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September 9, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 12


Focus

Arts

Letters

Spotlight

Review

Fashion

Editorial

Spotlight

           

Karu and the politics of hypocrisy


Karu Jayasuriya and (inset) Copy of letter of July 26:
 expressing shock and despair over "Helping Hambantota"

He was a man whom many believed would uphold morality in politics. He was looked at as a breath of fresh air when first introduced to the political arena by UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. That man was Karu Jayasuriya. When Karu was fielded as UNP's mayoral candidate the walls of the city were plastered with the slogan, "Karu awoth payai hiru" ( The sun will shine when Karu comes).

Today however , Karu appears more a political blackguard shifting policy and principles to further his personal agenda, not hesitating to betray the very man who paved the way for him to reach high political office. It will be recalled The Sunday Leader recently exposed how Karu had conspired with the SLFP in 2003 to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister while he was overseas and take the top job for himself. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga when asked at the time on Karu's role in the drama, simply said, "no comment."

Now comes a letter Karu wrote to then President Chandrika Kumaratunga in July 2005 urging legal action against then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse over the Helping Hambantota scandal.

Recounting the sequence of events which led to the tsunami funds ending up in the Helping Hambantota account, Karu wrote, "Your Excellency, there are no words to express the disillusionment and despair that must be felt by tsunami victims still living in huts and tents on learning the above facts. Even as Sri Lanka appeals to the world community for aid, misappropriation of donations made to the government in good faith have not only shocked our nation, but brought the bona fides of the government into question in the eyes of the world. I have no doubt that you will agree that no stone must be left unturned to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation, culminating in the prosecution of all those involved in this irregular act: be they ever so high, they are not yet above the law."

The letter reproduced in full below speaks for itself and the question is whether President Mahinda Rajapakse by taking Jayasuriya into his government has accepted the charges contained therein. Afterall, given the seriousness of the charges made, would he have otherwise in his wildest dreams sworn Jayasuriya as the Minister of Public Administration?

And what of Jayasuriya? Could any honourable man serve in a government led by a person whom he accuses of misappropriating money meant for tsunami victims? Such is the greed for power and the perks of office.

 

The letter that sums up the weather change in Karu's politics

26th July-2005 
Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga,
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, President's House, Colombo 1.
 

Your Excellency, 

Misappropriation of Tsunami Relief Funds 

You are personally aware of the loss of life and property suffered by tens of thousands of our people as a result of the tsunami disaster of 26th December 2004. Indeed, you yourself have personally led efforts to bring relief to those affected, while stating publicly that the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities now in progress take the highest national priority. Despite the unprecedented nature of this tragedy, no one can have failed to be touched by the generosity with which people across the world, and especially here in Sri Lanka itself, responded to your call for assistance.

Despite the massive flow of domestic and foreign aid however, tens of thousands of our citizens continue to be homeless, living in tents as the daunting task of reconstructing thousands of homes gets underway. Their plight is serious and tragic, and it is the duty of us all to do everything we can, as soon as we can, to help restore normalcy.

It is with a sense of deep regret then, that I draw Your Excellency's attention to the abuse of trust placed in the government by donors who have contributed to the relief effort. You cannot be unaware of the detailed revelations in the media in the cause of the past month, supported by documentary evidence, that almost Rs.83 million of donor funds have been transferred out of the government's coffers and deposited in a private account. The salient facts maybe summarised as follows :

29 December: a circular from the Secretary to the President is sent to all secretaries of ministries and widely publicised in the media, directing that all donations should be made to the National Disaster Relief Fund established by the government.

31 December: the Hon.. Prime Minister opens a Prime Minister's Punarjeewana Fund account, contravening your circular, the Financial Regulations and the Finance Act No: 38 of 1971.

11 January: a private account is opened at Standard Chartered Bank, Rajagiriya, named "Helping Hambantota." The signatories to the account are four persons acting in their private capacities, namely Mr. Chamal Rajapakse (the Hon. Prime Minister's brother, who is also a Deputy Minister), Prof. Epasinghe, one Mahinda Gunawardena and one Udaya Abeyratne. The address of the account is given as 166/A Pangiriwatte Road, Mirihana, which happens to be the residential address of the Hon. Prime Minister's sister.

26 January: the Secretary to the Prime Minister causes Rs.28.36 million to be credited to the National Disaster Relief Fund, while a separate cheque for Rs.82.95 million, written in favour of "Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief and Development Programme" is credited to Helping Hambantota, but is returned by Standard Chartered Bank as the beneficiary name does not match the account name. There is no rational for the amount involved, by way of a project proposal, invoice or other document: it is unconditional.

02 February: the Hon. Prime Minister submits a note to cabinet purporting to account for tsunami relief donations received by him, but making no mention of the money channeled to "Helping Hambantota" or disclosing that his brother is a signatory to that account, or that the address for the account is his sister's residence.

03 February: the Secretary to the Prime Minister issued a cheque in the sum of Rs.82.95 million in favour of "Helping Hambantota" which, this time, is successfully credited to that account.

10 February: the Hon Prime Minister's note is tabled at Cabinet. The Hon. Prime Minister even at this stage makes no mention of "Helping Hambantota."

