affecting the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament reached
boiling point twice last week with twin incidents on Wednesday.
was when Minister Rauf Hakeem who heads the PAC came under a blistering attack
by many opposition legislators, with one claiming his privileges were violated
as a PAC member, due to non implementation of a collective decision taken by the
was showdown later in the day when Hakeem who wished to raise the same matter
with the President in his capacity as Minister of Finance, was literally shown
the door. The man however stood his ground.
COPE - giant
real issue that plagues the PAC is not the man at the helm of PAC affairs per se
but what he has failed to do in furtherance of the PAC cause. There is no
dispute that the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) has taken giant strides
due to the able chairmanship of Wijedasa Rajapakse who has together with his
team proved that parliamentary committees could actually be of true service and
something the public can be proud of.
But the PAC
in contrast suffers from a malady. The thorny issue that has the opposition
demanding Hakeem be replaced by another as PAC head is due to an inability to
implement a collective decision taken on October 11 to request Finance Ministry
Secretary, Dr. P. B. Jayasundera to send Inland Revenue Chief, A.A. Wijepala on
compulsory leave until investigations with regard to the VAT scam are completed.
however was to explain that he had to first gather all the available material
and Hansard reports before implementing the decision to ensure everything was in
There is no
dispute that it is the correct procedure to conduct inquiries after sending a
public servant on compulsory leave but the rule, strangely enough does not
appear to apply to this official.
instance, there is a further need to do so as the Rs. 4 billion VAT scam
occurred during Inland Revenue Commissioner General, A. A. Wijepala's tenure.
Secondly, the PAC members, irrespective of their hues collectively accept that
some of the Inland Revenue Department files relating to the VAT scam had gone
missing and fear that more would disappear if the status quo were maintained.
members raise serious concerns about investigations being affected if the
incumbent head continues in his position, which is a legitimate worry.
It is here
that they question Hakeem's reluctance to fire a letter to Jayasundera
recommending compulsory leave for Wijepala. Hakeem however was to set out his
position in cabinet last week.
The VAT scam
amounting to more than Rs. 4 billion, the PAC does believe has been the biggest
tax fraud committed in Sri Lanka's history.
conducted its own inquiries based on the Auditor General's report and met nine
times during this year to study the report in detail and made recommendations.
Eventually on October 11 it was decided that the current department chief should
not stay as it could impede the investigation process.
inside sources, the reluctance to send the letter to Jayasundera was due to
mounting pressure on Hakeem that the PAC too was about to follow the COPE route
- which means, an embarrassment to the government with its own officials being
hauled before committees to explain their conduct.
succinctly put to parliament last week by Wimal Weerawansa who made a casual
remark about the LTTE.
He said the
LTTE was hell bent on destroying Sri Lanka's economic targets and this they did
through violent means. Some of the government officials, charged with the duty
to protect state property and to prevent abuse and corruption too have resorted
to similar conduct. "They too attack our economic targets and all one has to do
is to take a look at the VAT scam," he noted.
reasons best known to him, Hakeem has been delaying the sending of the required
letter which has only earned him the wrath of his own committee members.
the JVP's Wasantha Samarasinghe, the best course of action is for the Minister
to resign from his post, as he is obliged to toe the government line as a
position, the PAC Chairman has objected, demanding that if unhappy with his
chairmanship, a substantive motion should be brought against him without making
But the real
problem that retards the PAC flows as an indirect consequence of the vibrant
functioning of COPE under Wijedasa Rajapakse, according to inside sources.
sources claim that the government was thoroughly unhappy with the
recommendations of COPE - such as perpetrators to be referred to the Permanent
Commission Investigating into Allegations of Bribery and Corruption.
visible through Hakeem's reluctance is actually the government's inability to
adopt a stance to crackdown on those who have been liberal with public funds.
The course chosen by the government is to play the role of protector where these
corrupt officials are concerned, hence the unhappiness with regard to COPE's
performance and now PAC's similar performance.
It is then
government policy to shield those who rob the nation than to sue the
parliamentary committee system to bring them to book.
Minister Hakeem has also promised to produce the PAC interim report in three
weeks - an insurmountable task, given the fact that many a PAC's transcribed
reports have not been delivered to Hakeem by the Hansard Department.
