21st December 1997


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UNP General Secretary Atukorale charges in Parliament:

Corruption: Finance Ministry worst among equals

Following is the full text from United National Party General Secretary, Gamini Atukoraleís speech during Tuesdayís debate on the votes of the Ministry of Finance

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Deputy Chairman, the honourable MP who spoke before me, Amal Senadhilankara spoke with a lot of expectation. He said the war will end soon. Similarly, The Sunday Times published last week on its front page;

"Jaffna link by February 4"

"I will shake hands with Prabhakaran after we beat him, says Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte."

Very good. One hand is stained with blood. The other with corruption. Today MP Senadhilankara spoke with a lot of expectation as a young MP. I recall my entry into this House as a young MP in 1977. But within three years we completed so much of work.

Development projects were started for the economic benefit of the country and her people. The UNP Government of the day was able to change the country from the time we accepted office. Today the PA has ruled for 40 months. They have stayed longer than the time they have remaining.

They have been unable to change anything.

When we discuss the votes of the Finance Ministry we talk of many things dealing with the countryís economy. The pivot around which corruption revolves in this country today is the Finance Ministry, Iím sorry to say.

The Minister - Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Deputy Minister Prof. G. L. Pieris must, in a sense, be responsible for this state of affairs.

I have a lot of respect for Prof. Pieris. I respect him as the Justice Minister as well. But I cannot show the same respect for him as the Deputy Minister of Finance. Why?

From time to time, in recent times, I have brought several matters to his attention in this House. The Deputy Minister will recall how as far back as October 9 I informed him of a Customs investigation into the corrupt activities of one of their close friends and allies, one who looks after their funds - Harry Jayawardene.

Prof. G. L. Pieris: I told the Hon. MP that I accept that responsibility as the Deputy Minister of Finance. I will reply you later today.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Very good. I will await your reply. During the budget debate I pointed out to other corrupt practices as well. What corrupt deeds were committed in relation to Custom duties on ĎDailyí milk products?

How much of money that should have come into state coffers was the state deprived of? I showed what was happening. The Deputy Minister of Finance can probe these matters. I have with me the documents relating to under-invoicing.

I have with me documents from Stassen Australia which has sent the monies for this. I want to know from the Deputy Minister whether the Central Bank has given permission to this powerful businessman to remit monies from Australia?

Or is this money from the over-invoicing taking place in the import of molasses for the Distilleries Company? These are not matters that cannotß investigated by one probe by the Customs Department.

There are a lot of corrupt dealings involved here. The government must adopt a principled stand on this. The Deputy Minister himself accepts that this individual has been given privileges to break customs regulations. These incidents took place on October 7. Today is December 16. Still no action has been taken.

The Deputy Minister says he will give an explanation today, but we can discuss this again only next month.

Have others got these privileges? In future someone can get a lawyer to go before the Supreme Court on a Fundamental Rights application and say that he is not considered equal before the law. The customs will find it difficult to function in that case.

Therefore I say to the Finance Minister, the Deputy Minister, and the Customs Director General: "If you donít take action on this all your hands will be tainted with corruption." Mr. Deputy Minister, even if it is with some element of sadness, this accusation has to be made.

Yesterday, we were unable to ask questions that were up for oral answers in the Order Paper. Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP accused the UNP also on this. So, on behalf of the UNP, as its General Secretary, I wish to specially say that we will not permit rogues like this to operate.

I repeat what was to be asked yesterday "Has the High Posts Committee sanctioned the appointment of Harry Jayawardene as chairman of AirLanka?

Who are the members of this committee?"

This question was under the name of Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP. There was no time to raise that question yesterday. So I urge at least today, the Deputy Minister of Finance would give a reply to that question.

Then, I wish to raise another matter. On November 20, I spoke during the debate on the votes of the President. I spoke on the tender for 10 locomotive engines.

Several Cabinet Ministers were surprised that I raised this on the afternoon of November 20 because it was on November 19, the previous night in fact, that the Cabinet discussed this tender, till 11.30 p.m. A lot of people were suspicious of this tender.

As the Chief Opposition Whip, Wijeyapala Mendis asked how was the final decision given by the Cabinet? The final decision was made by a four-member Ministerial Committee despite a Technical Evaluation Committee and a Tender Board. The four Ministers were Lakshman Kadirgamar, Lakshman Jayakody, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Kingsley Wickramaratne.

