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PM Wickremesinghe Takes on the Opposition on Central Bank Issue

Prime Minister Ranil :

I wish to reply in detail to the questions raised by MP Dinesh Gunawardene on the appointment of Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendra. I am pleased that this had provided the opportunity to explain the dark chapter that had taken place in the history of our country during the previous Rajapaksa regime.

Rajapaksa regime and also the true situation with regard to the appointment of Arjuna Mahendra as Central Bank Governor. Arjuna Mahendra was born and educated in Sri Lanka. He maintained higher positions in the government sector as well as the private sector in Sri Lanka and is a well educated and intellectual individual who loves the country. His first appointment was in the Central Bank (CB) and he served the CB for the past eleven years. He was appointed as a chairman of the Sri Lanka Investment Board in 2002. When former Minister G. L. Peiris was the relevant minister, he served the Investment Board until 2004.

He gave up his position in 2004 when the UPFA Government came into power. He had to leave the country due to the Rajapaksa regime. In that sense, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also a guilty party with regard to this question.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had created a situation where educated people who were not allied to the regime had to leave our shores. There was a fear psychosis in the country where we lost Tamil politicians in the caliber of Joseph Pararajasingham, Raviraj and Maheshwaran. There was an era of terror created in the country. That is why Arjuna Mahendra too had to leave country in search of better prospects. If Arjuna Mahendran had not left Sri Lanka, the same fate would have befallen him. He saved his life by leaving for Singapore. A number of journalists such as Keeth Noyar, Poddala Jayantha and Upali Tennakoon left the country due to death threats, while Lasantha Wickramatunga was assassinated.

The people of this country ended that dark era in our history on January 8 through an electoral revolution. Over 6.3 million people were involved in this revolution. When President Maithripala Sirisena came into power, he rectified mistakes committed by the previous regime. Not only Arjuna Mahendran but many who left the country due to death treats and fear of the Rajapaksa regime, had returned to the country. Former Police Spokesman Prishantha Jayakody who left the country due to death threats was brought back to the country. Many Armed Forces personnel who were involved in eliminating terrorism and gaining victory, had to leave the country due to death threats from the Rajapaksa regime because of their allegiance to former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Most of them are presently back in the country. The Rajapaksa regime harassed former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake brutally.

But we have been able to bestow justice on former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka by promoting him to the rank of Field Marshal of the Sri Lanka Army.

The entire economy had collapsed during the reign of the Rajapaksa regime. The Rajapaksa regime appointed a person who was not an expert in the economic sector to the post of Central Bank Governor. They did not even inquire into the financial irregularities levelled against the former CB Governor.

This created many difficulties on the administration of the CB and the government had to obtain the services of a foreign economic expert, resulting in the government obtaining the services of French national Dominic Khan who was facing sexual assault charges.

His service was obtained on a contract value of US$ 500,000. But the CB was not revived even though the previous government spent such a large amount of money. The entire economy had collapsed during the tenure of the former Central Bank Governor who had no expertise in the economic field. Corruption and fraud were rampant.

The CB obtained loans at higher commercial interest rates for the former government at the international trade market from 2007 onwards. They obtained US$ 500 million in 2007 and another US$ 500 million in 2009. There was no investment in the private sector in the aftermath of the war. Various malpractices were committed by the cronies of the Rajapaksa regime by the use of ETF funds. In order to cover these shortcomings, the government had obtained loans to the value of US$ 1 billion from 2010 to 2012. This led to balance of pay crisis and the value of a US dollar which had gone up to US$ 130 from US$110.

The international rating agency Standard and Poors had advised the government to avoid engaging in this type of transactions again. The rating agencies Standard and Poors and Moodys were let down by our international ratings due to these reasons. We had to pay US$ 25 million to Standard Charted Bank and US$ 25 million to Deutsche Bank due to the corrupt hedging deal.

Amidst all these problems, the former CB Governor had purchased a huge stock of gold during the previous regime. He paid US$ 1,600 per one ounce of gold. There were a number of financial frauds in many government institutions. The CB was unable to maintain financial discipline during the past years. A number of frauds and corruptions from this destruction had led to the massive loss in the country and we needed the assistance of a special economic expert to save the country from destruction.

We did not bring down Straus Khans as the Rajapaksa regime did. We brought down a specialist born in Sri Lanka. However, you people are scared of this specialist, because large scale corruption and fraud were being revealed under him, because the capitalist henchmen who were nourished under the Rajapaksa regime were now denied of ways and means to earn through illegal means, because the economy is developing.

