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Parliament

‘MR’s driver encashed cheques worth millions’

Deputy Minister Nalin Bandara yesterday said FCID investigations have revealed that cheques worth millions have been encashed by a driver of the ex-president Rajapaksa.

He said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has fled to Singapore to dodge the adjournment debate on the New York Times report alleging that USD 7.6 BN payment has been done by the China Harbour Company to Rajapaksa’s Presidential election campaign in 2015. He said that the disciples of Rajapaksa are trying every possible method to ruin the adjournment debate.

“A complain is lodged against one Sarath Dissanayake, the driver, who has encashed a cheque worth Rs. 12 BN. Then this money was distributed among officers during the Presidential election time. I have four cheques each valued Rs. 25 MN with me right now. Two cheques worth Rs. 250 MN each have been encashed via a sub account belonging to the China Harbour Company. Another two cheques worth Rs. 250 MN each, have been encashed at the Standard Chartered Bank,” Deputy Minister Bandara said.

“An employee of Temple Trees called Hewa Madiwela has accepted this money. He was not alive now. We suspect his death too. It has been reported that his family is very poor. You have to answer these questions. Or perhaps they have used an already dead person as a decoy and arrange a set up,” Bandara said.

Deputy Minister Bandara said they would not allow anyone to evade these allegations. He said the sum of money in question is humongous. “This is over 7 billion we are talking about. Only 9 BN was spent to build the Lotus Tower,” he said.

Referring to the shortage of JO members present at the House, Deputy Minister Bandara said that JO MPs should have flocked into the House to defend their leader and clear him out of the allegation.

“No need to panic about this now. Tell Mahinda Rajapaksa to come and answer these allegations. There is no point attacking the MP who moved this adjournment motion. You cannot cover up these corrupted actions by hiding behind standing orders. MP Dinesh Gunawardena is also trying to protect thieves,” Bandara said.


‘Mattala Airport will be made active within five years’

The Government is discussing with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to develop the Mattala International Airport as a joint venture and make it an active airport in the region within five years, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said.

The minister in response to Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake briefed Parliament yesterday the proposed joint venture and undertook to present the draft agreement to the House before inking it.

The minister said the stakes of the joint company to be formed to operate the Mattala Airport would be 70 per cent to the Indian Airport Authority and 30 per cent to the Sri Lankan Government.

He said the Government has laid several preconditions for the venture. “The first precondition is that the AAI should agree with the Government Chief Valuer’s estimation for the 70 per cent stake and should pay the total amount. The airport can only be used for commercial purposes and it cannot be used for any military purposes. The air navigation must only be carried out by the locals and no foreigner can involve in that work. The airport security must be handled by the Air Force and the Airport staff. The fire extinguishing and emergency operations are also handled by the locals,” the minister said.

The minister said the jobs of 574 workers in the airport will be assured. He said it has been included as a precondition.

The minister said a business plan was requested from the AAI detailing how the airport will be turned around as an active airport within five years. The minister said the agreement with the AAI would be done aboveboard. He said amending the Civil Aviation Act is necessary before inking it as the legislation does not allow majority shares of any airport to be held by a foreign party. “This amendment will come to Parliament. Its approval is necessary to go forward in this venture. If you all object, the amendment will not pass. We have nothing to hide here,” the minister said.

The minister said the massive loans obtained to construct the Mattala International Airport are paid by the profits of the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. He said this could not be done for long.

“We need to turn around the airport into a profit making venture. I presented a Cabinet memorandum on December 1, 2015 proposing to call for investment proposals from interested parties, local or foreign. There had been six minor proposals but they were inadequate. When I went to China with the Prime Minister, we invited Chinese investors, but none showed interest. However, Airports Authority of India expressed interest and I informed this to the Cabinet. A Technical Evaluation Committee and the Negotiation Committee were appointed and discussions are now carried forward,” the minister said.

MEP Leader Dinesh Gunwardena questioned the minister whether he agrees that there was a necessity of a second international airport in Sri Lanka. Minister Siripala replied affirmatively. Minister Kabir Hashim questioned him why the previous regime could not make it a commercially viable venture if there had been such a necessity.

MP Anura Dissanayake, raising a question under the Standing Order 27 (2), said the Government should retain the ownership of the Mattala Airport as it is important to the country’s security and economy. He said that giving it to a foreign entity would risk the country’s sovereignty.


Media tarnishing my reputation: Fonseka

Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, denying the allegations levelled against him by the Joint Opposition that he has connection with the underworld, said the media reports on him must be part of a political agenda.

Displaying a photograph of four persons to the House, Minister Fonseka said the person behind the media report is someone who has connections with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“The person in a yellow shirt did this media report. The one standing next to him in an orange shirt is your leader. The other one is a bodyguard,” Minister Fonseka said showing the photograph to the House.

“So it is very obvious that this reporter has a political agenda,” the Minister said.