Has anyone of them got any technical knowledge? Why do you take decisions like this? It was because the Minister of Finance wanted such a decision taken that way.

What did Minister Jeyeraj Fernandopulle say then? On November 20, 1997 Hansard, he is reported as saying.

"I wish to remind our friend Gamini Athukorale of one thing. He spoke of railway engines. He spoke very strongly about Harry Jayawardene. I want to tell him not to fall into the pockets of the Maharajahs."

I have been in Parliament for 21 years now as an MP. I have not fallen into the pocket of anyone, nor will I . My parents have left me sufficient wealth to live by. I want to tell that to Minister Jeyeraj Fernandopulle.

When I said those things, some people got excited. But on that day the Cabinet had taken a "good" decision. Having taken such a decision, the Hon. Mangala Samaraweera made the following announcement in the Daily News:

"The Cabinet decided on Wednesday to disqualify any bidder or firm that canvases for a tender. Cabinet spokesman Media, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mangala Samaraweera said yesterday.

"He told the weekly media briefing at the Parliamentary Complex that this decision was taken on a request made by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

"It was also decided to blacklist any bidder, contractor or commission agent found canvassing a minister, deputy minister or any official in support of any bid made by his or her firm or institution," Mr. Samaraweera said.

If that is the case, Mr. Deputy Chairman I wonder who should be blacklisted? It was just after this was said that the problem of the 10 locomotive engines tender arose. Then, who should be blacklisted?

Several questions arise from this. Why did the President summon persons to "Temple Trees" even before the Technical Evaluations Committee and the Cabinet appointed committee gave their decisions. Why were these persons scolded at "Temple Trees?" She could have made her observations as the Minister of Finance at the relevant stage.

I too have been a Cabinet Minister. I know that at the relevant time we are asked to make our observations. As the Minister of Finance she could have done it at that stage. But she didnít

Prof. G. L. Pieris

The President took that step due to special reasons. There were more than one report from the Technical Evaluation Committee. It was because of that.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Yes, I accept that. The President has a tremendous knowledge on technical matters.

What she ought to have done was to reject all these conflicting reports and call for fresh reports. Sometimes when these specifications are made, they are made according to the dictates of the supplier. Things like this often happen.

I have something more to add. You had a doubt about the Secretary to the Finance Ministry, the head of the Treasury, Mr B. C. Perera for nearly one and half years, it seems. Who is this secretary to the Finance Ministry, and head of the Treasury?

Mr. Deputy Minister please tell me, if you had any doubt about this Mr. B. C. Perera, do you doubt all his decisions in the part 1 1/2 years. I want to ask a question from the Deputy Minister of Finance. Do you suspect this same Mr. B. C. Perera. Please give me an answer. Hon. Minister, Iím asking you a simple question. Have you got any doubts about this?

Prof. G. L. Pieris: All right. I will answer this question. I am not afraid to answer that question. It is not my business here in the House to express personal opinions on members of the public service. If you put to me a question which I am responsible for answering as the Minister, I will do so.

That is why I told Mr. Gamini Atukorale that I will answer the questions he put to me. I have gone to a lot of trouble because the Hon. Member had every right to put those questions to me. He is entitled to an answer. I am providing him with a complete answer this afternoon. That does not mean that you can put to me any question on..

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: No, no, I am not. I am just asking because -

Prof. G. L. Pieris: I will answer questions which I am obligated to answer under the laws of this country and under the procedures of this House. I will answer those.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Deputy Chairman, under the procedures of this House an answer can be given. I asked him a very simple question. An inquiry into this is not required. All that I asked is whether he has confidence in the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and the head of the Treasury, Mr. B. C. Perera?

The Minister of Finance - the President - Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga - has said that she has not had any confidence in Mr. Perera for the post 1 1/2 years!

If the Secretary to the Finance Ministry is a person in whom there is no confidence, in what state is the economy of our country?

There is no confidence in the man who prepared our budget. Our country must be surely heading for disaster. I did not ask that question from the Deputy Finance Minister to embarrass him. I respect him. Not as Deputy Finance Minister, but as Prof. G. L. Pieris and as the Justice Minister.

