President urged to make report public and address key issues

President Maithripala Sirisena was today urged to make public the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the Issuance of Treasury Bonds and also address key issues.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), whilst encouraged by President Maithripala Sirisena’s expressed commitment to implement the recommendations contained in the report, raised concerns over moves to to use an Act of Parliament to recover the allegedly misappropriated money.

TISL said it endorses the CoI’s recommendation for the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and to initiate investigations on alleged bribery involving a director of Perpetual Treasuries and the then Finance Minister.

“We are however concerned at the CoI’s recommendation, and the President’s subsequent endorsement, to use an Act of Parliament to recover the allegedly misappropriated money, circumventing the justice system. Such action would be reminiscent of the highly controversial Revival of Underperforming Enterprises or Underutilised Assets Act 2011 – commonly known as the Expropriation Act – where Parliament took on a quasi-judicial role in a bid to expedite process. Such knee jerk actions should be resisted in order for due process and the rule of law to prevail,” TISL said.

TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere added, “It is no secret that there is a dire need for structural reform in the judiciary, to ensure that expeditious justice is delivered to all. Resorting to stop-gap solutions like using Acts of Parliament on individual cases sets a negative precedent and illustrates how governments find expeditious solutions for themselves, whilst appearing seemingly unwilling to reform the legal system where everyday litigants face severe time delays. Moreover, the law as it stands contains provisions to bring perpetrators to justice. It is incumbent upon CIABOC and the AG’s Department to take speedy action now.”

Whilst welcoming the proposal for the members of the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to be appointed on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, TISL suggests that the accountability mechanisms be further strengthened by introducing publicly available interest registers for state officials and public representatives, which would be instrumental in declaring possible conflicts of interest, an issue that has arisen repeatedly throughout the CoI proceedings.

Furthermore, on the President’s proposal to enact laws to improve the efficiency of CIABOC, TISL recalls two initiatives: the existence of a cabinet paper to amend the Declaration of Assets & Liabilities Act to ensure greater public scrutiny of public officials and enhance the timeliness of CIABOC investigations, and the ongoing work to amend the CIABOC and Bribery Act in light of best practice. The importance of these legislative amendments has been recognised by CIABOC and capitalising on the work that has already been done would be essential in assisting CIABOC to improve its efficiency.

Finally, the President’s commitment to table the final CoI report in parliament and ensure public access is encouraging. This need has been underscored by the situation which arose in the emergency sitting of parliament on 10 January, where many members expected to have access to the report and to debate the recommendations of the CoI. The tabling and public dissemination of the report is a necessary step to sustain and promote public trust in the government’s capability and will to fight corruption. If such steps are not taken, the waning public trust in the Government’s anti-corruption mandate will deteriorate further. (Colombo Gazette)