His task is
made further difficult by the battle that now rages with the Head of State
openly clashing with the PAC Chairman over the decision to have the Inland
Revenue Chief sent on compulsory leave, as per PAC decision.
is also plagued by the moral dilemma of having a cabinet minister to head it.
It would be
in the best interest of all parties, especially the members of the public if
Minister Hakeem chooses to let go than hold a double-edged sword. It would
require him not to compromise his government position and would also not make
the PAC function below potential.
highest traditions of parliament, the UNP in 2002 appointed two opposition
legislators as COPE and PAC chairman. It is an example best emulated by others.
According to Section 125 of the Standing Orders of Parliament, the Public
Accounts Committee (PAC) is designated to include 12 members who are to be
nominated by a Committee of Selection.
According to the parliamentary rules, the PAC's duty is to examine the
accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by parliament to meet
public expenditure and such other accounts laid before the house as the
committee considers fit, along with the reports of the Auditor General.
Likewise, the committee was expected to report to parliament from time to
time on the accounts examined, the finances, procedures, performance and
management generally of a department, local authority and on any matter
committee may appoint sub committees when it considers such action necessary
consisting of its own members to examine and report on all accounts and the
finances and management of such departments, local authorities as the
committee may direct.
committee or any of its sub committees shall for the performance of its
duties have the power to summon any person and call for and examine any
paper, book, record or other document and to have access to stored property.
shirk duty - Hakeem
Minister Rauf Hakeem in parliament last Wednesday denied shirking his
responsibility as PAC Chairman by failing to give expression to a PAC
decision on October 11 requesting the Finance Secretary to send Inland
Revenue Chief, A. A. Wijepala on compulsory leave.
that despite the decision, he did not write to the secretary communicating
the decision, as he wanted to first make representations to the Finance
Minister as the Inland Revenue Department came under his purview with a view
to following the correct procedure.
Promising an interim report in three weeks time, he said that it was getting
delayed as the Hansard Department was yet to complete transcribing the audio
records of the PAC sessions.
accept the accusations levelled against the Commissioner General, Inland
Revenue Department are true. In no way have I shirked my duty as PAC
Chairman and I remain bound by the collective decision to send a letter
communicating our decision," he noted.
that he was being hurried and harried but nothing could be done in an
also requested the Speaker to open the PAC and COPE sessions to the media to
prevent committee members from attempting to score brownie points by running
to the media with bits of information.
attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact the Minister to obtain a comment
involved should be sent on compulsory leave - Samarasinghe
Parliamentarian Wasantha Samarasinghe on Wednesday alleged that his
parliamentary privileges were breached as a PAC member due to a collective
decision not being implemented by PAC Chairman, Minister Rauf Hakeem.
Samarasinghe alleged that Hakeem has failed to implement the decision
perhaps because he also holds a cabinet portfolio.
has a change of heart
October 11, the PAC members took a collective decision to send the CGIR on
compulsory leave until investigations into the VAT scam are completed. Even
the Additional Secretary to the Treasury was present at the occasion and he
too agreed and requested the PAC Chairman to send the letter to Treasury
Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera. But all of a sudden the Chairman has had a
change of heart and is requesting for time to draft the letter. He is
clearly in the grips of this government," said Samarasinghe.
Samarasinghe told The Sunday Leader that there were more suspects that were
part and parcel of the VAT scam and they too should be sent on compulsory
leave to carry out investigations as required by procedure.
files missing - Jayasekara
Minister Hakeem of deliberately taking time to send the Commissioner General
Inland Revenue (CGIR) on compulsory leave MP Dayasiri Jayasekara noted that
as long as the incumbent chief was retained in the position, there was no
chance of an impartial inquiry.
reluctance to send the letter is questionable. It is a collective decision
he is bound to give expression to and there is no need to consult all kinds
of ministers to do that," he charged.
According to Jayasekara, the very presence of the Inland Revenue chief in
the top post worked against the investigation process.
"Following the arrest of two other officers, Ambepitiya and Jayathilake,
Inland Revenue Chief Wijepala was quick to take some protective action and
sought an order from the Treasury Secretary to put an end to criminal
investigations. Now it is learnt that many of the vital files on the VAT
scam are missing," added Jayasekara.