Mr. Deputy Chairman, under these circumstances can we have any confidence in the state of the economy of our country?

The Deputy Chairman: Hon. Member you referred to the Evans International matter that had already been expunged. Therefore, the reference again by you has to be expunged.

Gamini Atukorale: Okay, Sir. I can refer to the Hon. Minister of Finance.

The Deputy Chairman: No, no. That has to be expunged because we took the view that it was not proper to print such allegations. It indirectly brings the President into disrepute.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: But that letter is tabled in Parliament.

Mr. R. J. G. de Mel: In any case there is no reflection on the President.

The Deputy Chairman: He just referred to it again saying: Janathipathiniya Pava....

Mr. R. J. G. de Mel: He only referred to the action of the American Embassy and not to any action of the President.

The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Ronnie de Mel, we cannot take it that any paper is speaking the gospel truth. If you criticize her official conduct it is a different matter, but here you are going to the extent of quoting a letter and saying. That is going beyond the limit.

Mr. R. J. G. de Mel: The letter only said that they had called for an explanation.

The Deputy Chairman: But he referred to that.

Mr. R. J. G. Mel: I do not think the US Government had any right to do that No government has a right to call for the explanation of another government. But if the US Government has done so, I would say it is a damned shame for this government. It is a damned shame for this government.

The Deputy Chairman: That particular portion has to be expunged. I am very carefully listening to you. You can go ahead.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Sir, in that case can I not compliment the President even?

The Deputy Chairman: Your compliments are accepted, but you cannot go to the extent of -

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: You have to expunge that also.

Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer: compliments also should be expunged.

The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Atukorale, you, Mr. Wijayapala Mendis, everybody spoke on official matters. So we have been quite restrained on those issues. But when you go beyond a particular limit.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I never spoke about her personal conduct.

The Deputy Chairman: Earlier when this question regarding the Evans International letter came up, I was in the Chair and I took this same action. So I will have to repeat that.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I was only quoting a letter.

Mr. R. J. G de Mel: Yes. He is only referring to a letter which is purported to have been sent by the US Embassy. They are charging the Sri Lankan Government. In my opinion, it is a standing disgrace to the Sri Lanka Government that any other government should call for the explanation of the Sri Lanka Government. It is a standing disgrace! It has not happened in the whole history of this country.

The Deputy Chairman: Order, please! Mr. de Mel, you are a long standing Member of this House. What I am saying is this. You cannot do something indirectly which is not permitted directly.

Mr. R. J. G. de Mel: No, Sir. What we are saying is that this is a standing disgrace to this Government. Can we not say that?

The Deputy Chairman: You can certainly say that.

Mr. R. J. G. de Mel: This is a standing disgrace to this Government.

The Deputy Chairman: To quote a letter saying that everybody in this Government up to the President is corrupt is something that the rules of this House will not allow.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Sir, in that case may I say that the Government of Sri Lanka is corrupt from top to bottom? You cannot expunge that?

Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer: Please expunge that also. Expunge that also.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Deputy Chairman, I have only a few minutes left.

The Deputy Chairman: Since I took some of your time, you can speak for two more minutes and wind up.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I like to know one more thing. There is some talk on the privatisation of AirLanka. I want the Deputy Minister to give us some details of this.

Prof. G. L. Peiris: I will not say anything on that now. I will make a full statement later. I will say something on PERC and negotiations they are engaged in. On all other matters, I will make a statement prior to 15 February 1998, and I promise to table all relevant documents.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Before that we donít know if AirLanka would be given away, and Emirates also given away.

Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse: We wonít give it without informing.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Yes. I know that Minister Mahinda Rajapakse talks according to his conscience.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Tell us. Will you then privatise AirLanka prior to 15 February 1998?

Prof. G. L. Peiris: It is not wise to reveal in this House all the details about negotiations for AirLanka. We must accept that during negotiations, it is not good to divulge details.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I am not asking you to divulge how much this one is asking for, or that one is asking for. Iím saying will this House be informed prior to AirLanka being handed over?

Prof. G. L. Peiris: Yes, We have no objections to making a statement in Parliament on that.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Is it after you hand over AirLanka that you are going to make the statement?

