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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sri Lanka: Bribery Commission In Question!

Bribery Commissioner Balapatabendi
and Sunil Handunnetti, JVP MP

Nirmala Kannangara

Eyebrows have been raised as to how the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is covering up suppressing bribery and corruption charges against those who hold high posts in the government including the ruling party politicians.
The Bribery Commission has to be an independent body that is filtered by justification which cannot be messed up by any visible or invisible force and has to work against corruption and fraud. However, Bribery Commission appears to be falling to pieces as it is plagued with corruption and fraud.

Despite Bribery Commission’s responsibility to investigate into credible complaints, they have deliberately failed to act on the complaint lodged on January 1, 2014 by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Sunil Handunnetti against Bribery Commissioner, Supreme Court Judge Dhammika Jagath de Silva Balapatabendi.
Instead of following the general procedure, the Bribery Commission has carried out an ex-parte hearing by a one-man commission to the surprise of the complainant Handunnetti.
Bribery Commission letter dated October 24, 2011 to Ferdinando after which no action has been taken
“Although substantial evidence has been given to the Commission to prove how corrupt its Chairman is, the Commission deliberately failed to call me to hold an inquiry. Instead, it has carried out an ex-parte hearing by a one-man Commission. There is no such rule in the Bribery Act. If the Commission wants to carry out an investigation, they have to call me – the complainant before the Commission to see whether my complaint contains adequate or inadequate material to proceed with the matter or not,” claimed Handunnetti.
The Bribery Commission has been given the primary power to investigate allegations of offences committed under the Bribery Act of No. 19 of 1994 and the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, No. 1 of 1975 to direct the institution on proceedings against such persons for such offences. If an offence is disclosed, the Bribery Commission shall direct its Director General to institute criminal proceedings against such persons in the appropriate court.
Since this procedure is not followed by the Bribery Commission, its reputation has not been inspiring over the years. As a result the public confidence in the Commission has hit zero level as they know that the entire Commission has been politicized and there is no purpose of making complaints against those who are ‘correctly connected’.
“The success rate of the Bribery Commission in prosecuting politicians and those who hold high office in the government on bribery or corruption charges in courts has been zero. This is well known to everyone in the country as the Bribery Commission is capable enough to catch a sprat while the actual crooks escape unscathed.
Earlier members to the Bribery Commission were nominated by the Constitutional Council and appointed by the President. However since 2005 it is the President that nominates and appoints the members to the Commission. Obviously when somebody is appointed to a higher post by the government he or she will not go against them. On the other hand the government will put a blind eye if any member of their own Commission is found to be corrupt and will not remove them since they are helpful,” said a leading legal luminary who wished to remain anonymous.
According to the Bribery and Corruption Act it is the prime duty of the Commission members to maintain secrecy entrusted upon them. Every member must sign a declaration that he will not disclose any information received, or coming to his knowledge in the exercise and discharge of his powers and functions under the Act, except for the purpose of giving effect to its provisions. Under Section 22 of the Bribery Act, any officer who violates the secrecy clause is liable to imprisonment on conviction for a term not exceeding five years and/or to a fine not exceeding Rs. 100,000
Although the Act states as such, the Bribery Commission members including its Chairman who was a Supreme Court Judge have openly violated the secrecy clause.
“In regard to the complaint made by Handunnetti, it was the Commission’s responsibility to get the complainant for an inquiry and decide whether to proceed with the investigation or not. However instead of following this procedure, the commission went on giving statements to the media that the one-man commission has found out the complaint to be baseless, lack of evidence, distorted and malicious which do not warrant an investigation. Even the Chairman of the Commission, Balapatabendi has acted contrary to the Bribery Commission Act by violating the provisions relating to secrecy which he is bound to comply with.
Although he is bound to protect the confidentiality of the Commission work, he went on going to the press releasing statements of what their plans were against the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The question is how can the Bribery Chief violate the rules and regulations of the Bribery Act? The rule of law has to be equal to everyone despite what their social statuses are. Hence Balapatabendi and his officers should be imprisoned immediately for breaching the secrecy provisions in the Bribery Act,” the sources said.
 With Bribery Commission’s failure to inform the JVP MP what the progress of his complaint is, Handunnetti made another visit to the Bribery Commission on Friday, January 31.
“When I went for the second time, the Commission told that I would be informed about its progress at the earliest. However one week after my visit, I saw a media release by the Bribery Commission that my complaint has been rejected since it was baseless, malicious without adequate material for further investigation. That is why I went to the Commission for the third time on Wednesday February 12. I was told by the Director General Luckshmi Jayawickrema that a letter had been sent to me by registered post on February 5. It is ten days since the ‘letter’ was posted under registered cover but yet to be received by me,” said Handunnetti.
