President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a likely response to sustained coverage in The Sunday Times FT on the Supreme Court decision overturning the ‘irregular’ privatization of Lanka Marine Services Ltd (LMSL) and calls for Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera to quit, this week appointed a 3-member advisory committee which would probe any allegations against Ministry Secretaries in the conduct of their official duties.
The Sunday Times FT reliably understands that President Rajapaksa has vowed to protect officers as long as they exercise their duties in a legitimate manner, and if political interference is proved. The presidential order came last week during a meeting with Ministry Secretaries that was presided over by the president where the Supreme Court case relating to the Treasury Secretary were among issues discussed. In the meantime, a Supreme Court judge said this week the court decision against Dr Jayasundera should serve as a lesson to all public officials.
Justice Saleem Marsoof did not name the Treasury Secretary but said the ‘public officer who was found to be responsible for the loss to the State and whose actions were held to be arbitrary and ultra vires in the recent Supreme Court judgment on the LMSL privatization will no doubt be an eye-opener not only to errant public officers but all members of the public service in general.' Making these comments at the recent memorial oration for former Attorney General, the late K.C. Kamalasabayson, the judge said the failure on the part of an increasingly number of public officers to adhere to the principles of good governance has resulted in unfortunate decisions such as the LMSL judgment.
Elsewhere in the John Keells Holdings (JKH) arena, eyebrows are being raised over the group subsidiary LMSL’s negotiations with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to get a slice of the bunkering business. “Isn’t there a moral and ethics issue here? LMSL has been found guilty of cheating in this business and now they go back to a government agency to do the same business. Ultimately, except for losing a couple of millions of rupees (which they will recover), there is no penalty or punishment for the ‘crime’ committed,” a stockmarket analyst said. “Neither is anyone stepping down at JKH (on moral grounds) to at least accept the verdict from the highest court of the land,” he added. More than a month after the judgment, JKH finally issued a more comprehensive statement on future strategies.
At the meeting with the president, senior public officials were directed to exercise their official duties without fear or favour and in accordance with administrative and financial regulations. A senior Ministry Secretary, who declined to be named, said Ministry Secretaries had expressed serious concern on future legal repercussions for carrying out ‘wrong’ orders of political leaders as it will affect their career and pension benefits. They explained to the President, the difficulties faced by them in carrying out their orders.
The presidential committee comprises retired officials - former Cabinet Secretary D. Wijesinghe (Chairman), K.H.J. Wijedasa, former Secretary to the President and M.D.D. Peiris, former Secretary to the Prime Minister. The committee will act as an advisory body to the president. It will conduct an open and fair inquiry with regard to such allegations and complaints in order to assist the President to arrive at reasonable and fair decisions on such matters.
When contacted, Mr Wijesinghe said that the regulations to set up the committee had been formulated in accordance with the ‘Secretaries Minutes’, the administrative rules governing them, and it has already been published in a gazette notification. He noted that the committee can make recommendations after conducting an inquiry against Ministry Secretaries but the final decision should be taken by the President. He said that unlike in the case of an average public servant, the Public Service Commission has no jurisdiction over ministry secretaries, and all powers governing them are vested with the President .He disclosed that the committee members received the letters of appointment on Thursday, August 28 and will soon meet to discuss the future action plan.