28th June 1998
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The main Opposition United National Party will shortly move a no confidence motion on Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera. The resolution will be handed over to Speaker K.B. Ratnayake on July 8, UNP sources confirmed.
UNP Parliamentarian Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who submitted a six page resolution to his parliamentary group on Wednesday, said that though there were many other charges that could have been included in the resolution, the UNP has decided to confine itself to the controversial credit card issue.
Dr. Senaratne said that by circular dated 24/1/94, Finance Ministry Secretary B.C. Perera has clearly instructed that Ministers should not appropriate money from any of the departments or institutions under their purview to pay their dues.
In addition to the clear flouting of government policies and procedures, the Rs.271,000 has been settled by the chief Executive of the Nippon Telecom Company in his personal capacity.
The resolution moved by Dr. Senaratne at the UNP Group meeting on Thursday alleged that the Minister has spent the credit card money to view films bordering on pornography, food, designer clothes, liquor and cigarettes which were unbecoming of a cabinet minister in addition to the violation of financial regulations.
Dr. Senaratne three weeks ago made a formal complaint to the Permanent Commission on Bribery and Corruption against Minister Samaraweera for the alleged use of a Telecom paid credit card to purchase items for personal use where he listed the various purchases he has made during his tour.
The UNP Group is to urge the government to facilitate the Motion on the earliest possible date, soon after the debate on the extension of emergency.
By Frederica Jansz
Q: Mr. Samaraweera, this issue over your credit card all started when it was alleged that Sri Lanka Telecom had paid your credit card bills. The allegation was that you had accepted a bribe. While we might concede that this is not a pay off for privatization, don't you think it is not proper for SLT or Mr. Kamitsuma to pay your private bills?
A: This whole issue of the credit card was manipulated by those who brought out the issue. After several months and years of careful planning to get at someone who is quite vociferous about corruption, and as the official government spokesman, I knew people were looking for whatever allegations they could bring against me in order to smear my character.
These people are not merely from the opposition but are even from the Buddhist clergy and certain arms racketeers. Being a rather outspoken member of the government I have been a target of these elements for a long time. Likewise this credit card issue on May 10 this year, was made into a major campaign against me. The three accusations hurled at me at the initial stage was that (a) this credit card was a payoff for the privatization of Sri Lanka Telecom (b) I had used two credit cards simultaneously (c) Mr. Kamitsuma had paid for expenses incurred on this card in his personal capacity.
To say this credit card was a payoff for privatisation is an utter and absurd joke, and in fact is a plus point for me, where SLT was sold for 225 million and went into partnership with the topmost telecom operator. In this sense to say that a credit card with a limit of a mere US$ 5000 to say it is a payoff to me, indicates that either those who are making these allegations against me are mad or I am mad.
Q: But should a Minister be supported by a corporation or an individual coming under his domain?
A: Well, that is a different argument altogether. We can argue about that and that is fair enough. But meeting the expenses of a Minister when he travels has been a continuation long before SLT was privatized. My credit card facility was given from the time I became minister. The first two official trips abroad were paid in traveller's cheques.
Later on, SLT said a credit card was much more secure and in June 1996, I was issued the first credit card by the Chairman Hemasiri Fernando, who wrote directly to the Bank of Ceylon requesting that an international credit card to the value of US$ 5000 (SL Rs.320,000) be issued to me, for an initial period of three months of which all expenses will be met by Sri Lanka Telecom. I have never utilized the full amount. Also in this credit card there is a cash validity of upto Rs. 50,000 where you can actually take the cash and spend it. I have never utilized the cash validity at all from this credit card, or any other credit cards. I could have taken the cash and spent it and I would not have had to account for it, but I have never utilized the cash validity at all. To further say I have used two credit cards simultaneously is an absolute lie, because as soon as I complete an official trip abroad the validity of the card expires. For my next trip the Chairman or now since privatization, the Chief Executive Officer will write to the bank and ask for a fresh card to be issued.