Meanwhile, Sunil Watagala, Attorney-at-law who accompanied Handunnetti to the Bribery Commission on all three occasions said that the party is planning to take legal action against the Commission at the very earliest.
“We will be going to the Supreme Court but doubtful whether we will be given leave to proceed as we want to take action against Balapatabendi who was one time a Justice. But however we will be instigating legal action against the Commission,” said Watagala.
 When Handunnetti requested a copy of the letter that is said to have posted to him, the Commission Secretary said that the request cannot be fulfilled.
Handunnetti further queried as to how the Commission as stated that the complaint is baseless, devoid of truth, malicious and no substantial evidence to prove that Balapatabendi is corrupt.
“Balapatabendi was a member of the Bench of Judges presided over by Sarath N. Silva in SC Sp. LA No. 84/2008. In this matter the plaintiff was Vehicle Lanka Pvt. Ltd which is owned by Harsha Prabath de Silva. On June 2, 2008 the ruling was given in favour of Vehicles Lanka to register 145 vehicles with RMV. According to the extract of the Vehicle Registration obtained from the RMV on June 27, 2013 the owner of the vehicle as at that date was Dhammika Jagath de Silva Balapatabendi of 173/14 C, Mihindu Mw, Dehiwala. In fact he has become the owner of the said vehicle on January 13, 2013,” said Handunnetti.
He further said, ”When another extract of the registration was obtained from the RMV on September 18, 2013, two additional names, Jahinge Senerath Jayasinghe and Sampath Mudiyansalage Sujeeva Navodaya Weligala had been inserted. They have backdated fraudulently as owners from April 22, 2013 and June 06, 2013 respectively. This is a falsified fraudulent registration committed by Balapatabendi as he was the registered owner of the Emperor vehicle. When Balapatabendi was the registered owner of the said vehicle the Revenue Licence had been obtained in Sampath Mudiyanselage Sujeewa Navodya Welligalla’s name. The Vehicle Registration Certificate and the copy of the previous Revenue Licence are mandatory requirements to obtain a Revenue Licence. Hence it is obvious that a forged Vehicle Registration Certificate had been submitted by Balapatabendi with his knowledge to obtain the Revenue Licence under Welligalla’s name”.
According to Handunnetti, although Vehicles Lanka has given an assurance to the Supreme Court that the vehicles assembled by them will be traded under Emperor and that brand name such as Mitsubishi, Nissan or Toyota would not be used, Balapatabendi used a Toyota badge in his Emperor car. That shows how Balapatabendi dishonoured the guarantee given to courts.
“At the time relevant to the so called purchase of the vehicle, Balapatabendi was maintaining several bank accounts in which he had no money to the value of the said vehicle. I have given details of his bank account numbers to the Bribery Commission. If Balapatabendi claims that he paid money to purchase this car, let him show from where he got the money,” challenged Handunnetti.
Allegations against Pradeep Nilanga Dela
Meanwhile, former Personal Assistance to Diyawadana Nilame (DN) Nihal Ferdinando told The Sunday Leader as to how his complaints against Pradeep Nilanga Dela were not investigated although he had submitted all relevant supportive documents.
“I lodged a complaint (Case No: BC/ 1003/ 11) in the Bribery Commission against Dela’s unorthodox administration in 2011 but I regret to say nothing has been done over the past three years. Bribery Commission should act independently without prejudice by any external force. It is surprising as to why the Bribery Commission is dragging its feet without holding even an initial inquiry into my complaint when sufficient evidence have been submitted,” claimed Ferdinando.
According to Ferdinando, he had submitted all documents to prove his allegations as to how Dela had used Maligawa funds to incorporate a private business enterprise, how Maligawa properties have been auctioned, how a mini John-Cooper car was imported utilizing Maligawa funds, how building materials for his private residence were imported  duty free under Maligawa name, etc.
“After sending several reminders to find out as to what the progress of my complaint is, Director General Luckshmi Jayawickrema sent a letter dated August 23, 2011 that my file has been referred to the Commission for consideration and appropriate orders. On October 24, 2011 she sends another official letter claiming that after preliminary investigations, a legal report has been called from the legal division in order to decide on further steps,” added Ferdinando. However, he further said that it had taken one year for him to receive a letter once again from the Bribery Commission about the status of the investigation.
“On October 9, 2012, the Assistant Director Legal informed me that a report had been submitted to the Director General by the Legal Division. Since then the Bribery Commission is silent and does not acknowledge receipt to any of my letters,” said Ferdinando.
Allegations against Mervyn Silva
Chairman Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabhawa Prasanna Ranaweera too accused the Bribery Commission for not initiating and investigation into their complaint against Public Relations and Public Affairs Minister Mervyn Silva.
“It is more than one year since we have lodged a complaint against Minister Silva in the Bribery Commission but as we expected nothing has happened. Our complaint was based on the vast amount of wealth Minister Silva has acquired from the time he entered into politics. How can a person who worked as a salesman at the CWE become a billionaire within a few years? We have submitted all details as to how he acquired wealth to the Commission but to no avail,” said Ranaweera. He further accused the Commission for starting an investigation against Minister Silva last year when the Minister fell apart with the government.
“NO sooner the government sidelined Minister Silva last year, the Bribery Commission started an investigation to find out as to how he acquired his wealth but once again it has swept under the carpet since he is in the good books with the government. Do we really need to maintain such a hypocrite Commission with the tax payers’ money,” queried Ranaweera.

Sunday Leader


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