Jayasekara alleged although Ambepitiya and Jayathilake were in custody both
were still being paid their full salary on a directive by the CGIR. "In a
country that the law is strictly enforced on the innocent and vulnerable
people, the very opposite applies to the high and mighty. If a peon robs a
mere Rs.50 he will be removed immediately and until he is cleared from the
investigations, deprived of all the dues. But these two get special
treatment," he alleged.
that it was hilarious to note the Inland Revenue Department putting up a
notice titled 'We are funding Rs.400 million for the Moragahakanda project.'
"What are they trying to prove? It is a corrupt place and the entire country
knows it by now. The Inland Revenue Department has to collect taxes and not
fund projects. This clearly shows that this department is highly politicised,"
valid point, Jayasekara noted that the post of PAC chairman was offered to
Hakeem while he was an opposition MP. "He is now a government member and
naturally his prime duty is to protect the government's interest. The right
thing would be for him to hand over the post to a member who does not have
such limitations. We need someone who could take the PAC forward like
Wijedasa Rajapakse does with COPE," he added.
chairman under pressure? - Premachandran
delay in giving expression to the PAC decision hints at a strong possibility
of the PAC Chairman who is also a government minister being brought under
serious pressure, noted TNA Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran.
JVP and the UNP have collectively recommended the sending of the
Commissioner General of Inland Revenue (CGIR) on compulsory leave. We want
to know why the PAC Chairman is delaying sending this letter. We also want
to know whether he is under any kind of pressure, hence the obvious
reluctance?" asked Premachandran.
MP told The Sunday Leader that as a result of retaining the same person as
the head of the institution, investigations are likely to be impeded. "We
would also like to know whether the government wants to keep him throughout
investigation, and that would lead to a real dilemma," added Premachandran.
Hell hath no fury like a m inister exposed
Arthur Brought to court in Handcuffs by
the prison authorities for the bail hearing
and (inset) Mano Wijeratne
CID stoops so low to bring racism to the court house
Magistrate Jayasena reprimands CID for frivolous statements
Magistrate warns of dangerous trend if journalists
arrested on a minister's word
Documents prove Mano got Barathi's bill paid by Gem Authority
By Shelton De Alwis Seneviratne
young Arthur Wamanan Sornalingam know as he entered the Tamil stream of his alma
mater S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia 18 years ago, that one day in a court
house, his language would be made the basis of his incarceration.
the young journalist guess that in the country of his birth there would come a
time so cursed that his race would be submitted as a basis for arrest.
not to know as he grew up along the coastline of Mount Lavinia that one day a
black era would dawn where being a Tamil would almost constitute a crime.
senior CID officials without a blush of shame on their jowls of modesty
submitted reasons why young Arthur Wamanan should not be granted bail. His
parents they said are Tamil and have connections to the north having been born
in the north. And for good measure they said Arthur lived in the Wellawatte area
leaving the rest to the imagination of the court.
did it become a crime to be born in the north and east or anywhere else in the
country? CID officials however obviously felt that by this utterance they had an
open and shut case.
A few good men
We said it
before and we will say it again. If there lies any hope for the people of this
country, that hope lies within the judiciary. All a nation on the brink of an
abyss of despair needs is a few good men and women. All this country needs to
rid itself of this culture of barbarism and impunity is an upright and
independent judiciary coupled with public outcry.
(26) the Mount Lavinia Courts saw justice in action.
Magistrate's Court in ordering bail for The Sunday Leader journalist Arthur
Wamanan, castigated senior CID officials, observing that keeping the journalist
in remand would be unreasonable and unjust.
Wamanan was unlawfully arrested last week on October 24 by the CID on the basis
of an uncorroborated statement made by Enterprise Development Minister Mano
Wijeratne that Wamanan on Friday (19) evening had demanded Rs. 5 million from
him to be paid by Saturday (20) 12 noon not to publish an article.
referred to an international roaming mobile telephone bill amounting to Rs.
80,717.98 paid by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority. The telephone was
registered in Minister Mano Wijeratne's current wife's name, Bharathi D.
