Police slow on Weerawansa: Ministers accuse Sagala

Public Safety Minister Sagala Ratnayake came in for strong criticism at last Tuesday’s weekly ministerial meeting. It was over the alleged inability of the Police to deal with cases relating to former Minister and National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa.

His party colleague Sujeewa Senasinghe was the first to raise it when he was acting for his Minister Malik Samarawickrama. Raising issue for a second week in succession were Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka.

The two Ministers alleged that the Police were being allowed to do what they wanted. As a result the probe on the death of a youth at Mr Weerawansa’s residence was proceeding at a slow pace with nothing known about the Government Analyst’s report.

The issue came to the fore when ministers were discussing a Cabinet Memorandum on the Krrish project – the construction of high rise apartments and malls in the Transworks House premises in Fort.

During the discussion, alleged payments made to Hambantota parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa figured. Some ministers were to point out that Rajapaksa did not receive payments and claimed funds were received for development of rugby football in Sri Lanka.
Minister Thalatha Athukorale was to raise issue of an interview the Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe gave and was published in last week’s the Sunday Times. Photo copies of the publication were circulated. She claimed that it was not in keeping with the independent role of the Auditor General.

But President Maithripala Sirisena cut the fair lady minister short and pointed out that Auditor General Wijesinghe would have only defended himself in the wake of bitter personal criticism levelled against him by politicians. Several UNP MPs have been highly critical of the Auditor General over his Department’s investigations into the Central Bank’s bond issue of February 27, 2015.

The same meeting also saw Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera raising issue over what he called interested parties attempting to create communal strife. During the discussion, it transpired that existing laws were adequate to deal with those responsible. It was agreed that tough action would be taken.

Govt. now upsetting Iran after Palestine

It was only a month ago that Sri Lanka shocked the Arab and Islamic world by not supporting a pro-Palestinian resolution at UNESCO. Sri Lanka’s move raised questions whether it has veered away from its traditional policy of supporting the Palestinian struggle. Protests were held in Sri Lanka by the Muslim community denouncing the Government’s action. The Foreign Ministry belatedly clarified its position in a statement underscoring Sri Lanka’s commitment to support the Palestinian cause.

Recently, President Maithripala Sirisena invited envoys from the Arab and Islamic countries for a meeting where he declared the Government’s unwavering support for the Palestinian cause. In another development which raised issues of a possible policy shift, Sri Lanka is likely to abandon one of its all-weather friends, Iran, when the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution presented by Canada next week. The resolution was titled “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

During the war, Iran was one of the few countries which helped Sri Lanka with military aid and credit lines to buy oil and carry out development projects. During the post-war period, when Sri Lanka was hauled before the UN Human Rights Council, Iran was one of the few countries that stood by Sri Lanka.

When Iran sought Sri Lanka’s “No” vote for the resolution – just as Sri Lanka lobbied UNHRC member countries prior to the change of government in 2015 – Foreign Ministry mandarins are reported to have said that they hoped the Islamic Republic understood the difficult situation Sri Lanka is in.

The current resolution before the UNGA called on Iran to ensure that no one was subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It urged the Iranian Government to cease enforced disappearances and the widespread and systematic use of arbitrary detention. It also would strongly urge Iran to eliminate, in law and practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against women and girls.

Iran’s UN representative called the draft “insincere”, stressing that it only deepened mistrust. Iran did not deserve such a biased resolution, he said, noting that its sponsors had used human rights as leverage. Canada had shown no sincere willingness to engage in addressing the flaws in the proposed resolution.

Pleading with the Non-Aligned Movement members, the Iranian envoy said that as members of the Non Aligned Movement “we need to adhere to and uphold the movement’s lofty goals which call for rejecting confrontational approaches and exploitation of human rights for political purposes and selective targeting of individual countries for extraneous considerations and double standards.” Sri Lanka’s position on the vote is being eagerly watched.

No High Commission car for Minister at airport

The annual World Travel Mart (WTM) took place in London last week and the usual suspects from the travel and hospitality trade were there – with some new entrants who have wormed their way into the new Minister’s delegation.

But the talking point at the Sri Lanka stall at the WTM was how the Honourable Minister was snubbed by the Sri Lankan High Commission after it received a letter from a purported “Advisor to the Prime Minister” requesting transport and VIP facilities for the arriving Minister and his delegation.

The High Commission had quite rightly checked back with the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) in Colombo only to be told the so-called “Advisor to the Prime Minister” is an imposter!

The Minister – and his entourage had to taxi themselves from the airport and around town. Probably this was why they were late for the opening ceremony for which they had travelled all the way from Colombo. Oh, well. As long as they had a good time skimming the fat from the Tourism cess fund meant to promote Sri Lanka Tourism.

Probe on accounts of Lankan UN official

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has started investigations into the conduct of a one-time top official seconded to serve in the office of the Sri Lanka Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

This is to ascertain whether he was responsible for any serious irregularities in the use of funds made available to him for the expenses of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions in 2014. Then President Mahinda Rajapaksa led a large entourage to these sessions.

According to Ministry records seen by the Sunday Times, a total imprest of US$ 223,900 (over Rs. 27 million) had been handed over to him by officials in the Sri Lanka mission. Of this sum, US$ 243,693.57 had been settled “through vouchers” whilst US$ 80,206.43 had been settled by cash. The amounts had been paid out to the top official in five different occasions for expenses connected with the Sri Lanka delegation’s visit to New York.

An audit inquiry, the report of which has now been completed, notes that in accordance with Financial Regulations, any balance of an imprest should be settled immediately after incurring expenditure for the particular event. The report says that the accounts in question have been settled five months later. That too, the report notes without “supporting documents” for payments and the inclusion of “irrelevant documents.”

The audit team has recommended that financial limits should be placed on ad hoc imprest in accordance with the existing Financial Regulations.

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