Minister of International Trade, Sujeewa Senasinghe has received an earful from senior COPE members for allegedly adopting an intimidating manner during the questioning of officials of Central Bank over the bond scam involving ex-Governor Arjuna Mahendran.
Yesterday, several officials including Deputy Governors of the Central Bank were ordered to appear before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) for further inquiries on the bond scam; however Senasinghe, who was made a COPE member in only July, had adopted an unacceptable tone while questioning the Central Bank officials.
Sources said that it was obvious Senasinghe was trying to safeguard Mahendran, in the way he was questioning the witnesses.
He was later rebuked by the more senior members of COPE who warned him against his manner of questioning the Central Bank officials. “He was also told to make sure he will not repeat this conduct at any other COPE meetings,” the sources said.
During yesterday’s meeting, the Auditor General’s report on the Central Bank bond issue was discussed at length and the COPE members questioned officials of the Central Bank with regard to the content in the report. The COPE is scheduled to submit their findings on the Central Bank bond issue to Parliament before end of this month.
When the Colombo Telegraph contacted Senasinghe, a member of his staff who answered his mobile said that the Minister was unavailable for comment and to call later.
In July, the Colombo Telegraph reported that the independence of the COPE was in jeopardy due to clandestine moves by the UNP to thwart attempts in taking action against Mahendran. Since the Auditor’s General’s Report was released, several UNP members in the COPE have been trying to find various excuses in their attempt to delay the process. However, other members of COPE have been equally adamant and have not allowed certain UNP members to act in an unacceptable manner which can jeopardize the COPE’s investigations process.
In July, the UNP leadership decided to bring in Senasinghe, in an effort to strengthen the UNP COPE team trying to protect Mahendran. The party had ordered MP M. Velu Kumar who was a COPE Member to resign from the committee, and make way for Senasinghe.
Following this development in July, former chairman of COPE and leader of the Communist Party D. E. W. Gunasekera accused Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and several other UNP members of conspiring against COPE to clear Mahendran’s name from several charges including his alleged involvement in the two Treasury bond scams.
Subsequently, good governance activist, Chandra Jayaratne in an open letter to UNP Members of COPE said, “Trust that your independence, professionalism and your core values will drive you to probe with an open mind; seek information; ask critical questions before you conclude your review; be aware that you are represented on the COPE Committee not to declare a verdict of ‘guilty‘ or ‘not guilty’ on the part of the Government, the former Governor, Deputy Governor in charge of Public Debt nor even the Monetary Board, the relevant Primary Dealers, Traders of EPF and State Institutions and Banks ; but your role is merely to satisfy whether the weighted evidence points to the essential need for the Committee to refer this issue to the relevant law enforcement agency, to investigate and determine whether a serious offense punishable under section 70 of the Sri Lankan Legislative Enactments dealing with Bribery and Corruption have taken place in respect of Bond issues of 27 February 2015, 29th March 2016 and 31st March 2016.”
While also reminding that the memories of all the young professionals, the youth, the intelligent voters and civil society activists, who so actively canvassed for the 8th January 2015 regime change and in the General Elections that followed, are not short nor fading, Jayaratne also urged the UNP COPE members to act in an independent manner without defending the position of Mahendran on grounds that no scam has taken place and no loss has been suffered. He also requested the UNP COPE members to stop criticizing the Auditor General as someone erroneous in his judgment for issuing a report on the scam.
“You must therefore immediately desist from any action that risks the future of this country; its future generations, as well as be cognizant of the current socio political economy; the image internationally of the country risked to be damaged permanently; and above all the impressions your voters will have of you next time round if you act outside your core values,” Jayaratne added in his letter. ( By Munza Mushtaq @ Colombo Telegraph )