By Rajiva Wijesinha –
If the Island report is a verbatim account of what Ranil said in Parliament, it deserves careful annotation. I have therefore, as I did with Ranil’s ridiculous answers to the Bond Commission, noted in bold letters what he really meant when he came out with the dubious statements that the Island reports.
It is sad that, when Parliament was convened to discuss the report of the Presidential Commission on the bond scam, the Speaker should have allowed Ranil the chance to try once again to draw red herrings. But given that even the JVP are critical, having supported the excesses of this government until recently, it must be clear to him that he can convince no one except his own cheerleaders, sitting ‘attentive to his own applause’.
The Island report by Saman Indrajith:
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday said in Parliament that there had been no transparency in treasury bonds issued during the period of 2008 and 2014 and they too should be investigated. ‘I know that the Commission has been highly critical of what we did, but I have to keep saying worse things happened before that, even though I have no evidence for this.’
Making a statement he said that the majority of the bond issuances during the period 2008 to 2014 were done as direct private placements. “There was absolutely no transparency. During this period bonds to the tune of Rs. 5,147,751,210,000 had been issued while of this amount bonds to the tune of Rs. 4,702,232,210,000 had been issued as direct private placements. None of these transactions had received the approval of the Monetary Board.” ‘I know that the Monetary Board had approved a mixed system, which had been set in place previously so as to minimize as possible the interest government paid. I keep using the term private placements even though I know there was nothing private about these, and I was not able to substantiate my claim that some dealers complained that others were favoured. On the contrary, the only person in my government who really understands finance, Eran Wickremaratne (which is why he is not in the Cabinet) used to complain that the bank made government institutions take bonds at low rates, ie far from being favoured, the last government used them to ensure that the public did not have to pay the exorbitant rates that I believe my friends in the private sector should get’.
Prime Minister’s statement: The final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Bond Issuance of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka during the period from February 01, 2015 to March 31, 2016, was handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena on December 31, 2017.
Accordingly, the President made a special statement on January 03. Today I want to clarify further the Committee on Public Enterprises report or the COPE report.
The initial dialogue on the Treasury bond issue was initiated in March 2015. As soon as I informed about this, I appointed a three member committee headed by Attorney Gamini Pitipana. ‘The terms of reference I gave them were not so much about the 2015 bond scam but about the past because I am determined to get Nivard Cabraal who abandoned me for Mahinda Rajapaksa and then managed government finances far better than my chosen Oxford educated expert Arjuna Mahendran’.
On March 31, 2015, I informed this council. The Pitipana Committee investigated this issue and reported to me. This commission recommended that further investigations were required. This report was tabled in parliament on May 19, 2015. On May 21,2015 we debated this issue in parliament and later it was submitted to COPE. ‘In fact a debate was not permitted but instead it was submitted to COPE and I then told my minions to disrupt proceedings. When they failed to do this and a report was about to be issued, I got my masters to throw the President into a state of panic and insist that Parliament should be dissolved, because the Report made it clear that much dishonesty had taken place. That is why young Sujeeva tried to stop it being published by going to Court’.
Thereafter the COPE Committee headed by MP, Sunil Handunnetti, commenced investigations. ‘In fact the original investigations were stymied, and Sunil was only able to proceed in 2016, so that we could perpetrate an even greater scam before COPE could report. That is how Ravi stopped the state banks bidding as they wanted to, and ensured in March that young Aloysius got even more bonds at high rates. Meanwhile I tried to keep Mahendran on even though the Auditor General issued a damning report about him. I wanted to get rid of the Auditor General then, but realized that that would not be possible, since the President had stopped following my instructions by then.’
Through the COPE Committee too, investigations continued into this incident. On October 28, 2016 the COPE Committee report was tabled in parliament. Subsequently, on January 24, 2017 this was debated in parliament. ‘You will noted that this took nearly three months, thanks to the obsequious behavior of the Speaker whom I have now tamed completely. This is a great achievement given that in the old days he thought he could challenge me.’
