Lalith Weeratunga Sil Redi Acquittal – What about Zuhair siphoning money from TRCSL to produce “Thanapathi Gedara” film distorting History?
Lalith Weeratunga, former President’s Secretary and Anusha Palpita, former DG of Telecommunications Regulatory Commission were acquitted and released from the charges by the Court of Appeal on 19 November 2020. The conviction by the Colombo High Court has been set aside. Both were sentenced to 3year rigorous imprisonment for misappropriation of Rs.600m in violation of Section 386 of Penal Code, a verdict given by High Court Judge Gihan Kulatunga claimed the accused were guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Both were ordered to pay Rs.50m each as compensation to the TRC and a fine of Rs.2m each & if payment was defaulted they would serve an additional year in prison. This was the first judgement by a High Court on an indictment filed by AG following FCID investigation. Given the same argument, why is there a deafening silence over the conduct of M.M. Zuhair who was appointed as DG of TRC in February 2015. Zuhair misused his position as DG of TRCSL and improperly, despite the objections of the Audit Dept. of the Finance Division of the TRC, siphoned away Rs.80million of TRC funds to produce a film that was partial to Muslims and that had nothing to do with the objectives of the TRCSL which is a statutorily incorporated body.
The film was called “Thanapathi Gedara” and its entire theme was a distortion of the national history of the country by fictitiously portraying the presence of an Islamic Embassy in Anuradhapura at the height of the Anuradhapura era.Zuhair hired a highly paid Consultant (out of TRCSL funds) to produce films glorifying Islam and Muslims under the pretense of promoting Reconciliation and discharging Corporate Social Responsibility.
The employees of the TRCSL were shocked by the corruption of M.M. Zuhair and misuse of public funds that they collectively made a complaint to powerful Ministers of the Yahapalanaya Govt. Fortunately, President Sirisena had Zuhair removed within 24 hours of the complaint being made. The evidence of misuse of TRCSL funds by Zuhair in association with one or two Directors of TRCSL, who misinterpreted the statute to give the sanction to Zuhair to go ahead with his crazy film productions distorting national history, is still available with the Audit Dept. of the TRCSL. This matter of corruption by Zuhair and misuse of public funds must be investigated by the AG’s Dept.
Like it or not, Article 9 of the Constitution affords the foremost place to Buddhism while it does not in any way impede the practice of any other faith. Article 9 empowers the State to foster ONLY Buddhism and no other religion.The State is bound to protect all religions but the duty to foster is confined to Buddhism only. This is a continuation of the role of the State from the time of King Devanampiyatissa, 2300 years ago.
As Attorney Senaka Weeraratna argues the fostering of the Buddha Sasana under Article 9 of the Constitution (e.g. distribution of Sil Redi ) falls outside Election Laws.
The President of Sri Lanka can foster the Buddha Sasana at any time of his choosing under the Constitution.
Motive is irrelevant when complying with Article 9.
If an act of the State or President helps to foster the Buddha Sasana then the purpose of Article 9 is served.
That is the test.
Article 9 is not meant to function like a white elephant.
Article 9 is an integral part of the Constitution.
It supersedes all other laws.
The Constitution is the Supreme Law.
No one can overrule a President acting directly under the Constitution.
In an article under the title ‘Following the orders of his superior has been accepted as a valid defense by some Courts of law.’ Senaka Weeraratna has said as follows:
“In the case involving Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita, the application of moral choice would be having to choose between serving the interests of the Buddha Sasana under Article 9 of the Constitution which is a mandatory duty imposed on all public servants (irrespective of religion) or not serve the Buddha Sasana and thereby violate the Constitution.Theduty imposed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka under Article 9 is an inviolable duty and supersedes all other obligations or rules set out under ordinary municipal law or international law.
A Presidential Pardon should be given because of the special nature of the case.
These two ‘convicts’ carried out an Order that was issued directly by a sitting President.
