Why did COPE oppose extension of strict legal officer?

27 June 2023 12:20 am – 0      – 316

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  • Sources revealed to this newspaper how Dr. Jasinghe wrote to the Prime Minister’s Secretary to get the services of the Chief Legal Officer extended on contract basis to serve the Ministry
  • Dr.Jasinghe wrote to the PSC to obtain permission to reinstate the retired CLO, but this request was rejected by the PSC
  • Dr.Jasinghe had made attempts to obtain approval to extend the service of the CLO on a contract basis three months prior to the latter was scheduled to go on retirement

According to the sources, it was surprising to note how the official who represented the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) at this COPE meeting questioned Dr.Jasinghe as to why he cannot recruit a legal officer on a contract basis as per a circular issued by
their department 

Questions are raised as to why the Secretary Ministry of Environment was accused by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) for not obtaining the service of a Legal Officer when there is sufficient proof that the former failed in all his attempts to obtain necessary government approvals to recruit a permanent legal officer or to reinstate the retired Chief Legal Officer on contract basis. The matter was taken up at the COPE where its officials were not in favour of the Secretary Ministry of Environment’s decision to extend the service of the last serving legal officer.

Secretary Ministry of Environment Dr. Anil Jasinghe came under criticism by Chairman COPE Prof. Ranjith Bandara and Committee Member MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa when issues at Geological Surveys and Mines Bureau (GSMB) were taken up, with regard to not recruiting a legal officer to the Ministry to hear the appeals filed by people on mining license issues.

“Dr.Jasinghe requested Prime Minister’s Secretary, who heads the Committee on Reviewing Recruitment to the Government Service, to grant permission to recruit a new Legal Officer to the Ministry. Permission was not granted for new recruitment,” reliable ministry sources said on condition of anonymity.

While Dr.Jasinghe was accused at the COPE, higher officials at the Environment Ministry are up in arms against Prof..Bandara and MP Anura PriyadarshanaYapa for their deliberate failure to consider the facts the Ministry Secretary informed them about. This was about how he attempted to get a permanent legal officer failing which his request made to relevant government officials to get the former chief legal officer (CLO) reinstated. These  requests have fallen on the deaf ears of state officials.

“The reason why Secretary Dr.Jasinghe wanted to get an extension to the then CLO was until the pile of appeals are heard. Before a new officer is recruited proper training should be given to handle the technical issues regarding appeals. Once approval is granted to recruit a new officer, applications have to be called from LLB-qualified attorneys-at-law. Once the candidate is selected the name has to be sent to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for approval. To follow this procedure it takes at least six months. After the recruitment, training has to be provided in appeal inquiries which take another 6 to 12 months. This is because it is the responsibility of the legal officer to see whether the proper procedure has been followed when carrying out Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) or Initial Environment Assessments (IEA) to grant licenses. It is the Legal Officer that has to assist the Ministry Secretary who chairs the Appeal Board. The decisions made at the Appeal Board should be firm as the appellants can challenge the appeal decisions in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal,” sources added.

Plans to extend the CLO prior to her retirement
As per the documents seen by this newspaper, Dr.Jasinghe had made attempts to obtain approval to extend the service of the CLO on a contract basis three months prior to the latter was scheduled to go on retirement.

The sources further told this newspaper how Dr. Jasinghe, on December 12, 2022, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Secretary, who heads the committee that reviews the recruitment process in the public service, to get the services of the Chief Legal Officer extended on contract basis to serve the Ministry.

According to the sources, the CLO went on retirement on March 28, 2023. After failing to get any response from the Committee on Recruitment to the Government Service, three weeks before the CLO’s retirement, the Ministry Secretary through the subject Minister Naseer Ahamed, submitted a Cabinet Memorandum to the Cabinet of Ministers on March 9, 2023, to get her service extended on contract basis. This was because she has the proper knowledge to give legal advice to the Secretary at every appeal hearing.

However, the Cabinet of Ministers had conveyed to the Ministry Secretary to make the request to the Public Service Commission (PSC).
“Five days after submitting the cabinet memorandum and the subsequent request made to the Ministry Secretary to make the request to the PSC, Dr.Jasinghe wrote to the PSC on March 14, 2023, to obtain permission to reinstate the retired CLO. This request has been rejected by the PSC. When these details were brought to the notice of the COPE, we were astonished as to why the Committee Chairman together with MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa continued to accuse the Ministry Secretary rather than the PSC and the Committee on Reviewing Recruitment to the Government Service,” sources added.

According to the sources, it was surprising to note how the official who represented the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) at this COPE meeting questioned Dr.Jasinghe as to why he cannot recruit a legal officer on a contract basis as per a circular issued by their department.
“This officer was talking without being aware that a Ministry does not come under DPE; hence he or she is not bound to follow their circulars. When our Ministry Officials brought this matter to this officer’s notice that the difference between a Ministry and an institution is that only the latter comes under DPE, he had to accept he was wrong,” sources said.

Meanwhile, MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa too came under severe criticism from Environmental Ministry Officials for requesting the Ministry Secretary to obtain the services of a lawyer from the private bar to work for him on a contract basis.
“Being a lawyer, MP Yapa should be ashamed of himself for requesting to retain a lawyer from the private bar. How can a Ministry get the service of an Attorney-at-Law from the private bar? Ministry Secretary calls original files from respective institutions at appeal hearings. If a lawyer is retained from the private bar who takes the responsibility if the original files go missing? A lawyer taken from the private bar can leave office at any time putting the Ministry Secretary in trouble as he is not answerable to government regulations.

Anura Priyadarshana Yapa does not want Dr.Jasinghe to obtain approval to reinstate the retired CLO Lumbini Kiriella, as she is straightforward and carries more than two decades of experience in the Ministry and has not aided and abetted any politician to violate the rules and regulations stipulated in the Act,” sources alleged.

According to sources, many decisions taken at appeal hearings had been challenged in higher courts by the appellants, but the respective courts have never given decisions against the decisions taken by the Environment Ministry Appeal Board headed by Dr.Jasinghe.

“Dr.Jasinghe cannot be swayed by any politician. He knows the subject andthe opinions that were given by the CLO were always correct and that was why he wants to get back the retired CLO on contract basis at appeal hearings,” sources claimed.
When contacted Dr.Jasinghe as to why he failed to reinstate the former CLO or to get the service of a new legal officer, he refused to make a comment.


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