Ask any fan of the fictional British Secret Service detective and they will tell you that their hero James Bond always triumphs over evil. Most Sri Lankans in the past weeks had to contend with a new kind of bond – those issued by the Central Bank. For days before the Parliamentary oversight Committee on [...]


Some James Bond mysteries in the bond scam


Ask any fan of the fictional British Secret Service detective and they will tell you that their hero James Bond always triumphs over evil.
Most Sri Lankans in the past weeks had to contend with a new kind of bond – those issued by the Central Bank. For days before the Parliamentary oversight Committee on Public Eterprises (COPE) report on the probe into one such bond issue in February last year was made public, the secret was known.

It was that former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran no less was responsible for a financial scam that benefitted his immediate family, it was said. This was later confirmed when the COPE report became a public document on Friday. COPE said legal action should be taken against him and Perpetual Treasuries Limited to ensure the money they made illegally was returned to the Government. Mr. Mahendran’s son-in-law Arjun Aloysius was directly associated with this company.

The excitement over this scandal, stoutly argued by United National Party (UNP) parliamentarians and more stoutly opposed by their Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) counterparts in the Government of National Unity was not confined to Parliament in Diyawanna Oya. It was the talking point where two or more persons gathered. Needless to say, the image of the UNP had taken a bad beating.

One Joint Opposition (JO) stalwart did not take comfort over the public criticism the UNP was facing. At first, he told his followers not to make any public references to the bond issue. The reason he gave was funnier than the jokes that come from local comedians. He said “people did not know what a bond issue is. The only bond they knew was James Bond.”

When the story was becoming too hot, the stalwart just could not but refrain from mentioning the sordid deal at a public meeting in the south. He, no doubt began blaming the present Government for it. Soon, he was receiving telephone calls from those interested not to make any reference to the matter. Callers referred to the special relationship those currently accused had with the siblings of the JO stalwart.

The ex-VVIP got wind of the news that a group of the JO was planning a news conference this week to express their “shock and horror” at the news the COPE report was going to reveal. That was not all. After the news conference, they were to march to the office of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to stage a protest. He immediately rushed to the organisers and said in his stentorian voice that neither the news conference nor the march should take place. That put an end to the moves.

The postscript to the episode came in the lobby of Parliament. A prominent SLFP minister remarked to an Opposition politician somewhat wittily that, “there is true bi-partisan unity between the Joint Opposition and the UNP on this bond issue.”

Pay (salary); Fly (after inquiry) at SriLankan
The breathalyser test issue for SriLankan Airlines pilots has continued to dog the national carrier. Not so long ago, a pilot was grounded when he was found to have been above the permitted alcohol limit just before he boarded a flight he was to command out of Frankfurt airport. This was followed immediately after by another pilot refusing to be subjected to a mandatory test at Colombo airport but proceeded to captain a flight to Bangkok. He claimed unqualified persons were subjecting him to the test.

Suspended pending an inquiry, as is mandatory procedure, the pilot has now raised objections to the Inquiring Officer and the airline is looking for a replacement. In the meantime, the issue of his salary came up for a heated debate at the board level of the airline this week.

Two board directors, one of whom was the chairman, had vehemently objected to paying the suspended pilot’s salary saying this was against standard procedure, would undermine the management and send the wrong signals to the Inquiring Officer yet to be named. But the chairman and another were outvoted 2-4.
Since the new board was appointed last year, the members have rarely seen eye-to-eye on most issues and acted with unanimity — not even when it comes to disciplinary matters.
So, if the common slogan in the travel trade was; ‘Fly now, Pay later’ in this case it is; ‘Pay now, Fly later’.

Justice Minister still pushing for CPC amendments
Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who seems to get most amendments he wants rejected even before they come to Parliament has not given up pushing for changes to the Criminal Procedure Code to deprive suspects arrested and detained by Police access to lawyers prior to recording their statement.
His latest move is recorded in the minutes of a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on October 11. This is what it says:

“Bill to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, No 15 of 1979 (Rights of Detainees – Access to Legal Counsel) – while deliberating on item 09 on the Agenda of this Cabinet meeting, Hon (Dr.) Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice informed the Cabinet that on the advice of the Hon. Prime Minister, the above Bill has not been presented to Parliament as yet due to concerns expressed by several interested parties. After discussion, it was decided to request the Minister of Justice

(i) To forward the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, to the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and Media in Parliament, seeking its views; and

(ii) To submit the views of the said Oversight Committees, to the Cabinet of Ministers, enabling it to instruct the Legal Draftsman to incorporate amendments, if any, based on the views expressed by the Oversight Committee.

“It was also decided to treat this decision as confirmed and authorise the Secretary to the Cabinet of Ministers to convey to the relevant authorities for necessary action.”

The Minister’s move was slammed by the Human Rights Council, the Bar Association and the European Union as a gross violation of the citizen’s human rights.

Visa deal with Philippines
Sri Lanka has reached accord with the Philippines to waive visas for diplomatic passport holders and those with official passports.
A Foreign Ministry official said an announcement would be made soon on the new arrangement.

Islam and democracy: PM seeks postponement of world conference here
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has sought a postponement of a planned three-day International Conference on Islam and Democracy in Colombo from November 17.In May, this year, the Cabinet of Ministers had decided to conduct this conference under the supervision of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Posts, Postal Services and Muslim Affairs.

The Prime Minister has told his ministerial colleagues that “several international conferences overlap with the proposed dates for the International Conference on Islam and Democracy and several invitees have already indicated their inability to attend the conference due to this reason.”
Mr. Wickremesinghe has added that “taking into consideration the nature of this conference, it is recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, be entrusted with the responsibility of organising this international conference after fixing suitable dates in consultation with those involved.”

President proposes pensions for farmers, fisherfolk
President Maithripala Sirisena wants to introduce a pension scheme for farmers and those in the fishing community.
He has asked the ministers to come up with “financially viable” proposals for such a scheme.
A pension scheme for farmers was, however, first introduced by the then Food and Agriculture Minister Gamani Jayasuriya during the J.R. Jayewardene period. It was launched from the North Central Province, probably in Polonnaruwa.

Four ministers probe SLC debt
A ministerial subcommittee has been called upon to report within two weeks on complaints that Sri Lanka Cricket owed money to the State Engineering Corporation.
It is chaired by Special Assignments Minister Sarath Amunugama, and includes Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera.
The Special Assignments Ministry Secretary will function as the Convenor of the sub committee.

Boutique hotel at Water’s Edge
The Ministry of Western development and Megapolis has won approval to build a boutique hotel in the premises where the Water’s Edge resort is located.
At present the facilities at the resort are restricted to the conduct of functions while there are restaurants for diners. There are no facilities for accommodation.

Give Tamil its place, Jaffna students tell Governor
The Jaffna University student union has returned to the Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray the copy of a letter he had sent saying it was not in Tamil.
The copy related to a letter the Governor had sent President Maithripala Sirisena.
K. Rajeevan, President of the Arts Faculty of the Jaffna University, had written in the letter that, “We could not understand what you are saying here. We’re trying to say that Sri Lanka’s official languages are Sinhala and Tamil.”

“If they cannot concede us what is already in the Constitution, how can they address our other issues,” asked Mr. Rajeevan.

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