17 February: the cabinet minute pertaining to the above note is forwarded to the Secretary to the Prime Minister stating clearly that all donations should be credited to the official government accounts. This direction is ignored by the Secretary to the Prime Minister, who makes no attempt to disclose or recover the moneys transferred illegally to Helping Hambanotota. The sum of Rs.82.95 million remains in the Helping Hambanotota current account for the next five months.

24 June: following media reports of the illegal funds transfer, the Hon. Prime Minister misleads parliament by stating that he had received cabinet approval for the transfer of funds to "Helping Hambantota" and further affirms that the donors concerned had specifically requested that these moneys be used for relief projects in Hambantota (kindly note that the purpose for which government funds are misappropriated is irrelevant). Indeed, on 18 July Unilever, the largest contributor to the Prime Minister's Punarjeewana Fund categorically denied in a letter to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition that it requested the use of its funds to be restricted to Hambantota, adding that its donation of Rs.25 million was made to the Punarjeewana Fund at the personal request of the Secretary to the Prime Minister.

01 July following media exposure of the misappropriation, "Helping Hambantota" places the sum of Rs.82,958,250 in a new call deposit account at Standard Chartered Bank, earning a paltry interest of 4% per annum.

18 July: a group of MPs of the United National Party, led by Mr. Kabir Hashim, make a formal complaint to the CID, providing all particulars, and on the advice of the Attorney General, a CID investigation commences.

Your Excellency, there are no words to express the disillusionment and despair that must be felt by tsunami victims still living in huts and tents on learning the above facts. Even as Sri Lanka appeals to the world community for aid, misappropriation of donations made to the government in good faith have not only shocked our nation, but brought the bona fides of the government into question in the eyes of the world.

I have no doubt that you will agree that no stone must be left unturned to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation, culminating in the prosecution of all those involved in this irregular act: be they ever so high, they are not yet above the law.

Quite apart from the immorality of the above actions, it is clear that a number of regulations have been breached. For example, a number of Financial Regulations of Government have been flouted, including FRR 170, 187, 381, and 875. What is more, since these revelations were first made more than a month ago, there has been no credible explanation forthcoming from the Hon. Prime Minister as to why this money was transferred to a private account, especially given that his brother is a signatory to the account, while the account address is his sister's residence. You will appreciate that these facts alone suggest, at the very minimum, an indefensible and reprehensible lack of transparency.

The Hon. Minister of Finance has on several occasions stated that there are only three official accounts approved for donations of tsunami aid, and "Helping Hambantota" is not one of these. It is incomprehensible why, after the circular by your Secretary dated 29.12.2004 and the cabinet minute dated 17.02.2005, no attempt was made to disclose this diversion of funds (if indeed it had been made in good faith), or to recover the money and credit it to the correct fund. It is ironic that at this very time you yourself were publicly mentioning the fact that Sri Lanka had received hardly any tsunami assistance, when in fact moneys that had been received were, unknown to you, being illegally channeled into private accounts.

It is noteworthy that the "Helping Hambantota" account was opened as early as 11th January 2005. The attempt to mislead the donors, the state and the victims was clearly not an afterthought on the part of the parties involved.

I am addressing this appeal to Your Excellency on behalf of the United National Party, to request:

1.         That a full, fair and impartial investigation be made into these events and those responsible be brought to book, being especially mindful that undue influence may be brought to bear on the investigators given the very high offices held by those who are potentially culpable. The investigation should address. the diverse aspects involved, including.

(a)        Misappropriation of government funds;

(b)        Money laundering (given that the "Helping Hambantota" account was opened with the possible intention of siphoning moneys that had been donated to an apparently genuine fund);

(c)        Fraud (given that moneys were obtained from donors on the premise that these would be utilised by government for tsunami relief, whereas they were instead channeled into a private account);

(d)        Tax evasion (in that there is no provision for exempting "Helping Hambantota" from income tax, to which the signatories of the account are liable in their personal capacities);

(e)        Breach of the Financial Regulations 170, 187, 381 and 875, as detailed above;

(f)         Breach of Section 26 of the Finance Act No: 38 of 1971 as detailed above,

(g)        Breach of Art. 91(1)(e) of the Constitution by Mr. Chamal Rajapakse, a Deputy Minister, who is a signatory, and therefore an executive of "Helping Hambantota"; and

(h)        flouting of executive orders, circulars and cabinet decisions, as detailed above.

2.         That the Hon. Prime Minister be requested immediately to take action to recover the sum of Rs.83.95 million from "Helping Hambantota" and credit it to the official funds recognised by the government, whereupon it should be applied to the national disaster relief effort.

I emphasise once again that nothing short of a full and transparent investigation leading to the prosecution of all those involved, together with the full recovery of all misappropriated moneys could satisfy the people of Sri Lanka in general, and innocent tsunami victims in particular, that they may once more have faith in their government. I urge Your Excellency, to spare no effort toward this end, so that justice is both done and seen to be done.

Yours Sincerely,

Karu Jayasuriya MP,
Deputy Leader,
United National Party

 

 


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