Meanwhile, on October 31, 2016, this report and the special Audit report presented to the COPE Committee by the Auditor General were both forwarded to the Attorney General by me through the Speaker’s Secretary. Subsequently, through the Prime Minister’s Secretary, I sought the advice of the Attorney General on whether the Central Bank Officers had committed some fraudulent activity and acted beyond their delegated responsibilities, if the Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran should be held responsible, and if so what the legal measures are that could be taken against them, based on the recommendations of the COPE Committee. ‘I had appointed someone I could rely on to the post of Attorney General so I had nothing to fear, as I thought then, though I realize as with Sirisena that even worms will turn. But it is good that I can now claim that I acted, even though I knew that nothing would come of it’.
Accordingly, the AG has appointed a special committee comprising members of the Attorney General’s Department to act in this regard. The Attorney General had notified us in writing in this regard.
Further the Central Bank Governor notified me that there was suspicion of misappropriation of funds of the EPF. Hence, I notified the Central Bank Governor to seek the advice of the AG and conduct an inquiry. Accordingly, the Central Bank Governor had conducted an investigation and on June 09, 2017, handed over its report to the Auditor General. ‘The only misappropriation that has been proven is what happened under Mahendran, but I will continue to confuse everyone, not least myself, by claiming that there was fraud previously’.
In addition, I inquired in writing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on the Treasury bond issuance mechanism and of the losses incurred by the Central Bank bond issuance. However, they notified me that they were not aware of an internationally accepted mechanism to determine a previously issued bond auction loss. They said the losses or gains are determined by the market factors on the particular day that the bond auction was held. I have tabled a copy of the letter sent by the World Bank Sri Lanka Director on December 07, 2016. ‘Actually we all knew this, and that is why assessments are not perfect, but as the Auditor General made clear, the loss was colossal. The profits Aloysisus made were more than I expected when I agreed to the first heist, but he has after all shared them, and not only with Ravi, which is why my minions will continue to defend me to the hilt, and why I cannot afford a change of government since evidence is clear with regard to my government’s crookedness even though I cannot find anything concrete about the last lot’.
Since March 2015, our government has taken appropriate measures regarding this issue. All details have been submitted to the Parliament, COPE Committee and the Attorney General’s Office. In addition the President appointed a special commission, which uncovered further details. Now the report has been submitted to the Attorney General. ‘It is true nothing happened until the President acted, and I could have kept everything under wraps, but now that things have come out I will pretend that I also wanted action’.
Meanwhile, on November 07, 2016 the Monetary Board issued an order limiting the operations of Perpetual Treasures Pvt. Ltd and prevented the company’s funds from being taken out. ‘This was long after the scam happened, but we needed a bit more so they had to be allowed to continue in action with Arjuna Mahendran’s support – and now Ravi Karunanayake’s also – and make lots more money, as they did in March 2016.’ On July 06, 2017, all their business activities were banned. On January 05, 2018 the ban on Perpetual Treasuries was further extended by six months. Accordingly, Rs. 12 billion of Perpetual Treasuries is being held in the custody of the Central Bank. According to the Presidential Commission report, the loss inflicted on the Central Bank in this transaction is Rs. 11 billion. ‘And I will continue to claim that they made more before that, even though I have absolutely no evidence for that claim’. Now what remains to be done is for the Attorney General to initiate the required legal action in order to recover the losses caused to the government through this transaction. Through this the government too could recover any losses incurred.
This is the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that such an investigation was carried out in a fair, unbiased and expeditious manner. This is a very complex investigation process. This is a special victory for the government we established on January 08, 2015. We were able to once again bring the country’s financial control under the supervision of the parliament, after ten years. During the past, parliament was unaware of any such transactions. To say the least, not even the relevant ministers nor responsible officers were aware of certain transactions. But, fortunately we were able to change that situation. ‘I am ignoring the fact that such issues were discussed in COPE, since actually apart from Eran none of the UNP members spent much time at COPE, and it was the government members who took the lead in quizzing officials. But I made sure that we scuttled the Amendments to Standing Orders approved at the time of the last government, to make it mandatory for Ministries to act according to COPE recommendations, or else explain in writing why they could not.’