Wijeratne. Bharathi is the Consul for Turkey in Sri Lanka.
however, giving lie to the Minister's statement, the article in question was
already in print by late Friday night, in time to dispatch the first edition of
the newspaper to the outstations on Saturday morning.
The 22 year
old Arthur Wamanan works in the investigations desks of The Sunday Leader
newspaper. A Thomian, the young journalist is quiet and pleasant by nature, an
ardent music fan and sings in the church choir as a matter of practice. Wamanan
is about the same age perhaps as President Rajapakse's own son, Namal. They may
have even crossed paths down the corridors of that august Anglican institution
in which President Rajapakse thought it fit to school his sons. The only
difference? Wamanan was in the Tamil stream.
also about the same age but less feisty perhaps than Bharathi Wijeratne's son
from a previous marriage - Rehan Jayawickrema. Rehan, though now in an
Australian university lives with Bharathi and her current husband, Mano. Rehan
runs interestingly enough, with the Malaka Silva brat pack.
Be that as
it may Chief Magistrate, Mount Lavinia, Ayeshani Jayasena lectured senior CID
officials at length in open court saying the media was already under pressure
and that further incarceration of the young reporter would send the wrong signal
to the public.
could be termed one of the boldest independent judgments in recent times, in the
backdrop of widely reported attempts by the highest in the land to influence the
judiciary and the police in many politically motivated cases, Magistrate
Jayasena was to tell the police they must come into court expecting to treat all
Jayasena after listening to the lengthy submissions made by the CID was to ask
if they had any evidence other than the Minister's statement to corroborate the
Minister's allegations to which they replied in the negative.
Jayasena commented from the bench that if the CID were to arrest persons and
have them remanded merely on the statement of another person without sufficient
evidence it would send a bad signal to the rest of society.
her comments on the CID insisting that Wamanan be remanded further, Magistrate
Jayasena was to draw frightening parallels. She referred to the case where
persons had gone into the office of the Zoological Gardens Director in Dehiwela
and beaten him up observing that even though this was a very serious case the
police had thought it fit to release the suspects on police bail.
the police to treat everyone with an even hand she however stated that the CID
may continue their investigations uninhibited and any other information could be
taken up during the hearing of the case. The case will be called on November 30,
Here is the
Wamanan was handed a set of documents by his supervising editor Dilrukshi
Handunnetti regarding the payment by the Gem and Jewellery Authority of Mano
Wijeratne's wife's telephone bill. In the best traditions of journalism Arthur
was advised to call Mano Wijeratne for his side of the story and his comments.
to call several times on The Sunday Leader phone but was unable to connect to
Minister Wijeratne who seemed to be cutting off his phone. As it was felt that
Wijeratne could have been avoiding the call because he could identify The Sunday
Leader phone number Arthur was to now try the Minister on his (Arthur's) private
then spoke to Arthur, gave his comments, and also told the Journalist he knew
from where The Sunday Leader had got the story.
minutes later the Minister was to call Arthur on his mobile phone and ask for
his name, which Arthur readily gave him as he had nothing to hide. Arthur then
handed the story to his immediate desk head, Editor Investigations, Dilrukshi
Handunnetti for publication and went home.
edited the copy and sent it for final approval to the Editor in Chief, The
Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge. The copy was duly passed and went in for
printing late Friday night to the wee hours of Saturday morning.
edition of the newspaper is printed by Saturday morning for distribution to the
Mano Wijeratne's comments and explanation together with the story appeared on
page one with a continuation on page two of The Sunday Leader newspaper of
October 24, both in the first and the late city editions of the newspaper.
For the sake
of argument let us now take Mano Wijeratne's absurd allegation merely made in
order to deflect attention from himself on board. Consider these things.
(1) As his
own brother, former Diyawadana Nilame Niranjan Wijeratne in a voluntary
statement made to this newspaper group said, who would believe that Rs. 5
million would be asked for a story which spoke of a telephone bill of Rs.
80,000. Mind you even his own brother calling this newspaper by his own volition
expressed disgust at his brother's behaviour saying he had brought shame to the
Obviously Mano Wijeratne is not familiar with the deadlines in a newspaper. When
concocting his tale he forgot like all liars to check his facts. Therefore he
accused Arthur of demanding from him Rs. 5 million to be paid before Saturday,
12 noon. Little did he know how quickly he would be exposed.
own editor Dilrukshi was present during Arthur's entire conversation with the
had no control of whether the article would be published or otherwise, that
being the prerogative of a chief editor of a newspaper.
