The UNP in parliament yesterday charged that the government`s proposed purchase of five MiG 29 aircraft was rife with corruption.
Opening an adjournment debate in the House on the matter, UNP front liner MP Lakshman Kiriella said the government had decided to purchase the MiG 29 aircraft despite the defence Ministry stating that such planes were not needed to confront the LTTE.Quoting from a defence Ministry website report in March, prior to the first LTTE air attack on the Katunayake air force base, Mr. Kiriella said due to excessive costs, the military had stated that it did not require MiG 29 or MiG 35 aircraft to confront the enemy.
The MP noted that despite this, after the LTTE air attacks, the president`s office had chosen to purchase MiG 29 planes to strengthen Sri Lanka`s air capability ? emphasizing that the decision to do so was a long standing one.
`The presidential secretariat and the defence ministry are giving contrasting views on the MiG deal` he said.
He noted that ousted Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi had complained to the bribery commission that there was fraud amounting to Rs 600 million in the purchase of four MiG 27 aircraft in December last year. He said the total purchase cost Rs 1065 million, adding that two MiG 27s were currently grounded as they were not in a working condition.
`In this context when the government plans to purchase five MiG 29 aircraft at a price of Rs 1.6 billion each, amounting to Rs 8 billion, we have serious doubts regarding the fraud that can take place in such a deal`, he said, adding that the fact that tenders were not called heightened their fears.
The MP said the government has flouted financial regulations in not calling for tenders, and proposed that the company involved in the deal be brought before the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE), or that a parliamentary committee be set up to oversee the tender process.
`If purchasing MiG 29 aircraft was a longstanding plan, as claimed by the president`s office, then the government had ample time to call for tenders and go ahead with the deal, instead of now rushing into it in the name of national security` he said.
The MP stressed that the UNP was not opposed to countering the LTTE air power, but questioned the need of purchasing sophisticated craft like MiG 29 to confront the LTTE light aircraft.
Speaking on the foreign trips of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said such trips were done to protect the country, because Sri Lanka was losing friends in Japan, the EU, UK and US, which account for 70 percent of our exports.
He criticized the government for `kicking away` the 2002 CFA and plunging the country into war, which has thus far claimed 4500 lives, displaced hundreds of thousands, dried up foreign aid and created a culture of abductions.