Prof. G. L. Peiris: Under the PERC laws, the government has certain responsibilities. It must make a full statement to Parliament on all PERC negotiations. We will implement that accordingly. There is no question about that.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Are you privatising the flight kitchen, Cargo handling, everything together or separately?

Prof. G. L. Peiris: I am not able to answer detailed questions about AirLanka. It is only proper to have the Line Minister separate.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: You are the Deputy Minister of Finance and you are a responsible Minister.

Prof. G. L. Peiris: Surely you must be reasonable. Does that mean that the privatisation with regard to plantations, with regard to AirLanka with regard to Industries, I must answer all these questions? That is not proper.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Deputy Chairman, AirLanka is not an ordinary institution. If you are privatising AirLanka you must value its current assets a well. About two years ago its value was US dollars 86 million. That was then. We know its present status.

Some people want to privatise AirLanka and hand it over to themselves. Chandana Silva, Carlo Fonsekaís son-in-law, people with such connections-to hand it over to them.

Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Keep Carlo Fonseka out of this.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: All right. But I spoke about his son-in-law. Mr . Deputy Chairman, I spoke about a Mr. Chandana Silva.

Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Does his son-in-law have a name?

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Of course.

Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara: So mention that name.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Chandana Silva.

Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Blessings to you. Please donít mention. Mr. Carlo Fonsekaís name. (Interruption)

Deputy Chairman: Order please. That again is a controversial matter.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: It is not me, Sir. He mentioned it.

Deputy Chairman: No, no I am sorry. Mr. Kongahage, you are not in your seat in the first place. If you are trying to interrupt, please go there. Abusing the rules of the House, being in some other seat, is doubly wrong.

Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara: Hon. Gamini Atukorale. I am making an appeal. Please leave Mr. Carlo Fonseka our of this.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Alright. I accept that. I referred to Mr. Chandana Silva. Please Deputy Minister of Finance, please let us know the details before its all over.

Before I wind up, I want to refer to just one more matter. Certain statements were made by this Government about. Soththi Upali. We now know with whom ĎSoththi Upalií has been associating........

Expunged on the order of the chair.

The Deputy Chairman: Order please! This again is about a private conduct. I cannot allow this. This will be expunged. I am sorry.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: This is before she became the President, Sir.

The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Atukorale, if you try to extend this rule beyond a particular point, if somebody says that Mr. Atukorale stole some chickens two years ago, we will have to permit that also.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Sir, it may hurt your feelings but I am telling the facts. I am just telling you that there is a court order against the guarantor.

The Deputy Chairman: I am sorry. I cannot permit that.

The Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse - Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development: You cannot mention her, the Presidentís name.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I know, Mr. Rajapakse, that you have to defend your President.

The Deputy Chairman: We are applying the rules equally to everybody

Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer: Sir, I rise to a point of order. The Finance Minister is accountable to Parliament. We are told that this money

The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Azwer! This is the conduct of the Finance Minister in her official capacity.

Alhaj A. H. M. Azwer: Mr. Deputy Chairman, please tell me when can we discuss the affairs of the Finance Minister, what she does, her performances. Sir, this is not about her personal conduct. So, you take the responsibility and ask her to resign from the portfolio of the Finance Minister. Let her be only the President.

The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Azwer, I am not here to take advice from you. I know what I should do and I will do that.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I say that is right.

The Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse: Whatever the law, it is opposed to good conduct. There is a tradition in this House. Donít break that tradition.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I do not want to argue on that.

Expunged on the order of the Chair.

Mr. Sarath Kongahage: Judgement debtor.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: Mr. Deputy Chairman, I will not put you into any difficulty. There must be pain of mind for you too. But we must tell the truth as it is.

Deputy Chairman: I am not beholden to anybody to uphold the rules of this House.

Mr. Gamini Atukorale: I must say one thing. There is no Ministry as corrupt as the Finance Ministry in this country. When one looks at the last three years, everything this Finance Ministry has done has reeked with corruption. Mr. Deputy Chairman they say that it is "Harry to the right", Harry to the left", "Harry on top", "Harry at the bottom." Mr. Dilan Perera MP said when one looks up at the Finance Ministry it is whacking, if you look from the bottom it is whacking, to the left it is whacking to the right it is whacking.Now it stinks. So at least, this year, until such time as the people give their verdict, I ask an honest person like you to at least conduct affairs in an honest way.

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