No attempt made to reduce powers of Auditor General or remove PM’s Office or Presidential Secretariat from AG’s purview
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, yesterday, denied allegations that the Auditor General’s powers would be reduced by the proposed 20th Amendment.
pm Rajapaksa said that Constitutional provisions regarding the Auditor General had hardly come to public attention and thus the opposition was using that lack of knowledge to propagate various falsehoods.
Rajapaksa said that one of the main false claims was that the 19th Amendment had created an Audit Commission and that the 20th Amendment sought to abolish it.
The PM said in a media statement: “What the 19th Amendment made provision for was not an Audit Commission but only an Audit Service Commission. The Audit Service Commission does not carry out any auditing functions. It handles matters like the appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of members of the State Audit Service. Usually such matters pertaining to government servants are dealt with by the Public Service Commission. All that the creation of the Audit Service Commission achieved was to set up yet another Commission to do the work that was being done by the Public Service Commission.”
“Another false claim being made by the opposition is that the 20th Amendment seeks to remove the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister from the purview of the Auditor General. From the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office have been under the purview of the Auditor General. The phrase “all departments of government” in Article 154(1) of the pre-19th Amendment Constitution brought the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office under the purview of the Auditor General, he said. These institutions were always listed as government departments in the Government Financial Regulations. Quite apart from these two institutions, even the Office of Former Presidents is listed as a separate government department and all these institutions were always audited by the Auditor General.
“The inclusion of the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister by name in Article 154(1), by the 19th Amendment did not achieve anything new. Even though they may have not been specifically mentioned by name, from the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Minister’s Office had always been under the purview of the Auditor General. Even after the 20th Amendment reinstates the old article 154(1) which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, in place of the so called ‘changes’ made by the 19th Amendment, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office will continue to remain within the purview of the Auditor General. Over the past decades, it’s the Auditor General who audited the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office and not some private audit firm.
“Another falsehood being propagated is that state owned companies will be removed from the purview of the Auditor General by the 20th Amendment. However the auditing of state corporations and state owned companies (i.e. companies in which the state owns more than 50% of the shares) comes under Article 154(2) of the Constitution. Under the provisions of Article 154(2), the minister in charge of the subject can assign the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to a qualified audit firm.
“However before doing so, he is mandatorily required to obtain the concurrence of the Finance Minister and also to consult the Auditor General. After the minister in charge of the subject assigns the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to an audit firm in this manner, the Auditor General can issue a written notice to that audit firm informing them that he proposes to utilize their services for the performance and discharge of the Auditor-General’s duties in relation to that state corporation or state owned company, and thereupon that audit firm is mandatorily required to act under the direction and control of the Auditor-General.
“The content of Article 154(2), which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, was not changed by the 19th Amendment. The content of Article 154(2) will not change under the 20th Amendment either. Therefore it can be said that the content of Article 154(2) has remained the same from the inception of the 1978 Constitution and will continue to remain so in the future as well. Hence the claim that state owned companies are to be taken out of the purview of the Auditor General, is a complete falsehood.”
“It is also being claimed by the Opposition propagandists that the 19th Amendment has stipulated that the Auditor General should be a ‘qualified auditor’ and that when the 20th Amendment reinstates the old pre-19th Amendment Article 153(1) this qualification requirement will be dropped and hence, after the 20th Amendment is passed, even an unqualified person can be appointed as Auditor General.”
“Constitutions are written on the assumption that those reading it will have basic common sense. The Constitution does not state anywhere that the person appointed as Attorney General or as a Supreme Court judge has to be a qualified lawyer. But those appointed as Attorney General, Auditor General or a Supreme Court judge will always have the required educational and professional qualifications without which they cannot function in those positions. All that the 20th Amendment seeks to do is to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment. The opposition has been unhesitatingly uttering every lie that comes to mind with regard to this matter because of the confidence that most people would not be familiar with these obscure provisions of the Constitution. It’s our duty to understand the facts of the matter and to defeat the unprincipled attempt being made by the opposition to mislead the people.”
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.