Palpitations over Pelpita appointment :
Govt calms tempers over EP Chief Minister’s outburst
Anusha Pelpita, the controversial public servant who functioned as
the Director General of the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission
under the Rajapaksa administration, plunged the government into fresh
trouble last week when he assumed duties as the Assistant Secretary of
the Home Affairs Ministry.
He was indicted by the Attorney General (AG) in connection with the
misappropriation of Rs 600 million from the SLTRC, between the period
October 30, 2014 and January 5, 2015.
According to the indictment filed by the AG, the accused were charged
under Section 21 Public Property Act of 1982 and the SLTRC Act No 25 of
Another accused in the case was former Secretary to the President,
Lalith Weeratunga, one of the most influential public officials under
the previous administration. The Sil redi controversy is one of the most
talked-about anti-corruption cases in the recent past and Palpita’s
involvement in the case was widely known.
Palpita also found himself in hot water over a court case involving a
14-year old child who appeared in a news item shortly before the last
In the news item aired on State-run ITN at the time, the child
claimed that Maithripala Sirisena, who was the Common Candidate of the
Opposition at the time, was detaining his mother.
Chief Minister Ahamad
lashes out at the Naval officer. (asianmirror.lk)
This incident led to legal action involving eight suspects including
some high profile officials such as former diplomat Sepala Ratnayake,
former Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director-General Palpita,
former Deputy General Manager of ITN Sudharman Radaliyagoda and ASP
The Police reported that the suspects had allegedly used the child
for a news item during the last Presidential election without his
It was also revealed during the case that Palpita was heavily
involved in the election campaign of the former President, deviating
from the standard practices and the Establishment Code followed by
Palpita’s appointment, quite obviously, perturbed the civil society
groups who vociferously campaigned for President Sirisena at the last
Presidential election. They categorically claimed that Palpita’s
appointment turned the whole concept of good governance topsy-turvy.
Senior lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, a stalwart of the Lawyers’ Collective
and a well-known anti-corruption activist, told the Sunday Observer that
Palpita’s appointment was not only unethical, but also illegal. “This
cannot be justified under any circumstances,” he added.
“According to the law of the country, an accused in a criminal case
cannot hold a position in the government. On the other hand, there were
various allegations levelled against him, when he was a senior official
under the previous administration,” he said.
“This appointment sends a wrong message to investigators and
prosecutors. It shows certain individuals, who are currently under
investigation, show strong links with the present government. It
indicates they have ‘muscle’ to overpower or to circumvent the law
enforcement mechanism of the country.
This, needless to say, hampers the ongoing anti-corruption
investigations,” Weliamuna said.
Commenting on the appointment, National Movement for Social Justice
Convener, Saman Ratnapriya called on the government to suspend his
services from the public service till the conclusion of his case.
“This government has callously disregarded all norms and practices of
good governance my making Palpita an Additional Secretary of the Home
Affairs Ministry,” he said while adding that the civil society was
against this appointment and would raise objections with the government.
Gamini Viyangoda, another supporter of President Sirisena at the
Presidential election, stated that the appointment of Anusha Palpita
threw the government’s ‘good governance’ into the dustbin.
He said Palpita’s appointment came not only as a shock, but also as
an embarrassment, to the civil society who backed President Sirisena, in
January, last year.
He stated that the intelligent people in this country took an
intelligent decision on January 8 but this appointment was a betrayal of
the people’s collective faith in the government.
Many expressed surprise as to how Palpita got the appointment without
going through the Public Services Commission, established under the
provisions of the 19th Amendment.
After this development was reported, the Public Services Commission,
using a statement, said it was unaware of any appointment involving
However, highly placed ministry sources told the Sunday Observer that
the ministry had initiated the appointment without informing the Public
“Although the Public Services Commission is vested with the power of
making such appointments, the ministries too can initiate certain senior
level appointment and obtain the PSC’s approval later.
Although such practices are not in line with the basic tenets of good
governance, some ministries still resort to this method when it comes to
urgent appointments,” a senior government source told the Sunday
Observer. It was not clear as to why Palpita’s appointment was so
‘urgent’, at this juncture.
Interestingly, Minister Vajira Abeywardena, speaking to a prominent
news website, on Tuesday, tried to justify Palpita’s appointment.
