Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya has embroiled himself in a serious scandal after he solicited a huge personal favour from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his top officials at a time when an election has been declared in the country.
Colombo Telegraph has seen documentation proving that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa personally approved the repatriation of Deshapriya’s son W.V.K. Deshapriya, who was pursuing post graduate studies in The Netherlands on a flight arriving in Colombo from London on May 5, 2020.
The controversy has a major bearing on the forthcoming parliamentary elections, with the head of the independent Elections Commission effectively being beholden to the President and his Government for bringing his son home. After an election has been declared, the Elections Commission becomes the country’s highest authority. Good Governance activists told Colombo Telegraph that Deshapriya’s decision to involve himself in the repatriation of his adult son casts a huge cloud over the Commission and its ability to remain neutral during a major election.
The approval came after Deshapriya, by his own admission in a telephone call with the Editor of Colombo Telegraph, hand delivered emails from his son to the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The letter addressed to Government officials from the EC Chairman’s son is published below.
According to Deshapriya, on receipt of the letters he received calls from Presidential Advisor Lalith Weeratunge and Secretary to the Prime Minister Gamini Senarath to work out logistics regarding his son’s repatriation.
Deshapriya also told Colombo Telegraph that he had called former Rear Admiral Jayanath Colambage, the presidential advisor on Foreign Affairs and the man who essentially runs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under President Rajapaksa, about his son’s matter.
Colombo Telegraph has seen correspondence between Colambage and the Chairman of SriLankan Airlines and Softlogic Moghul Ashok Pathirage and several others claiming that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had approved Deshapriya’s son’s name along with four other students in the Netherlands for inclusion on the May 5 special flight from London. (See email excerpt below – with personal information and email addresses edited)
Upon receiving information about Deshapriya’s intervention with the President and his officials about repatriating his son, Colombo Telegraph emailed the Chairman of the EC on May 4. In response, Deshapriya said the following: “My son is an engineer at the Irrigation Department. He and four other engineers who are government servants were hoping to return to Sri Lanka after going to the Netherlands on scholarship to do post graduate studies. My son and three others registered themselves with the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Sri Lanka’s embassy in The Netherlands. Having written to the authorities and SriLankan Airlines he was included on a flight arriving from London on May 5th. This is not a special flight chartered for my son. I did not make a special request of the President about his case,” the Chairman of the Elections Commission told Colombo Telegraph.
We publish below Mahinda Deshapriya’s full quote in the original Sinhala for the benefit of our readers:
මගේ පුත්රයා වාරිමාර්ග දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ ඉංජිනේරුවෙකි . ඔහු හා රාජ්ය සේවයේ තවත් ඉංජිනේරුවන් සිවුදෙනකු නෙදර්ලන්තයේ රාජ්ය ශිෂ්යත්වයක් මත පශ්චාත් උපාධි පාඨමාලා හදාරා අවසන්වී ලංකාවට නැවත පැමිණමට අපේක්ෂාවෙන් සිටින ලදී . ඉන් එක් අයකුගේ අධ්යාපන කටයුතු අවසන් නොවූ නිසා මාගේ පුත්රයා හා අනෙක් තිදෙනා නෙදර්ලන්තයේ ශ්රී ලංකා තානාපති හරහා විදේශ අමාත්යාංශයේද එංගලන්තයේ මහ කොමසාරිස් කාර්යාලයේද ලියාපදිංචි වී ඒ පිළිබදව ශ්රී ලංකාවේ කටයුතු කරන රාජ්ය නිලධාරීන් හා ශ්රී ලංකන් ගුවන් සේවාව අමතා ලිපි ලියා ලද අවසර අද මැයි 05 දින ලන්ඩන් නුවර සිට පැමිණෙන ගුවන් යානයේ පැමිණේ . එය ඔවුනට වෙන් කළ විශේෂ යානයක් නොවේ. මොහු විශේෂ යානයකින් ගෙන්වා දෙන ලෙස හෝ මොහු සම්බන්ධයෙන් විශේෂයක් කරන ලෙස මා ජනාධිපතිවරයාගෙන් ඉල්ලා නැත.
However, as detailed above, Deshapriya subsequently admitted in a phone call with the Editor of Colombo Telegraph that he had indeed been in touch with powerful officials over the repatriation of his son.
Colombo Telegraph can now also reveal the following.
At precisely 6.02 PM on May 4,2020 Sri Lankan time, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa telephoned Elections Commission Chairman Deshapriya. The phone call was regarding Attorney General Dappula De Livera’s letter to the Commission about the legal position on receiving nominations on a gazetted public holiday. This is the conversation that followed:
දේශප්රිය- සර් කාටවත් කිව්වෙ නැහැනෙ ඒ ගැන. උවිඳු ඇහැව්ව ඒ ගැන.
ගෝට – නෑ නෑ.
දේශප්රිය- හරි සර්
දේශප්රිය- හරි සර් මම හෙට කියන්නම් දප්පුලගෙ ලියුමට කරන දේ
Deshapriya: Sir did you tell anyone about that matter? He [Uvindu] asked me about it.
President: No no I did not.
Deshapriya: Ok ok sir
President: [Asks about letter from AG]
Deshapriya: Ok Sir, I will reply Dappula’s letter tomorrow and tell you about tomorrow.
[Conversation unclear. Both chuckle]
Subsequent to the queries from Colombo Telegraph it is learnt that Deshapriya was torn between submitting his resignation as Chairman of the Elections Commission with several members of his own family telling him not to resign over his son’s matter.
Serious questions are also being raised about whether there are elements within the Government that seek to force Deshapriya’s resignation in order to appoint a full-blown lackey in his place who will blatantly overrule Commissioners Ratnajeevan Hoole and Nalin Abeysekera.
But Deshapriya’s actions to involve himself in the repatriation of his son raises huge ethical questions, good governance activists and lawyers said.
“The only way for him to restore dignity to the Commission after this is to resign. It is true he is a father who was concerned for his son’s safe return. That is only human. But when you serve in this sort of high office, that has to be a public official’s first and foremost consideration. What makes this doubly bad is that an election has been declared – and the Government will basically have him eating out of their hands because they have done him this favour,” an activist told Colombo Telegraph in an email.
In fact it appears that the chairman of the Elections Commission through his actions is not just beholden to the President and his Government, but also to corporate interests – in this case Softlogic – by the involvement of Ashok Pathirage in his son’s repatriation,” the activist added.
Other questions also crop up as a result of the phone call between the Chairman of the Commission and the President. It is unclear why Deshapriya is reporting to the President about matters between the Elections Commission and the Attorney General. Under the terms of the 19th Amendment the EC is an independent commission that must not take its instructions from political authorities. It is also unclear if other members of the Commission are aware of this pattern of the Chairman reporting matters to the President. (By Chinthika de Silva)