- PM says Govt. started delivering change that public voted for in 2015 with bond investigation
- Emphasises steps taken, believes no other Govt. has taken such sweeping measures to address allegations
- Minister Marapana appointed to head committee to probe alleged links between UNP members and bond scandal
- Promises UNP will implement Marapana recommendations
- Insists governance change embodied in stronger parliament, presidential commission and COPE
- Acknowledges transparency transformation cannot happen overnight but Govt. steadfast in its goal
Taking his message straight to the public, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday said the unparalleled transparency the bond issue was dealt with can be regarded as the start of the change the public voted for in 2015 and pledged to hold all responsible parties accountable.
Making a special statement outlining actions taken by the Government to investigate the allegations of bond sale irregularities, Wickremesinghe stated it was the best example to date of how transparency had been infused into governance and how Parliament was strengthened over the last three years.
Taking another step towards achieving greater accountability, Wickremesinghe said a committee headed by Foreign Minister Thilak Marapana has been appointed to identify any United National Party (UNP) member links to the bond issue and the party was committed to work on any recommendations presented by Marapana.
The change that people expected when they voted in January 2015, the virtuous society they wanted would be achieved by this Government, Wickremesinghe insisted. He conceded that this was not a goal that could be realised in “one day or one night” but “this bond investigation can be regarded as the start to that change. We will pay equal attention to the past as well as the present. We will tread on the right path and we will correct our mistakes.”
“Our aim is to develop Sri Lanka, to make it prosperous and peaceful. Let us work together to achieve this aspiration,” he said.
The Prime Minister also took pains to detail the measures taken by him and President Maithripala Sirisena to deal with the bond issuance scandal when it first broke.
“We came to power to stop corruption and fraud. To bring justice no matter the colour or party. When the bond issue came up we did not sweep it under the carpet. In just two weeks we appointed a commission and the former Central Bank Governor recued himself from duties during the investigation. Parliament was updated and told to appoint a Select Committee if it wanted to, all reports were also presented to Parliament,” he said.
He also pointed out that during the previous administration of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the chairmanship of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was given to a member of his party, however under the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration it was returned to an Opposition member as was customary. The COPE report on the bond issue was subsequently debated in Parliament, he recalled and forwarded to the Attorney General for appropriate action on 31 October 2016.
“Further investigation into Perpetual Treasuries was recommended. As a result President Sirisena, following discussions with me, appointed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. We supported the commission to the fullest; several top ministers went before it. Even I went before it. Never has there been a Government that has worked so hard after allegations have been directed at it. We have had three investigations into this issue.”
Wickremesinghe noted that even though similar allegations had existed against the former Government no efforts had been taken to investigate them or release information to Parliament. Even when questions were raised in Parliament they went unanswered, he observed.
“Sri Lanka’s financial management lies with Parliament but that had been forgotten. This bond issue was one instance when Parliament was able to use its due powers to protect the public. We enabled that to happen. This is the best example of transparency at work.”
As the Central Bank, which remains under his purview, had frozen financial assets worth Rs. 12 billion belonging to Perpetual Treasuries it was therefore possible to recoup Rs. 9.2 billion the bond report had calculated was lost to the State, Wickremesinghe said.
“We will recover this amount. Therefore, there is no loss to the State. If there is any official involved in it, we will implement the law against him accordingly,” he added.
“We cooperated fully with the investigation since the allegation against the bond scam surfaced. We will take steps for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. We have been able to prove that ours is a policy-oriented, ethical and pious government.”
“No other government has acted in that manner in the recent past. The Judiciary took decisions independently, and the media worked fearlessly. ”