Q.Yet, is it not a bribe to have a private company pick up the tab for expenses incurred by you?
A.It is not a bribe at all. I find the whole thing ludicrous, for example if I wanted to be dishonest there are far easier and better ways of doing it. If I wanted money from Kamitsuma, it would have been much easier for him to pay it to wherever I go to. Or like it was done during the former regime I could have got some Mudalali to pay my hotel bill. I would say it is my openness and transparency that has been the very weapon my opponents have used against me. Kamitsuma in fact wrote to the bank in an official capacity requesting this facility be made available for me, saying that SLT will be responsible for payment. So in that sense, if it is a bribe, Kamitsuma himself would not have written to the bank officially.
Q.You originally said you had used this particular credit card only for official expenses overseas. However later it has been revealed that you have used this same card for private expenses too. Have you used this credit card locally and for personal use?
A.Yes, I have spent it, at Keels Supermarket, Odels and Hotel Oasis. However even though it is in the statement of this particular card it has not been paid by Sri Lanka Telecom. For example Mr. Kamitsuma's letter to the Bank of Ceylon on January 15, clearly makes a request that the Minister be issued a credit card with a one month validity to Feb. 15 and that SLT will only undertake any such expenses which I have incurred for one month from this date. The above expenses I have incurred during February and March.
Q.:But when SLT picked up the bill on this credit card did the company not pay in full the entire statement of billing?
A.No. I have all my trump cards which I will divulge at the right forum. I can categorically and safely say these personal purchases have not been paid by Sri Lanka Telecom, although I have used that same card, for these personal purchases. For example, many of these local places say they do not accept the type of card I use personally, so in those instances I have used my official credit card. To say that SLT have paid for these purchases I have made at Odels, Keels and Oasis is an absolute lie.
Q.The fact that Mr. Kamitsuma met the expenses you had incurred on your official credit card in his personal capacity would constitute as accepting a bribe, wouldn't it, since payment was made by an individual?
A.Well if it was to be met by an individual then Mr. Kamitsuma need not have written the letter he did on Jan 15 stating that SLT will undertake to settle all payments made by this particular credit card. In fact I got to know that he had made this payment through the newspapers, and on my request Kamitsuma immediately stopped payment. Someone I believe set Mr. Kamitsuma up, in an odd way to release his personal cheque. But once we got to know, it was stopped.
Q.So you do concede that it is incorrect for an official in his personal capacity to pick up the tab for a Minister's expenses?
A.Yes, of course I consider it incorrect for him to have even attempted to pay for my expenses. Specially in the light of the fact that this has been done before and that he himself has issued the letter, on an official basis that SLT will be meeting the payment as done previously. I frankly think it is the absolute bankruptcy of my opponents to highlight this issue as a huge matter of corruption. I have all the necessary documents to prove that I have not done anything wrong and this is why I have now filed a civil defamation suit. As Media Minister I have made a commitment not to use the criminal defamation law against the media, although sometimes one feels very tempted to do so.
Q.Was there SLT Board approval to pay your official credit card expenses?
A. Yes, there is board approval. However the problem was that after Kamitsuma had made these assurances, in-between I believe someone had told Kamitsuma that until the next board meets it is not advisable to postpone this payment, and therefore for Kamitsuma to issue a cheque. There was general board approval for all this but for each payment board approval is required.
Q. Are you accountable to SLT when they pay your credit card bills, as you would be if the Ministry was paying?
A. No, technically I am not accountable to SLT. But, for example last September I was in Hong Kong I used my official credit card for the purchase of a digital camera which I use on my computer. I need not have accounted for this but on my return I informed my Senior Assistant Secretary that this would be part of the inventory. If you are talking about the Ministry, there are two ways in which expenses are met. One is called the 'combined rate' which is a much lower rate, or there is another rate where a minister can claim for hotel and a daily allowance separately, but there are stipulated amounts. If a minister were to take the combined rate, which is very low, then he is not accountable to the Ministry.
