By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Will the mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the alleged Central Bank bond scam be allowed to lapse without key witnesses being called?
This is arguably one of the largest financial scams to have taken place in the post-independence history of Sri Lanka. For sheer impunity and involvement of powerful politicians in collusion with a section of the corporate sector and regulatory authorities it is hard to beat.
(Whether the muted response of the opposition has anything to do with former Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Mahendran’s stint as Chief Investment Executive at Dubai Emirates NBD Bank could be interesting)
The Presidential Secretariat attributes the objective of the PCoI to President Sirisena stating: “to give the utmost punishment to those who are guilty of offenses”
If the people of Sri Lanka are serious about good governance, should they not hold him accountable to this commitment?
To be fair by the Presidential Commission, it must be flagged they have done a commendable job to bring some of the machinations of these alleged scams to the notice of the general public. This has whet their appetite to get to the bottom of these scams by identifying the key personnel involved.
At the same time the (PCoI) to use a cricketing parlance has dropped sitters (straightforward catches) which include for example:
1) Failure to ask the Chairman, Bank of Ceylon when he was a witness last week (i) what made the BoC give Perpetual Treasuries Ltd., (PTL) facilities for Billions of Rupees virtually over the counter just prior to a Bond auction? (ii) why the BoC with a primary dealer license bought Treasury Bonds in the secondary market from PTL? (iii) why the BoC Chairman attended a meeting relating to bidding at the Bond auction said to have been convened by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake when state banks came under the purview of another Minister – Kabir Hashim in circumstances where Karunanayake had no authority over state banks?
The same holds true to the Chairmen of People’s Bank and NSB in relation to the said meeting.
2) Although it was reported that Dr. Harsha de Silva was summoned by the PCoI in June this year, there has not been much information in the public domain whether he was adequately questioned on his role on the controversial ‘footnotes’ saga in the alleged Treasury Bond scam.
He is Deputy Minister, Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs where the Prime Minister is the Minister in charge.
‘The Sunday Times’ of 30 October 2016 reports:
“As is clear, the thrust of these footnotes is to make clear that Mahendran has not been responsible of any impropriety.
The UNP is confident that it can, through the documentation Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva has received, prove its case that its man Arjuna Mahendran is not to blame.”
I am glad to note at the time of penning this piece that ministers Malik Samarawickrama and Kabir Hashim said to have been present at the INITIAL meeting in 2015 on the issuance of Treasury Bonds have been summoned as witnesses by the PCoI. At this time Malik Samarawickrama who did not hold ministerial portfolio was Chairman of the UNP, Minister Kabir Hashim was UNP General Secretary and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – UNP leader.
The following Key witnesses and others not yet summoned by the (PCoI) must be given the opportunity to clarify matters in the interest of their good name:
1) Mr. R. Paskaralingam – Advisor to the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs (Ministry held by PM Wickremesinghe) is said to have been present at the meeting convened by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake with Chairmen of state banks (BoC, PB, NSB) relating to bidding at the Bond auction.
2) Rosy Senanayake in connection with the allegation at the PCoI that COPE documents relating to PTL CEO Kasun Palisena’s testimony was given to ‘PTL owner’ Arjun Aloysius by “Rosy’s son” identified as “Kanishka Senanayake”.
This has been denied by Ms. Senanayake on the grounds she was not a COPE member after the August 2015 parliamentary elections. Does not the question arise whether in her capacity as ‘Deputy Chief of Staff’ in Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ‘core team’ she would have access to COPE reports? Although requested, she has still not clarified this position.
3) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (i) who handpicked Arjuna Mahendran a foreign national in whom he had the fullest confidence to be Governor – Central Bank of Sri Lanka and who he even endorsed for a second term (ii) the CBSL the issuing agency for Treasury Bonds falling under the purview of the Prime Minister (iii) who was fully confident on the propriety of the issuance of Bonds which he robustly defended in Parliament which is at variance with the other evidence presented before the PCoI .
4) Nimal Perera – former chairman of Pan Asia Banking Corporation (PABC) said to have made the decision for PABC to act as the intermediary in secondary market transactions between PTL and EPF.
It was also alleged at the PCoI that Saman Kumara then dealer for the EPF at the CBSL had received a personal loan of Rs. 25 million from PABC when Nimal Perera was Chairman. It is relevant to ascertain whether this loan and its settlement (if any) took place in the ordinary course of banking practice or whether any special privileges were afforded.
Should this not be of interest to the Central Bank’s ‘Bank Supervision Department’ as well?
5) The Chairmen of state financial institutions – Bank of Ceylon (Ronald Perera), National Savings Bank (Aswin de Silva) and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (Hemaka Amarasuriya) in the context of these institutions with primary dealer licenses purchasing Treasury Bonds in the secondary market from PTL.
More crucial than President Sirisena’s objective “to give the utmost punishment to those who are guilty of offenses” is quantifying the losses to the people of Sri Lanka and its immediate return.
The sooner this issue is put to rest the better. The country seems obsessed with this alleged scam while placing other instances of alleged corruption also under the Rajapaksa presidency and issues of governance on the back burner.