COLOMBO: In an open confrontation with the Executive President of the country which could have far reaching consequences, the Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Karu Jayasuriya on Sunday appealed to public servants to defy illegal orders of the “unconstitutional” government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Later in the evening, President Sirisena made a statement over Derena TV lambasting the Speaker for his unwarranted comments. He said that Speaker Jayasuriya’s “peculiar” behavior was one of the reasons why he dissolved parliament and ordered fresh elections to be held on January 5, 2019.

Jayasuriya’s Call

In his statement Jayasuriya said: “ Under these dire circumstances, I urge all public servants who have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution to revisit that oath. Ask why we are required to pledge fealty to this document and not to any one person or a single position of power.”

“Our foremost duty is to the Constitution. I ask all public servants across the country to remember their obligations to this supreme law of our motherland and to safeguard the independence of the public service, police and the judiciary.”

“I call upon all public servants to refuse to execute any illegal orders they may receive, no matter from whom.”

“Every citizen who is entrusted with responsibilities under the Constitution should think first of the country and not of party politics or personal affiliations. We must all act with patriotism and independence to safeguard the future of democracy in our country.”

“I lament that the purported Foreign Minister (Dr.Sarath Amunugama) a highly regarded politician, has falsely alleged that I intended to prevent the President from delivering the Statement of Government Policy when Parliament was set to reconvene on 14 November. It is on this imaginary premise that the Minister suggests that Parliament had to be dissolved.”

“I wish that the purported minister had proposed a more honest and plausible excuse for the actions of his colleagues, that would have drawn less ridicule to our country on the world stage. Based on this fiction, several of his cohorts have openly threatened to send me to jail.”

Parliament Can Hold Its Own

Quoting Speaker William Lenthall of the House of Commons during the time of King Charles the First, Jayasuriya said he had done what was requested of him by the Members of Parliament.

“The actions of the Speaker and Parliament may not always be aligned with the wishes of the Executive. This tradition of parliamentary independence dates to at least 1641. A floor vote on the legitimacy of the Government was requested by 124 Members of Parliament. 116 Members met me in person. Another eight thereafter contacted me and expressed their support of this motion. Just as Speakers of Parliaments have done for centuries before us, I ruled in favor of the rights of the majority of members and political parties represented in Parliament and declared that I would allow a floor vote. No member made a request that the Statement of Government Policy be prevented nor would I have entertained such a request.”

“As a former military officer, I have always been prepared to make whatever sacrifice that my country may require of me. It has been my privilege to stand up to the Executive and defend the rights of Parliament, the supremacy of our Constitution and the sovereignty of the people.”

“For the record, I am prepared to face any consequences for these actions without hesitation.”

President’s Explanation

Earlier, in his explanation as to why he decided to dissolve parliament, President Sirisensa said that there were two reasons: one was the failure of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to bring to book the accused in the Central Bank “robbery” case and the other was the “ most peculiar” behavior of parliament Speaker Jayasuriya.

“I am extremely sad about the most peculiar behavior of Karu Jayasuriya. He is a good friend of mine. Speakers of our Parliament since 1947, until now, had conducted themselves in a neutral and most impartial manner. I wish to state, that his behavior of disregarding Standing Orders and Parliamentary Conventions and attempting not to recognize the appointment of a Prime Minister by the President exercising his Presidential powers, was the second reason for dissolving Parliament.”

"It appeared to me that, if I allowed the Parliament to be convened on the 14th, without dissolving it, it could have brought about commotion and fights, in every city and every village would lead to very unpleasant and difficult situation for the average citizens of my beloved country."

"As such, the best solution was not to allow those 225 members in the Parliament to fight each other and allow that to develop into a street fights in every part of the country. It is my duty and the responsibility to take democracy to guide us, and create the situation for the fifteen million voters in this country take the ultimate decision by choosing their members to the Parliament through a free and fair election," the President said.

Central Bank Robbery and Horse Trading

The Central Bank “robbery” after 2015, the involvement in various corrupt practices since then, the political crisis due to attempts to show majority support after the appointment of Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister and the value placed on Members of Parliament (in horse trading) were extremely unfortunate developments which needed to be attended to urgently, the President said.

“All of you will acknowledge what a tragic situation arose when the value of the Members of Parliament, who were elected to represent the people, were commercially evaluated.”

“By the last week, in the highest institute that represents people’s supremacy to usher in a disciplined, ethical ad cultured society, the individual worth of Members of Parliament was estimated as LKR 100 million (US$ 570,000) to LKR 150 million (US$ 855,000) and in one instance as high as LKR 500 million (US$ 2.8 million),” he said.

“That was one of the main reasons for the dissolution of Parliament,” the President said in conclusion.

What is Central Bank Robbery?

The “robbery”of the Sri Lankan Central Bank took place when the Finance Ministry was in the hands of a Minister who was in Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) in the coalition government set up in January 2015.

Wickremesinghe appointed his friend economist Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank, though the latter was a Singaporean national. Almost as soon as Mahendran assumed office he, entered into shady deals involving his son-in-law Arjuna Aloysius’ financial, risk and investment firm Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. (PTL).

The PTL used inside information to make a killing in the sale of Treasury Bonds.

The Central Bank had initially advertised for Treasury Bonds to the tune of LKR 1 billion. But bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran suddenly ordered to accept LKR 10 billion. Arjuna Mahedran’s decision caused interest rates to increase rapidly. PTL with inside information was ready for it and made a killing.

Four months later, Perpetual Treasuries sold the bonds to the government’sr Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) at a higher price. Through this PTL made over LKR 5 billion in profits.

In March 2016, the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake instructed State banks to bid low. State Banks thus suffered an opportunity loss. The EPF also bid low and bought the same bonds from PTL in the secondary market at loss running into millions.

Between 2015 and 2016, the EPF purchased LKR 140 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the secondary market out of which 80 % was from PTL.

PTL had allegedly bribed dealers at the EPF to facilitate the secondary market Treasury Bond sales. PTL had engaged in transactions at the expense of EPF which had the savings of the poor employees in the government and private sectors.

An inquiry set up by the Wickremesinghe government found no wrong doing .But due to persistent demands for an impartial inquiry a Presidential Commission was appointed which found Aruna Aloysius and his associate Palisena culpable.

Aloysius and Palisena were arrested, and an arrest warrant was issued against Governor Arjuna Mahendra, who had by then resigned and fled to Singapore.

Despite persistent demands, the Wickremesinghe government made no serious attempt to get Mahendran extradited from Singapore.