‘How come gold smuggling MP remains on Ethics and Privileges Committee’?
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Opposition would seek the IMF’s commitment to rein in rampant corruption with the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government in spite of the country being declared bankrupt over a year ago, former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris said yesterday (11).
Addressing the media at the Nawala Office of Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, the senior SLPP rebel group member said that the Opposition intended to furnish transcripts of the three-day debate on the No-Confidence-Motion (NCM) against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to the IMF delegation. The former minister said that the outcome of the debate had proved beyond any doubt that the government was bent on making a killing at the expense of the public.
The IMF visit is scheduled for this week ahead of their approval of the second tranche of the bailout package.
“We’ll ask the IMF to pressure the government over corruption,” Prof. Peiris said, adding that the international lending agency couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility against backdrop of its commitment to make available USD 2.9 bn over a period of four years.
The Opposition could muster the support of only 73 lawmakers whereas 113 voted against the NCM. Thirty-eight MPs failed to cast their ballot at the vote held last Friday (08).
The top SLPP spokesperson said that the Opposition would brief the IMF of two other contentious issues to emphasize the failure not only on the part of the government to reign in corruption but how the Parliament encouraged the same.
Prof. Peiris said that there couldn’t be a better example than the favoured treatment received by Muslim National Alliance (MNA) MP Ali Sabry Raheem, arrested at the BIA in March this year, after being caught in a massive smuggling bid, to prove the Parliament as an institution protected such elements.
Regardless of representations made by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and other Opposition MPs, the government parliamentary group and Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena continued to shield the MP, Prof. Perris said.
Customs at the BIA in early March thwarted an attempt made by lawmaker Raheem to smuggle in undeclared gold worth Rs. 74 mn and a large consignment of smartphones valued at Rs. 4.2 mn. The MP walked free within hours after paying a Rs 7.5 mn fine, though in terms of Customs Ordinance, the MP could have been imposed a fine three times the value of confiscated goods, in this particular case gold and smartphones.
Prof. Peiris found fault with Speaker Abeywardena turning a blind eye to the incident that tarnished the image of Parliament at a time the public expected the House to take a tougher stand on corruption. The former internationally distinguished law academic pointed out that the Parliament was in a dilemma as the gold smuggling MP continued to serve the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.
How the Parliament could explain the Ethics and Privileges Committee being asked to examine the conduct of one of its members accused of gold smuggling at a time the government was struggling to increase State revenue, Prof. Peiris asked.
All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) nominated Raheem to contest Puttalam at the last general election in August 2020. ACMC and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) fielded a group of candidates under the MNA banner.
Prof. Peiris said that they would also brief the IMF delegation regarding a major loophole in recently enacted much touted anti-corruption law that conveniently left out provision to deal with stolen funds now stashed overseas. “When we sought an explanation as to why the new law didn’t deal with the issue at hand, the government assured necessary amendments would be made later. That explanation cannot be accepted,” Prof. Peiris said, alleging that the powers that be were continuing in their cavalier fashion regardless of the further deterioration of the overall situation.
Prof. Peiris said that recently a parliamentary watchdog committee examined how a foreign investor received tax free status for a period of 17 years while those struggling to make ends meet were burdened with further taxes. The government resorted to domestic debt-restructuring regardless of the consequences caused by the inclusion of EPF and ETF in the process, the lawmaker said. But those who invested heavily here under an emergency situation were not touched, the MP said. The IMF should be mindful of the situation, the former minister said, urging all stakeholders to reexamine the situation here.