By Shanika Sriyananda
MP and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa threw back allegations against him to the United People›s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), saying it was not him but the alliance which should be held responsible for the financial loss caused to the State-run television channel – the Independent Television Network – for carrying out propaganda advertisements during the presidential election campaign 2015.
Rajapaksa, who appeared at the public hearing of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC), told the media that the UPFA had selected the advertising firms to carry out his propaganda campaign and the matter was irrelevant to him.
“But I was called by the Commission for some reason,” he said accusing the Government of bringing similar baseless allegations into the limelight.
“We are expecting some more allegation of this nature in the future. We have not done anything good for this country but only committed crimes,” he said smiling. The former President said that the tri-forces commanders were now being questioned and the Government was taking political revenge by levelling such allegations against him and his supporters.
“This will continue for the next five years as this Government has no other things to do other than taking up these kind of issues to accuse us,” he said questioning what the Government had done for the country during the last ninemonths other than accusing the Rajapaksa family and supporters of the previous Government.
“These are the attempts to cover up the Government’s failure to develop the country,” he said.
Rajapaksa said that the Commission was now questioning him on how he appointed the ITN Chairman when there was no vacancy.
“I would like to ask this Government how they appointed the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice when there were no vacancies. This Government has appointed a new Chairman for Sri Lanka Telecom while the then Chairman was still functioning as the Chairman. This is a regime by which such adhoc appointments are given,” Rajapaksa said.
The questioning of Rajapaksa and a few others by the Presidential Commission was scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 3p.m. However it came to an abrupt end when Rajapaksa’s lawyersquestioned the validity of four sitting High Court judges in the Commission
The former President’s eight lawyers including his son MP Namal Rajapaksa and led by President’s Counsel GaminiMarapana questioned the validity of the Commission, which has four sitting High Court judges.
They argued that under the Sri Lankan law no High Court judges are permitted to perform any other duties and the PRECIFAC appointment of High Court judgeswas unconstitutional.
The former President and all those who were summoned yesterdaywill also be there at the public hearing at the BMICHtoday.
Rajapaksa, who was informed to be at the Commission at 9.00 a.m. yesterday, had arrived the public hearing half-an-hour early and appeared the public hearing before the five-member PRECIFAC comprising Commissioners High Court Judges PadmanSurasena, AmendraSeneviratne, VikumKaluarachchi, Gihan Kulatunga and former Auditor General B.A. Premathilake.
According to the PRECIFAC Secretary Lasile de Silva, the Commission is probing into financial irregularities of over Rs. 200 million recorded at ITN during the last presidential campaign.
“The previous Government had not settled a bill of Rs. 115 million it owed to ITN for advertisements used in the campaign of former President Rajapaksa,” he said.
The PRECIFAC is also investigating another complaint regarding the return of Rs. 89 million to President Maithripala Sirisena as ITN had not carried his advertisements during the presidential election campaign.
Former UPFA General Secretary and Minister Susil Premajayantha who was also summoned before the public hearing over the ITN fiasco told the Daily FTthat the lawyers appearing for those who were summoned yesterday had raised questions about the jurisdiction of the Commission.
“The inquiry was postponed for tomorrow for ruling in terms of the preliminary objections. We have to wait for Friday to know about the ruling to see how this inquiry will proceed,” he said, adding that Rajapaksa was not asked to give any statement before the public hearing yesterday.
Former Media Minister Keheliya Rambukkwella, UPFA Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma and former ITN Chairman Anura Siriwardena were also summoned for the public hearing over the ITN inquiry yesterday.
Rajapaksa’s staunch supporters, former Minister Johnston Fernando, MP Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Prasanna Ranatunga, MP Namal Rajapaksa, several prominent Buddhist monks and others were present at the PRECIFAC office in a showing of support.
Meanwhile, a media release issued by Rajapaksa’s media unit stated that the alleged financial losses to ITN due to advertisements by The Media Factory and Special Solutions, which handled the media advertisements for the former President during the 2015 presidential elections, had been settled by paying the dues to ITN by both advertising firms.
“Summoning the former President before the PRECIFAC over matters of this nature is undoubtedly an attempt to convey an impression to the public that the former President had engaged in wrongdoing to gain political mileage,” the statement issued by Rohan Welivita, Media Secretary to the former President, stated.
He further stated that the appointment of the ITN Chairman was not made by the former President but officially by the Secretary to the Treasury as the Treasury owned the majority of the shares of ITN.
“This appointment had been made after the former Chairman left that position,” Welivita stated.