‘I have every right to phone any  one I like’, says Sujeewa ‘I need tell none my meeting with Aloysius, says Dayasiri If UNP’s Sujeewa Senasinghe and SLFP’s Dayasiri Jayasekera, two ministerial members of the COPE committee that probed the bond scam last year and were exposed last week as having made and received calls [...]


Phone storm rages as Rajitha gets on line to defend COPE members right to call Arjun


  • ‘I have every right to phone any  one I like’, says Sujeewa
  • ‘I need tell none my meeting with Aloysius, says Dayasiri

SUJEEWA: Nothing ethically wrong

If UNP’s Sujeewa Senasinghe and SLFP’s Dayasiri Jayasekera, two ministerial members of the COPE committee that probed the bond scam last year and were exposed last week as having made and received calls to and from primary bond dealer Arjun Aloysius during COPE’s inquiry into his role in the affair – if they had hoped, as often happens in Lanka’s political climate, that the storm that suddenly erupted when CID revealed their phone records to the Presidential Bond Commission last Thursday would soon swiftly blow away, it didn’t.

How could it when they turned rainmakers this week and made even more pregnant the dark clouds with their own gift of rain to make the tempest tarry a little longer over Lanka’s political skies. On Tuesday Sujeewa Senasinghe was the first to hold a news conference to explain why he had 227 calls to and from Arjun Aloysius, 63 during his tenure as a member of the COPE committee probing Aloysius.

One can, of course, understand his concern and his anxiety to clear his name of any collusion with Aloysius in any cover up of the 5 billion buck bond scam.
Only last Thursday he had defended his right to call any citizen in the country when SLFP MP D. V. Chanaka had raised the issue and asked him whether he can tell the House what he spoke to Aloysius about.

Senasinghe had already weathered a bruising skirmish with Namal Rajapaksa who had asked him the same simple question. Senasinghe’s reply had been to counter the question and make allegations of Namal’s profession pedigree. Another UPFA Puttalam District MP Sanath Nishantha had asked the same question, what he had been talking with Aloysius. Senasinghe’s retort had been to say “it was not about your sister.” What the MPs sister had to do with it all, no one really knows.

DAYASIRI: No need to tell anyone

Another MP had asked him the same question. Senasinghe’s counter attack had been to say to the MP concerned: “Mallie, we won’t talk about how your father whacked from shipments. It is from those that you were able to buy your houses. When the ships came from Japan with goods called, Sashimi, I am the one who legally represented your father; I am the one who did the case for him. So don’t come to fling mud at me.”

Though Senasinghe enjoys absolute privilege as all MPs do in Parliament to cast the vilest slander without fearing any defamatory action, whether such an answer where he condemns his own client who he says he had represented in court whom he now refers to as a racketeer is one for the Bar Council to determine whether or no he has violated lawyer-client confidentiality and transgressed professional ethics, but the fact remains that all these MPS had put forward a valid parliamentary question: “Can you tell the House what the contents of the dialogue you had with Aloysius on the phone were” And, apart from a barrage of counter allegations, answer came there none.

SLFP MP D. V. Chanaka did not plunge in to raise the same question. Instead he spoke about the timing of Senasinghe’s appointment to the COPE Committee two days after the sudden resignation of another UNP member. He stated that “Senasinghe had gone to Court earlier to obtain an injunction to prevent the first Dew Gunasekara COPE committee bond report in 2015 from seeing light. Then he later withdrew it.”

He stated that Senasinghe had also written a book on the bond issue in 2015. And proceeded to read verbatim a quote from the Senasinghe book on the bond issue where he had written: “If you have something to buy and if your uncle has a shop, and if that item is available for sale at your uncle’s shop and if you purchase that item from your uncle’s shop in the normal course of trade, then who, in his right mind, can say the transaction was based on family relationship?” D.V. Chanaka then asked Sujeewa, “Do you think that this is a case of one going to his father in law’s shop and buying a loaf of bread? “

After repeated exchanges of this sort and after D.V. Chanaka mentioned the 227 calls Senasinghe had taken to Aloysius and especially the 62 calls he had taken during the time he was a member of the COPE Bond Committee between July and October 2016, Senasinghe rose from his bench to ask D.V. Chanaka a simple but pertinent question. He asked “Merely because we are on the COPE Committee, why cannot we talk to a private person? Tell me a legal reason. Aloysius has not been made an accused. And if I need to get some information from him, why cannot I talk to him?

