- Speaker names Basil loyalist Sagara Kariyawasam as chairman of select committee; several other loyalists also serve as members
- PSC to ascertain factors that led to the economic crisis and identify those responsible for it; report to be presented in three months
- Govt. preoccupied with Domestic Debt Optimisation process; Sumanthiran says Govt. lied to the people; SLPP’s Basil faction supports DDO, but Namal criticises it
By Our Political Editor
No sooner did he name its chairman, Sagara Kariyawasam, there was a howl of protests from the opposition. He is the General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). He is closely associated with the party founder Basil Rajapaksa. The latter served as Minister of Finance during the economic crisis that began last year.
The other members are Pavithra Wanniaratchchi, D.V. Chanaka, Vijitha Herath, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Eran Wickremeratne, Jayantha Ketagoda, Harshana Rajakaruna, Major Pradeep Udugoda, Sanjiva Edirimanne, Nalaka Bandara Kottegoda, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, and Prof. Ranjith Bandara.
Here is the full text of the relevant resolution: “And whereas it is the responsibility of the Parliament to investigate whether this economic crime was committed with a plan by Monetary Board failing to provide to the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance analytical reports with forecasts on economic indices such as the cost of living, inflation, money supply and the international balance of payment which should have been provided to him as required by sections 64(2), 65, and 68(1) of the Monetary Law Act No. 58 of 1949 or by the Cabinet of Ministers or Officers neglecting their duties;
“And whereas the country’s economic deterioration was caused due to factors such as providing tax relief, non-payment of loan instalments, imposition of import restrictions, allowing for a rapid depreciation of the rupee, the decline in official remittances from migrants, the increase in inflation to a high inflation level and the increase in the cost of living.
“This Parliament resolves that a Select Committee of Parliament be appointed to investigate and report to Parliament, and submit its proposals and recommendations on the following matters:
“(a) the fact whether the country experienced an unprecedented economic crisis as a result of those in the positions of responsibility during the times of concern failing to perform their duties properly.
“(b) the fact whether the relevant authorities took adequate measures to prevent and/or minimise the effect of the economic crisis.
(c) the fact whether there were shortcomings in the state machinery that caused it to fail to prevent and/or minimise the effect of the economic crisis;
(d) the fact whether there were other factors that contributed to such economic crisis.
(e) the fact whether there are other factors which may cause the country to undergo such economic crisis in the future; and
(f) the course of action that should be taken to minimise such economic deterioration in the future.
2. (a) that the Chair and Members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Speaker; and (b) that in terms of the provisions of Standing Order 101 of Parliament, the Committee shall not consist of more than twelve (12) Members.
3. That the Committee shall have the power to —
(a) fix its quorum;
(b) summon any person to appear before it, to require any person to procure any document or record, to procure and receive all such evidence, written or oral, as the Committee may think it necessary for the fullest consideration of the matters referred to above;
(c) obtain the services of specialists and experts in the relevant fields to assist the Committee; and
(d) make interim reports from time to time and to sit notwithstanding any adjournment or prorogation of Parliament.
4. The Committee shall present its report to Parliament within a period of three months from the first meeting of the Committee or within such further period as Parliament may grant.”
Also closely associated with Basil Rajapaksa and appointed member of the PSC is Jayantha Ketagoda. A comprehensive probe will mean that the PSC would have to hear his views too.
The PSC becomes the third known probe into incidents that led to the country going bankrupt. Though belated, the appointment of a PSC to probe economic aspects would be a welcome move. Until now, there has been no state-backed probe to identify the culprits who caused the economic downturn. However, the appointment of a chairman to the PSC from the ruling party casts doubts in the public mind about the committee’s impartiality. This is not only because Kariyawasam is widely known to be a close ally of Basil Rajapaksa. There are other committee members like Jayantha Ketagoda and Prof. Ranjith Bandara who are close associates of Basil Rajapaksa. Therefore, the question is whether the proposed PSC could come up with any credible finding that would be acceptable.
In fact, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sought Basil Rajapaksa’s resignation from the finance portfolio. After resisting the call for some time, he quit in July last year from his portfolio and his parliamentary seat. The PSC probe adds to two probes that are now underway. One is being conducted by a Secretariat in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. This probe, dubbed the Sri Lanka Accountability Project (SLAP), focuses on who was responsible for the economic collapse and related issues. Among its tasks is a probe into the country’s economic crisis and how it came about.
The Sri Lanka Accountability Project (SLAP) is also in the process of collecting evidence to charge alleged violators of international human rights laws.
A third investigation is being carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). This is after 39 MPs, local councillors and key backers of the SLPP filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal against 18 respondents and sought an interim injunction. Among the names listed were C,D, Wickremeratne who retired recently as Inspector General of Police, General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Staff and Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Commander of the Army, Deshabandu Tennekoon, Senior DIG, Kamal Gunaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and 13 others. Their petitions before the Court of Appeal were withdrawn, and the two sides agreed that the matters contained in them be investigated.
A significant aspect of the investigation is the claim that “turn of events (they give a chronology of events), had all the characteristics of a coup d’tat and due to the behaviour/conduct/actions/and or the inactions of first and the second respondent, and or the 4th Respondent, and/or the 4th Respondent, the Petitioners now verily believe that same had the direct or indirect blessing of some of the high appointees in the national security establishments.” General Shavendra Silva (listed as first respondent), and the two respondents in question have flatly denied the accusations.