Q.Phone bills have gone up and many people are saying the public are having to pay for your expenses. Can you state definitely that the public are not being taxed for your private and official expenses here and abroad?
A.You make me sound like Marie Antoinette. No, I can prove if necessary, that the public are not being taxed to pay for my expenses. All my expenses as a Minister are far lower than that of all the previous Ministers.
Q.In your original statement you said Ministers do not get enough perdium for official expenses. However despite the fact that cabinet had not approved an increase in perdium for Ministers you went ahead and found other means to meet your high expenditure with impunity. Isn't this true?
A.Well, no I did not find other ways to meet my expenses, but as Minister I was afforded a facility which had been given before, and I did not refuse it.
Q.But the fact is that you used it with impunity, is that not correct?
A.No. When SLT was a corporation they had treasury approval to lend this facility to its Minister. Now as a company, they have the powers to make decisions on their own and do not even need cabinet approval.
Q.If the SLT board had approved such an allocation for its Minister why then did you say Ministers are not paid enough?
A.I am only talking for myself and my ministry. I really do not know what the situation is in other ministries. I am not even arguing on behalf of the ministers. I think ministers also when they travel abroad must be able to maintain the dignity of their country. I am arguing for all members of parliament from either side, that they must have a certain amount of security provided by the state so that they do not become pawns of various vested interests. During the previous regime I have proof, of how certain ministers who travelled abroad got various big businessmen with large business interests to pay their bills.
Q.Is not Mr. Kamitsuma then a big businessmen with large business interests?
A. No. If Mr. Kamitsuma himself tried to pay my bills then it is wrong. I know he attempted to and I was more surprised than anyone else. But as I said before he was mis-led by some bad advice but fortunately it was stopped in time.
Q Mr. Kamitsuma with regard to this matter issued the following statement. That 'for the development of the company and the well-being of the people of Sri Lanka we are trying our very best to establish business culture which will lead to a new way of thinking.' What exactly did Mr. Kamitsuma mean by this statement?
A.What I gather from this statement is these practices of giving the Minister unlimited amounts cannot be changed overnight. However they are now trying to regularize it. Now there is a clear cut policy. Supposing I spend over my limit, I will not be able to claim from SLT. I believe this is what he meant, but you will have to ask him for clarification.
Q. But didn't you as Minister ask him what he meant?
A.No, I have not.
Q.You have gone on record saying that as a Minister for the Sri Lanka government when you are abroad you need to entertain lavishly. Wasn't this a foolish statement to have made?
A.Well I cannot remember using the word lavishly, perhaps I did on the spur of the moment. When I mean lavishly, I do not mean putting on huge banquets. It's just that I like to eat well, drink well and look well. When you look at my expenses you certainly cannot call it as being lavish. Most of the time I would like to lead my old way of life, but as Minister sometimes you cannot.
Q.This whole issue about your accessing porn web sites on the internet, using your credit card. How has it been done?
A. I know I have not done it. In fact when I heard about it I really hit the roof. To begin with I have two internet facilities. One, in the ministry and one on a lap-top. However I have not accessed the internet for the past few months. I have now got the activity report that confirms that neither has anybody else used it. But the strangest thing once I looked at the newspaper article was that I am supposed to have surfed the internet and gone to these web-sites on May 10 , on some Landslide Production and two internet sites called DMR Internet Services Ltd. The 10th of May as you know, this newspaper carried banner headlines of this great corruption, with my full credit card number and all details of my last official credit card. If this newspaper had information that something was wrong they could have handed it over to the police or bribery commission, but they published the details. Strangely enough it is on May 10 and 12, soon after the publication of this, that I am supposed to be sitting and surfing the internet for sex sites. How absurd could it be, when everyone is already talking about my credit card for me to use it immediately searching for sex sites. I know there's a streak of madness in me but I am not so mad.
Q:Do you believe then that you have been framed?