The defence of following orders is a valid defense, though it failed at Nuremberg because the orders to kill innocent people, both Jews and non – Jews, were stricto sensu immoral. There is no question of immorality in distributing ‘ Sil Reddi ‘ to the Buddhist public. Article 9 of the Constitution clearly specifies and gives a mandate to the State to give foremost place to Buddhism. Article 9 is not meant to be treated like a white elephant. It is a living provision and embeds a 2300 year tradition of requirement on the part of the State to serve the Buddha Sasana. All our past rulers before the colonial era served the cause of Buddhism as one of their primary obligations. The motive is irrelevant when performing a service to the Buddhist public.
Attorney Senaka Weeraratna further says:
” To cripple the functioning of Article 9 by narrow or restrictive interpretation is tantamount to betrayal of the Constitution.
The Judges have an obligation like everyone else to creatively interpret Article 9 in such a way that it is made functional and not non – functional or dis-functional.
To reduce Article 9 to the level of a white elephant does not speak well of the Judiciary’s respect for the Constitution.
Buddhism more than any other factor has held this country together.
All our Kings in the pre-colonial era fostered the Buddha Sasana. It is a Royal Prerogative from ancient times.
It is an inviolable duty imposed on the President and Government of Sri Lanka which is enshrined in Article 9 “.
Thus, the sil redi verdict delivering 3 years of rigorous imprisonment to the former Presidents Secretary Lalith Weeratunga & the TRC Director General Anusha Palpita left a shock to the country’s majority and the 1.4 million government servants. What was equally shocking was that Mr. Weeratunga had to pay Rs.52million not for taking any state money but simply because his signature was placed for the sil redi to Buddhist worshippers. The foreigner responsible for 2 bond scams and with signature on currency used in Sri Lanka, remains a free man still!
Clean hands doctrine – those who have not sinned cast the first stone
The regime change that brought UNP to power in particular was tasked to break the spine of the public servants and military. This is the same party that stoned homes of judges when rulings were against them. The tactic was to send a message that the Government wanted only ‘Yes Sir’ secretaries and public officials. The prestige of the public sector has thus declined over the years with all governments following the path UNP introduced.
No political party in power or their representatives & public officials should abuse state property or influence state officials.
Let’s relook at the incident & the case
- 7 September 2015 – High Court declares Lalith Weeratunga & Anusha Palpita guilty
- 11 September 2015 – Bail granted
- Misappropriation of Rs.600m from the TRC spent on sil redi – no part of that money was taken by Lalith Weeratunga or Anusha Palpita
- Both were never charged under Presidential elections law as the allegation was that the Sil Redi was given during election campaigning. (Sections 72 85, & 68(1)(e) of Presidential Elections Act 15 of 1981 was not violated.
- The sil redi distribution project was in a minute written 20 March 2014 by Lalith Weeratunga & to be distributed to 11,000 temples countrywide.
- The money for the project was to be taken from the President’s Special Development Fund but owing to inavailability of funds it was decided to take funds from TRC. Transferring of funds from different ministries is nothing new. President Premadasa borrowed money for his Gam Udawa programs from CMC and money was reimbursed by the Treasury. CMC Ratnasiri Rajapakse was accused of the same but exonerated.
- Weeratunga had written to the DG of TRC on 30 October 2014 seeking Rs.600m, TRC DG had written to Board seeking Board approval to allocate Rs.600m to the TRC CSR budget and approve donation to the President’s Special Development Fund. This was done on 5 December 2014. There is also a note from Weeratunga to say that the amount to TRC would be reimbursed with Rs.200m paid back in first quarter of 2015. There is a minute from Weeratunga to the Chief Accountant of the Presidential Secretariat on 29 December 2014 that the money is to be paid back to the TRC. None of the minutes written by Weeratunga was taken into account by the Court.
- The judgement held that TRC Act did not empower it to spend money for a sil redi distribution. But the Rs.600m was not a CSR expense of the TRC – it was merely a loan to the Presidential Secretariat.
- Even the announcement of the Presidential Election in January 2015 was a surprise to all.