Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) today expressed its concerns with regard to the perks approved by the Cabinet last week to be granted to President Maithripala Sirisena and urged the Cabinet to revoke its decision while citing it as a clear case of a conflict of interest.
TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere said the timing of the decision when the President was still in office and was the Head of Cabinet raises serious questions regarding conflicts of interest.
“This is underscored by the decision of the Supreme Court in 2007 regarding the premature exercise of executive power under the Presidents Entitlements Act of 1986,” Mr. Obeysekara said.
"The TISL is deeply concerned by the recent decision made by the Cabinet of ministers, allowing President Maithripala Sirisena to remain at his official residence at Mahagama Sekara Mawatha (formerly Paget Road) in Colombo. The TISL believes that while former presidents and their widows or widowers are entitled to an official residence under the provisions of the Presidents Entitlements Act 1986, the TISL wishes to draw the attention to a 2007 judgment of the Supreme Court."
He said in a fundamental rights application to the Supreme Court (SC FR503/2005) a three-judge bench ruled in favour of the petitioners, quashing the Cabinet decision on grants and entitlements to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga while the President was in office.
“The facts that have been clearly established in this case prove that the 1st respondent and the Cabinet of ministers of which she was the head, secured for the 1st respondent benefits and advantages in the purported exercise of executive power in breach of the provisions of the President’s Entitlement Act No. 4 of 1986,” the Court noted in that instance.
Mr. Obeysesekere said the TISL firmly believed that decisions pertaining to such entitlements should only be taken at such time that the sitting President ceases to hold office.
He said the fact that the decision was made during an election period where the President has declared he would remain impartial despite his party’s decision to support a candidate, also raised several red flags on electoral integrity and potential corruption under the Bribery Act.
“A conservative estimate could place the benefit afforded to the President as a result of retaining the official residence at Mahagama Sekara Mawatha, at more than Rs.360 million over a 20-year period. As this decision has been made by the Cabinet of ministers led by the President the conflict of interest is deeply worrying and illustrates little consideration for the protection of public resources”, Mr. Obeysekara said. (Sandun A Jayasekera)