The hearings of Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to probe corruption and abuse of power during the previous regime was suspended until tomorrow following objections raised by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s lawyers on the composition of the commission.
Rajapaksa after being summoned appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges today to make a statement over the failure to pay monies owed to state owned TV network – the ITN for the advertisements propaganda carried on his behalf at the January 8 Presidential election.
At the outset Rajapaksa’s lawyers objected to composition of the commission questioning the legality of President Maithripala appointing judges of the High Court to the Commission.
Rajapaksa’s lawyers argued that the President had no legal power to appoint High Court judges to the commission and as such the composition of the commission was illegal.
Sittings were then suspended until tomorrow, when the commission said they would announce its decision on the matter.
Meanwhile, Rajapaksa’s media office said that the former President appeared before the Commission in response to a letter sent to him by the commission.
According to statement issued by Rajapaksa’s media the letter mentions five matters which are under investigation by the commission in respect to Rajapaksa.
The first is the appointment of Anura Siriwardene as the Chairman/CEO of ITN at a time when the position was not vacant. President’s media clarified that this appointment is not made by the President but officially by the Secretary to the Treasury as the Treasury owns the majority of the shares of ITN. In addition they pointed out that the appointment was made after the former Chairman left that position.
The second matter is the alleged financial loss caused due to an advertising firm by the name of ‘Media Factory’ not paying dues owed to ITN for televised ads. ITN had issued a letter dated 27 January 2015 claiming what was due to them and Media Factory had settled the outstanding amount in full. ITN has under signature accepted that the payment has been received.
A financial loss of Rs. 2.4 million allegedly caused by an advertising firm by the name of ‘Special Solutions’ not paying their dues to ITN is the third matter under investigation.” We understand that all outstanding amounts due to ITN with regard to this transaction have been paid by the said advertising firm. It should be borne in mind that when advertisements are repeated many times, all media organisations broadcast a certain proportion of them free of charge as an incentive to advertisers” the statement added.
The fourth matter under investigation is the allegation that up-front payment was received for advertisements promoting presidential election candidate Mr Maithripala Sirisena, but that these advertisements had not been aired and Rs 8.6 million had been returned thus depriving ITN of an income the institution should have received. This is an internal administrative matter of IT, the statement clarified.
The fifth matter under investigation is the allegation that Maithripala Sirisena had been charged twice the usual amount for advertising thus discriminating between two equal presidential candidates. This too is an internal administrative matter at ITN, Rajapaksa’s media explained.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa contested the January 2015 presidential election as the candidate of the UPFA.
Rajapaksa’s office said that the presidential candidate of a major political party cannot possibly supervise the advertising campaign carried out on his behalf.
His office said that campaign advertisements are given to media organisations by the advertising firm retained by the candidate’s political party. The candidate or even his political party very often has no direct contact with the media organisations over advertising.
“In any event, all matters relating to campaign advertisements are handled by the political party or alliance of the candidate. As such these matters are not the responsibility of the candidate but of the relevant political party or alliance. When it was proposed within the SLFP that President Mahinda Rajapaksa should contest for the presidency for the third time, it was the present Chairman of the party who seconded that proposal,” Rajapaksa’s media office said.
Rajapaksa’s media office further clarified that summoning the former president before the Commission to inquire into serious corruption over matters of this nature is undoubtedly an attempt to convey to the public the impression that the former president had engaged in wrongdoing and to gain some political mileage thereby.
Meanwhile Rajapaksa arrived at the commission’s office in Colombo accompanied by a team of lawyers around 9 am today.
Shortly afterwards his eldest son MP Namal Rajapaksa too appeared in the premises. Several politicians loyal to Rajapaksa too came to the commissions premises in an obvious show of support to the former President.
Among the politicians who turned up were Prasamnna Ranatunge, Udaya Gammanpila, Salinda Dissanayake, Dullus Alahapperuma and Upali Kodikara.
This was the second time Rajapaksa was summoned by the commission. On the first occasion a team of commissions officers visited Rajapaksa’s Mirihana residence to record a statement from him.
The special team on that occasion questioned the former president over non-payment of dues to a state-owned ITN channel for broadcasting advertisements for his 2015 presidential campaign.
An audit inquiry has found that the state television Independent Television Network has incurred losses over Rs. 101 million as Rajapaksa has failed to pay the dues to the state TV for advertising his election campaign.
Same audit has found that the ITN had agreed to broadcast Rs. 44.7 million of advertisements for current president Maithripala Sirisena but only aired Rs. 2.6 million worth advertisements despite the agreement.
Meanwhile former UPFA General Secretary Minister Susil Premajayantha says the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election committee is responsible for the payment due to the ITN for running the former president’s election ad campaign.
Minister Premajayantha says the UPFA Committee for Media and Propaganda Affairs appointed for the January 2015 election was responsible for the payment to ITN.
Premajayantha was called to give a statement to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry after Rajapaksa had claimed that the General Secretary of the UPFA was responsible for the payment of dues to ITN for broadcasting election advertisements for his presidential campaign.