The sittings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC) were suspended today after former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa objected to the composition of the Commission.
Rajapaksa appeared before the Commission today to make a statement over the failure to pay State owned ITN for the advertisements promoting him ahead of the January 8 Presidential election.
However when the Commission met, Rajapaksa’s lawyers objected to judges of the High Court being part of the Commission. Sittings were then suspended till tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Rajapaksa’s office said that the former President appeared before the Commission to Probe Serious Acts of Corruption today in response to a letter sent to him by the commission. This letter mentions five matters which are under investigation by the commission.
The first matter that is under investigation by the Commission is the appointment of Mr Anura Siriwardene as the Chairman/CEO of Independent Television Network at a time when the position was not vacant. This appointment is not made by the President but officially by the Secretary to the Treasury as the Treasury owns the majority of the shares of ITN. This appointment had been made after the former Chairman left that position.
The second matter under investigation is an alleged financial loss caused due to an advertising firm by the name of ‘Media Factory’ not paying dues owed to ITN for televised ads. ITN had issued a letter dated 27 January 2015 claiming what was due to them and Media Factory had settled the outstanding amount in full. ITN has under signature accepted that the payment has been received.
A financial loss of Rs. 24 lakhs allegedly caused by an advertising firm by the name of ‘Special Solutions’ not paying their dues to ITN is the third matter under investigation. We understand that all outstanding amounts due to ITN with regard to this transaction have been paid by the said advertising firm. It should be borne in mind that when advertisements are repeated many times, all media organisations broadcast a certain proportion of them free of charge as an incentive to advertisers.
The fourth matter under investigation is the allegation that up-front payment was received for advertisements promoting presidential election candidate Mr Maithripala Sirisena, but that these advertisements had not been aired and Rs 86 lakhs had been returned thus depriving ITN of an income the institution should have received. This is an internal administrative matter of ITN.
The letter sent by the Commission to the former President also states as the fifth matter under investigation the allegation that Mr Maithripala Sirisena had been charged twice the usual amount for advertising thus discriminating between two equal presidential candidates. This too is an internal administrative matter at ITN.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa contested the January 2015 presidential election as the candidate of the UPFA. Rajapaksa’s office said that the presidential candidate of a major political party cannot possibly supervise the advertising campaign carried out on his behalf. His office said that campaign advertisements are given to media organisations by the advertising firm retained by the candidate’s political party. The candidate or even his political party very often has no direct contact with the media organisations over advertising.
“In any event, all matters relating to campaign advertisements are handled by the political party or alliance of the candidate. As such these matters are not the responsibility of the candidate but of the relevant political party or alliance. When it was proposed within the SLFP that President Mahinda Rajapaksa should contest for the presidency for the third time, it was the present Chairman of the party who seconded that proposal,” Rajapaksa’s office said.
Rajapaksa’s office said that summoning the former president before the Commission to inquire into serious corruption over matters of this nature is undoubtedly an attempt to convey to the public the impression that the former president had engaged in wrongdoing and to gain some political mileage thereby. (Colombo Gazette)