Cabraal to get cabinet-status and privileges, pension in limbo

Ajith Nivard Cabraal

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would soon elevate the ranking of the Central Bank Governor to be on par with a cabinet minister, Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said at the ‘Salakuna’ talk show telecast by Hiru TV recently.

When presenter Chamuditha Samarawickrame asked if this has not been done yet, Cabraal replied, “No, It will be done soon.”

“The issue here is: where really is the Central Bank Governor positioned in terms of precedence? In the near future it will be equated to that of a cabinet minister together with privileges attached and I would be given that rank,” he said.

When the program presenters pointed out that the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, MP Sagara Kariyawasam had stressed that cabinet rank/ status would not be given to the Central Bank Governor, Cabraal responded: “He said so before I insisted on that. Not after.”

“The post of Central Bank Governor has to be in some order of precedence. At one time the Governor was on par with a cabinet minister. It was later changed for some reason and the president would act to re-establish its previous status,” he said.

However, he said that the elevated Governor’s position would not entail the powers of a cabinet minister and would only be placed on an equally important level.

“Given the current internal and external economic volatility and pressures, President Rajapaksa insisted on my assuming that responsibility. I was functioning as a state minister and performing my duties with great satisfaction; but if the country needs my services again as CB Governor, I would fulfill those duties with equal enthusiasm.

“The President would have thought that with my past experience and performance at the Central Bank, I would be able to help bring economic and price stability and enable growth through proper policy advocacy,” he said.

In response to a question which has become a political hot potato, the Governor said that he was not getting a pension as he is working at the Central Bank again.

“When I first assumed the post at the Central Bank in 2006, I didn’t think of a pension. Nor did I worry about my salary. I didn’t get a duty-free vehicle either because I had those things. I worked for a salary of Rs. 70,000 per month. Can you imagine a chartered accountant with a 33-year experience in top management roles in leading organizations working for a mere Rs. 70,000?,” he asked.

“In fact, I applied for pension four years after I left the office of Governor in January 2015. Any other person would have done so the following day. Former Governor Coomaraswamy informed me that the request would be taken up with the then President’s Secretary and after some time I got a letter of rejection.

“I just left the matter there without making any noise about it. Last Governor Prof. W.D. Lakshman would have acted on a pension scheme and I saw in the newspapers that a pension would be paid. If the President’s Secretary has approved a pension, I can take it. I thought I should get what I am entitled to.

“Governor Lakshman worked at the Central Bank for two years and when he gets a pension, others also should get it. I worked at the Bank for nine years. He can’t be paid without my being paid,” he said.

During Prof. W.D. Lakshman’s tenure as Governor from November 2019 to September 2021, the Monetary Board approved pensions with arrears for several former governors including Cabraal irrespective of the lengths of their tenure.

Under the new scheme, all Governors will be eligible for pensions regardless of their service periods, despite other public sector employees requiring at least 10 years of service to qualify for a pension. The only exceptions are Members of Parliament who get a pension after five years.

According to media reports at the time, the Monetary Board’s decision followed requests from the then State Minister of Finance, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal.

However, Cabraal told Hiru TV that he had asked for it just once.

When asked if former governor Arjuna Mahendran would also be entitled to a pension, he said “If there is a disciplinary inquiry against someone and if there is suspicion, there is room for his pension not to be paid.”

(Source: The Island – By Sanath Nanayakkare)