By Shamindra Ferdinando

Rebel SLPP MP Prof GL Peiris said yesterday (10) that allegations of corruption relating to crude oil and coal supply should be considered in the context of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) based in Geneva, alleging economic crimes in Sri Lanka.

The former foreign minister said that in a resolution adopted at the recently concluded 51 sessions of the HRC, the global body called on Sri Lanka to bring its economic crisis under control and prosecute corruption of public officials.

The 19-point resolution was put forward by 37 countries, including Britain, Canada and the United States, and passed with 20 votes in favor and seven against.

On behalf of the government, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, strongly objected to the draft resolution interfering in domestic, economic and financial policy issues.

Professor Peiris questioned the justification of the government declaring its intention to enact an anti-corruption law without taking concrete steps to tackle waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.

The former law professor criticized the government for not placing the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) under the chairmanship of an opposition MP. Referring to parliamentary practice in Commonwealth countries, Professor Peiris said COPE and the Public Accounts Committee (COPA) should have been placed under the leadership of opposition members. The government, while placing COPA under the leadership of SJB MP Kabir Hashim, appointed SLPP National List MP, Prof. Ranjith Bandara as COPE President.

Professor Peiris warned the government of dire consequences if parliament was not allowed to take over public finances. Geneva’s warning should not be ignored, said lawmaker Prof Peiris, pointing to growing controversy over the supply of crude oil and coal for the Lakvijaya coal-fired power station.

No less than one person the Auditor General found fault with the coal supply, Prof Peiris said, adding that those who robbed the country, at a time when the vast majority of people were struggling to join the two ends, would be punished. They would be subject to unrestricted investigation, the former minister said.

Responding to The Island questions, Professor Peiris said the HRC would not accept the usual pledge to take national action against corruption, in the context of new corruption cases. The MP pointed out that the corruption charges, relating to the supply of crude oil and coal, emerged soon after the Central Bank declared Sri Lanka’s status as a bankrupt country.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the last presidential election, in November 2019, with an unprecedented 6.9 million votes, had to give up the presidency and flee the country, due to the economic fallout. “The people demanded a change of system. Now, in place of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, SLPP has installed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe,” MP Peiris said.

It would be a grave mistake for the SLPP to believe that the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government could deceive the people, thereby creating an enabling environment for Wickremesinghe to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, Prof. Peiris said.

Referring to the statement by SLPP Chairman Mahinda Rajapaksa that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was now with the SLPP, Professor Peiris said that perhaps as a result of AragalayaWickremesinghe had become a member of the ruling party.

Commenting on the postponement of the planned debate on the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution last week, Professor Peiris said the law would never be enacted as long as it prohibited dual citizens from standing for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Professor Peiris said that was the reality. The SLPP chairman pointed out that Party General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam had declared his opposition to the 22nd Amendment despite its endorsement by the Cabinet of Ministers, headed by the President. In an obvious reference to SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa, Prof Peiris alleged that a hidden hand was manipulating the government and blatantly interfering in parliamentary proceedings.

Professor Peiris said the common opposition would campaign vigorously against moves to postpone local government polls, the way they sabotaged provincial council polls. The former minister said the courts would be moved against the decision. President Wickremesinghe’s recent declaration that key amendments would be introduced before the next local government elections was a clear indication to put the polls under the false guise of reforms.