COPE To Probe Public Trustee
- Opposition MPs to raise issue
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) is to probe alleged financial irregularities recorded in the Public Trustee Department.
Opposition legislators have continuously spoken of financial issues related to the Department.
Several parliamentarians representing the UNP and the JVP are to therefore request the COPE to probe the alleged financial irregularities at the Department and to summon the Public Trustee before the Committee seeking an explanation.
The Public Trustee Department that has been in the centre of controversy over its alleged financial irregularities was taken up during the parliamentary debate on the latest COPE report.
JVP parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti told parliament during the debate that the Public Trustee Department had spent Rs. 144,000 on the material for Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s tour to Vavuniya. The Department had made the payment on behalf of the Premier to one Sita Stores.
“When the Public Trustee makes such an allocation, are we to imagine that the Prime Minister travels without any clothes on other occasions?” he queried.
He said the Public Trustee was in-charge of public funds.
“The Department has paid monies amounting to Rs. 7,071,000 (approximately Rs. 7 million) as legal fees for 124 legal cases from June 2010 till July 2011,” he said.
The parliamentarian pointed out that the legal affairs of the Department are handled by the Public Trustee’s nephew (sister’s son).
“The legal officer has charged Rs. 122,000 to appear for a case before the Bandarawela District Court, which does not reflect the legal fees that are currently charged by lawyers,” Handunnetti added.
According to him, most of the monies used in an irregular manner by the Public Trustee are from the Common Investment Interest Account that is under the Department.
“The Auditor General has questioned the Public Trustee about the expenditure of monies from the Common Investment Interest Account and the legal expenses incurred by the Department,” he noted.
Monies from the Common Investment Interest Account have been used to set up a pandal for the ceremony held when the President assumed office.
“Rs. 500,000 has been spent to put up a pandal for the President and Rs. 1 million had been paid to a bakery for meals for the Buduputh Mapiya Upahara on Dec. 2, 2010,” Handunnetti said.
He added that the Public Trustee Department has also spent Rs. 5 million on ata pirikara (alms) and clothes to observe sil without any proper explanation on the manner in which the monies have been spent.
According to Handunnetti, the Auditor General has already forwarded queries to the Public Trustee Department and the parliament also needed to play its role to ensure that public assets are safeguarded.
“He could be summoned to parliament seeking explanation on the irregularities at the Department, but he should not be allowed to just fib his way out by giving any response,” he said, adding that stern action needed to be taken to address the matter.