The President further stated that it was noted in the Presidential Commission report that an investigation was necessary to scrutinise the financial misappropriations of the Treasury bond issuances during 2008 to 2014. I have advised the relevant units to investigate these embezzlement expeditiously and take measures to punish the perpetrators. ‘This is for me the main problem, and I still hope to get some dirt on Cabraal even though all investigations thus far have drawn a blank, and even my beloved Pitipana who was specifically asked to get Cabraal failed to do so’.
The majority of the bond issuances during the period 2008 to 2014 were done as direct private placements. There was absolutely no transparency. During this period bonds to the tune of Rs. 5,147,751,210,000 had been issued while of this amount bonds to the tune of Rs. 4,702,232,210,000 had been issued as direct private placements. None of these transactions had received the approval of the Monetary Board. ‘I am ignoring the fact that Mahendran claimed, with no authority from the Monetary Board, to have changed the system to only auctions (and auctions without the amount properly advertised so that only his son-in-law bid), on my orders. After all I am the Prime Minister, so why should he have consulted the Monetary Board when I ordered him to get the money we wanted’.
The Finance Minister at the time should make a statement in parliament regarding this matter. We the representatives of the people, as well as the general public have the right to know about these transactions.
We continuously worked towards strengthening the financial control of the parliament. We have constantly reported to parliament on the country’s financial status. Following that same policy, I reported all matters to parliament. ‘
I intend to discuss with the Chairman of the parliamentary Public Finance Committee regarding the bond issuances during the period 2008 to 2014. It is indeed surprising that the COPE Committee had approved of the Central Bank financial reports during that period. ‘There were lots of my minions on COPE at the time, and I am very angry that they said nothing, but I suppose they did not know that this would be my only defence about the thefts my lot engaged in’.
Today the Treasury bond issue has become a political issue. This bond issue has become a fine goldmine for the various media, political parties and mudslinging factories. Some claim that due to the Treasury bond issue the country’s interest rates had increased, while others claim that the dollar rate had gone up. But let’s not get mislead by all these mudslinging campaigns and seek the truth. By uncovering the truth let’s take the appropriate measures. ‘And let us ignore the clear evidence, cited by the Auditor General nearly two years back, as well as by the Commission, about the massive losses to the country and to government institutions’.
As I have reiterated, the President and I are committed to establishing a new political culture in this country. This is a new experience that is complex and hard for those parties who attack each other in political vengeance, to fathom. As the experience is unfamiliar, there could be inadequacies and wrongs that occur, but we must correct them and move forward. ‘But god knows what the President is up to, having ignored my advice and got rid of Mahendran’.
However, no matter what, we are not prepared to sweep everything under the carpet and trample the rule of law, as the previous regime did. We are not prepared to bury social equality. ‘And of course allowing Aloysius to make millions and provide Ravi with a penthouse in the style he is accustomed to will promote social equity. I would have myself swept all that under the carpet, but since I have to work with this ungrateful creature Sirisena, let me also take some credit for his decisions’.
On January 08 we inherited a country that was caught up in a debt trap. A country that has no law would engulf in corruption and fraud. A country kept in fear over state terrorism.
President Maithripala Sirisena, myself and our government have steered the country on a different path. That path is arduous and treacherous. But we are committed to establish a just and democratic country evading all potholes and booby-traps obstructing our path. ‘And the ones we set for ourselves were unavoidable given our own debts. That is why we have now increased the debt burden of the country, but the UNP and all our friends have no more debts and have lots of money to spend on elections, which we did not have before’