Bribery Commission urged to probe nearly Rs. 1 bn transaction-SLFP Gen. Secy denies any wrongdoing on his part
Posted on August 2nd, 2016

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

National Freedom Front (NFF) MP Jayantha Samaraweera yesterday alleged that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) hadn’t initiated an inquiry into his complaint in respect of the Agriculture Ministry renting a building for a five-year period at a staggering cost of about Rs 1bn.

Kalutara District MP Samaraweera said that in accordance with an agreement between the Agriculture Ministry and Upali Jayasinghe, the proprietor of the building at No 288, Rajagiriya-Kotte, Jayawardenepura road, the government had paid him rent for two years amounting to approximately Rs. 570 mn. The MP said that he was acting on behalf of the Joint Opposition.

MP Samaraweera told The Island that the CIABOC had been obviously reluctant to inquire into his complaint lodged on April 28, 2016 against Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake, who was also the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

“I have received a communiqué dated May 2, 2016 from the Secretary to the CIABOC acknowledging the receipt of my complaint:”

Minister Dissanayake on Monday night admitted that the CIABOC hadn’t even contacted him regarding the complaint. The SLFP General Secretary was responding to a spate of questions regarding the controversial transaction on ‘Salakuna’, a live political programme on Hiru TV. Minister Dissanayake repeatedly denied allegations that CIABOC had only inquired into complaints against those opposed to the yahapalana government.

Pressed for an explanation why the Agriculture Ministry had rented a new office space, Minister Dissanayake said that the Parliament wanted to acquire Govijana Mandiraya on Rajamalwatte road, Battaramulla. The SLFP General Secretary said that parliament planned to set up sectorial oversight committees therein.

The Island sought a clarification from MP Samaraweera in respect of Minister Dissanayake claim that the sectoral oversight committees were to be established at Govijana Mandiraya. MP Samaraweera said that the parliament had established Sectoral Oversight Committees as well as Committee on Public Finance. The Parliament had suspended Standing Orders that set guidelines for Consultative Committees which oversaw ministries, to pave the way for Sectoral Oversight Committees’ and Committee on Public Finance, MP Samaraweera said.

The 16 Sectoral Oversight Committees empowered to examine all Bills, Resolutions, Treaties, Reports and other matters relating to subjects within their jurisdiction are: Economic Development; International Relations; National Security; Sustainable Development and Environment and Natural Resources; Women and Gender; Education and Human Resources Development; Health and Human Welfare, Social Empowerment; Transport and Communication; Agriculture and Lands; Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and Media; Youth, Sports, Arts and Heritage; Business and Commerce; Energy; Manufacturing and Services; Internal Administration and Public Management; and Reconciliation and North & East Reconstruction.

 

MP Samaraweera said that that the Agriculture Ministry still functioned at Govijana Mandiraya though the government had already paid Rs 570 mn rent for a private building which was still being refurbished. According to him, monthly rent amounted to over Rs 20 mn and rent had been paid for five months though the Agriculture Ministry was weeks if not months away from moving there. In line with the agreement, following completion of three years of five-year agreement, the owner would receive 15 per cent increase in monthly rent, MP Samaraweera said.

MP Samaraweera said that Sectoral Oversight Committee had been functioning in parliament though an attempt was being made to deceive the public they couldn’t function for want of required accommodation.

The MP said parliament had received two proposals regarding the proposed setting up of Sectoral Oversight Committees. Some believed they could be established outside the parliamentary complex, MP Samaraweera said, adding that others felt that the space used to park vehicles belonging to officials could be modified to accommodate the proposed committees. Although, there had been several rounds discussions in this regard the parliament never decided on this matter, MP Samaraweera said, alleging that the Agriculture Ministry went ahead with the transaction in spite of the Auditor General’s Department strongly recommending against it.

MP Samaraweera said that he was in possession of the relevant documents pertaining to the transaction.

Responding to another query, MP Samaraweera said that the Chief Government Valuer estimated a square foot of the rented building at Rs 150 whereas the Agriculture Ministry finalized the transaction at Rs 167.50 a square foot plus service charges amounting to Rs 60.50 per square foot.

The MP said that the Agriculture Ministry could have moved to the government-owned Sethsiripaya as their total staff was about 90. However, the Agriculture Ministry had declined to move there claiming lack of space and instead made fresh representations to cabinet regarding the private building.

Those who had been preaching the country about good governance, accountability and transparency in the run up to presidential and parliamentary polls last year remained silent, MP Samaraweera said.

CIABOC didn’t respond to a query regarding MP Samaraweera’s complaint forwarded by The Island.

The MP said that he would take up the Agriculture Ministry matter again with the CIABOC and other agencies probing waste and corruption. The government should review the entire transaction as obviously Sectoral Oversight Committees could comfortably function in parliament and even if there was a problem regarding space, the country couldn’t afford to waste taxpayers’ money.

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