Sat, 16 Oct 2021 Today's Paper

“There are members in the CAA Board who have lesser qualifications than my driver” than my driver” -Thushan Gunawardena

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Although this stock has been sold for Rs.135 per kilo the open market price of garlic is more than Rs.400 a kilo. The CAA officers were able to take pictures of all the documents used in this scam. They were about to alter the log books when our officers raided the Welisara warehouse

  • If I didn’t take the initiative to send a few handpicked officers on time the scammers would have erased all the evidence related to this crime
  • I notice there were many clauses that have loopholes that allows the importers/ manufacturers to escape from the legal net by not fulfilling the contract
  • When the garlic scam was unearthed the Ministry of Trade was quick to issue a press release to state that the Chairman and the higher officials are out of Colombo when this had happened 
  • There is a huge racket going on and it will continue further with the blessings of the politicians
  • When I opposed the instructions sent through other parties by the Minister and State Minister which were violating the CAA Act, none of them spoke a word against these injustices. They are of the view that they have been appointed by this government to get their work done. They have forgotten that they are being paid from tax- payers’ hard earned money, but not from politicians’ private earnings
  • The Chairman and the three Executive Directors decided to release these funds, but beneath my signature I put a small note which said that this money should be strictly used for the awareness programme and not for any political image-building programme
  •  I am proud to say that I was the most qualified person on the CAA Board. I have an MBA from the UK. I am a business administrator and have held many senior positions in international organizations such as American International Group (AIG), Ayudate in Copenhagen and Ayonix in Japan. Prior to taking over the position at the CAA I was doing a lucrative job in Switzerland. I love this country and that was why I returned when there was a request to serve this country as per the ‘Vistas of Prosperity’

 

Former Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena says that he will not expect fair play during the ongoing garlic scam investigation unless Lanka Sathosa Chairman, its top management along with the subject Minister and his officials are removed from their positions. “How can I expect an unbiased investigation when the CID did not want to assist a government institution- the CAA-when their assistance was sought at a time when our officials raided the Welisara Lanka Sathosa warehouse. When I called DIG CID and requested their assistance, the DIG wanted me to lodge a complaint first. It was only the OIC Ragama that came forward to offer his assistance when I made a request from him. It’s almost three months since I lodged a complaint with the CID regarding life threats I was getting from a former CAA higher official. I even provided them with the name of the person and details of his telephone. They are yet to commence the initial inquiries. If this happened in a foreign country within few minutes the culprits would be arrested. Considering all this I won’t be surprised if the CID states that it does not have evidence to take legal action against any party involved in this scam,” Thushan Gunawardena added.


Following are excerpts of an interview done with Gunawardena.     

QThe much- talked about garlic scam to which you gave the lead to uncover is now under investigation. The CID arrested an higher official at Lanka Sathosa. Do you expect the CID to hold an unbiased investigation?


Unless Lanka Sathosa Chairman, its top management along with the Ministry Officials and the subject Minister are removed and the inquiry is held I will not expect fair play. Without the blessings of the Ministry officials, Chairman and the top management such a massive racket cannot be carried out by a few minor employees. Mind you it’s a consignment of 56,000kg. This stock was meant to be distributed amongst consumers at Sathosa outlets, but not to private traders to earn a profit. If I didn’t take the initiative to send a few handpicked officers on time the scammers would have erased all the evidence related to this crime. The statement given by the Stores Manager revealed how certain officials from the head office were involved in this racket. Although this stock has been sold for Rs.135 per kilo the open market price of garlic is more than Rs.400 a kilo. The CAA officers were able to take pictures of all the documents used in this scam. They were about to alter the log books when our officers raided the Welisara warehouse.


QIs it true that such scams had taken place in the past, but there are no traces of them?


Yes. One week before the garlic scam a large consignment of ‘undu’ seeds has been sold to a private trader. As Lanka Sathosa has erased all details regarding it we could not carry out an inquiry. Not only this even dhal and sugar too have been sold in bulk to private traders who in return supply them to Sathosa at a higher price. When the garlic scam was unearthed the Ministry of Trade was quick to issue a press release to state that the Chairman and the higher officials are out of Colombo when this had happened. What meant the Ministry issue such a press release? If they were trying to say that in the absence of the Chairman and other officials in connection with this daylight robbery what can you say about the sugar and dhal scams that took place? Were they out of Colombo at that time as well?


It was nearly six months ago that the cabinet gave approval to Sri Lanka Ports Authority to release the uncleared goods to Sathosa to be distributed amongst its outlets to sell to consumers, but not to private traders. There is a huge racket going on and it will continue further with the blessings of the politicians. 


Q Is it true that Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna have interfered with CAA work?   