A:Yes, this has been completely engineered and manipulated in order to smear my character. This is absolutely diabolical and I cannot tolerate it anymore. I have now instructed SLT to not honour any bills on my credit card after May 10 this year. I have not used this card at all after April 30. However I have been billed from these porn web sites who state that my credit card number has been used to access these sites on the 10th and 12th of May. I find shocking that twenty nine porn web sites have been used on my credit card number and name. I personally think that this is the largest internet credit card fraud in this country ever.
Q. Your colleague Jeyaraj Fernandopulle accused Ravi Karunanayake of corruption for using a government cheque paid for his private secretary which he put into his personal account. What is the difference then in that sense with what you have done regarding your credit card?
A. There is a big difference. For example as member of parliament I am also entitled to many perks. I think the issue with Ravi Karunanayake is about someone who has taken such moral high ground, saying that one did not come into politics to make money. I was shocked by the number of business interests this gentleman seems to have. In my case, in my official capacity I have not pumped anything into my own account at all. For someone who takes such high moral ground I think he is doing something very wrong.
Q.As Minister for media how long is this censorship going to continue - don't you feel the people of this country who are funding and fighting this war are being deprived of information on the single most important issue of this country?
A.The censorship is in place for military reasons. To be fair by us, we have only used it for limited periods of time, and this censorship too I am convinced will be lifted as soon as possible. I believe the real issue of the time is the ethnic problem of this country. War is only one aspect of that. The tragedy is that young men and women who should either be playing in the same playing fields or dancing in some discotheque together are instead killing and massacring each other. Our soldiers are enlisting for reasons of duty to the nation but also out of sheer poverty. On the other hand we also must not forget that those young boys and girls with cyanide capsules around their necks are all Sri Lankan people. I think the time has come to focus on a new political culture. No one actually tries to go beyond merely paying lip service to these fashionable phrases. When we are
involved in trying to push this country to becoming a modern state, where all Sri Lankans, the Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims can live together, we are instead involved in all this distasteful and perverse infighting. Eventually people like Prabhakaran must be having the last laugh.
Q.Why is the government taking such a negative attitude against the media -
Why not get the media to be a participant in the battle against terrorism?
A.The government is not taking a negative attitude towards the media as a whole. Certainly under this kind of provocative media culture, one does get a little paranoid. But when it comes to the question of censorship, when there is a critical part of the war going on, the military feel that some, not all, through sheer carelessness and lethargy do not adhere to a more careful self-censorship on details being published with relation to the war. I repeat however we do not want to keep this censorship for one minute longer than it is necessary.
Q Are you ready for a Presidential election?
A.We are ready for any election. However as the war has come to a very crucial turning point, the government has decided as any democratically elected body would to consult the opposition, and requested their agreement to postpone this election for six months only, until the current military operation is complete. At this point of time it may not be the best to hold a provincial council election as we would have to pull back a lot of key military personnel in the north. This is why we have asked for the cooperation of the opposition. The honourable leader of the opposition has made three public statements by saying they are willing to help us if the government will assure them that we will hold a presidential election. We in return have responded positively. I think it is time we got a fresh mandate on the new constitution, the problem of the minorities, these are the real problems we have to solve.
Q.When will elections be held?
A.According to the constitution President Kumaratunga was sworn in on the 12th of November. Election results were announced on the 10th. Basically four years from that day a presidential election can be held at any point in time. We can announce the presidential elections on the 11th and call for nominations on the 27th of November according to the constitution. So, the dates can be fixed straightaway.
Those who came for the identification parade
Twenty-six airmen attached to the Special AirBorne Unit (SABF) of the Sri Lanka Air Force suspected to be involved in the raid on the residence of 'The Sunday Times' Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas in February this year, were produced at the Gangodawila Magistrate's Courts on Wednesday and released after none of them were identified at an identification parade.
The 26 airmen were among 209 others produced at the parade held by Acting Gangodawila Magistrate, Mrs Suneetha Nanayakkara.
The three prosecution witnesses, Iqbal Athas, his wife Anoma Prasani and Marimuttu Subramaniam, an employee of Athas could not identify any of the suspects.
