Government funds may have been used to organize a public rally in support of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential bid in December last year, according to evidence now being led at the hearings of the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Large Scale Corruption and Fraud, which began hearings in Colombo, last Thursday morning. No proper procedure seems to have been followed in these dealings, according to testimony.
With over 600 complaints received of massive fraud, the Special Presidential Commission probe is expected to expose a number of corrupt politicians and public officials. Already, in its first day of hearings, the Commission took up a series of transactions reported as ‘corrupt’ in which the government’s Procurement Guidelines have been breached. The Special Presidential Commission was appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena in March 2015.
The first case heard by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was on the embezzlement of public funds in the Ceylon Fisheries Harbour Corporation (CFHC) during late December 2014. The evidence was led before High Court Judges Padman Surasena, Amendra Seneviratna, Vikum Kaluarachchi, Gihan Kulatunga and former Auditor General B.A. Premathilake. Senior State Counsel Sudarshana de Silva and State Counsel Sagara Kariyawasam represented the Attorney General. The accused were represented by Attorney-at-Law Sampath Mendis.
The allegation was that state funds had been used to install a plaque at a cost of almost Rs. 1.84 million for a project to develop the Negombo Lagoon. The evidence presented before the Commission during Thursday’s hearings indicated that state assets had probably been misused with the knowledge of CFHC officials. The Commission is also investigating whether Government funds had been used to organise a public rally for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Negombo Municipal Council playground on December 30, 2014.
According to the evidence given by the Negombo Mayor Antony Jayaweera, the rally was organised by the Negombo Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organiser and former Deputy Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratne. Many high profile SLFP Ministers, Deputy Ministers and parliamentarians were present at the rally.
Acting Supplies Manager, CFHC Lakmina Munidasa, questioned by Senior Counsel Kariyawasam, told the Commission that the construction work on the plaque was awarded to a contractor who was selected from the list of names sent by the General Manager in an open letter without calling for tenders.
The advance payment was over 50 percent of the total payment despite the fact that the Government Procurement Guidelines authorised only a 20 percent advance payment.
It was revealed that the General Manager had authorised the payment and the then Chairman had approved the advance payment on December 19, 2014.
According to official records presented as evidence, the Procurement Committee had met to evaluate the quotations on January 7, 2015.
The award of contracts to organise the rally, print diaries, T shirts and caps, and the payments made, had all violated the Government Procurement Guidelines, according to the evidence given by the Acting Supplies Manager and the two contractors.
The public hearing was on the Rs. 5 million paid for the event organised and another Rs. 1.25 million paid to print T shirts and caps, with logos promoting the former President and, the printing of 2,000 diaries for 2015 at a cost of around Rs. 1.09 million. Attorney-at-Law Darshana Mendis, appearing on behalf of the former Deputy Minister, former Chairman, General Manager, Private Secretary and Coordinating Secretary of the former Deputy Minister said the hurried notice for his client did not give sufficient time to prepare for the hearing.
They had continuously called for another date although the hearing was scheduled only for two days. The Commission of Inquiry fixed the next public hearing on August 20, 21, 24 and 25 at the BMICH.