COPE splits over TB issue

Sunil Handunnetti

A clear divide among the members of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was seen last week, with regard to the Treasury Bond (TB) scandal and former Central Bank (CB) Governor Arjuna Mahendran, when the UNP members of COPE attempted to exonerate the former CB Governor while the others, particularly the JVP, rejected claims made by the UNP group.

When the Parliamentary watchdog committee, presided by JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, met on Tuesday, a presentation was conducted by Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and two other senior members of the Auditor General’s Department.

Following this, the UNP members argued that Mahendran was not responsible for the massive loss incurred during the sale of Treasury Bonds in 2015.

The UNP group opined that it had not been the fault of the former CB Governor as he was only implementing a policy decision of the Government, COPE sources said.

It must be noted that the UNP group had met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the previous day.

However, the JVP group counter argued and demanded to know which office was responsible for making such a policy decision. They further argued that if such a policy decision was in fact taken the approval of the Monetary Board was needed, which had not been given; only the instructions of Mahendran to opt for private placements in bond sales.

Thereafter, the UNP members of COPE asserted that they could not accept the Auditor General’s report and demanded that it be referred to independent experts for their opinions. The UNPers proposed that independent economic experts be summoned before COPE and they be given time to review and express their opinions.

Discussions at the meeting had become heated at this point, when the JVP members rejected the proposal made by the UNP members and accused the latter of attempting to delay the COPE investigative process. The UNP group were then told that if they wanted the opinion of experts they could do so on Thursday (7), when economic experts from the Central Bank were scheduled to meet COPE to deliberate the same issue.

Furthermore, UNP member Velu Kumar tendered his resignation from COPE.

On Thursday sources revealed that two Deputy Governors of the Central Bank, during a meeting with COPE, had observed that the Monetary Board had not approved the policy decision pertaining to the sale of Treasury Bonds.

COPE is to decide on the matter at next meeting scheduled for 12 July.

Shadow Cabinet

The formation of a shadow Cabinet was a successful step taken by the Joint Opposition (JO) to expedite the goal of establishing a new Government, UPFA Matara District MP Dullas Allahapperuma declared at a media briefing, held within Parliamentary complex this week.

The MP said that its aim was not to split the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but to divide the incumbent National Government.

“There are various discussions underway concerning the appointment of Monitoring MPs. This isn’t the first time a shadow Cabinet was formed in Sri Lanka. Even during the time of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike such measures were taken” the MP said, elaborating that the shadow Cabinet was in line with the Westminster system of government.

Mangala under attack

Joint Opposition Parliamentary group leader MP Dinesh Gunawardana, also addressing the media, charged that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, should resign from his post for highlighting the need for the involvement of foreign judges, thus contradicting President Maithripala Sirisena’s statements rejecting a hybrid court system.

“By expressing his personal views on this matter, the Foreign Minister has contravened the Constitution as well as statements made by the leader of the country,” the MP said.

MP Gunawardana said that the Foreign Minister did not have the powers to make such a statement and claimed that the latter’s statement had breached the traditions and unity of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The MP affirmed that the JO had unanimously passed a proposal against the Foreign Minister and they would submit it to the President.

PM on fishing issue

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated that discussions with the Indian Government were currently underway to completely ban industrial bottom trawling and vowed to resolve the issue of Indian fishermen poaching in Lankan waters in peaceful manner, as both nations had agreed that war was not an option.

The Prime Minister made these remarks while responding to questions posed by Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The Chief Opposition Whip had pointed out that short of shooting errant fishermen and sparking a war with India, the Sri Lankan Navy have no hope of successfully deterring the horde of Indian fishermen who illegally cross the maritime boundary line and enter Sri Lankan waters.

“This is not a case of one fishing boat getting lost and accidently crossing into our waters. This is intentional breaking of maritime boundary line laws by a host of Indian fishermen aggressively entering our waters. The only realistic way that the SL Navy can successfully stop such a large number of fishing vessels is by using force and opening fire on them, which could possibly ignite a war. Furthermore, I don’t believe that this Parliament and the Sri Lankan fishing community will in anyway agree to share the fish stocks in our waters with the Indian Government,” Dissanayake said.

The Prime Minister replied that both nations had agreed categorically that war was not an option and that the issue would be resolved peacefully.

“Both sides are firmly of the view that we cannot engage in a war over this issue. Sri Lanka will not and cannot allow our only fish resources to be plundered by or shared with anyone. We will resolve the matter in peaceful manner but the Lankan Government will ensure that whatever agreement is reached, it is done so with the consent of the our fishing communities,” the Premier said.

However, Dissanayake pointed out that a similar issue had arisen between India and Pakistan where, unlike with Sri Lanka, the Indian Government had taken prompt steps to monitor their own fishing vessels and establish a parameter near the maritime boundaries of the two countries, which Indian fishing vessels were not allowed to cross.

“Why is it that India has willingly taken initiatives to stop its fishing vessels from crossing into Pakistani waters but was slow to come to a resolution regarding, literally, the same issue with Sri Lanka? The Indians have even taken steps to monitor their vessels, established separate parameters which Indian vessels are forbidden to cross and both the Indian Coast guard and Navy actively stop Indian boats from crossing the boundary. Why cannot India take similar steps with Sri Lanka?”

The Prime Minster responded that the relationship between India and Pakistan was different to that of the relations between India and Sri Lanka.

“The relationships with India are different between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Already there are Bills being prepared where we will be able to impose a fine of between Rs 01 -15 million on errant vessels. I assure you that a peaceful solution will be found by the end of this year,” the Prime Minister said.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Skandha Gunasekara)