It is already revealed that those in the previous government were responsible for a real fraud with a much higher financial value than the said amount in the fake charge against Arjuna Mahendran. That is why they are obstructing the process. They only known how to break things and not to mend them. History has proven this. When they look back after dividing other political parties, their own political party had collapsed. This is what is referred to as ‘Ditta Dhamma Wedaniya Kamma’ in Buddhism. They are now suffering the consequences. However, the pressure they gave the people in this country and the national wealth they robbed from the people are enormous.

Therefore, desperation among the people against them are enormous. Therefore they cannot easily get away from this. However, it is the responsibility of the government to protect the ordinary people who voted for them because they were carried away by their bribes and deception. President Maithripala Sirisena had taken upon this responsibility and we have already decided to support him. We would be the first to confront any attack against the President. President Sirisena is a leader with a mandate of 6.3 million people. We ask Gampola district SLFPers to keep in mind this reality. Defending the President is the first step to defeat the attempts and to reverse the revolution. You people are against your own leader. Which side do you belong to? We are ready to defend the President without any conditions lining up with the majority of people. Now the chant ‘Palayan Mantra’ had started even against President Sirisena. The entire country saw how my friend pumpkin MP chant this Mantra at a rally in Ratnapura. If such was their reaction on the chairman of their party and the first citizen of the country, the hidden agenda behind the questions raised against Arjun Mahendran who is an intellectual among the minorities is clear to the country.

On January 8, we only defeated a part of that agenda. There are more elements that should be defeated. Those who were in the Rajapaksa regime are trying to instigate fear among people by threatening and forcing and they try to buy people by spending lavishly. This was how they ruled the country over the past years. Sri Lankans left the country during the Rajapaksa regime due to their crave for life. Some left the country due to various opportunities before them in other countries. Is it wrong to get back their services to rebuild the country. A citizen of any country has the opportunity and space to serve in any other country. That is a tradition accepted in the world. We too follow the same tradition for a long time now.

During the previous government, officials of the Attorney General’s Department, judges, including even Supreme Court judges were deployed for service in Fiji. This was done because it was not against the policies of the Sri Lankan Government. Nobody saw any fault at that time. They also took the oath of Fiji. Why did you approve it then? You were in the Cabinet.

We know the procedure Sri Lanka follows in regard to foreign citizens. Some who were born and bred in Sri Lanka, have later obtained foreign citizenship. There is no obstruction for foreign citizens to do a job or business in Sri Lanka. The only restriction they have as of the Constitution is that they cannot act as Public representatives.

The previous government gave asylum to KP who was a foreign citizen. The Sri Lankan Government protected him when he was wanted by other countries for investigations on terrorism.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

When citizenship is granted, taking an oath is a legal obligation. Likewise, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa took a similar oath to get US citizenship and Palitha Kohona took a similar oath to get Australian citizenship. It was justifiable if these people raised these questions when a US citizen was brought to Sri Lanka under the previous regime and handed over the Defense of the country. The reason is the serious nature of this oath. The said oath is as follows:

“I hereby declare on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

The post of Defence Secretary of the country was given to a person who had taken such an oath. He became the Defence Secretary on November 24, 2005. He was granted dual citizenship on November 30, 2005. He was in charged of people who were bearing arms on behalf of the Republic of Sri Lanka, while he under law was obliged to bear arms for the United States of America. Even though he had dual citizenship now, he must still bear arms to the US and if they declare Sri Lanka to be an enemy, he must side us. This kind of statement is not in the Singaporean oath. After independence, the first Central Bank Governor of Sri Lanka was a US citizen. He was John Exter.

You did not speak a word when the foreign service was handed over to an Australian citizen. Those who were silent then are now questioning on the citizenship of Arjuna Mahendran. I request you to be happy that you now have the freedom to question in this manner. If Dinesh Gunawardena questioned on US citizenship during that time, he might have been another victim of the white van. Now there are no white vans. We are glad that the mouths on which spider webs were made have now sharpened at least in this manner.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has done nothing to positively renounce American citizenship. As of the US law, a US citizen can get the citizenship of another country. However, if that person betrays the US, the US has the right to file a court case against that person. At all times when there is dual citizenship, the US citizenship is considered the main citizenship. Citizens has no freedom to decide the main citizenship. Only the US could do so. Due to these reasons, we made a law under the 19th Amendment that the President and public representatives should compulsorily be Sri Lankan citizens, except that foreign citizens have no restriction to hold any other position in Sri Lanka. A list of names, including Udayanga Weeratunga, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Palitha Kohona, Lakshman Jayaweera, etc., could be mentioned here.

