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PM sweats when quizzed by the PCoI over the building housing Ministry of Agriculture

PM sweats when quizzed by the PCoI over the building housing Ministry of Agriculture

Written by Staff Writer

16 Sep, 2019 | 9:10 pm

COLOMBO (News 1st) – Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate fraud and corruption in the present government, today (September 16).

He was summoned to record evidence with regard to an investigation taking place on leasing a building in Rajagiriya for the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Prime Minister arrived at the Presidential Commission at 9.30 this morning and evidence was recorded until 11.00 a.m, he left the commission for a short period of time and returned to the commission at 1.30 pm.

The Prime Minister left the commission at about 4.15 this evening after providing evidence for over 4 hours.

A group including Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Daya Gamage, Vajira Abeyawardena, and the secretary to the Prime Minister Saman Ekanayake accompanied Ranil Wickremesinghe.

At the Presidential Commission, it was revealed a sum of Rs 2.1bn was spent by the government for the Rajagiriya building used by the Ministry of Agriculture. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted before the commission it did not yield the expected result.

The lease agreement for the building was signed for a period of 5 years. However, according to monetary regulations, a state institution can only sign a lease agreement for a maximum of 3 years.

While this matter was highlighted at the presidential commission, in response the prime minister said there are instances where state institutions can act contrary to monetary regulations based on Cabinet approval.

In addition, the Attorney General’s approval had not been obtained for the lease agreement and the Prime Minister admitted it was an essential factor.

A series of issues at the Rajagiriya building were exposed at the Presidential Commission. The absence of windows for ventilation, flaws in the air conditioning system and the lack of parking facilities were among them.

It was revealed the owners of the building named D.P.G., Upali Jayasinghe and Dakshin Jayasinghe are a party to a separate court case involving the property and the building is an illegal construction.

In addition, the Urban Development Authority had only permitted for the construction of 07 floors of the building which now has 10 floors.

The Presidential Commission questioned the Prime Minister why a state institution was set up there in the first place, and it was revealed the owners had concealed the true condition of the building from the government.

The Prime Minister said if this information was available at the time, an alternative would have been considered.

The Premier pointed out he issued instructions for 3 buildings proposed by a committee headed by the secretary to the prime minister, to be looked into and the most suitable building to be acquired on a lease. The Prime Minister said the decisions that followed were taken by the ministry at their own discretion. The Building was selected deviating from the government procurement procedure.

When the commission inquired if the subject minister had properly fulfilled his duties, the Prime Minister said he cannot make a statement regarding a minister in his capacity as prime minister.

The Commission questioned the PM if the secretary to the Ministry had committed criminal breach of trust. The Prime Minister did not provide a clear answer to this question either. The monthly lease instalment paid for the building in Rajagiriya is Rs 21mn. However, the state estimated the value of the building as Rs 13 million.

The government had never used this building but had paid the rent of the building for 1 year and 4 months and also paid service charges for the period. When the commission questioned the Prime Minister as to how service charges were paid if the building was never used, the Prime Minister responded that it should not happen.

Appearing on behalf of the Prime Minister, President’s Counsel, Ronald C. Perera was severely warned by the chairman of the Presidential Commission.

He was warned as he attempted to interrupt the Prime Minister while he was responding to questions.

 

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