Two Air Force officers were earlier identified by Mr Athas and his wife. The two suspects who were initially remanded were later bailed out.
They are Squadron Leader Rukman Herath, a personal bodyguard of former Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe and Squadron Leader Pradeep Kannangara, officer-in-charge of the SABF.
These two officers have already been suspended from service on the orders of the Ministry of Defence.
The Gangodawila Magistrate, N.V. Karunatilleke, directed the two suspects to report to the CID every fortnight until further notice.
The Magistrate also directed the CID to submit a further report on the next date - August 12.
At the commencement of the parade, Mr A.R.C.Perera, senior counsel for the defence, objected to the parade being held and said that the investigators were producing the suspects for a parade after several months of the incident.
The 26 airmen who were produced before the parade were engaged in their normal work until June 24.
Therefore, it was improper to hold a parade for the suspects, Mr Perera said.
Mr A.R.C.Perera with Miss Ranjini Mendis, Mr Dilum de Abrew, Mr Christopher de Alwis, Mr Ganesh Dharmawardena, Mr D.R.A.Kannangara and Mr Kapila Liyanage appeared for the defence.
Mr Hemantha Warnakulasuriya with Mr W.A.Subasinghe and Mrs Vijitha Wickremasekera watched the interests of Mr. Athas.
By M. Ismeth
Swiss child abuser Bertrand Lamond was condemned and convicted for a period of six years for child abuse at the Sitten/Valois Courts in Switzerland, on 27 May.
The Court also ordered Lamond to pay 25,000 Swiss Francs (over Rs 1 m) to the principal victim, the 14-year-old Sri Lankan as moral reparation.
According to Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere (PEACE) Chairperson Ms Maureen Seneviratne, Lamond had been visiting Sri Lanka for eight to ten years and had established himself in a west coast beach resort at Kalutara North. He had rented a large house and gave out rooms to other foreign child abusers.
PEACE had been monitoring his activities since 1993. On the instructions and with the assistance of International Committee for the Dignity of the Child (CIDE/Zurich) PEACE obtained evidence as to Lamond's activities here. This evidence was forwarded to CIDE. Thereafter Lamond was arrested in his flat in Sion, Switzerland in November 1996. There was a Lankan boy aged 14 and with him and several porn videos shot in Sri Lanka.
The Public Prosecutor of Lausanne came over here and interviewed PEACE members the Police, persons and children in Kalutara North. Lamond's brother and another accused were also sentenced to 18 months each for helping the accused. Further the Court had ordered Lamond to take psychiatric treatment while in jail.
Lamond was also accused of trafficking a boy to Switzerland. He is a member of several organisations and he was a teacher at the Centre for Professional Training in Sion. He had obtained for 14 year old Asitha to stay in Sion to be trained as a hotelier and had said he was doing it for humanitarian purposes. A 14 year old as a hotel trainee?
Ms. Seneviratne said that PEACE was delighted at the outcome of the case and its an excellent example of the manner in which the new extra-territorial laws to protect children from sexual abuse can be made to work with dedicated NGOs.
Meanwhile, another Swiss national paedophile Viktor Baumann was also sentenced to four-and-a-half years imprisonment by a Court in Zurich.
Baumann was ordered to pay 5000 Swiss Francs each to the 12 victims, all Lankan boys. In a sudden turn of events the child abuser had agreed to donate 50,000 Swiss Francs towards children's welfare organisations in Sri Lanka.
By Shane Seneviratne
The Mahanayake thera of the Malwatta Chapter, Ven. Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi thera yesterday expressed his regrets to the government's failure to issue the registration papers for the luxury car donated by President Chandrika Bandaranaika Kumaratunga.
The Thera told 'The Sunday Times' that he was compelled to use the vehicle without the registration papers.
The thera's comments came less than a week after the Mahanayake thera of the Asgiriya chapter, Ven. Palipane Sri Chananda thera said that the government could take back the vehicle donated if they were unable to pay the luxury tax.
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