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Tuesday June 22nd, 2021

Sri Lanka COPE chief rejects bias charge over bond probe; defends experts

ECONOMYNEXT – The head of a parliamentary committee that probed a scandal in bond auctions defended experts who had supported and rejected comments attributed to a deputy minister which appeared to discredit experts who assisted the committee.

Media reports, which had not yet been denied, published comments attributed to a junior minister, from the ruling party, questioning the integrity of W A Wijewardene, an expert witness to the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) who was an ex-Deputy Governor of the Central Bank.

It was also suggested that the COPE report itself, which is still to be released, was written by Wijewardene and former Governor Nivard Cabraal.

"These are absolute lies (patta pal boru) This is just imagination. This is just to politicize the issue," COPE Chief D E W Gunesekera told reporters in Colombo.

"I will not go beyond that since I was the former chairman of COPE. I have to protect the respect for this position, otherwise I know how to answer that.

"Let me first tell you who Wijewardene is."

Gunasekera said Wijewardene was an authority who was consulted by a committee appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself that examined the bond scandal on his suggestion. The COPE had also sought his expertise.

"He gave a class to the legislators in the committee about Treasury Bills, Treasury Bonds and the Public Debt Department. That is how we also learned. One of the MPs who is a lawyer told me ‘I have now learned things I can use when I practice in court’."

"He did not write any report."

Media reports also suggested that the UNP junior minister had alleged that Wijewardene had an axe to grind against current Governor Arjuna Mahendran who is at the centre of the scandal because, he was not himself appointed governor.

Observers say the ad hominem attack is dangerously similar to what happened during the previous regime and may have further damaged the image of the current administration, in the minds of those who want good governance.

Wijewardene said the remarks published against him appeared to be those of a child.

Deputy Minister Harsha De Silva spoke in support of Wijewardene and said he was offered the post of Governor but had declined. De Silva himself had been the target of ad hominem attacks before.

"In fact he was our first choice," de Silva said. "I personally had a long conversation with him on this matter.

"He is a respected economist, who has been of service to the country for a number of years.

"He is among several technocrats whose advice we have sought."

Meanwhile Gunesekara said the suggestion that Cabraal wrote the report could have come from the dream world (sihina lokaya).

In fact Cabraal was called before the committee on the suggestion of some members. He was also questioned about his sister who was attached to a primary dealing company.

"All the cross-questions are in the report."

Gunesekera said the report was prepared with the Auditor General. Under normal circumstances queries were referred to the AG, but in this instance he sat through the committee when officials were questioned and helped write the report.

"This is an insult to the auditor general," Gunasekera said. "He is a very talented Auditor General and one of the youngest we have had. There were two lady chartered accountants to help him. "

Gunasekera said he told committee members not to make the probe an unjust political exercise from the begining.

"I said, ‘Don’t make it a (ex-Chief Justice) Shirani Bandaranaike inquiry’. In that inquiry I refused to serve on that panel and being a minister I told President Mahinda Rajapaksa, I was not in agreement with you, and I was not going to vote for the resolution (to sack the CJ).

"He telephone me five minutes before the speech, I refused."

(Update II/July 05, 2015/Colombo)

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