D.V. Chanaka may not be a lawyer to forward a legal opinion but his reply was, “Mr. Speaker, there is an ethical question involved here. It’s like a judge maintaining a relationship with a man in the dock. Why is it that in courts, the judge is not permitted to maintain relationships with the man in the dock? “
D.V. Chanaka may have a point there. Under the Parliamentary Standing Orders which established COPE, clause 5 states the committee or any of its sub-committees, ‘in the performance of its duties have the power to summon before it and question any person and call for and examine any paper, book, record or other document and to have access to stores and property.’ If a COPE member wished to glean information from any person, all he has to do is to get the committee to summon that person before the committee and ask that person questions he wishes to ask. No need for private phone calls.

RAJITHA: We can talk to anyone

The Sunday Punch in its comment last week extended the benefit of doubt to Senasinghe for his 227 calls, to Dayasiri Jayasekera for his 18 calls, to Hector Appuhamy for his 73 calls and Harshana Rajakaruna for his 176 calls and said: “Perhaps all these logged calls to and fro from Aloysius to ministers and MPs of the Government were merely to wish one another a very good morning and to inquire after the weather and to express the hope the rains will soon cease and the storms will soon blow away. One cannot judge a man and put him in the pillory and cast rotten tomatoes for having merely punched a number in all innocence and rule him guilty without first being privy to the contents of the conversation.”

But Sujeewa Senasinghe, to his credit, was not prepared to explain away his 227 calls, 63 of them made during his tenure as a member of the COPE commission into the bond scandal in 2016 by claiming it was the daily prospect of sun or rain that formed the principal subject of his conversation with Aloysius.
He did not seek recourse to blame it on the inclement weather and to inquire from the man at the epicentre of the bond storm whether the need will arise to raise his umbrella on the turn of the weather cock and thus shield himself from the downpour and avoid getting drenched; or to say that the 227 calls he had made and received from Aloysius was merely to exchange pleasantries and wish each other the very best.

Instead, he gallantly chose to offer his own definitive version of the subject matter of his calls which had moved him so to have his cell phone regularly glued to his ear to hear the soothing tones of Aloysius’s voice at the other end of the line. And this Tuesday, he called a press conference.

Very honourable, very creditable and very commendable of him to take the public to his confidence. Though a little belated. And try his best to bond himself with the public by revealing all to the people of Lanka the reasons he had denied to his fellow parliamentarians last week.

At the press conference dressed in white national attire, the bespectacled Mr. Sujeewa revealed the reason why he had spent so much time on the phone with Aloysius. Apparently it was to gain — for nothing like getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, is there? — from the man at the centre of the bond scam, information that would help him writes his book on the bond issue.

He said: I spoke to him to obtain information on the bond issue. I do not say I did not talk to Aloysius. I talked to him. I say that clearly. I called him to obtain information to write my book. After the conclusion of the second COPE Commission I have not had any single phone communication with him. I am ready for any investigation.

Sujeewa Senasinghe was also to say: When I was writing my book on the bond issue who else was I to talk to but Aloysius? Am I to talk to his mother? Am I to talk to his father? I told the president that I talked to Aloysius only because I was writing my book. So that settles it then. The 5 billion buck question why Senasinghe talked to Aloysius. To get info on the bond issue to write his book. Even though a member of COPE inquiring in to the bond scam, he had played the role of researcher to write his Magnus Opus on the bond issue. He did not explain, however, why he felt impelled to write a book on the subject whist being a member of COPE. Perhaps, he thought history is best recorded in the making, whilst it happens.

Except for one thing. His book titled Maha Bankuwe Badhumkara Nikuthuwe Attha Nattha, ‘Central Bank Bond issue’s truth or falsity’ was published in 2015. But the call records presented to the Bond Commission by the CID for the pertinent period of COPE sittings in 2016 – for the period between 6th May when the COPE began its second inquiry to 28th October when it concluded its sittings – revealed that 62 calls were made or received by Sujeewa to or from Aloysius during this period, one year after his bond book was published by Sanhidha Publishers.

Funny, isn’t it, considering the fact that Senasinghe admitted at his press conference that he had been in touch with Aloysius and only stopped talking to him on the phone at the conclusion of the second COPE inquiry the date of which was October 28, 2016, that he should say that the calls were made only to obtain info for his book published in 2015?

