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Results do not match expenditure


Mahinda Rajapakse and Supreme Court Judge Shiranee Tilakawardane

The Presidential omissions

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Among the powers of the Chief Executive of Sri Lanka is the significant powers vested in him or her to appoint presidential commissions of inquiry to have special investigations conducted on issues of importance.

It is a practice resorted to by all presidents since the introduction of the present constitution, way back in 1978, and how this particular power had been exercised is a moot point, given that public often tends to view presidential commissions as time-buying exercises when issues become too hot to handle for both the executive and the government.

Findings

While the public generally takes a dim view of presidential commissions, largely due to the impression that these are bodies that function independent of the countryís judiciary hence enjoying a different mandate, what happens to the findings of these commissions also often remain somewhat of a mystery.

Since the famous presidential commission appointed by President R. Premadasa to investigate the functions of the non governmental organisations operating in Sri Lanka, the country had witnessed many an important presidential inquiry being appointed, comprising most imminent professionals.

Attention

What is often considered an academic and time buying exercise, though these inquiries initially attract much attention, the country hardly gets to know what happens to the findings of the commissions.

Take the special probe on SLMP Leader Vijaya Kumaratungeís assassination or any other. The hype tends to give way to a general feeling of apathy and non-action.

While the practicality and usefulness of these commissions could well provide the basis for a different debate, letís just take the eight presidential commissions appointed by President Mahinda Rajapakse to inquire into several important issues.

Swift

Elected to the highest political office in November 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaske did not waste time and moved swiftly to appoint some.

The very first was a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Procurement of High Value Weapons, other Military Equipment and Services during 2000-2005 by the Government of Sri Lanka headed by Supreme Court Judge Shiranee Tilakawardane.

This commission was to inquire and report on matters relating to the procurement of weapons, other military equipment, materials and services closing in excess of Rs.100 million each by the government of Sri Lanka during the period 2000-2005.

The expenditure incurred as of December 8, 2008 was over Rs. 13 million, Rs. 13,105,537.96 to be exact and the final commission report was presented to President Rajapakse months ago but the public are yet to see those findings.

Questions

The question naturally arises whether the findings are kept under wraps for political expediency or even as a sword of Damocles against any persons the Commission has passed strictures on?

The second presidential commission of inquiry too was appointed to inquire into matters arising out of the procurement of high value weapons, other military equipment, materials and services, this time by the Sri Lanka Navy. Supreme Court Judge R. A. N G. Amaratunga chaired it.

It was to inquire and report on matters relating to the procurement of high value weapons, other military equipment, materials and services during the period 2001-2005 by the Sri Lanka Navy. The final report has been presented. The incurred expenditure amounted to Rs. 11,701,321.96

The third such inquiry was appointed amidst huge protests and allegations of involvement of the defence establishment to inquire and report on the assassination of the late Joseph Pararajasingham, MP who was gunned down in Batticaloa on Christmas Eve, 2006.

Presented

A final report has been presented by Chairman and retired Supreme Court Judge Mahanama Tilakaratne. This commission of inquired incurred expenditure amounting to Rs. 2,126,102.72

The next inquiry was appointed when there was a massive public outcry over the disappearances and abductions of civilians. Again headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Mahanama Tilakaratne, this commission was mandated to inquire into and report on incidents of abduction, disappearances and attacks on civilians resulting in deaths throughout the island during January 2006 to September 2006. A final report has been presented in this connection. The incurred cost was Rs. 4,33,416.62

Violations

The fifth presidential commission of inquiry appointed by President Mahinda Rajapakse was to inquire into and report on incidents involving serious violations of human rights, the ongoing terrorist activities against the government, security forces and people and the counter measures adopted by security forces and the police.

Chaired by retired Supreme Court Judge N K Udalagama, the commission has not yet concluded its inquiry. The incurred expenditure by this commission so far amounts to Rs. 6,641,030.26.

Inquire

The sixth presidential commission, again headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Mahanama Tilakaratne was specifically mandated to inquire into and report on incidents of abductions, disappearances, unidentified bodies and killing of persons throughout the island in the recent past. Inquiries have not yet been completed. The commission has incurred expenditure amounting to Rs. 6,213,353.58 as of December 8,2008.

The next, or the seventh presidential commission of inquiry was appointed for a special requirement amidst growing concern in the country about failed finance companies. This special presidential commission of inquiry was appointed to inquire into and report on the payment of advances to the Failed Finance Companies by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the recovery of such payments could be made from the failed finance companies and what action could be taken against the directors of such failed finance companies.

Retired Supreme Court Judge Priyantha Perera headed this commission and so far it has incurred Rs. 16,059,868.72.

In progress

The inquiries are still in progress, according to a report submitted to parliament.

The eighth and final presidential inquiry was appointed once again to inquire into matters financial, following he VAT scam, considered to be the biggest tax fraud committed in South Asia in recent times.

This commission, headed by M P Paranagama, a retired High Court Judge is mandated to inquire into and report on the alleged VAT fraud at the Department of Inland Revenue in the process of making VAT refund during the period 01-10-2002 to 25-08-2004.

The inquiries have not yet been completed.

The incurred cost of the eighth presidential commission of inquiry is in the range of Rs.7, 380,965.57

Accordingly, so far three final reports have been submitted, and even then, there is little knowledge among the people as to what the findings are. Not forgetting that these commissions are appointed to inquire into matters of significant national importance, often appointed too as a presidential response to a massive public outcry.

Complete

When the commissions complete their work and submit reports, or submit interim reports, it is only fair to create maximum discussion on the said reports and create public awareness.

Instead, often these reports end up as bulky documents, academic attempts to analyze a situation - or at their worst, a costly exercise that helps administrations to buy time and sweep matters of concern under the carpet. 


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