MPs in hunt for 10 m. dollar man
The Government’s attempt to purchase five MiG -29 aircraft for the Air Force and an alleged move to sell off the shares of Sri Lanka Telecom were two issues raised by the Opposition when Parliament met last week.
These issues dominated the sessions during an otherwise dull week, with the House devoting time to speak on the condolence votes on two former MPs.
The issue of the telecom sale was raised by JVP Parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa. He claimed NTT the Japanese Company that holds more than 35 per cent of the shares in SLT, was planning to sell off its shares to a Malaysian-based company owned by a businessman named Ananda Krishnan. This sale Mr. Weerawansa said, could compromise national security.
At the beginning of his statement Mr. Weerawansa drew reference to posters that had sprung up all over the city warning of Telecom falling into Tiger hands. He warned of the SLT coming under the control of this company would be an act indirectly helpful to the LTTE.
But other than stating that the businessman’s parents had migrated to Malaysia from Jaffna, and that Mr. Krishnan was an elusive businessman who made his money allegedly in gambling and in the oil businesses, Mr. Weerawansa provided few details of a link between Mr. Krishnan and the LTTE.
He was equally evasive when several UNP MPs asked him to name the person whom he had referred to as “someone in government who was facilitating the Telecom deal with the Malaysian tycoon, because of the US $ 10 million “santhosam” he would get for it. This prompted Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva to ask the JVP member to take the information he had to the Bribery Commission and hand it over to them so that if there was an improper deal, the Commission could investigate it.
“The government has nothing to hide. If you have the details of a shady deal as you claim, please go to the Bribery Commission. Don’t come here and make allegations based on what you pick up from here and there”, Mr. de Silva said.
Although the issue was due for a longer debate on Thursday, it could not be taken up because the UNP wanted what they called a more urgent matter discussed -the move by Government to purchase 5 MiG aircraft.
Twenty UNP MPs rose to support the motion proposed by Kandy district MP Lakshman Kiriella for the MiG debate to be taken up as required under Standing Orders. The debate was allowed by Deputy Chairman of Committees -Ramalingam Chandrasekar- who was presiding.
The decision to allow the debate came after the House was suspended twice to give time for Mr. Chandrasekar to consult the Speaker on the issue.
Mr.Kiriella alleged that the MiG deal was being implemented improperly without calling for tenders, leaving room for large-scale fraud given the high cost of such aircraft, each of which would amount to around Rs 1.6 billion.
He said the company involved in the deal must be brought before the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) or a Parliamentary Committee be set up to oversee the tender process.Minister of Power Mahindananda Aluthgamage said the Government too was against corruption.. He said if irregularities were taking place they needed to be exposed. He added however, the issue should not be used to betray the interests of the country.
“The LTTE did not want the Government to purchase the MiG aircraft and the UNP too did not want this to happen. Do not try to give saline to an ailing LTTE”, he urged.
The UNP proposal did not find much support for debate from the JVP whose MP Chandrasena Wijesinghe insisted that such topics should not be discussed as it would assist the terrorists.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who wound up the debate said that details of military equipment procured could not be revealed for security reasons. The military, he said, decided what equipment it needed. It was the responsibility of the government to fulfil that need, Mr. Wickremasinghe added.
The condolence votes on former Speaker Stanley Tillekaratna and former Kurunegala District MP H.M.A Lokubanda was also taken up by the House.