Some of the paragraphs in the petition, though the Court of Appeal agreed they should become the subject matter of a probe, raise serious questions. They are now being investigated by the CID. This is what it says:
“That forthwith investigations/inquiries should be conducted to identify and ascertain the identity of officers of the Sri Lanka Police and officers of the armed forces who failed to carry out their duties under the law, including under Emergency Regulations. The Police Ordinance No 16 of 1949, as amended, the Air Force Act, all amended or any other law to ascertain their culpability and the respective extents thereof, and thereafter take disciplinary action and or penal action, in terms of the law, against such officers and/or the Commander in Chief of the executive and who subverted or undermining the same.”
Also under scrutiny are a set of recommendations made by a three-member Board of Inquiry. It was headed by Admiral of the Fleet (retd) Wasantha Karannagoda, Marshal of the Air Force, (retd) Roshan Goonetilleke and former Army Commander. General Daya Ratnayake. These recommendations are now receiving the government’s attention.
They noted that “the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence by virtue of the duties vested in him, is required to coordinate with His Excellency the President, the Prime Minister, and all other relevant ministers on matters of National Security. Therefore, the person holding this position should have a broad understanding of all these elements of national power besides knowledge of administration and military knowledge. Other recommendations under study in this regard are:
- Where VVIP security is concerned there should be a well-established command element which could coordinate all matters related to VVIP security. All troops and Police involved with VVIP security should come under command to this element.
- Effective joint training should be conducted because locations such as Temple Trees and the President’s House do have personnel from all three forces and the Police.
- The services should be provided with all riot control equipment to quell violent protests such as helmets, communication sets, riot control gear, rubber bullets, gas masks, etc. at the earliest.
- Establish a National Security Secretariat to support the National Security Council.
- Indemnity for lawful actions of servicemen and policemen whilst performing them should be introduced as a matter of priority.
- The board recommended further investigation on the conduct of the Acting Chief of Defence (CDS) for events between May 9, 2022 and July 9, 2022 by a specialist investigation unit of the CID. (Note: Gen. Silva has strongly denied any wrongdoing).”
Domestic Debt Optimisation
The government has been preoccupied with matters relating to Domestic Debt Optimisation in the past several days. During a Parliament debate on the subject this week, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson M.A. Sumanthiran charged that the government had lied to Parliament over the DOO. He said, “So now we are being told that there is a precondition with the international sovereign bond holders that there will be a domestic debt restructuring and therefore this must be done first. Priority for the implementation of DDO! So all this time, you have lied to the country saying there won’t be a domestic debt restructuring.
“At least important, responsible — ought to be responsible — State Minister of Finance has said that, but that is not the case. Even while he was saying this, you had agreed with that ad hoc committee that first you will do a domestic restructuring and it says “stated”, so obviously, it is in writing as well. Undertaken in writing to first do the domestic debt restructuring. You’ve been lying to the country that, either it won’t be done or that you have not taken a decision with regard to that up to now. Our main objection to this restructuring plan is the impact that it will have on members of the EPF and ETF. These are the voiceless working class of the country. I say they are voiceless because even with regard to their own savings, they have no say; they can’t make the decision; It’s absolutely false when you say that this is voluntary participation…..
However, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam told a news conference that “after considering various viewpoints, we decided to support the DOO.” He said, “We have been advised that there was no option but to support it since it would be highly damaging.”
He added, “There are many views and ideas circulated in social media, There are a lot of ideas circulated that there would be an impact on the workers who have poverty issues and who contribute to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) ….. Many groups and gangs have got together to tell people that they would have a bad impact due to domestic debt optimisation. As a party, we have to say that we voted in favour of it in Parliament. But before the voting, we held meetings with all the relevant parties along with the Central Bank Governor and officials along with Treasury Secretary. We questioned them and asked for their ideas.
“After considering their ideas, we decided to support domestic debt optimisation. Based on the advice and facts presented to us we realised that it was not as damaging as said.
“We need to say that the government does not have any option other than domestic debt optimisation. If someone says that the way it was done was wrong, they should show a substitute way and show how it is done. Otherwise, it is not fair to make such a comment. After voting in favour of it, a journalist asked me whether we see this as one of our victories. I replied that we do not see this as a victory, but something that we should do for the country.
“We must do this as the country had reached bankruptcy. Those who criticise our actions are the ones who really bankrupted the country, he added.
Interesting enough, if Kariyawasam has now become an advocate of DOO, a key member of his party and MP, Namal Rajapaksa does not seem to support it. He struck a different note when he addressed a meeting of the SLPP Bala Mandalaya in Piliyandala last week. He declared “We cannot restructure debt at the whims and fancy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. It has to be done when the country needs it.”
Speaking later to a television channel he declared, “It is alright to restructure debt but that should be fair. It cannot affect some sections and not others. The debt cannot remain restructured when the other party does not undergo the same progress. As a nation, we are in a decisive moment. However, he voted in favour.” The government wants to step up its campaign to educate the public on Domestic Debt Optimisation. But the government is itself preoccupied with this programme while opposition parties appear helpless.