(c ) The
article was also already in print by Friday late night and Arthur as a
journalist in this institution knows the procedure very well even though he as a
young and talented journalist has no control of it.
Wijeratne claims that one Arthur claiming to be from The Sunday Leader newspaper
called him demanding money. Wijeratne in fact called back to verify the name.
However at no time despite the severity of the offence or the enormity of the
sum allegedly demanded did Wijeratne think it fit to call the proprietors of The
likes the newspaper or not, Wijeratne, who states some person claiming to be
from The Sunday Leader attempted to extort money from him, should have made an
attempt to contact the Editor in Chief, senior journalists or the chairman of
the newspaper group. He failed to do that.
perhaps most vital is the fact that Mano Wijeratne was to wait till the article
was published, mind you with his comments, his defence and explanation, before
he went to the Wellawatte police to make his complaint. This is two days after
he alleges the threat was made. The complaint was later referred to the IGP who
in turn referred it to DIG CID Jayantha Wickremaratne.
Be that as
it may on Tuesday (23) Mano Wijeratne makes a special statement in parliament
accusing Wamanan of extortion under cover of absolute privilege.
(24) the state owned Daily News published his entire statement. The state media
enjoys qualified privilege in publishing such statements and can only do so
without malice. However the state media in publishing such a statement which
contained serious allegations of a criminal nature against a journalist without
so much as asking for his comments has not demonstrated absence of malice in its
bid to whitewash the Minister.
Be that as
it may, on the same day, Wednesday, devilry was afoot. Even as the country was
reeling from the shock of the Anuradhapura LTTE attack and media reports had
stated that a large number of Mafia gangs had emerged in Colombo, the CID had
better things to do.
Wijeratne, a fringe politician from the UNP was to ironically, cross over to the
Rajapakse camp together with the likes of Karu Jayasuriya and Milinda Moragoda
in order to ensure 'good governance and the rule of law.'
good governance and the rule of law were thrown out of the window as Wijeratne
hell bent on covering up his sins was to make false allegations and use the
state mechanism to his advantage, an offence in itself. But we will come to that
At around 2
p.m on Wednesday CID officials hurriedly consulted the Attorney General C.R. De
Silva but refrained from making full disclosure of the situation. With the
government shaken at its foundations by two LTTE attacks in the space of a week,
the CID did not hesitate in exploiting the 'Tamil card.' They told him that "a
Tamil woman's phone had been used to make threatening phone calls to Minister
Understandably the Attorney General gave the CID the green light to go ahead and
forms sake at least the CID felt it had the blessings of the AG. However C.R. De
Silva was not told that the 'Tamil Woman' was in fact Arthur Wamanan's mother
and that Arthur was a young journalist attached to The Sunday Leader.
Be that as
it may, three CID officials including the driver and OIC CID, Chandana De Silva
visit Arthur Wamanan's house in Mount Lavinia at about 4.15 p.m that Wednesday.
Ride to CID
They ask him
to accompany them to make a statement regarding the use of his mobile phone.
Arthur immediately called his Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge who advised
him to inform the CID officers that since it was late he would come to their
offices in the morning of the following day to make a statement.
officers who had gone in a jeep bearing number WP HE2479 refuse, and insist, he
accompany them forthwith. He is then bundled into the jeep and taken together
with his mother in whose name the phone on which he had allegedly threatened the
Minister is registered to the Fourth Floor of the CID in Fort.
6.30 p.m OIC Chandana De Silva commences interrogating his mother. About an hour
later they ask her to leave the room and start grilling her young son Arthur.
Arthur is questioned for over five hours while CID officials tell the parents
they should wait in the visiting room.
a glimmer of hope. If they told us to stay may be they will release my son
tonight, Arthur's father thinks.
