Cross check on PM’s account
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, in the eye of a political storm over the diversion of tsunami funds to a special fund for the Hambantota district claims " profesional muckrakers " are at work to question his integrity in the public eye believing a Presidential election is due this year.

The Premier's official explanation, however, while meeting some of the arguments raised by the main Opposition UNP in Parliament this week, leaves some questions un-answered.

The background to the story is that the Prime Minister, who took charge of the government's tsunami relief operations on December 26 last year, in the absence of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was then holidaying in the UK, had created a separate account from the tsunami humanitarian funds received, especially from abroad, specifically for the Hambantota district, which he represents in Parliament.

According to these reports, a sum of Rs. 82 million was placed in this separate account earmarked for the Hambantota district. The allegations levelled against the Prime Minister fall into two broad categories - that he was not entitled to divert such funds to his constituency alone, and that this separate account was being handled by his hand-picked people, including his relatives, and people who were not subjected to public accountability.

Prime Minister Rajapakse told Parliament this week that this separate account was created because of the specific request of the donors to help the tsunami ravaged Hambantota district. He further states that he had received the nod of approval from the Cabinet of Ministers for the setting up of this separate fund account for the Hambantota district, but the Cabinet Paper on the matter merely indicates that the Premier had only ' informed ' the Cabinet of such a separate account -there being no specific approval obtained by the Cabinet.

There is no indication that the Cabinet was informed either as to who the signatories to this separate account were. The Cabinet Paper was presented on February 2 this year, and the 44 member Cabinet of Ministers - the largest-ever Cabinet in post-Independence Sri Lanka - had not raised any query on this separate account, while neither the Finance Ministry nor the President's Office has raised any query.

In Parliament this week, Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama said that the government had three accounts for tsunami-relief - being the President's Account, the Prime Minister's Account and an account with the Bank of Ceylon. He made no pointed reference to this separate account of the Prime Minister's for the Hambantota district.

The opposition UNP is to decide next week what future course of action the party should take on this matter. One option was to introduce a vote of no-confidence on the Prime Minister and have a debate on the issue, but party leaders were uncertain of the JVP's position on the matter, particularly in view of the fact that their four Ministers were also in Cabinet at the time the Premier tabled his Cabinet Paper in February this year.

Nothing hanky-panky in it
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse facing one of the more serious threats to his political career over the creation of a separate account for his constituency from tsunami relief funds, said that there was nothing "hanky-panky " in this whole episode, and that " professional muck-rakers " are behind this campaign to malign him.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, the Premier said that he appointed well-known individuals like Hatton National Bank Chairman Rienzie Wijetillake, " and people like that " to manage the monies.

"They are trusted people and their integrity is not in question ", he said. Mr. Rajapakse said that he had advertised both in the Sinhala and English language press (about this special account for the Hambantota district ), and that he obtained Cabinet " approval ".

He said that the mud-slingers did not know there was a Cabinet Paper submitted by me on this". He said that the smear campaign against him is because some of his political opponents believe there is a Presidential campaign due soon. He believed this campaign against him will continue for some time.

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