All these people are foreign citizenship holders and they held responsible government posts. In addition, I would like to inform the House that some of those who were moved by wealth and power under the Rajapaksa regime had obtained foreign citizenship secretly. Therefore, I request those who are accusing us now, to bring out information on them to the House before they accuse others. Aren’t there people among you who have obtained the citizenship of countries such as Seychelles, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Andorra, Monaco, Uganda etc? We have got such reports and I challenge you to deny it if this is wrong. MP Dinesh Gunawardena is not an SLFP member. I request them not to disturb the endeavor of President Sirisena to rebuild the SLFP. You are also disturbing our attempts to rebuild the country.

You only know how to disturb us. If you people want ministerial posts or other positions, we will ask President Sirisena to give them to you. It is no big deal for us, but do not disturb our journey in developing the country. The people of this country have already rejected the divisions based on ethnicity, religion and caste which were promoted by you. On January 8, people chased away those divisions to Medamulana and the people will not allow to reverse that achievement. The slaves of the Rajapaksa regime are panicking. They want to reverse the resolution which took place on January 8. However, people are ready more than ever now to defeat this conspiracy.

The era that has dawned is not a period where people leave or flee the country. This is also not a period that chase away those who could serve the country. We have created an environment that they could return to their motherland. Under this situation, nobody has the right to hinder those scholars serving the country by questioning their citizenship. Those who question the citizenship of Arjuna Mahendran, are unaware of the Finance Act. While inviting the Sri Lankans who fled the country, we question as to why the money of the Rajapaksa regime and UPFA that have been deposited outside the country is not brought to Sri Lanka. If it is brought, we could solve most of our problems. During the Rajapaksa regime, the Treasury bonds were granted on private placements, foreign loans were taken at high interest rates, financial frauds were committed at the Stock Market. But nobody spoke about them nor a single investigation initiated.

When there was an allegation of a Treasury bond issue, we appointed a committee to investigate it, allowed the same be investigated before a Parliamentary Select Committee and before the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID). Has the Rajapaksa regime commenced such investigations on an allegation not only against Central Bank or any other institution?

Section 11 of the Financial Act clearly shows the disqualifications for the highest position of the Monetary Board or the Central Bank. An MP, a Provincial Council Member or Local Government Member cannot be appointed to these posts. Public Servants, members of Judicial Service, a person who is paid by public funds and a representative of the public are disqualified for this position. An officer of a bank too cannot be appointed as the Governor of Central Bank. If does not point out non citizens of Sri Lanka cannot be appointed as the Governor of Central Bank. So there is no legal objection for Arjuna Mahendran to hold this position.

Now some attempts to point out international issues have been created because of Arjuna Mahendran. But henchmen of the Rajapaksa regime cannot influence the Bank of Ceylon or any other financial institute.

I bring about two matters. The first you remained silent when the previous regime robbed public property and engaged in corruption with the support of foreign citizens. But you stand against us when we end such corruptions with the support of foreign citizens. I regret that this House had fallen to such a level. Those who remained in this House a full night to protect such thieves cannot speak a word against those culprits.

The second fact is the cat’s paw of these moves are henchmen of the capitalists. Financially I have to point out that those days one family robbed billions of public funds even without the knowledge of the then Cabinet, Parliament and the people. We will try to give them back to the people. So its your responsibility to support us.

Today, all countries help us and we are not cornered internationally. As we have initiated a massive operation to feed each family, grant a school to each student, grant employment to each youth instead of feeding and enriching one family, you should support your Party Leader and President Maithripala Sirisena. It is only then that you could wash away your sins of supporting a corrupt Rajapaksa regime. But what you do today is go against the people’s wish. The best example is the newspaper announcement of UPFA Secretary Susil Premajayantha. According to it, persons who envy the SLFP are attempting to divide the SLFP by talking against its position. But SLFP politicians who never left the party would remain with its members.

During the last Presidential Elections, you worked against Maithripala Sirisena. Those who attempted to bury him ten feet under, attempt to bury his policies. We never would allow that to happen. Why does the UPFA Secretary do so?

We protect President Maithripala Sirisena, his good governance, his programmes,his stand for truth, his stand against thieves and create a disciplined country. I ask, will you stand against President Maithripala Sirisena.

( Speech made at the  Parliament on 04.06.2015 )


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