“At this rate, all ministry secretaries must be guilty then. Even
everyone who worked for Basil Rajapaksa has been produced in courts, but
that doesn’t mean they are guilty. Yes, there are charges against him (Palpita),
but nothing has been proven, and he has not been convicted, plus work
wise he has never been suspended,” the minister said, speaking to the
Abeywardena, in the same report, said the appointment was not a
personal decision, but a decision made by the Public Service Commission
and the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Division after he requested
that steps be taken to fill in several existing vacancies at his
“After the floods, it became critical that the shortage of 30
officials at the ministry be filled urgently. It was they who sent me
the names and filled them. I have not done any personal favours to
anyone,” Abeywardena claimed.
His remark on the PSC’s approval, however, was flatly denied by
Gamini Seneviratne, Secretary of the Commission.
However, in a press conference in Colombo two days later, Abeywardena
deviated from his original stance and came up with a different ‘excuse’
with regard to Palpita’s appointment.
“I am unaware of this appointment and it is an appointment given by
the media to create a media bubble. During the time of disaster, when we
strongly urged the service of government servants, he extended his
co-operation as he too was a government servant,” Abeywardena said.
The minister’s excuses and wavering positions made it clear that the
entire process involving Palpita’s appointment was murky.
Palpita himself too gave an interesting explanation with regard to
his appointment. Speaking to our sister paper, the Daily News, the
official said he never asked to be appointed as the Additional Secretary
of the Home Affairs Ministry.
“Some cannot help seeking revenge to feel better. This is ugly. I
have been transferred to the Home Affairs Ministry. Should the Public
Service Commission want, they could interdict me. I think the truth will
manifest in due course for everyone to see,” Palpita said, in a brief
It was clear that this lousy approach adopted by the Ministry irked
many top-brass members of the government.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, responding to criticism directed
against the government, ordered a special inquiry into the appointment
of the controversial public servant.
The Prime Minister also ordered the removal of Palpita from the
Assistant Secretary’s position, if he was proven unsuitable to hold the
post, following the inquiry.
The Palpita saga, however, made it clear that the government should
take drastic action to clean up the stables in the public sector.
“A sizable number of senior officials in the public sector are
loyalists of the previous administration. They were the ones who
received numerous benefits from the previous government.
Even today, important decisions made by the government reach the
Rajapaksa camp within a matter of a few minutes,” a senior government
politician told the Sunday Observer.
“They do not want to facilitate and fast track anti-corruption
investigations as they think it will boomerang on them, at some point.
On the other hand, they create a fear psychosis in the public sector
saying implementing decisions made by the new government will plunge
officials into ‘corruption troubles’ after a regime change. By creating
this fear psychosis, they hamper the functioning of the public sector.
This is a mafia of some sort” he added.
This mafia, according to the government politician, has already
infiltrated important sectors including the Treasury, Public
Administration and even Defence Ministries.
“Without addressing this problem, the government can’t move forward,”
he said, adding that the Palpita controversy was a manifestation of the
Chief Minister saga
Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed ran into a storm last
week when he abused a senior Navy officer at a prize giving held at the
Sampur Maha Vidyalaya in Trincomalee.
The Chief Minister lashed out at the Navy officer as he was blocked
from reaching the stage of the event. His main allegation was that the
Navy officer breached ‘protocol’ when he blocked the Chief Minister’s
entry. The officer, however, responded patiently and tried to apologise
to the politician. But, the Chief Minister was not ready for
‘reconciliation’ of any sort.
Eastern Province Governor Governor Austin Fernando and the US
Ambassador in Colombo were also present at the venue and the Chief
Minister had no qualms about raising his voice in the presence of
schoolchildren. In the heat of the moment, Chief Minister’s hand
accidentally hit a girl who was standing near him to receive a prize.
The video footage of the incident went viral on social media and it
earned the ire of many right-thinking citizens.
They were of the view that the Eastern Province Chief Minister, a
senior political authority, should have acted with more self-restraint.
Although many responded to the Chief Minister’s sudden outburst, they
did not seem keen to examine into the circumstances leading to the
It was crystal clear that certain pro-Rajapaksa elements cashed in on
this incident to stir up racist among the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate in
They unnecessarily dragged the Chief Minister’s ethnicity to bring
the ‘racist element’ into the picture. Former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, in an attempt to fish in troubled waters, issued a statement
over the incident, stressing the need for ‘protecting’ war heroes.
