has been published beforehand. The Ministers, Deputy Ministers and State Ministers are in discussion with PTL while sitting as COPE members. There is no difference between the UNP Ministers and the SLFP Ministers. The SLFP Minister admitted that PTL contacted him over the phone. After that the Minister concerned met them. It is already a question of credibility and public confidence in COPE. It is similar to a trail judge meeting with the accused in private. COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti said he was unaware that any member met Arjun Aloysius.
If not for the sustained role of the Joint Opposition, these secret meetings would never have been exposed. The JO kept pursuing this all the time. This is the extent of the cover-up.
QBut, it is the President who appointed this Commission?
The President said he was wielding the sword. All these are his ministers. It is he who appointed them. It is he who has power to remove them.
The country is looking to the President to turn his words into action. Is that going to happen or not?
All of these are happening in a particular context. They criticize each other regarding the scam. Yet, there is collusion with each other. They criticize each other virulently. When it comes to the survival of each other, they are all together in order to reap the benefits collectively. Take for example the Finance Minister of the time! The Commission now says two things about him. One is that he must be prosecuted under the Penal Code for forgery for deliberately giving false evidence before the Commission . Then, he must be hauled up before the Bribery Commission. Currency notes of Sri Lanka bears the signatures of Ravi Karunanayake and Arjun Mahendran. Look at the insult to the nation!
Nevertheless, there is a compelling need to continue with this arrangement, to somehow tie it together to prevent it from disintegration. There is a reason for that. In terms of the 19th Amendment, if it is a one party Government, there is constitutional restriction on the number of ministers. That should be 30. You can add 40 odd deputy and state ministers. If they part company, many of them will lose company. In order to retain office and enjoy perks, this arrangement continues. It is simply to share the spoils.
If this is unacceptable to people, there is no point in supporting one party of the Government. Whether you support the blue elephant or the green elephant, they all are together. There is an interval of 13 months between the first scam and the second scam. President Sirisena dissolved Parliament to protect his Prime Minister.
As for the appointment of Ravi Karunanayake as the Finance Minister, it is a very bad appointment from the beginning. It is impossible to disentangle the UNP from the SLFP and palm blames solely and exclusively on the UNP. The public cannot vote for an integral part of the incumbent Government.
QBut the President made references to the Prime Minister. Then, the President said there had been the embezzlement of money from the COPE during the former rule which you also represented. What is your response?
The behaviour of the Presidential Secretariat has been totally inconsistent and confusing. That is a characteristic feature of this Government. They do not know what they are doing. They cannot make up their mind. The President made the statement. Then, a faithful translation of it was published. After that, they removed the paragraphs that were critical of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. Again, they put it back on the website with reference to the Prime Minister and omitting the part critical of the Prime Minister. All of that shows how much juggling goes on in regards to this matter. That is a far cry from openness and candor. It is a political game. Now the truth must be discovered. Offenders must be pursued.
The period between 2008 and 2014 was completely outside the terms of reference of the Commission. This is a red herring across the trail. The Prime Minister violated all parliamentary ethics by making a statement on the floor of Parliament when the Commission completed receiving evidence and began the task of preparing the report.
“The President said he was wielding the sword. All these are his ministers. It is he who appointed them. It is he who has power to remove them. The country is looking to the President to turn his words into action. Is that going to happen or not? All of these are happening in a particular context. They criticize each other regarding the scam.
Yet, there is collusion with each other”
QAre you trying to say that the President tried to clear the UNP of all allegations, and instead placed the blame on PTL?
I do not think he has made up his mind on what he wants to do. He appears to be in a confused and disturbed state of mind. He wishes to harm the UNP politically. The UNP and his party are now contesting against each other. He has a vested interest in damaging the UNP. His original statement did that up to a point. But, at a certain point, he had to restrain himself. He has to work with the UNP. He is where he is today because of the UNP votes. That is a fundamental fact. In his mind, there are competing forces at work.
His principal aim is to blame the previous Government. There is already a report submitted by the Auditor General. If he wants to go into matters during the 2008/2014 period, he can do that.
QThere is a belief that the President acts in collusion with the Joint Opposition (JO) to bring the UNP to disrepute. What is your view?
The President isn’t cooperating with the JO at all. The JO only forced the President to appoint the Commission. Had it not been for the very vigorous campaign by the JO, it was impossible to believe that this commission would have been appointed.
The appointment of the Commission cannot be presented as the massive virtue. How can one claim to be the paragon of virtue when one has allowed all these frauds to take place during one’s term? One is trying to lock the door once the horse has fled.
Now, Arjuna Mahendran has been allowed to flee the country. He is allowed to come and leave at will.
We do not see this as an act of virtue. It is an act of necessity and expediency.