It shouldn’t happen especially at a regulatory body like the CAA. Instead of seeking undue favourations the subject minister and the state minister should help the management discharge their duties to protect the consumers. 


QIn your absence do you expect your former colleagues at the CAA Board to continue from where you had to stop in order to safeguard the rights of the consumers?


Not at all. When I opposed the instructions sent through other parties by the Minister and State Minister which were violating the CAA Act, none of them spoke a word against these injustices. They are of the view that they have been appointed by this government to get their work done. They have forgotten that they are being paid from tax- payers’ hard earned money, but not from politicians’ private earnings. The political appointees don’t want to lose their jobs.


QAre you qualified to hold this job?


I am proud to say that I was the most qualified person on the CAA Board. I have an MBA from the UK. I am a business administrator and have held many senior positions in international organizations such as American International Group (AIG), Ayudate in Copenhagen and Ayonix in Japan. Prior to taking over the position at the CAA I was doing a lucrative job in Switzerland. I love this country and that was why I returned when there was a request to serve this country as per the ‘Vistas of Prosperity’. However there are members in the CAA Board who have lesser qualifications than my driver. Because of their affiliations to the Minister and State Minister they have been offered these posts to get the work done for these politicians.


QAlthough you say that you were one of the Executive Director’s the State Minister says there is no such post as per the CAA Act. What is this contradiction?


Yes there is no such post as per the Act, but it states of full-time members- which means Executive Directors. My letter of appointment states that I have been appointed as the Executive Director. My visiting cards and even my company ID states my designation as Executive Director. The Minister and the State Minister should have raised this issue at the time I was appointed, but not now. All mudslinging commenced when they knew I was giving them a hard time and blocking all their attempts which were to safeguard traders instead of consumers.


QIt is said that you opposed signing a detrimental agreement regarding which a request was made to you. What was there in this agreement, why didn’t you sign this and why do you say it is detrimental to the CAA? 


Yes. The agreement was connected to signing with importers and manufacturers of cement, milk powder and wheat flour. They wanted a price hike and the agreement was subjected to certain conditions. According to the proposed agreement, once the approval is given for a price hike, they cannot request another price amendment until three months and are bound to supply adequate stocks without any shortage. However, when going through the drafted agreement carefully, I notice there were many clauses that have loopholes that allows the importers/ manufacturers to escape from the legal net by not fulfilling the contract. 


This has been drafted to curtail CAA powers. Had this been signed the suppliers would have had the ‘permission’ to stop supplying the goods citing the pandemic, natural disaster, travel restriction imposed during a quarantine period etc. They even could have stopped supplying their respective goods from the day the agreement is signed. In such a background there are no provisions for the CAA to take legal action. 


That was why I refused to give my approval to it. It was the State Minister that wanted the CAA to draft this agreement with these clauses. Doesn’t that show the double standards of these politicians? They were elected to look after the people of this country, but not parties with vested interest. These politicians are not serving people, but targeting personal gains and their future election campaigns. 


QYou have been accused of mismanagement of CAA funds which were used for a political image-building campaign by the Minister and State Minister in the guise of an awareness programme. What is this programme and how did they misuse these government funds?


A board paper was submitted by the Director of Consumer Affairs and Information to release Rs.400,000 for an awareness programme for the International Consumer Awareness Day, sheduled to be held on March 21, 2021. According to this board paper the consumers would benefit from holding awareness programmes. However, when the presentation was released it did not include any awareness programme and instead there was a political image- building platform. 


The Chairman and the three Executive Directors decided to release these funds, but beneath my signature I put a small note which said that this money should be strictly used for the awareness programme and not for any political image-building programme. This is public money and I wanted to ensure this money was spent on a worthy cause. But this money was spent on a roadshow- at Galle Face and at the Economic Center in Thimbirigasyaya. I was surprised as to why any other board member did not voice against this. Later, this issue has been raised even at the cabinet meeting and a request has been made to the President to remove me from CAA. But they never succeeded until I tendered my resignation.


QYou received threats from one of your former colleagues at CAA and you lodged a complaint with the CID revealing all these details. What is the status quo of this inquiry?


Nothing has been done so far by the CID. Although I have shown the WhatsApp messages that were sent threatening me and provided the name of the sender, the CID over the past 3 months is yet to decide on whether to inquire in to this complaint or not. Since I have submitted the name of the sender and other details they requested, by now, this person should have been arrested. He was holding a high post at CAA and was sent to the pool because of his poor performance. He is a close confidant of Bandula Gunawardena’s Media Secretary. He did not send the messages from his regular phone, but used another phone; and that number was listed in one of WhatsApp groups. 

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  • What have you got to say? Sunday, 10 October 2021 12:51 PM

    Just hold it for one moment. I'm a bus driver with a Bachelor of Science from the prestigious University of Melbourne. Have you got a job for me?


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