“The photograph was taken at former President Rajapaksa’s official residence at Wijerama Mawatha after the recent Local Government Elections,” Minister Fonseka said.

Minister Fonseka urged the President, Prime Minister, Speaker and the Law and Order Minister to investigate the violence inflicted upon the public by certain law enforcement officers with political backing. Fonseka said several of his political supporters were taken into custody alleging that they are drug dealers. “Law enforcement authorities cannot go around acting like underworld gangs. Police, military and the STF are dignified services. They cannot act as irresponsible entities. Such actions must be investigated,”the Minister said.

Minister Fonseka said the allegation against him that he has underworld gang members for his security tarnishes the image of officers providing him security. “I get State security. I have 18 officers for my security. Among them are four inspectors and five STF officers. They have a reputation to maintain. They are respectable . Allegations such as these ruin their image,” he said.


Government funded British MP’s holidays in Sri Lanka:

Bimal calls for investigation

JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake yesterday (19) urged for an investigation on the British MP who faced a 30-day suspension after he failed to declare the details of two family holidays he spent in 2013 along with his family, paid for by the Sri Lankan government. Rathnayake requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya that Foreign Ministry should conduct this investigation.

Rathnayake, joining the Adjournment Debate on the recent New York Times report on a payment of 7.6 BN USD by a Chinese company to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidential Election Campaign, brought attention of the House on a news article published on the BBC international website on the same day.

According to this article, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley may be forced to step down from his post due to the failure to clear his name.

“He may have to face a by-election after being found to have breached parliamentary rules. The MP faces a 30-day suspension after he failed to declare the details of two family holidays in 2013 paid for by the Sri Lankan government.”

According to the article, Paisley and his family had spent two holidays spending Pounds 100,000 in Sri Lanka in 2013 funded by the Sri Lankan government.

“Paisley had flew in business class, stayed in the finest hotels and was provided with a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, all paid for by the Sri Lankan government,”the article said.

“The problem is who gave this MP that money and under whose authority it was done? It has been said that the Sri Lankan government gave him that holidays in return to promoting Sri Lanka. But we cannot see any result out of that so called deal. The Speaker and the Foreign Affairs Ministry should launch an investigation into this matter,” Rathnayake said.


Taking money from Chinese Company for MR’s election campaign:

‘Betrayal of country, not financial corruption’

Highway and Higher Education Minister Kabir Hashim said the government consider the alleged payments made by the China Harbour Engineering Company to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign in 2015 not as a financial corruption but as a betrayal of the country and urged for a complete investigation into the allegations made by New York Times report in this regard.

“This serious allegation is levelled against a person and a group who present themselves as the saviours of the country. They call themselves patriots. Accepting bribes from a foreign company puts the sovereignty of the country at risk. We take this act not as a financial corruption but as an act of betrayal,” Minister Hashim said.

Minister Hashim said it was unfortunate that former President Rajapaksa not coming forward to answer the allegations levelled against him. “Instead, the JO MPs are trying to disrupt this debate. Unlike this, when our government had to face the allegations against the Treasury Bond issue, we faced the debate and proved our innocence,” he said.

Minister Hashim said it was the present government and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who bettered the agreement between China and Sri Lanka on the Hambantota Port.

“Immediately before the 2015 Presidential Election, came another document called the Key Term Agreement. This came in September 2014. Ten days before the election, cheques worth USD 7.6 BN had been given out via a sub account of this China Harbour Company. Fortunately for the country, they were not able to receive the Cabinet approval for this agreement. So we were able to cancel this secret agreement and sign a new agreement beneficial for the country.” Minister Hashim said.

Referring to the Concessionary Framework Agreement on Hambantota Port signed in 2012, Minister Hashim said 50 acres surrounding the Hambantota Port were sold to China for just 1 US dollar.

If this agreement was by any chance activated, Sri Lanka Navy would not have been able to access the Hambantota Port, he said. Then Finance Ministry Secretary P.B. Jayasundara signed this agreement on behalf of the government, he said. Minister Hashim said China Harbour Company with whom the previous government signed the Hambantota, MOUs is not a terminal operator.

“They were only a contractor. The present company we have signed the agreement with, is the second best terminal operator of the world,” he said.


Expert Panel Report on constitutional reforms will be discussed with PM

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he would discuss with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Steering Committee Chairman, the issues cropped up on the Expert Panel report on the constitutional reforms.

Heated arguments were exchanged in Parliament yesterday over the discussion paper of the Constitutional Amendments prepared by the Expert Panel.

The Steering Committee, when it met on Wednesday, had rejected the discussion paper prepared by the Expert Panel as it was revealed that it lacked unanimous agreement of the panel. The 10-member Expert Panel has been asked to meet again and arrive at a consensus on the discussion paper.

Minister Kabir Hashim said the House that the draft of the constitutional amendments will be presented only after a broad discussion to accommodate the opinions of all parties involved in its making.