Arthur must stay alone with his interrogators who are recording his statement in
Sinhala, a language he did not study in. It has not been possible for Arthur to
give his statement either in English or Tamil even though Tamil is now a
national language. It is his constitutional right to give his statement in one
of the national languages.
stroke of midnight young Arthur had still not been released. The following day,
most opportunely for the CID and their puppet master Mano Wijeratne, is a Poya
Flogging a dead
produced before Acting Magistrate Thaheer Lafir at his residence on Poya day
last Thursday. The Acting Magistrate stated he was unable to release Arthur on
bail as he was not the regular magistrate. The CID relentlessly flogging a dead
horse requested Arthur be remanded for 14 days up until November 7.
request was rejected and the case was fixed for last Friday.
meantime on Thursday morning, the CID was to call Dilrukshi Handunnetti from
Arthur's mobile phone. They insisted that the newspaper produce the documents
pertaining to the article on Mano Wijeratne and also asked Arthur Wamanan's
mother to present herself again at the CID office.
the newspaper was not obliged to furnish any documentation, due to the pleadings
of Arthur's father on behalf of his son - the documents were handed over to the
Magistrate Ayeshani Jayasena herself observed last Friday this episode if not
nipped in the bud will send a wrong signal to the public that anything is
this. For instance if Dilrukshi Handunnetti who was told by the CID over the
phone to make a statement had later made a complaint to the police station that
the CID officer who spoke to her had said they would drop all charges if given
Rs. 5 million, would the CID then arrest the officer merely based on Dilrukshi's
This is a
terrible trend that would strike fear in the hearts of every citizen and is a
new method to suppress the media. It is also intended to send a message to young
journalists they would be subject to similar treatment and harassment if they
continued in their jobs especially in the field of investigative reporting.
for the media that Friday a fearless and independent judge stood in the way of
the devious designs of the CID and their political masters.
Enterprise Development Minister Mano Wijeratne was an angry man. The Sunday
Leader of October 21 published a front page news item exposing the Minister on a
mobile bill payment where he had directed the National Gem and Jewellery
Authority, a department coming under his purview, to pay his wife's
international roaming mobile bill.
If found to
be irregular the Minister would be liable under the misappropriation of state
property laws, a serious non bailable offence. Wijeratne knows this only too
well. It was to deflect from the seriousness of the allegations against him that
he was, on Sunday (21) after the article was published, to plot an elaborate
plan to turn the focus away from him.
To this end
he concocted a false complaint embroiling a young Sunday Leader journalist into
a web of lies, and using his ministerial clout, influenced the Criminal
Investigations Department to arrest the young journalist Arthur Wamanan at his
often made the prostitute of crooked politicians, like the harlot it has become
in recent times especially under the Rajapakse regime, was not averse to do the
bidding of Wijeratne. Even departments get accustomed to kerb crawling.
But lest the
public lose sight of the real culprit, The Sunday Leader now publishes the
documents in its possession which proves Wijeratne in fact got his wife's mobile
bill paid for by the Gem and Jewellery Authority.
Wijeratne was a man who, on the pretext of good governance crossed over to the
Mahinda Rajapakse camp.
Wijeratne of 547, Galle Road, Colombo 6, the wife of Mano Wijeratne received her
mobile bill from Dialog GSM for the period 15/08 -14/09/2007.
number was BR010709140099304351, the dialog number 0777272326. According to the
bill (See elsewhere on this page for copy) her international roaming charges
account previous payments her total due for the month of September 2007 was Rs.
28, 2007 the National Gem and Jewellery Authority prepared a payment voucher
No.1818 serial no. 32460 for a sum of Rs. 80,717.98 by cheque no.334172 in
settlement of the said mobile bill.
stated the payment was being made for Mano Wijeratne's mobile bill. The total
bill the voucher stated was Rs.100,897/48 and the payment was made for 80
was not the Chief Accountant of the Authority who was to sign the payment
voucher but the Director General and Acting Director General of the Gem and
also a separate file connected to this payment which was Ku/12/777272326. That
is a separate file for the mobile phone which usually would denote that there
were many other payments made. (See box for comment by a director of the
proper audit practice may be raised as the Chief Accountant has not signed the
Be that as
it may what is more shocking is that Dialog has issued an official receipt dated
October 1, 2007 in the name of B. D. Wijeratne referring to WTC212898C - Cheque
No. 334172 issued by the Gem Authority for a payment of Rs. 80,717.98.
though it was the Gem Authority that has issued the cheque the official receipt
was made out to Bharathi Wijeratne, the wife of Mano Wijeratne. (See elsewhere
on this page for receipt).
