Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa today asserted that former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and the former Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Anusha Pelpita had followed instructions given to them.
The former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and the former Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) Anusha Pelpita were declared guilty by the High Court under Section 386 of the Penal Code of ‘dishonestly misappropriating’ a sum of Rs. 600 million belonging to the TRC by remitting the said sum to a bank account of the Presidential Secretariat to be used for the purpose of distributing sil redi during the last Presidential elections.
They have each been sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment, a fine of Rs. two million and either the payment of Rs 50 million in compensation to the TRC or a further two years of rigorous imprisonment.
“To say that this conviction and sentence has shocked the country would be an understatement. The judgement itself states that neither Lalith Weeratunga nor Anusha Pelpita had appropriated for their personal use any of the money used to purchase sil redi. From my point of view, they only carried out legitimate instructions issued to them by the President of the country. The verbal instructions given by me in this regard have been recorded in the form of minutes placed by Mr Weeratunga on correspondence with officials of the Presidential Secretariat. On 20 March 2014, Mr Weeratunga wrote a minute to the Senior Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Secretariat outlining eight projects that I had ordered funded through the President’s Special Development Fund during the year 2014. The sixth item on this list was providing ‘material aid’ to the devotees observing sil at temples on Poya days,” he said.
Rajapaksa says he had given instructions that sil redi be distributed to devotees observing sil on Poya days long before the declaration of the presidential election.
“The purpose of the President’s Special Development Fund which had an annual budget of Rs. 1,000 million and was started in 2012, was to fill the gaps left by other ministries and to meet requests made directly to the President. The Coordinating Secretary for Religious Affairs of the Presidential Secretariat Ven. Watinapaha Somananda Thera was in charge of implementing the sil redi project. At the latter’s request, the Economic Affairs Ministry carried out a survey through Samurdhi Niladharis to identify the requirements of sil redi at temples countrywide. The suppliers were instructed to hand over the sil redi to a main temple in each Divisional Secretariat area from where they would be distributed to other temples. This was a project implemented countrywide, involving 11,021 temples. This was aid supplied to the temples, not to voters. No time frame was imposed on the temples to carry out the distribution. They could have been distributed either immediately or even a year later at the discretion of the Chief Incumbent of the temple,” Rajapaksa said.
He also said that the mode of distribution did not enable the beneficiaries to be selected on political grounds. (Colombo Gazette)