‘SLFP Group of 16’ MP Dayasiri Jayasekara brought to the attention of the House that the Expert Panel had been divided on its report and that four of its 10 members had not signed it. “Only Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, M. A. Sumanthiran and Suren Fernando had involved in the drafting of the constitutional amendments. This was said by the expert committee members. A conspiracy has been hatched to remove the President through the constitutional amendments. A provision has been included for the first time allowing the Prime Minister, Speaker and the Opposition Leader to remove the President if all the three agree. We are not ready to support any constitution making to fulfill the narrow political motives of several individuals,” he charged.

Joint Opposition MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage accused that a signature of an Expert Committee member had been forged in the report. “This member had not come to Sri Lanka for six months now. He is overseas, but the report submitted yesterday contained his signature,” he noted.


‘Previous regime’s large projects, loans ruined our country’

The country has lost its economic and political independence due to economically nonviable large-scale projects of the previous regime and the massive loans and commissions obtained to construct them, Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.

The JVP leader said the damage the country suffers in long-term due to those projects, loans and commissions is much larger than the colossal sum of money hoarded by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the pretext of the Presidential Election campaign.

Presenting a series of cheque numbers, their dates and names of persons who encashed them, MP Dissanayake said former President Rajapaksa had received nearly Rs. 198 million from the China Harbour Engineering Company Limited on the verge of January 8, 2015 polls.

He said the China Machinery Engineering Corporation, the company that constructed the Norochcholai Power Plant, had given Rs. 1.29 million to D. S. Abeysinghe, close associate of former MP Sarana Gunawardena. A share of this money was said to be spent on election propaganda campaign of the former President. He said former President Rajapaksa had also received Rs. 105 million from local road construction companies on the verge of 2015 presidential polls. “Recently, there was controversy over PTL buying the MPs. Now we see that the Chinese companies with their commissions had bought even the State leaders,” he said.

MP Dissanayake detailing on the CICT payment of Rs. 19.4 million made to the Pushpa Rajapaksa Foundation owned by former Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s wife, said this sum has been accounted as an expenditure of the CICT, and therefore when the term of contract ends, the Sri Lankan Government is bound to repay it to the company as per the contract agreement.

“China has 85 percent stake of the CICT, which operates the Colombo South jetty, while the Ports Authority holds 15 percent stake. When we get back the jetty after 35 years from 2012, we have to pay the sum of money the company had made to Pushpa Rajapaksa Foundation as well. It is ironic that the people who involved in this kind of serious frauds and corruption are clamouring of patriotism today. They are pointing finger at financial frauds of the government,” he said.

He said the feasibility report of the Mattala Airport contains false statistics. “It says the airport will make 30,000 flights per year and 150,000 MT of goods. In contrary, the airport since its opening in 2013 has so far not been able to make at least 100 flights and 10 MT of goods had not been exchanged through it,” he said.

He said that when China funded the Hambantota Port, it had the presumption that it can own it after the construction.

“These projects did not tally with the country’s economic strategy. Ultimately, the country’s economic independence hangs in balance. Only those who depend on the Rajapaksa family for their political survival can cover up this kind of serious financial crimes. They are just puppets dancing to the tune of Rajapaksa,” he said.


JO attempts to hamper NYT report debate twice

The Joint Opposition members tried to hamper the debate on New York Times’ report twice yesterday by raising the question of lack of quorum of 20 MPs in Parliament while the debate was on.

The debate abruptly ended an hour before the scheduled time as there was no quorum. The JO MP Indika Anuruddha stood up and said that there was no quorum to continue the debate when UNP MP Wijepala Hettiarachchi was speaking at around 6.45pm.

UNP MP Heshan Vithanage, who chaired the House at that moment, ordered to ring the quorum bell to summon parliamentarians. However, only nine MPs were remained in the Chamber after five minutes of the quorum bell. Therefore, the Chair announced that the sitting would be adjourned until today. Several JO MPs who were present in the chamber at that time, were seen deliberately leaving the chamber when the quorum bell went off.


‘TBC panelist’s daughter worked at Temple Trees during its proceeding’

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, raising a conflict of interest concern, yesterday alleged that a panelist of the Treasury Bond Commission (TBC) had a daughter working at Temple Trees while the Commission proceeded. Dissanayake said it was a serious matter.

“Many allegations surfaced after the Bond Commission report came out. One was of controversial telephone conversations. Another was of cheque transactions. The latest is of a Commission member having a daughter working at Temple Trees while the commission inquiries were going on,” he said.

Dissanayake inquired about certain documents which were not handed over to Parliament along with the Bond Commission report. He said the second debate on the Bond Commission report and the PRECIFAC report delayed. The first debate on the two reports was held on February 6. The second debate was postponed due to technical difficulties. According to the Attorney General, several documents which are not annexed to the Bond report are confidential.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the party leaders have agreed to wait until all the documents which not annexed to the Bond Commission report are submitted to Parliament to table them. Speaker Jayasuriya said the new Secretary to the President was taking necessary steps with regard to the matter.


 

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