30th  June, Volume 8, Issue 50

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SPOTLIGHT

CBK put on the dock with Choksy serving damning questionaire

By Suranimala

With the controversy over the multi million dollar luxury vehicles purchase by President Chandrika Kumaratunga stirring a hornet's nest in cabinet the previous week, Finance Minister K.N. Choksy turned the heat on last week by forwarding a questionnaire to the president.

This questionnaire in the form of a note to cabinet by Choksy who is the chairman of the cabinet sub committee appointed to probe the issue in itself is an indictment on the president, who will now have to draft her response with the utmost caution.

Having set a legal trap for the president in cabinet on the legality of the purchases, not to mention queries on the unaccounted for vehicles, the president will be leaving herself and former Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera wide open for impeachment and criminal charges if the right answers are not forthcoming.

Having taken personal responsibility for the multi-million dollar purchases and vehicles in her possession, and committed herself to a position in writing to the cabinet, the legal eagle in Choksy has now opened a new front as well, calling into question the purchase of 10 BMW motorcycles in addition to the whereabouts of five Daewoo cars donated by the manufacturer.

In his "note to cabinet" titled, "Vehicles purchased by the Presidential Secretariat in 2000 and 2001," Minister Choksy states thus - "Reference the note to cabinet dated 19 June, 2002 from Her Excellency the President, the discussion thereon at the cabinet meeting on 19th June 2002, and the request made by Her Excellency for information to be submitted to her by the sub-committee so as to enable her to furnish the registration numbers of the vehicles, I annex hereto for information of the cabinet copy of letter dated 26th June 2002, addressed to Her Excellency, stating the information available to the cabinet sub-committee and requesting her observations thereon together with the registration numbers of the vehicles."

In his preliminary report, Minister Choksy says, while the president's list shows the importation of only 25 Benz and BMW cars and 10 jeeps aggregating 35 vehicles during the above two years, details before the sub-committee obtained from the Customs and the local agents show a total of 48 vehicles comprising Benz cars, BMW and Range Rover cars, Land Rover Defenders and Nissan Patrol jeeps.

In his damning report, cum questionnaire, Choksy states there is a discrepancy of 13 vehicles between the information in the possession of the cabinet sub-committee and the list provided by the president and calls for Kumaratunga's observations on the 13 unaccounted for luxury vehicles.

And a question based on which reply, the president could also leave herself open to abuse of power and corruption charges in terms of the existing legislation, Choksy asks "Could you please also inform the cabinet sub-committee whether or not tenders or quotations were called for prior to the purchase orders being placed for the 48 vehicles and 10 motorcycles and whether cabinet approval was obtained for the purchases."

If the answer is in the negative, Kumaratunga will undoubtedly be in hot water especially with the government also considering removing the immunity enjoyed by the executive presidency after securing the required two third majority in parliament.

It is in the knowledge of this fact that Kumaratunga has announced, the PA will not support the conscience vote mooted by the UNF government.

Be that as it may, another intriguing query on the multi million dollar purchases for which Kumaratunga has in writing taken full responsibility relates to a company by the name of M/s R.R. Navigareim IM and Exp. Germany.

Asks Choksy in his cabinet note from the president - "The cabinet sub committee would also desire to be informed as to the identity of the company named M/s R.R. Navigareim IM & Exp. Germany, the ownership of the company and why this company was involved in the imports of the vehicles by the Presidential Secretariat. This company has also been named as the beneficiary in the applications for irrevocable letters of credit made by the Presidential Secretariat."

The unwritten message in that message is damning. Obviously this company has made a huge commission on the deal and if the orders were placed without following tender procedure or cabinet approval, then the president would certainly be staring directly at an impeachment. (See box for full report)

When the cabinet of ministers met on Wednesday, June 26, President Kumaratunga did not broach this subject but simply said, "Mr. Choksy, I got your note."

However given the president's legendary delays when it comes to timing, Choksy has urged her to submit her response at the earliest.

"The cabinet sub-committee will be thankful to Your Excellency for a very early response...." Choksy has written.

And knowing Choksy, given his legal acumen, the president will have to think not twice but thrice before coming up with her answers for in these seemingly innocent questions, there may well be a hidden minefield.

The ball is now in President Kumaratunga's court and it remains to be seen what answers she comes up with.

It could well be a make or break case for Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumar- atunga who in the PA's 1994

election manifesto specifically frowned on the use of Benz and BMW cars.

Finance Minister's report to cabinet

Note to the cabinet

Vehicles purchased by the Presidential Secretariat in 2000 and 2001

Reference the note to cabinet dated 19th June 2002 from Her Excellency the President, the discussion thereon at the cabinet meeting on 19th June, 2002, and the request made by Her Excellency for information to be submitted to her by the Sub-Committee so as to enable her to furnish the registration numbers of the vehicles, I annex hereto information of the cabinet copy of letter dated 26th June, 2002, addressed to Her Excellency stating the information available to the Cabinet Sub-Committee and requesting her observations thereon together with the registration numbers of the vehicles.

