The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to Investigate and Inquire in to Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges is investigating in to nearly 220 large scale frauds, according to its Secretary Lacille de Silva.
“Whether minor or major, the cases are investigated giving equal priority while taking serious consideration of issues where there is a huge loss to the government,” de Silva told the Sunday Observer.
Adding that considering the magnitude of the bribery and corruption that occurred within the past five years, finalising investigations is time consuming, despite the expeditious investigations of the CoI.
Q: What is the mandate of the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Large Scale Corruption and Fraud?
A: The Presidential Commission of Inquiry is to investigate and inquire in to complaints or information made and forwarded by the public – individuals or organisations – on acts of corruption, fraud, criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation of property, cheating and abuse or misuse of power, State resources and privileges.
The offences or acts should have been committed during January 10, 2010 to January 10, 2015. Cases must be proven to have caused serious loss to the state assets and state revenue.
Q: The Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Large Scale Corruption and Fraud initiated the public hearing sessions on July 16. Why were they postponed till elections are over?
A: There is an effort in the country to establish good governance and therefore, there are political and non political groups that we have to cooperate with.
The Election Commissioner was also of the view that we (Commission of Inquiry) must give a chance for the elections campaign even though there are accused among the politicians who are contesting.
The CoI has no desire to intervene into a free and fair election. Politicians who are contesting have individually requested to be released from being summoned until the elections are over.
President Maithripala Sirisena in appointing this Commission wanted to act in fairness to all parties – the grieved and the accused.
Therefore the Commission considered all aspects equally. But soon after the Parliamentary Elections the public hearing will recommence by August 20.
A: Yes, definitely. Investigations are not on hold.
Q: How many complaints did the CoI receive?
A: Since the inception of the Commission in March, a total of 876 cases.
Q: How many cases are under investigation? Are there any major cases that are prioritised?
A: Many of the petitions had to be rejected and investigations are underway for 220 cases. Priority was given to the complaints that fell within the framework of the CoI.
Q: By rejecting cases, isn’t the CoI doing injustice to the complainants – who are citizens of the country seeking justice? They approached a Commission appointed by the President expecting a special concern. Ultimately where can the people go?
A: It is true some of these cases need justice. But sometimes certain cases are personal in nature. Our job is demarcated in the CoI. The main concerning factor is that the corruption and misuse of state resources must be proven as a loss to the Government.
Whenever possible the Commission directs complaints that do not fall within its mandate to other relevant institutes. But we do understand people appeal to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to see an expedited solution.
There is a significant number of complaints we have received of cases where the people have faced injustice when they approached other relevant institutes seeking a solution, before reaching the Presidential Commission.
Many were related to misconduct of Local Government authorities and it has created a big mess. Some people have faced injustices resulting in personal losses due to wrong government protocol.
The magnitude of the problems in bribery, corruption and misuse of State resources is massive. We are doing the best within our frame.
Q: There are several other mechanisms to investigate in to bribery and corruption issues. Could you explain the necessity of a Presidential Special Commission of Inquiry in to Large Scale Corruption and Fraud?
A: President Maithripala Sirisena during his presidential campaign assured the general public that he will set up a special mechanism to investigate bribery, corruption, large scale misuse of power and state resources because there had been numerous complaints. There was a need for an efficient, expeditious mechanism.
The magnitude of the problem needed a special approach.
Q: Despite the high response from the public and civil organisations who were quick to file complaints about frauds, the CoI seems to be investigating in a rather slow pace. Could you explain the process?
A: Establishing the office, evaluating petitions, recruiting staff all happened within the past five months.
The Commission evaluated every single complaint and responded swiftly.
Process is not slow – it is very efficient and thorough.
The Commission of Inquiry comprise four High Court Judges and a former Auditor General. Investigations are independently conducted by a specialised Police investigations team.
The special team is lead by ASP Lalith Abeysekara and a competent, well experienced officer from the CID, Chief Inspector Bodhipaksha.
The process is not slow as those suspected persons who are accused are feeling affected and are trying to reach the Commission and requesting to relax investigations on them.
The Commission of Inquiry does not give any space for unwanted interferences. President Sirisena appointed the Commission to act freely and fairly and it will happen that way.
Q: Are there any cases under investigation involving VVIPs, former ministers and officials of the previous government who are also contesting in the upcoming parliamentary elections?
A: Yes there are. Most of the allegations are pointed at former Ministers, deputy ministers and Secretaries of ministries. And there are cases against some of the leading institutes in the country.
Q: The quick response from the public by filing complaints with CoI showed that they were ready to trust the new mechanism believing that it would be able to bring out the truth on who misused public money. Don’t you think by delaying the process the CoI would lose the public trust?
A: We are fully aware of the trust and the confidence the people have placed in us. We are not acting in a manner against that. We are conducting the investigations with utmost commitment and efficiency. These investigations are time consuming.
Persons are summoned more than once to get evidence and statements, depending on the complexity of the case. The commission is working expeditiously to finalise the cases.
Q: The public is of the opinion that investigations are conducted into minor cases rather than taking up the large-scale fraud and corruption. What is your response?
A: We are aware that the public is of the opinion that only the sprats are caught and the sharks are still at large. It is not the case.
Whether minor or major, the cases are investigated giving equal priority while taking serious consideration of issues where there is a huge loss to the government.
These investigations need time and detailed information and cannot be done overnight.