By Saman Indrajith
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told parliament yesterday that legal action should be taken against the Auditor General and his officials for not complying with the ministry’s request to provide a sensitive report pertaining to the treasury bond scandal and providing the same to another parties.
The minister said the Auditor General had not provided him with the report and given it to JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake thereby breaching his privileges. “MP Ratnayake on Tuesday said in parliament that the auditor general had given him the report. It was a report that I had asked for. I also produce a letter by Attorney General to Auditor General informing the latter to give me the report. The report is a sensitive one containing secret information.
The report says it is only for the eyes of the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the President. Only they are permitted to access such sensitive information. The auditor general has given the report to an MP. He has done so even without putting it in an envelope. The investigations with regard to this issue is still in progress. This action has amounted to breaching my privileges.
It is not up to the public servants to act in this manner. The information had been released to the chairman of COPE and Governor of the Central Bank. However I had been kept in the dark. These are very sensitive information with regard to the financial market. The auditor general has acted in a manner which would lose secrecy of documents and their information. Such revealing of information would be detrimental to the bond market and the economy. The auditor general acted in an unprofessional manner. I propose an investigation should be held to find as to how he provided MPs with that information. This had been done without my approval. No other Auditor General had acted in this manner before. Action should be taken against all officials involved in this act.
JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake: It is wrong to say that I have been given this document. I made use of only a report addressed to my fellow MP Sunil Handunnetti. I perused a document sent to the COPE Chairman. Parliament has the power to give commands to the Auditor General. He has sent a report to the COPE thinking that document is of national importance. The Auditor General is responsible to parliament. UNP MPs threatened officials responsible to parliament at the COPE meetings. The government is witch-hunting public officials who do not toe its line.
Minister Karunanayake: Who threatened the auditor general? Tell that to this House. I am an accountant as well. Auditor general has acted in an arbitrary manner. The Finance Minister has a responsibility to parliament. I asked for certain information. If such information should be leaked to the entire nation I do not need to know them.
UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena: The minister has asked for information with regard to the bond scandal in his capacity as the Minister of Finance. The Central Bank comes under the purview of the Prime Minister.
Minister Karunanayake: It is the minister who had been vested with the powers of implementing under the relevant Act.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake: There was a great unrest all over the country over the Treasury bond issue. Therefore the need arose to inspect all Treasury bond sales not only the recent one but those sales which had been done in the past too. Accordingly the finance minister sent for certain information with regard to the bond sales. The auditor general sent that information to the COPE.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: We have decided to keep the foreign reserve, the central bank and the budget department separately. There are provisions in the law enabling the finance minister to instruct the Central Bank on certain issues. Auditor General has not informed me or the President that he had been influenced by UNP MPs. There is nothing wrong in investigating treasury bond sales from 2008. What I said was that to investigate the treasury bond sales of 2015 first.
Minister Karunanayake: The problem here is sending a report which I had asked for to the COPE. The auditor general acted in a manner overriding the mandate he has. The auditor general should explain to the Speaker as to how and why he did so.
MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena: When will the government give powers to the Independent audit commission? When are you planning to gazette this?
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: The draft bill is being prepared. The Auditor general and the Finance Minister should sit together and make decisions with regard to the content of the bill.