K.N. Choksy, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Finance

Chairman, Cabinet Sub-Committee

Excellency Chandrika

Bandaranaike Kumaratunga,

President,

Presidential Secretariat,

Colombo 01.

Your Excellency,

Cabinet Sub-Committee on vehicles purchased by the Presidential Secretariat in 2000/2002

I write with the concurrence and on behalf of the above Cabinet Sub Committee and consequent to the note to cabinet submitted by Your Excellency on the 19th June, 2002.

The list of vehicles annexed to Your Excellency's note does not state the registration numbers of the vehicles. As agreed by yourself at the cabinet discussion, please forward the registration numbers as these are required for verification.

The Cabinet Sub Committee also notes that Your Excellency's list shows the importation of only 25 Benz and BMW cars and 10 jeeps, aggregating 35 vehicles, during the above two years.

The information with particulars obtained by the Cabinet Sub Committee from the Director General of Customs and the local agents establish that a total of 48 vehicles comprising Benz, BMW and Range Rover cars, Land Rover Defenders and Nissan  Patrol jeeps were imported by the Presidential Secretariat during the period from 01st January, 2000 to 01st January, 2001.

Documents available to the Cabinet Sub Committee at the Treasury also confirm that the Presidential Secretariat had during the said period requested the Treasury in writing to issue letters of credit to the Bank of Ceylon for the purchase of 48 vehicles, which was done in order to enable the Bank of Ceylon to open the requisite letters of credit. I annex for Your Excellency's information photocopies of three letters received from the Presidential Secretariat and photocopies of three letters written by the Treasury to the Bank of Ceylon requesting the opening of the letters of credit. A schedule of the 48 vehicles covered by the letters of credit is also annexed, giving full particulars of dates of importation of vehicles, chassis nos. etc.

Upon an analysis of the list annexed to Your Excellency's note to the cabinet, the first five vehicles shown therein have to be excluded inasmuch as they are vehicles imported during the term of office of President Jayewardene and President Premadasa and also used by yourself prior to the bomb attack on 19th December, 1999. The importation of the 48 vehicles referred to in the Presidential Secretariat's aforesaid request to the Treasury were made from and after 21st January, 2000, which was after the bomb attack as indicated in the attached schedule. Accordingly, the list submitted by Your Excellency accounts for only 35 out of the 48 vehicles imported during the years 2000 and 2001. The Cabinet Sub Committee requests Your Excellency's observations on the balance 13 vehicles.

Furthermore, our inquires reveal that a quantity of 10 BMW motorcycles were also imported by the Presidential Secretariat on the 10th August, 2000. I annex a list setting out the full particulars of same. The Cabinet Sub Committee desires Your Excellency's information as to in whose possession these motor cycles are.

Could you please also inform the Cabinet Sub Committee whether or not tenders or quotations were called for prior to the purchase orders being placed for the 48 vehicles and 10 motorcycles and whether cabinet approval was obtained for the purchase.

The Cabinet Sub Committee would also desire to be informed as to the identity of the company named M/s. R.R. Navigareim IM & Exp. Germany, the ownership of the company and why this company was involved in the imports of the vehicles by the Presidential Secretariat. This company has also been named as the beneficiary in the applications for irrevocable letters of credit made by the Presidential Secretariat.

Budgetary provisions granted by the Treasury for the import of vehicles for the Presidential Secretariat was Rs. 63,586,290 in the year 2000. However the total cost of the 48 vehicles to the government was in the region of Rs. 2,469,699,262, inclusive of all levies. The Cabinet Sub Committee is mindful of the fact that vehicles for the use of the president are exempt from Customs and Excise duties, but is unable to make a deduction on this score in the absence of the information as to how many vehicles out of the total of 48 are being used by Your Excellency.

We shall also be thankful for information as to whether the requisite cabinet/parliament approval was obtained for the excess expenditure of approximately Rs. 2,406,112,972.

The shortfall of 13 vehicles in the list submitted in Your Excellency's note to the cabinet also requires particular clarification.

It is also found that out of the 48 vehicles imported, 8 Mercedes Benz cars have not been registered with the Commissioner of Motor Traffic. Please inform why this was not done.

Please find annexed hereto a photocopy of a newspaper photograph and report which shows that five Daewoo cars were donated to Your Excellency at Temple Trees for state use by the manufacturer. Please inform the Sub Committee the registration numbers of these vehicles, and where they presently are. These five vehicles are over and above the 48 vehicles referred to above.

The Cabinet Sub-Committee will be thankful to Your Excellency for a very early response to the matter referred to above in as much as the Sub Committee has to submit its report to the cabinet of ministers. I might add that the information sought is to enable the Sub Committee to make a comprehensive and accurate report to the cabinet.

Yours sincerely

K.N. Choksy, P.C.,M.P.

Minister of Finance and Chairman of Cabinet Sub Committee

 

 

 

 

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