Through consultation, compromise and consensus – key factors for democracy and public accountability – Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced yesterday that a special session of Parliament would be held on February 6 to hold the widely-awaited debate on two bombshell reports. These reports had been handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena by the Commission which probed the Central Bank’s alleged bond scams from February 2015 to March 2016 and the Commission which probed allegations of serious frauds and corruption during the former Rajapaksa regime.
The Speaker’s announcement came after a hurriedly summoned meeting of party leaders at the Parliamentary complex yesterday. Report said the party leaders’ meeting ended without a decision being finalized and that the Speaker would announce the date after consulting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who, in terms of the Constitution, has the authority to call a special session of Parliament.
On Wednesday January 24, the President had handed over to Parliament the lengthy reports of the two Commissions. Party leaders had then by a majority decision, decided to have the debate on February 19 and 20 – after the February 10 elections to 341 Municipal, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. But President Sirisena – speaking out powerfully at election rallies during the past few weeks -- challenged the main parties to hold the debate before the February 10 elections so that the people could know who had plundered public funds running into thousands of billions of rupees. The Prime Minister responded to the President’s appeal by announcing, again at an election rally, that he had told the Speaker to hold the debate on February 8. But another major legal problem arose.
The wide-powered Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya -- highly acclaimed for strictly implementing election laws to ensure a free and fair poll on February 10 -- said he was not happy about the decision to hold a Parliamentary debate on February 8. According to election laws, all campaigning has to stop by midnight on February 7 so that February 8 and 9 could give the people time to reflect and decide on whom or which party they should vote for. This came amid speculation that the Elections Commission might postpone the February 10 polls if the parliamentary debate took place on February 8. It was in this context that the Speaker invited the Elections Commission Chairman also to attend yesterday’s party leaders meeting.
Earlier this month, the President telecast a summary of the nearly 1,400 page report, annexures and recommendations of the Bond Commission which probed the alleged scams. The Commission has made serious charges against the Central Bank’s former Governor Arjuna Mahendranand his son-in-lawArjun Aloysiuswhose company Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) is alleged to have used unethical if not illegal means to make a huge profit of about Rs. 11.1 billion from the bond issues. On January 24 the Central Bank froze the bank accounts of PTL and twenty seven associated companies. The Bond Commission has also made charges against former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and other UNP members. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that serious action would be taken against UNP members if they were found guilty when these cases were brought before courts of law.
On Monday, President Sirisena -- waging a do-or-die battle not only for the local councils but also against corruption and especially corrupt politicians -- summoned a meeting of top officials to expedite the cases highlighted in the Bond Commission Report and the Report of the Commission which probed serious acts of fraud and corruption. Among those who attended the meeting were the Attorney General, the Central Bank Governor and the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). At a public meeting later the President lamented that during the past twenty three years the CIABOC has successfully prosecuted only four cases of bribery or corruption and he hoped the Commission would act more effectively in the future.
According to UNP leaders, the Commission which probed serious acts of fraud and corruption has highlighted thirty four major cases against the former regime’s VIP politicians, top officials and others. Whatever the date of the debate, we believe the people’s hope is that those who plundered billions in public money would be brought to justice and the money recovered from them.