The Legal Officer’s Association of the State Legal Advisor- the Attorney General’s Department, which is bound to be an impartial body, has now come under criticism for obtaining advertisements from private organisations and state institutions for a souvenir they are going to publish.
A WhatsApp message that had been circulated by the Legal Officer’s Association of the Attorney General’s (AG) Department requesting advertisements from private organisations or state institutions for this souvenir has raised several questions within the department. They are of the view that this course of action compromise the independence of the AG’s Department and also will not be able to take legal decisions if the advertisers are under probe.
“There are so many heads of state institutions and private companies presently under probe. By requesting their officers to obtain advertisements to raise sponsorship money either from private or state institutions, the prosecutors do not know the advertisers’ background and the advertisers will take this opportunity to obtain undue influence,” a senior official at the AG’s Department who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mirror.
The Legal Officers Association has organised a fundraiser to mark the 135th Anniversary of the Attorney General’s Department. A musical extravaganza for destitute children of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks featuring popular music artists Rukantha, Chandralekha, Lanthra, Sanuka and Raini backed by the band, Daddy, will be held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo on Saturday, October 26, from 6.30 pm onwards. It will be followed by dinner and tickets are priced at Rs.12,000 and Rs. 7, 500. The 60 orphaned child victims of the Easter attacks too are said to have been invited for the event.
Meanwhile, highly reliable sources from the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo told the Daily Mirror that a booking had been made by a senior official at the AG’s Department for the event “Ray of Hope” for 700 guests and the hotel charges per head were Rs.6,000. Hence the total cost for the hotel would be Rs.4.2 million.
In another message sent to all officials of the AG’s Department, the Chairman of the Souvenir Committee, Additional Solicitor General, N.R. Abeysuriya has requested all his colleagues to assist him to obtain at least one advertisement for the souvenir be it from private or state institutions.
The message read as, ‘Dear Colleagues, Please be kind enough to assist our Souvenir Committee by securing at least one advertisement each for the souvenir to be published on the occasion of the fundraising event at Shangri La on October 26. As you are aware every cent raised by us would be utilised to provide scholarships to the 60 children who lost both or one parent due to the Easter Sunday bomb explosion. The advertisement may be from a private organisation or a state institution. A full-page advertisement is Rs.50, 000 and a half page is Rs.25, 000’.
“Although this has been organised by the Legal Officers’ association they have to obtain permission from the Attorney General to hold such an event and he as the country’s chief legal officer should have advised the organisers to stick to the standard practices of the department. Hence those who are responsible for organising this event should have acted dutifully without compromising the integrity of the department. When advertisements are obtained from accused parties with or without the knowledge of their identity, it gives these parties an opportunity to get closer to these legal officers who represent the AG. In such a background, how can the department hold the scale of justice evenly?” the senior prosecutor contended.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Bar Association Sri Lanka (BASL) who was granted anonymity to discuss matters connected to the official Bar said that raising sponsorship money from entities under investigations or who are witnesses in investigations tantamount to conflict of interest.
The AG’s Department sources further said that if the officials in the department is so keen to help out the children who have lost either both or a single parent due to the bomb attacks, the officials could have requested each State Counsel and senior higher officials to contribute one or two days salary towards this worthy cause which could have easily collected few millions of rupees.
“There are around 200 officials - State Counsels and other senior higher officials who draw handsome salaries which amount to few hundred thousand rupees per month which are higher than any government official in other state institutions. The AG’s Department could have easily collected Rs.5 million and give away scholarships to these affected children. By holding a tamasha- spending millions to Shangri-La Hotel and another few millions for costumes, event managers and singers the department is trying to show that this is a worthy cause although we as seniors in the department are totally against this unnecessary expenditure,” sources added.
Meanwhile, it is alleged that all officers of this department are under tremendous pressure to sell tickets to raise the sponsorship money and according to them the department will not be able to give each of these children more than Rs.100, 000 due to the high cost involved in this fundraiser.
“It is alleged the event management company is to be paid around Rs.2 million. For the 14 ushering costumes the prices are said to be Rs.700,000, for the Shangri-La dinner, Rs.4.2 million, for the artists another several hundred thousands of rupees and the musical band another few hundred thousand rupees. It is estimated that the total budget is around Rs.8 million. With all these expenses, if the department can give more than a hundred thousand rupees per destitute child, it will be good, but this is impossible,” the sources said.
When the organiser of the event was contacted, President of the Legal Officers’ Association of the AG’s Department Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sumathi Dharmawardena, to find out as to what the AG’s Department’s position to raise funds from private and state institutions, which is conflict of interest, the ASG wanted this newspaper to send the questions via an email. Hence the following questions were sent to ASG Dharmawardena on Tuesday, October 22.
What is the Attorney General’s Department’s position on the conflict of interest in raising sponsorship money from entities under investigations or from individuals who are witnesses in the cases the department is involved?, What is the total budget for the event and what is the source of funds?, How much money will be given to each child?, Who are the external contractors (event managers) managing the event? What is the procedure that was followed to select them and how much will they be paid? Is it true that the AG’s officials are under pressure to sell tickets and raise sponsorship money for the event?, How many will be there to usher the guests and how much will it cost for their costume?, What is the total cost for the hotel, the singers and the band? Although the AG’s Department has to be impartial at any lawsuit, in regard to the Easter bomb case, once charges are filed against those who were involved, how can the department play a neutral role when the department has showed empathy towards the victims’ families?
However, ASG Dharmawardena in his reply on Thursday, October 24, stated that he cannot answer any of the questions raised as it does not warrant any response from the Legal Officers’ Association of the AG’s Department.
The reply he further states, ‘At the very outset, I wish to inform you that I am the President of the Legal Officers' Association of the Attorney General's Department and not the President of any Organising Committee. I also wish to observe that the said email of yours is bereft of details with regard to any specific event.
In response, I wish to inform you that the Legal Officers' Association of the Attorney General's Department was established for the welfare of the legal officers and it is duly registered under the Trade Unions Ordinance.
In the circumstances, I regret that it does not warrant any response from the Legal Officers' Association of the Attorney General's Department. Sumathi Dharmawardena, P.C. Addl. Solicitor General, President Legal Officers' Association. (Nirmala Kannangara)