By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent
Opposition lawmakers demanding the Government to table the COPE investigation report on the controversial bond issuance of the Central Bank caused a stir in the House yesterday.
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa intervened to discuss the matter with COPE Chairman D.E.W. Gunasekera.
On 20 May, Rajapaksa turned down the Opposition’s request to table a motion seeking a debate over the actions of Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and Bribery Commission Director General Dilrukshi Wickremasinghe.
In his verdict, the Speaker recommended raising the issues against both Mahendran and Wickremasinghe with an existing Select Committee or a special Select Committee of Parliament prior to a debate.
“An existing committee should conduct the initial investigation and the findings, along with the recommendations, should be debated in Parliament. Otherwise the allegations against the Central Bank Governor should be submitted to COPE, allowing its Chairman to appoint a suitable committee to conduct an investigation. The findings of this committee should be reported to Parliament within two weeks,” the Speaker said.
“Both are public officers and the motions concern their conduct. I believe Article 13 (3) of our Constitution is relevant and important. It gives assurances that any person charged with an offence shall be entitled to be heard, in person or by an attorney-at-law, at a fair trial by a competent court. This is based on the principles of natural justice. So the other party should be provided with a fair and equal opportunity to provide facts as given in the audi alteram partem principle. Adding more to it, necessary room should be provided to investigate the matter in depth,” he added.
However, with the two-week period from 20 May elapsing, along with several additional days, Opposition lawmakers yesterday voiced their concerns.
Raising the issue in Parliament, Prof. G.L. Peiris said: “I moved a motion in this House about the Governor of the Central Bank with 88 member signatures. Instead of calling for a debate it was moved to COPE as per your directive and a report of the findings of the investigation was due to be submitted within two weeks. We would like to know the progress of this issue since it has been over a month now.”
Agreeing with Prof. Peiris, UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena said: “Today is 27 June 2015. On 20 May 2015 the Hansard carries the Speaker’s orders that COPE present their report within two weeks. It seems that your order has been ignored and we seek your immediate action in this matter.”
UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena stated: “Daylight robbery took place at the Central Bank and it has to be investigated. D.E.W Gunasekera and his team were eager to conduct the investigation. Our gratitude goes out to all of them but the entire country and all its sectors are looking at unearthing the fraud which took place. There is no firm date to dissolve Parliament. We urge you to order that the COPE report be presented,” said Gunawardena.
Opposition lawmaker Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who was willing to settle for a summery instead of the full report said: “I got to know that the COPE investigation on this matter concluded. I don’t know if this is the last day of this Parliament. However, we need the COPE Chairman to make at least a brief statement updating us about the findings. We need the Speaker’s involvement in this.”
However, the Government said that it had no control over the report or its findings and the delay. Responding to the Opposition, House Leader Plantation Industries Minister Lakshman Kiriella, said: “We haven’t stopped this. The COPE Chairman is a member of the Opposition. You should ask him.”
Joining the argument, Deputy Justice Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe reminded the House that the Supreme Court made a judgement on the bond issuance.
“The matter was brought before the court, which decided that there was no fraud. We should all respect the decision of the Supreme Court,” said Deputy Minister Senasinghe.