by Shamindra Ferdinando
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told the media yesterday at Sirikotha that the governmnet had been working closely with four foreign governments to trace ill-gotten funds amounting USD 18 billion stashed away overseas by the Rajapaksas.
Responding to a query, the Foreign Minister said funds amounting to USD 2 billion allegedly stashed away in Dubai had been found and the investigations were continuing.
The government has claimed that the US, India, the World Bank, the UN etc. are helping it track ill-gotten wealth stashed away by the members of the previous regime.
Asked whether he could name the countries involved in the operation, Minister Samaraweera said that investigations were continuing and they could not be named.
Comparing the asset recovery operations undertaken by the government with the help of its allies, Minister Samaraweera said that it was an extremely difficult task. Although former Libyan leader Gaddafi had been accused of having USD 80 billion in secret funds, only USD 3.6 billion had been recovered so far. The situation was the same in Egypt, Tunisia or Nigeria, the Minister said.
However, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has denied repeated government allegations as regards funds transferred from Sri Lanka during his tenure. He has recently challenged the government to prove, if it can, either he or his sons or his wife had offshore accounts.
Minister Samaraweera said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp wouldn’t be allowed to interfere with Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s plan to introduce a new Constitution.
Having introduced the 19 Amendment to the Constitution, the government was now proceeding towards the next stage regardless of on-going attempts by a section of the SLFP to undermine the process.
Addressing the media at UNP headquarters Sirikotha, Minister Samaraweera said that Parliament could be dissolved soon after having reached an understanding on electoral reforms.
In accordance with Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential election manifesto, the UNP and the SLFP would form a national government for a period of at least two years to pave the way for what he called the‘Third Republican constitution’ of Sri Lanka. MP Samaraweera didn’t rule out the possibility of the two parties continuing the arrangement for the entire five year term. In addition to the two largest political parties, others in parliament could join the next arrangement, the Foreign Minister said. “We are on the right track to realise our dream.”
Declaring that the passage of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution was the most significant achievement during their recently completed 100-day project, Minister Samaraweera emphasised that it wasn’t the panacea for all ills. “We couldn’t keep our promise to abolish the executive presidency. But the next parliament can pave the way for the much needed consensus on a new Constitution.”
Reiterating his commitment to abolish the executive presidency, Minister Samaraweera insisted that lasting peace would entirely depend on a Constitution acceptable to all.
Hailing Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the Jan 8 presidential poll as a rainbow revolution, the Minister recollected the circumstances under which people overthrew governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
“We achieved a democratic transformation of power without a single shot being fired. Maithripala Sirisena’s victory was not a victory for the UNP nor the SLFP but a triumph of an unprecedented political agenda. We are now on a new political path”, he said.
The high per percentage of voter turnout at the Jan 8 presidential poll reflected the will of the vast majority of the electorate, Minister Samaraweera said. Maithripala Sirisena had received the backing of all communities, including those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The government realized that those who had been suddenly deprived of perks and privileges at a massive scale were trying to launch what he called a ‘counter revolution,’ Minister Samaraweera said. They would make every effort to regain power before ongoing investigations exposed waste, corruption and irregularities at an unbelievable scale, the minister claimed.
Samaraweera chided the former President for wanting to be the SLFP-led UPFA’s prime ministerial candidate at the next general election.
A seemingly irate Samaraweera said: “It is nothing but a daydream of the former President. Shame on him for seeking prime minister’s post! Mahinda will be 70 in coming November. He was my one-time friend, but the former president should retire now and do some meritorious acts.”
Those found guilty of corruption would be dealt with, Minister Samaraweera said, adding that being a member of the parliament wouldn’t give special status. Therefore, none would be allowed to abuse parliamentary privileges to suppress ongoing investigations.