DEW explains why PM couldn’t be summoned after AM’s testimony First COPE inquiry
Posted on October 20th, 2017

Courtesy The Island

Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) D. E. W. Gunasekera told The Island yesterday that the parliamentary watchdog committee lacked powers to summon ministers and, therefore, it had not been able to seek an explanation from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in respect of the probe into the first Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scam committed in February 2015.

Gunasekera said the COPE as well as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) couldn’t summon ministers.

Even if Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had volunteered to testify, the COPE wouldn’t have been able to summon him in spite of Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s admission that the Central Bank had opted for only direct placements on the instructions of the PM.

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Gunasekera

Gunasekera said Mahendran had appeared before the COPE as the last witness and the latter had been the Central Bank Governor at that time he gave evidence.

Although the 449 page COPE report had been denied official recognition as it couldn’t be presented to Parliament due to hasty dissolution of the House to pave the way for the August 2015 parliamentary polls, Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe submitted the COPE report along with his own report on the alleged bond scam to Parliament, the former National List MP said.

Asked whether he had an opportunity to make available his report to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P-CoI), Gunasekera said that AG Wijesinghe had submitted that report to the P-CoI as an annexure. Gunasekera said his report had been accepted by the P-CoI in spite of efforts to discard it.

Gunasekera emphasised that he wouldn’t have been able to submit the report as by the time President Maithripala Sirisena appointed the P-CoI he was no longer a member of parliament. He regretted that JVP MP Sunil Handunetti had, for some reason, refrained from submitting the first COPE report, in his capacity as the Chairman of the parliamentary watchdog committee.

MP Handunetti yesterday told The Island that Mahendran appeared before his committee twice.

The second bond scam took place in March 2016 also on Mahendran’s watch. President Sirisena replaced Mahendran in June 2016.

Gunasekera said Parliament had to decide how to facilitate the inquiries undertaken by the COPE. “Many do not realise that COPE inquire into cases that had been probed by the AG. In fact, by the time, the COPE summoned relevant officials, the AG had already examined the cases and specific recommendations made,” Gunasekera said. However, the COPE probe into bond scam in February 2015 had been the only instance where the COPE conducted an inquiry of its own into a fraudulent transaction, widely believed to be the biggest ever financial scandal in the country.

Gunasekera said Mahendran had accepted his Singaporean nationality as well as instructions received from Premier Wickremesinghe before his commission consisting of 13 members of Parliament.

The then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa had instructed him to form a special committee comprising a section of the 30-member watchdog committee to expedite inquiries into the allegations close on the heels of a three-member committee of UNP lawyers  appointed by PM Wickremesinghe submitted its report on the alleged scam, Gunasekera said.

Responding to a query, Gunasekera said that in spite of the change of the government following President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the January 2015 Presidential election, the UNP had sought to reconstitute the watchdog committees. Had they done so, the composition of the COPE would have been changed, he said, adding that obviously, the UNP didn’t anticipate the consequences.

Gunasekera said that PM Wickremesinghe had declared to the media some time back that he was ready to appear before the COPE. “That offer was never made to me, Gunasekera said, urging the parliament to review Standing Orders pertaining to COPE and PAC.”

When The Island raised corruption charges against ministers, UNP National List MP Prof. Ashu Marasinghe said that unlike the COPE, Sectoral Oversight Committee had the right to inquire into ongoing ‘cases.’

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