Like COPE had a second inquiry into the bond scam, perhaps Senasinghe should have a second press conference to clarify this point. For the moment, let’s give him the benefit of doubt and say he was planning a second edition to his best seller bond book and was only in touch with Aloysius to gain further information to update it.

Sujeewa Senasinghe was also asked by the journalists: “COPE member Dayasiri Jayasekera said in Parliament that Aloysius called him, asked him for his help, but he has said no. Why didn’t you do the same?

Sujeewa‘s answer to the question was to say: That’s why I said I don’t have to lie like that, no. Why say he called me for this and for that two or three times when one call would have sufficed. Dayasiri could have said at once that he cannot help and ended the matter there. Mr. Dayasiri should have said once and for all that he can’t help and not to call him. “

And that must bring us to the subject of Dayasiri Jayasekera – Lanka’s political pole vaulting champ, whose prowess in the sport had apparently impressed both Maithri and Ranil to find in him the ideal sporting qualifications to be appointed as Lanka’s Sports Minister – who on Wednesday took his seat alongside Rajitha Senaratne at the cabinet press briefing; and following Sujeewa’s act of holding a press conference to justify his 227 calls, made use of the occasion to turn the cabinet briefing into his own press conference to justify his stance on the matter.

Though he made and received 18 calls to and from Aloysius, and only one incoming and one outgoing during the period he served as a member of COPE, he had gone the extra mile to grant Aloysius a private audience with him behind closed doors at his ministerial office. And he had not considered it vital to inform his fellow COPE committee members of the meeting that the man, who was the subject matter of the COPE probe, had solicited his help.

He admitted that there was a “major issue” in the fact that members of the COPE Committee had conversations with Arjun Aloysius. He said, “Yes of course there is a major issue.” But said he found no need to tell anyone that, apart from voice calls on the telephone, he had actually met the man in flesh and blood in the privacy of his ministerial office. Whether it was a one to one meeting or one surrounded by public officials he did not say.

His explanation was: “Yes I met him once and we spoke on the phone twice. But I don’t think it was needed to declare to anyone that I met him.” Jayasekera admitted that the meeting was meant to influence the COPE investigations. But he didn’t think that such an attempt to nobble a member of COPE was important enough to bring to the notice of his fellow COPE members.

He admitted that he had not informed the meeting to any person or authority. All he could say in his defense was, “I didn’t find the need to tell anyone. As a politician I talk to a lot of people and this was one such conversation. “Strange isn’t that he and Sujeewa, both attorneys-at-law, still seem unable to grasp the fact — immediately apparent to any first year Law College student — that both Dayasiri and Sujeewa were members of the COPE committee probing the bond scam, that Arjun Aloysius was not just another person but was the primary subject of the probe, and that any communication between him and any member of the committee must be brought to the attention of the COPE Committee.

Sujeewa has had 227 telephone conversations with Arjuna, 62 of them during the period when he was member of COPE last year; Dayasiri has had 18 calls and one incoming and one outgoing plus a person to person meeting with Arjun: but neither Sujeewa nor Dayasiri thought – and still maintain the same view – it necessary to inform the relevant bodies till the CID disclosed details of their calls to the Presidential Bond Commission and the storm blew up in their faces.
So much for transparency in government.

And this ‘call, meet and no tell’ policy was followed by two sitting members of COPE whilst Richie Dias the Treasury Head of Pan Asia Bank promptly informed the Commission when Aloysius allegedly attempted to influence him.

And to add to the storm’s fury, Minister Rajitha Senaratne stepped in on Wednesday to provide the cyclonic wind to make it blow stronger. He said: “There was no issue with COPE members speaking to Arjun Aloysius, who was under investigation. “It was COPE members who should speak to him. No one understands the issue regarding Bonds. Even I had to get it clarified by three well-known economists. So what is wrong with COPE members speaking to Aloysius for clarification?”

True, no problem in asking Aloysius for clarification by a few COPE members who seem not to have the foggiest about high level finance. The question is however, if any clarification is sought, should it not have been be done in the open during the Committees’ proceedings? Especially when it is empowered to summon any person and to question him or her to shed light on the subject at hand? Not go moonlighting in the dark making furtive phone calls and keeping it secret until it is exposed.

