Trade Minister urged to initiate process of taking over SLIIT

Sirisena as President presented Cabinet for divestiture

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Communist Party lawmaker Weerakumara Weerasinghe says Bandula Gunawardena, in his capacity as the Trade Minister, should take the lead in regaining the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) divested through fraudulent means.

Appreciating the manner in which the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), under the leadership of Prof. Charitha Herath, had handled the inquiry into the SLIIT acquisition, Matara District lawmaker Weerasinghe said the onus was on the government to take remedial measures immediately.

 “We should go the whole hog,” MP Weerasinghe said, adding that the Cabinet could take over the SLIIT on its own or through an Act of Parliament. Asked to explain why the Communist Party felt Minister Gunawardena should initiate the process of reacquiring the SLIIT, MP Weerasinghe pointed out that the Mahapola Higher Education Trust Fund coming under the purview of the Trade Ministry had made the initial investment amounting to Rs 500mn in the project.

SLIIT has been described as a leading non-state higher education institute approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Universities Act.

MP Weerasinghe pointed out COPE disclosure that the SLIIT had declined to appear before the parliamentary watchdog committee. According to the COPE, Julius& Creasy Law firm has informed Parliament that SLIIT is not legally bound to do so. The COPE decided to summon the law firm to resolve the matter.

The Board of Directors of SLIIT consists of Prof. Lakshman L. Ratnayake (Chairman), Prof. Lalith Gamage (President/CEO), Prof. Nimal Rajapakse, Thilan M. Wijesinghe, Reshan Dewapura, Jehan Amaratunga and Fr. Harsha Cabral.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasinghe said that he had dealt with the issues at hand in Parliament last Friday (22) during the adjournment debate moved by the government on COPE reports submitted on March 10, 2021 and April 06, 2021.

MP Weerasinghe told Parliament Minister Gunawardena should immediately act on COPE disclosure. “All of us should be ashamed of what is going on in this country. In spite of repeated promises to eliminate waste, corruption and irregularities, corruption is on the march,” Weerasinghe said.

Responding to another query, MP Weerasinghe said that the privatisation process had been initiated in2003 during the UNP-led UNF administration. That process had been completed during the UNP-SLFP administration, the CP member said, pointing out that the then President Maithripala Sirisena had submitted the relevant Cabinet paper.

MP Weerasinghe said that the two COPE reports that had been debated in Parliament should be submitted to the Cabinet of ministers. According to him, the Education Minister, in his capacity as the Leader of the House, could submit those reports to the Cabinet of ministers to pave the way for their direct intervention.

Weerasinghe paid a glowing tribute to the Office of the Attorney General and COPE chiefs such as D. E. W. Gunasekera, Sunil Handunetti and incumbent Prof. Charitha Herath for taking action to curb waste, corruption and irregularities.

Lawmaker Weerasinghe said that parliamentary watchdog committees should ensure follow-up action on their disclosures. MP Weerasinghe said that a section of the then UNP governments (2002-2003 and 2015-2019) facilitated the gradual SLIIT takeover contrary to what was proposed by Ministers Kingsley T. Wickramanayake and Richard Pathirana way back in 1998. MP Weerasinghe said that the original plan was to make the SLIIT part of the University of Moratuwa. The governing board was to be represented by representatives from the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, Internal and International Commerce and Food, University of Moratuwa and the Mahapola Trust Fund.

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