Prez regrets holding up National Audit Bill

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday regretted the failure on the part of his administration to introduce the National Audit Bill in spite of repeated promises in the run-up to the January 2015 presidential poll and thereafter to make it a reality.

President Sirisena said so in response to a query raised by The Island at a meeting he had with media heads at the Presidential Secretariat.

When The Island reminded President Sirisena of his pledge to expedite the process at the previous meeting at the Presidential Secretariat also in response to the same newspaper, President Sirisena acknowledged that there had been a lapse on the part of the government.

The President was flanked by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala, Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna and presidential secretary Austin Fernando.

The President refrained from naming those responsible though he said the Auditor General’s Department had been severely hampered due to the delay in introducing the National Audit Bill.

The then common presidential candidate Sirisena included proposal to introduce National Audit Bill in his election manifesto as the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had delayed the same by over a decade.

In his manifesto, the President promised to introduce far reaching law within few weeks after ousting Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential polls.

AG Gamini Wijesinghe recently held a media briefing at the Government Information Department and lambasted the government for crippling his department.

President Sirisena said that in spite of the introduction of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution he still enjoyed the power to allocate subjects. The President said so when The Island sought an explanation from President Sirisena in respect of allocation of the Development Lotteries Board (DLB) as well as the National Lotteries Board (NLB) to then Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake in violation of the Constitution.

President Sirisena said that as his was a unity government allocation of subjects was done in consultation with the UNP. He justified the recent removal of Justice Minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC.

When the media pointed out that Dr Rajapakse had been unceremoniously removed alleging that the UNPer violated collectively cabinet responsibility though senior members of the SLFP, too, were to be blamed for the same offence, President Sirisena said that he had strongly advised members not to do so. The President, however, admitted that it wasn’t an easy task.

Asked by The Island whether he was disappointed that unprecedented Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scam in Feb 2015 soon after his overwhelming victory at presidential poll where he received over 6.2 mn votes placed the government in a difficult situation, President Sirisena recalled the circumstances under which the then President had angrily reacted to him for expressing concern over alleged massive fraud and irregularities in road construction projects undertaken by the then Economic Affairs Ministry. President Sirisena said that he had been summoned to Temple Trees for throwing his weight behind another minister who had raised the issue at progress review meeting at the Central Bank auditorium. President Sirisena insisted that he had always fought against corruption.

At the onset of the meeting, President Sirisena expressed serious concern over waste, corruption and irregularities in the public sector and the failure on the part of successive governments to tackle the situation. President Sirisena, in his opening address, on several occasions referred to the growing threat posed by unbridled corruption. The President asserted that officials would be always influenced by their political leaders. “The President cannot engage in corruption without his Secretary knowing what is going on. Ministers cannot also rob without Secretaries to the ministries knowing”

Corruption had reached such proportions that the young electorate viewed political leaders with suspicion, the President said.

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