‘We are surprised by BASL’s decision on FR petitions’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The SJB yesterday (06) alleged that the cash-strapped Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had declined to answer questions it posed in keeping with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.Colombo District SJB lawmaker Mujibur Rahuman said that the CPC move was meant to suppress continuing waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement at every level.
Pointing out that the RTI Act had come into effect on 03 Feb., 2017, the former UNPer accused Petroleum Minister Kanchana Wijesekera and the top management of the CPC of blocking the disclosure of information.
Rahuman emphasised that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the actions of his ministers. Responding to another query, MP Rahuman said that he submitted the application on Sept 26, 2022, seeking information pertaining to procurement of relatively low quality crude oil above the market price at the time the country was seeking IMF intervention to stabilize the situation.
The top SJB spokesperson said that the CPC’s RTI officer wouldn’t have declined to disclose information without being directed to do so. “We’ll raise this issue in Parliament,” MP Rahuman said, adding that the CPC was silent on massive losses suffered as a result of the government’s failure to unload fuel carriers. The MP alleged that the cash-strapped government had to pay USD millions as demurrage for the delay in unloading shiploads of diesel and petrol.
In spite of repeated assurances given in Parliament and outside, the situation continued to deteriorate, MP Rahuman alleged, pointing out irregularities and mismanagement couldn’t be suppressed.
The MP said that Parliament on Oct. 18 passed the Petroleum Product (Special Provisions) Bill with amendments. The Bill received the backing of 77 members whereas 17 voted against. The new law was meant to pave the way for new entrants to the market, the MP, urging the government to address the issues at hand.The MP said that the Supreme Court recently laid down two fundamental rights applications filed by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) requesting the Court to direct the government to work out short and long term plans to ensure the supply of essentials, including fuel, electricity, gas, medicine and food.
The SJB official said that the SC was responding to a request made by the BASL. Referring to the reportage of the BASL appeal to the SC, MP Rahuman said that further action was suspended as the petitioner felt the improvement of the situation. “Of course, the BASL is free to suspend action. There cannot be any issue over that. However, the supplies of essentials remain disorganized for want of foreign exchange, the MP said, alleging that a colossal amount of funds had been wasted by compensating shipping lines for delays in unloading fuel shipments.
BASL President Saliya Peiris, PC, told The Island that the FH petitions were laid, not withdrawn. “Our Counsel felt that at the moment there is nothing the Court can do further. It can be revived again.”
MP Rahuman said that though the government suspended loan repayments several months ago claiming the Treasury lacked the wherewithal to meet the obligations, corruption was continuing unabated. The petroleum sector remained utterly corrupt, the MP said, alleging that those who were supposed to protect the interests of the hapless public make massive profits at their expense.
Commenting on President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently finding fault with Parliament for delay in implementing proposals for far reaching systemic changes, MP Rahuman stressed that the reappraisal of the executive, legislature and judiciary was required. It wouldn’t be fair to hold Parliament accountable for such delays without taking into consideration other factors, the MP said.