Oh! And one more thing, before we keep the line. And that’s Senasinghe’s outburst against President Sirisena for extending the Presidential Bond Commission’s life span. At the press conference on Tuesday he said: ‘I am actually badly disappointed about the President. We elected him by making sacrifices. I called and told him about this a month ago. “What did he do by extending this commission?” Mud is being slung at us by extending and extending this commission.”
The UPFA General Secretary and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera did not take kindly to Senasinghe’s criticism. On Thursday he said State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe has made a serious mistake by blaming the President for appointing the Presidential Commission to probe the Bond issue.

On Tuesday at the tail end of his press conference, Sujeewa ended it abruptly when a journalist asked him why when he has continually criticised the COPE Chairman and felt there was something wrong in the COPE set up he did not resign. After bundling up his papers before walking away, Senasinghe gave his last word on the subject. He said as a parting shot: “I did not resign because I didn’t need to.”

But this Sunday morn as he ponders over his performance at Tuesday’s press conference, perhaps it may strike him that the hour has come to bid goodbye. For long he has said he will gladly give up his position and go home. He, not even a cabinet minister but only a mere Minister of State had dared to criticise the President, the Head of Cabinet in public with no holds barred and, thereby, he must wonder whether his position to remain as a second league minister has now become untenable.

Though he had told a journalist just five days ago that he hadn’t resigned from COPE because there was no need for him to resign, had the need arisen today for his unwarranted attack on the president for giving a new lease of life to the Presidential Commission probing bond scam so that it could further investigate the activities of primary bond dealer Arjun Aloysius and his father in law Arjuna Mahendran?

‘My duty to protect UNP at COPE’

Sujeewa says nothing unethical in calling Arjun

At the press conference Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe called on Tuesday to explain away the 227 calls to Aloysius, 62 made and received to and from Arjun Aloysius while Sujeewa was on serving on the COPE committee, he was also asked whether he considers it ethical to have had conversations with Aloysius when he Sujeewa was a member of COPE that was probing Arjun?

His reply was: “Yes, it is ethical. We at COPE have the right to hold any opinion we want on behalf of our party. Our duty is to protect our party. There is nothing ethically wrong in that.”

So does it mean that members of the COPE can carry with them their party baggage into the COPE conclave? The COPE, after all is a commission of inquiry, a sort of quasi judicial body tasked with the duty of inquiring into the bond issue in an impartial, non partisan way?

One was under the impression that the public paid for the parliamentary appointed COPE to conduct its inquiries and submit its report impartially, especially since the conclusions of the COPE report may form the basis of future action. But now, according to Sujeewa Senasinghe, it’s nothing more than a bunch of party hacks sent to protect their individual parties. Not an esteemed body of honourable men and women who. whatever their political mindset, have transcended their party bias and embarked on a voyage of discovery in quest of Veritas, the goddess of truth, and there in her bosom, hope to find the truth of the matter under inquiry. And submit their report to the Speaker of the House as the findings of an independent body.

At the press conference Sujeewa explained the events that led to his appointment to the COPE bond Committee. Minister Kiriella approached the prime Minister and told him, “Sujeewa has a good knowledge of this, why don’t we appoint him to COPE? The Prime Minister then asked me, “If we appoint you can you work with others? I said, “I can.”

To give him the benefit of doubt, once again, perhaps he misunderstood what the Prime Minister meant when he asked him “If we appoint you can you work with others?” That all what the Prime Minister asked him was merely whether he could get along with the rest of the committee and be a team player. Not that the Prime Minister was sending him to defend the UNP battlement in a no party man’s land of a politically impartial commission.

If Sujeewa Senasinghe had thought so, if he had misunderstood the import of the prime minister’s question and, as a result, held the bigoted belief there was nothing unethical about talking to Arjun Aloysius whilst being a member of a COPE committee probing Arjun’s role in the bond scam, and that he was there in the COPE committee to safeguard the interest of his UNP, he seems, does it not, to have made a serious misjudgment of the role he was appointed to play at COPE by his party leader whom the public know full well will not stoop to order a minion to undertake so foul a commission on a non partisan parliamentary committee charged with the task of inquiry in the national interest:

Does anyone in his or her right mind think that the onerous duty as a member of COPE can be discharged on narrow pedestrian political lines, motivated not by the national interest but by how many points one can earn for party and self? That Ranil Wicremesinghe did not send Sujeewa Senasinghe to COPE to be a hit man to do a hatchet job for the UNP?

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