Sunday Leader on Friday which comments were published on Sunday 21, Mano
Wijeratne admits the connection was in fact registered in his wife' name, who is
also his private secretary. He says the bill was paid for calls taken while he
was in Azerbaijan.
connection is registered in my wife's name. I know where you got all this
information. I don't have a phone, a house or anything. You can publish these,"
Wijeratne is also the Consul for Turkey. The number O777-272326 registered to
his wife is his official mobile phone.
has also said that the charges referred to in the documents relating to the
article are for official international telephone calls organised by him during
an official visit to India and Azerbaijan. He also states that en route to
Azerbaijan, his wife as the Private Secretary, and he had lost their baggage for
two days and it was for this purpose to locate his luggage that he was using
He says that
his wife is not only his private secretary but also the Consul General for
strict regulations governing the payment of bills of private secretaries of
ministers. Therefore the Minister who professes to champion good governance
should be well aware that he cannot use his wife's phone more so his private
secretary's mobile phone and get his bills paid. It is immaterial whether his
wife is the consul for Turkey or not.
bills of a private secretary of a minister are governed by specific treasury
regulations as are the payments and facilities afforded to a minister.
for Wijeratne to say that he is getting a department coming under his purview to
pay his private secretary's telephone bill stating he is using it as his
official phone is far worse than if he got his wife's bill paid. And by the way,
it remains still immaterial whether she is a consul for Turkey or not.
facilities afforded to his private secretary are already regulated. Therefore by
submitting bills on her behalf to other departments when the Ministry budget
estimates have already made allocations for such facilities as communications,
Mano on his private secretary/wife's behalf may be allegedly in effect
duplicating her facilities. For in reality as private secretary she already has
a treasury allocation for communications.
has Mano Wijeratne given a breakdown of the calls he has made on this phone
which he claims are official and taken in order to locate his lost luggage en
route to Azerbaijan? The answer simply is in the negative.
And not only
should such payments be governed by financial regulations but also by the
National Gem and Jewellery Authority Act.
independent Authority the usual practice according to sources at the Authority
is for the board to take a decision and approve the payment of bills. Sources
said that if no board approval had been obtained then the payment would be
revealed that this particular payment on behalf of Minister Wijeratne had never
gone to the board for approval even though the Director General and Acting
Director General have authorised the payment. Inside sources said the DG had
approved the payment, the Acting DG had countersigned and a clerk in the
accounts department had written out the cheque.
Director General and Acting Director General also have the authority to sign a
payment voucher but inside sources say the payment had never reached the Chief
Accountant. The Sunday Leader was unable to immediately contact the Chief
Director, Gem Authority, Nalaka
On being asked if board approval had been
obtained to pay Minister Mano Wijeratne's
wife's telephone bill he said.
I was unable to go for the previous board
meeting though I went for the very last
one. So those board papers have not yet
come. I do not know whether they have been
presented to the board or not. But so far
I have not received anything. I don't know
if it was submitted to a board in which I
was not present but I have not received
The quorum for a meeting is seven and
unless there are seven members there can
be no legal approval.
Q) Is it the usual procedure to pay the
bills of ministers or their wives?
A) No, there is no regulation like
that. Also we can't pay like that from our
"Even in the Act there is nothing which
governs payment to a minister. It talks of
payment to the chairman of the Authority
etcetera. We in fact are doing a voluntary
service by being on the board. On the days
the board meets we are paid Rs. 1000, that
too we give back to the industry or to
someone back in the outstations. I for
instance come from Ratnapura and we are
there to talk on behalf of the labourers
in the gem pits and other workers. I for
instance have been appointed by the
Presidential Secretariat by the Minister.
So we are there to talk about the problems
of the industry, the challenges faced by
A veteran public servant says.
Ministers who have exceeded their budget
estimates and their treasury votes usually
compel departments and corporations under
their purview to pay their bills. This is
very improper. If they were to make an
application for a supplementary budget
estimate it would involve a lengthy
procedure and too many questions. Treasury
regulations govern the payment of bills
for government officials including private
secretaries who are allocated a sum for