Politicians and politically appointed authorities berating government
servants is not an alien experience to many Sri Lankans. For instance,
during a pro-government protest held in front of the UN office in
Colombo, in 2012, the former Defence Secretary berated a senior DIG over
It was evident that the then Defence Secretary backed the protesters
and buoyed by his support, the protestors physically harassed the senior
police officer and made him look like a mere puppet in the hands of
certain political authorities.
Under the Rajapaksa administration, former Minister Mervyn Silva
stormed the State-run TV station and assaulted its News Director. In a
separate incident, he tied a Samurdhi official to a free for failing to
attend a Dengue prevention program.
The same minister’s son allegedly assaulted a ‘war hero’ and injured
him during a might club brawl in Colombo.
But, such incidents did not trigger controversies of this magnitude
as the ‘culprits’ belonged to the ethnic majority!
Adding more fuel to the controversy, various media reports said that
the military had taken a decision to distance itself from the Chief
When contacted by reporters, Defence Ministry Secretary Karunasena
Hettiarachchi said the military had a fair right to make certain
decisions to avoid ‘potential problems’.
The Navy, on Wednesday, presented a report to Defence Secretary
Karunasena Hettiarachchi over the incident.
It was reported that the Defence Secretary met the President to brief
him about the incident, before the latter left for Japan to attend the
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister too intervened to resolve the issue and
called for reports from the Chief Minister and the Navy.
The Prime Minister also instructed both parties to refrain from
making any media comments over this incident.
The Prime Minister said the President would take an appropriate
decision over the matter, after his return from Japan.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe went on to inquire into this incident
from Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne. On Friday
afternoon, the Prime Minister summoned heads of all security forces for
a special meeting at the Temple Trees.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister stressed that certain parties were
attempting to use the incident to arouse ‘racist sentiments’ among the
people in the South. Defence Ministry Secretary Hettiarachchi was also
present at the meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.
Meamwhile, the Navy headquarters, on Friday night, announced that
Commanding Officer of the Eastern province, Deputy Chief of Staff of the
Navy Rear Admiral Neil Rosayro had been transferred to Colombo, as the
Deputy Chief of Staff of Sri Lanka Navy and Commandant Volunteer Naval
Force. Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah has been appointed as Commanding
Officer of the Eastern province.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Defence Ministry sources said the
transfer had nothing to do with the issue surrounding the Chief
They said it was a ‘routine transfer’ planned several weeks ago.
Chief Min. Ahamed writes to President, PM:
‘I felt insulted’
The Private Secretary to the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province,
Samantha Abeywickrama has released to the media the letter sent to
President Maithripala and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by Chief
Minister Nazeer Ahamed on the Sampur Maha Vidyalaya incident.
The full text of the letter:
“Sampur Maha Vidyalaya is a school under the Eastern Provincial
Council. It is not a National School.
A well-known business organisation in Colombo had volunteered through
the Sri Lanka Navy to donate computers and other items to the school. In
appreciation of this good gesture, in my capacity as the Chief Minister
of the Eastern Province, I attended the function held at the school. The
Hon. Minister of Education of the Eastern Province Hon. Thandayuthapani
also attended the function. The function was organised by the school.
As a I arrived at the function, the Hon. Governor’s name and the name
of HE Atul Keshap, the Ambassador of the USA in Sri Lanka were announced
by the compere who was the English teacher of the school. My name or the
name of the Minister of Education of the Province was not announced,
though both of us had arrived. The Hon. Governor perhaps, noticing the
lapse, signalled me to come up to the stage.
When I came up on stage, a naval officer who was acting as the
‘master of ceremonies’, physically obstructed me from proceeding to take
my place on the stage. It may be due to the fact that he was trying to
stop the media personnel getting on to the stage.
His grossly offensive conduct, an offence under the Penal Code,
shocked me. I censured him, questioning him as to who he was to stop me.
I also blamed the Hon. Governor for not directing the officials to
follow proper protocol. I felt insulted in the presence of a foreign
dignitary and a large public gathering.”